By Mitchell Davis
By Mitchell Davis
May 9, 2020 – It wasn’t long ago when turning on a television, adjusting the speed of a ceiling fan or setting mood lighting by simply saying a few magic words was something only seen in science-fiction movies. Home automation introduces consumers to a world of convenience, security and comfort. The customization possibilities are endless—from an entire house to a single room, indoors and outdoors. However, without the proper wiring, consumers could be in the dark when it comes to home automation.
From in-wall switches to connected security devices, there is a range of solutions available to upgrade products around a house to support remote or voice control. These devices operate on the latest platforms to meet the vastly differing needs of consumers and offer extensive model options. Smart home organization the Zigbee Alliance even offers Zigbee 3.0 products on the market from brands under its umbrella. Regardless of home automation protocol or manufacturer, there are several factors to consider when it comes to having the right wiring infrastructure in place to support wireless devices.
By identifying the fixtures and appliances to automate, homeowners can determine the devices necessary to create a network. From there, the biggest step toward consumers living the smart life is understanding the capabilities, and that starts with home wiring. Verifying the presence of neutral, line, load, ground and traveller connections, confirming wire size and rating compatibility, and assessing available space in the electrical box helps make the process as smooth as possible.
While these devices are easy to install—in many cases even easier than traditional equipment thanks to innovative features—there are a few requirements for proper setup. In addition to adhering to all local codes, unique guidelines set by smart-home equipment manufacturers for electronic devices that differ from standards set by regulatory bodies like UL—including specific wiring material, minimum gauge, temperature ratings and connection specifications—should always be followed closely to ensure optimal operation. For example, most smart controls under leading brands call for 14AWG copper wire rated for use up to 80 degrees Celsius. There are also general trends found across all brands.
Neutral wires needed
Because smart devices require continuous power to maintain internal components, such as the clock or communication radio, a neutral wire is normally needed. This is one of the most common stumbling points for people venturing into the home-automation market. However, depending on the age of the home, original purpose of the electrical box, installation method or a wealth of other reasons, some locations don’t feature neutral wires.
There are smart products on the market that don’t require a neutral connection, but these generally come with caveats—power limitations, additional equipment needed for installation, compatibility and more. Before deciding on a no-neutral option, closely review the specific requirements to prevent possible frustration in the midst of a project. When installing an electrical box, completing a rewiring job or constructing a home, ensuring every location features a neutral wire lays the groundwork for a simple smart home in the future.
In addition to the neutral wire, smart switches and dimmers require line, load and ground connections with a traveller option for multi-switch configurations. A common mistake during installation is incorrectly identifying the line and load wires and connecting them to the wrong terminals. A solution is to look for products that auto-detect line/load terminals. In these products, regardless of the line/load terminal to which each wire is connected, the smart device self-adjusts to function correctly. This saves tremendous time and resources associated with repeating installations caused by a simple error.
With a minimum of four connections and the increased size of a smart device compared to traditional switches and dimmers, electrical boxes can become crowded. Space-saving screw terminals with wire ports alleviate some of this congestion and save time by no longer requiring installers to wrap wires around the terminal screw. It also calls for a shorter strip length, which should be noted in the device’s manual to ensure wire is not exposed when power is supplied to the circuit.
With the skyrocketing popularity of smart-home devices and vastly improved technological capabilities in recent years, these conveniences have become commonplace in many households. However, the proper wiring is needed to operate devices correctly. Otherwise, homeowners could be left in the dark.
About the author…
Mitchell Davis is the VP of product development, Connected Homes at Jasco, and is also an active member of the Zigbee Alliance.
This article—along with other great content—appears in the May 2020 edition of Electrical Business Magazine.