Changing a light switchSource: Jerry Hildenbrand / Android Central

Best answer: Many homes were wired before the National Electric Code required every light switch junction box have a neutral wire. If you live in one of those homes, you'll be faced with some obstacles should you decide to install smart switches in your wall. The good news is that there are smart switches you can use that don't need a neutral wire. The bad news is that they all require the purchase of a second bridge or hub to get them "active" on your smart home network.

Smart switches never sleep

There's a reason why almost every smart switch needs a neutral wire attached: it needs to stay powered all the time.

Without a neutral wire, there is a single circuit between the bulb, power source (or junction box), and light switch. If you switch off the lights, the electric current to the switch is broken because no power is passing through the bulb. That's why you typically need a neutral wire, which directly connects the power source to the switch: if you turn off the lights, the circuit still breaks, but the neutral wire gives the switch its own persistent source of power.

There's a reason why almost every smart switch needs a neutral wire attached.

If your house doesn't have neutral wires, your options are to rewire your home to add neutral wires, buy and add microcontrollers inside of the switches to smarten them up, or buy smart light switches that work without a neutral wire or microcontroller. We recommend that you talk to an electrician before you start pulling out switches or doing anything with the wiring in your home: there's the potential to get hurt, so be safe instead of sorry.

The easiest option is to simply buy compatible smart switches, but keep in mind that these only work by connecting through a compatible bridge or hub, which stores programming data like your wireless network details and login. These hubs won't cost as much as an electrician, but they're still fairly costly.

Our two favorite smart light switches without a neutral wire are the Lutron Caseta Smart Lighting Dimmer Switch and Insteon Smart Dimmer. Of these two, the best switch for your home depends on what else you might want to make "smart" in your home.

Lutron's smart switches and hub cost more, but are compatible with more smart home tech. Insteon switches are best served for dimming bulbs.

Lutron's Caseta system is more expensive, but its SmartBridge Pro hub connects with things like powered window blinds, ceiling fan controllers, wireless "pico" switches that you carry around, and even motion sensors. If you plan to use any other Lutron equipment, the extra cost is worth it because you won't need another bridge.

If you only want smart switches, or you already have the rest of your house wired up, you can save a bit of money by going with the Insteon system. Its Central Controller Hub is about $50 cheaper, and you'll save money on every Insteon switch you buy. It all adds up!

Both choices work with Amazon Alexa, have smartphone apps, and will work with almost any light fixture you have in your home. The biggest difference is the price.

If you decide that smart switches aren't worth the hassle, your best alternative is to check out the best smart bulbs or best Alexa-controlled light bulbs instead. They're generally more expensive, but they're fully compatible with any outlet regardless of the neutral wire, and can be dimmed using an app or voice commands. Unlike these smart switches, most smart bulbs don't require a hub.

Our pick

Lutron Dimmer

Lutron Caseta Smart Lighting Dimmer Switch

Part of a larger system

Lutron's Caseta system is built for more than just light switches and the extra cost can be worth it if you plan to make the rest of your home smart, too.

Also required

Lutron SmartBridge

Lutron Caseta SmartBridge Pro

Bridging things together

Lutron's Caseta system requires its own bridge to connect everything to your larger smart home network. it's easy to program through your phone and works with Amazon Alexa and Apple HomeKit.

Starting simple

Insteon Dimmer

Insteon Smart Dimmer

Value option

Insteon offers a great smart lighting solution with its smart switches and hub. You can use your phone, a keychain remote, and even your voice through Alexa to control your lights.

Also required

Insteon Controller

Insteon Central Controller Hub

Smart Hub

Insteon's Central Controller is required to use Insteon smart switches and communicates via power lines in Insteon's own proprietary mesh network solution. It's also easy to set up and use, and all your switches will work with Amazon Alexa.

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