Monday, October 17, 2016

Wall-mounting Caseta Pico remotes without any damage

So I purchased a wall-mount kit for a Caseta remote control, to see how it works.  It was almost what I expected.

The wall mount itself is just a little clear bracket.  The Pico snaps in.

It did not come with the Claro plate adapter (I thought it would).  It turns out the plate adapter comes with the Claro wall plate itself.  Which makes sense once you realize all the Claro devices would use the same adapter plate.

Of course, you don't see this in the store.  All you see is this.  So you won't realize the adapter plate is in there.

So together they make a complete mounting solution for either surface-mounting or box-mounting a Pico remote.

Lutron wants you to screw the mount into the wall.  I prefer to use Command strips.  Fortunately there are two handy areas to put Command strips that won't push the mount off of the wall:

Cover up with the adapter plate and you won't even see them.

It does take quite a bit of doing to remove the wall plate from the bracket, so I guess there is a risk I might tear the strips off the wall.  I'll just have to be careful, and/or figure out how to reduce the retention force of the Claro plate on the adapter plate.

Lest anyone thinks I'm too picky, I mounted the Anywhere Switch with Command strips years ago.  Good thing too - now I can get rid of it easily without worrying about leftover holes.

Also know that the dimmer kit itself has a Claro plate and adapter in it.  If you don't plan to use these on the switch itself, you can scavenge them to use with the remote wall-mount kit.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Replacing a Leviton 6696 Anywhere Switch kit with an equivalent unit compatible with dimmable LED bulbs

LED bulbs have finally got to the point where it is worth replacing 60W candelabra bulbs in our "main" entryway fixture with LEDs.  The issue was always brightness and - with CFLs - the turn-on time.  Home Depot has a decent price on Philips 60W equivalent candelabra bulbs, which do provide equivalent brightness.

Of course, on install, I found our Leviton "Anywhere Switch" kit (model 6696) did not work with these bulbs.  The switch refused to turn fully off, allowing enough current for 3 of the 15 bulbs to remain dimly lit.  This is a common issue but it didn't exactly make me happy, because it is time for a switch replacement.  As I keep bitching to my wife, it's never easy, and there is ALWAYS SOMETHING.

This does make me wonder if this switch has been leaking electricity 24/7 in my home for the past ten years.  Hope not.

Finding a replacement is not easy.  Home automation "solutions" have utterly exploded and everyone wants to sell you a kit that does everything for everything, including automation, wireless support, PC control, remote / offsite control, etc.etc.etc.  Competition is great but sifting the choices takes waaaay to much time (bloody hell).

Obviously many people who want to replace a point-to-point switch want a point-to-point solution.  You probably also want a wall-mounted wireless switch that mimics the appearance of a regular switch, rather like the original Leviton kit did.

Oddly, not all systems actually support these features.  Some seemingly require you to 'buy in' to their ecosystem, starting with some kind of hub unit that provides for control via PC or smartphone apps.  This may or may not be your priority when just trying to replace a point-to-point switch.

Stuff to know: 

-  In the lexicon, the switch that goes in your existing wall box and hooks up to the fixture wiring is the "receiver".  The battery-operated switch that you stick on a wall, without any wiring, is a "transmitter".

-  Many wireless receivers require a neutral wire to be present in your wall box.  If you do not know, it is safer to get a version that does not require a neutral wire to operate. (The Leviton 6696 wired switch does not require a neutral, so having one in place does not guarantee that a neutral is present in the box.  You have to open it up to look.)

-  Nobody really guarantees their "LED-compatible" system will actually work with all LED bulbs - there is always a risk things will not work right.  Keep this in mind when ordering and ensure you have a cost-effective way to return items that do not work.

Options I found included:

Syklink Home:  available at Amazon and Home Depot.  This system is fairly simple and does support point-to-point control without needing any kind of wireless controller or hub.

Although arguably the least expensive, I did not choose this system because:
  -  the compatibility with LEDs was slightly uncertain, and
-  the as-supplied wall switch looks rather poor, and really requires a "snap-in remote" (sold separately) to make it look properly finished, and
-  the appearance of the switch with the snap-in remote could be confusing for wife and kids.

Skylink offers options like a plug-in controller for plug-in lamps, which was nice, but not enough to sell me on this system.  However, if you have the time and inclination, it may be a good option.

INSTEON SwitchLinc:  This is a pretty and appropriately-priced switch system that seems to have a lot of features.  But I did not investigate this much after I found it requires a neutral wire to install.  One Amazon reviewer also had poor operation with Costco LED lamps.

Leviton WSS10:  This is a rather nifty system where the transmitter units actually need no batteries.  This seems paradoxical, and therefore confusing, and it took me a while to figure what the hell it was all about.

What happens is that wall switch transmitter actually uses the energy created by pressing the switch itself.  I have my doubts that this can be reliable, but Leviton claims it works.  So, no batteries in the stick-on transmitter switch.

There is also a motion sensor option, which Leviton seems to think is more important than the remote switch option because it is mentioned more often and more prominently.  It is also "batteryless", in the sense that it is solar-powered.  Which is again hard-to-find information, which makes the system even more initially confusing.

The Leviton was the first option I found but I did not buy it because it seemed costly.  I was also not able to immediately find it at retail stores.  As I wanted a fast solution that I could return if it did not work, this was not ideal.

GE Z-Wave:  Requires a neutral wire, so I did not look further.

Lutron Maestro:  This system looks good but does not appear to offer any wireless options - everything must be wired.  Not suitable for what I'm trying to do.  But the Maestro system seems to be big on occupancy/motion/light sensors and other items not available for Caseta.

Lutron RadioRA:  This system is hardcore and seems to be for enthusiasts/professionals who actually like spending time on home automation, get paid for it, or both.  I did not seriously look at it.

Lutron Caseta:  This was the system I initially went for.  I admit this was a little bit because I have had good luck with Lutron in the past, but it was mostly because this switch kit was expressly intended for use with dimmable LEDs, was priced almost the same as the Skylink, and looked better in appearance.

It does support point-to-point operation without the need for the "Smart Hub" thingy, though obviously you can add the Hub later.  I have no intention of doing so but you never know.

Transmitter/receiver kits are available at Best Buy (!) and Home Depot.  Which I liked since I wanted one NOW and I wanted to be able to return it if it failed to work right.  You can buy at Amazon but the prices were within pennies when this was written so there was little point waiting for shipping.

This system also has a relatively decent-looking plug-in dimmer meant for lamp control.  Which was useful for me since I had a remote-controlled lamp already, but the system was always a bit flaky.  Having a new option was nice.

The Caseta system works with small hand-held remotes that serve as both remote controls and faux "wall switches".  For our purposes we probably want them wall-mounted like the old Leviton remote switch was.

The mounting of these remotes as wall switches is not obvious, but it supposedly can be done.  The thing is to realize the Caseta "wallplate bracket" - model PICO-WBX-ADAPT - supports mounting a remote control either inside an existing wall box or surface-mounted directly on a wall.  This is clear in the Amazon description of the kit, but not in the Lutron description.

This means this "wallplate bracket" is really a mounting kit for the remote.  You can use it to mount the switch either in the wall or on the wall, as you see fit. This is not at all clear on an initial look-see.

Surface-mounting this kit will seem confusing to those used to the Anywhere Switch because you will be left wondering where the extra-deep cosmetic cover plate is.  The trick is to realize that while the Anywhere Switch kit is thick and therefore comes with an extra-deep cover plate, the Caseta remote is really, really thin.  Meaning a standard Claro wall plate - also available at Home Depot - will fit right over the Caseta bracket.

(Critics will note the wall-mount kits are like $11 each, and the Claro plate is $5.50, making the wall-mount solution ruinously expensive for such simple and cheap parts.  I don't like it either but those are the options - you can pony up, or just stick the remote to the wall with the tape provided with the remote or a 3M Command strip, up to you.  Nobody is making you wall-mount these devices.)

Another nice touch was that the Caseta remotes have a visor clip option available for your car.  Which means I can install a kit in my garage and be able to control my garage lights from the car.  This is hardly a necessity, since we've lived here 10 years without having this feature, but it's another nice-to-have option.  (Again, the clips are expensive, you could just substitute another Command strip if you wanted to.)

([Update]:  To get remote control of the conventional fluorescent bulbs in my garage from two cars will cost about $150 - mostly for the non-dimmable, conventional-load PD-5WS switch required.  That's far too much for what it is, so I've decided not to pursue this option.)

Caseta also includes thermostat integration with Honeywell and Nest.  Which might be nice in the future.  I see no point in having a "smart" thermostat that offers little advantage over a "regular" programmable thermostat, but maybe one day.

Things I wasn't sure about

-  If you have non-dimmable CFL or conventional fluorescent lighting - say, 2' or 4' fluorescent tubes in garage or "shop" lights - you may need a different switch.  This is because in the Lutron lexicon, a DIMMER is NOT the same thing as a SWITCH.

Specifically, the DIMMERS are rated for LED, CFL, incandescent and halogen bulbs, but NOT 'regular' non-dimmable bulbs of any type.  So if you have non-dimmable bulbs, you should not be using a DIMMER.

The SWITCHES are rated for conventional non-dimming loads, such as non-dimming LED, incandescent, halogen, MVL, ELV, non-dimmable fluorescent, and fans.  So you'll need a SWITCH for these applications.  Since lots of garages and sheds will have old tube bulbs or whatever, you may need a SWITCH for these.

Available switch models include the PD-5WS-DV (5A, no neutral) and PD-ANS (6A, need neutral).  Minimum and maximum loads are also different: here's a comparison.

Now, maybe a dimmer will work on some non-dimmable loads.  But you'd have to try it out to see, and you might risk damaging something. 

Problems with the switch models are as follows:

  -  The switch models are much rarer than the dimmer models, and not generally available at retail.  You can get them at Amazon and other places.

  -  The switch units are more costly than the dimmer units.  Like, WAY more costly.  Like, ridiculously costly.

  -  Some of the switch units need a neutral wire.  I believe the 6A model needs a dimmer, but the 5A model does not.  Better double-check before buying.

  -  The switch units use a different Pico remote, which is never supplied.  I don't know if they work with the dimmer Picos or not. 

-  They never come with a wall plate.  (They might also lack a wallplate adapter.)

  -  Switch units (sometimes) come with a dummy load to allow them to work properly with low-wattage loads.  Some do and some don't, and some work well with low-wattage LED loads and some don't, even with the dummy load installed.  So you might find the dreaded won't-turn-off syndrome affects these switch units with LED lighting, even though it's not supposed to.

The LUT-MLC dummy load is not available as a separate part, so if you need one and don't have it, you are SOL.

The good news is that the switch units do work with the Pico remotes and Smart Bridge just like the dimmers do.  So you can get a Caseta switch that supports a 'regular' non-dimmable lighting solution, for those cases where you can't use a dimmer.

[Update]:  I never bought any switches since they are ferociously expensive for what they are.  They should be $10 less than the dimmers and come with the remote and wall plate, not twice as expensive without remote and wall plate!

-  One thing that worried me was the battery life on the remote.  Lutron claims ten years on a CR2032 cell.  Even if that is exaggerated, it still seems decent to me. 

-  Another thing that puzzled me is the remote control has a "favorite scene" button, while the wall-mounted receiver switch does not.  This is a very odd omission and leaves off a feature I would rather like to have.  I can obviously live without it but this seems very, very strange to me.

(There is an ELV switch available that corrects this - the PD-5NE - but it requires a neutral wire.  Plus, it does not actually seem to be stocked or sold hardly anywhere in North America, and LED compatibility with my bulbs is unclear  It didn't initially seem worth taking a $100 risk when I can work around it with the ordinary dimmer buttons of the regular Caseta switch.)

-  I would like a discrete / independent dusk-dawn capability for my outdoor lights.  I have a timer switch that is supposed to correct for time of year, latitude, etc., but I notice it is turning off and on at the wrong times.  I also suspect it will suffer from won't-turn-off syndrome once I install new LED floodlights.

The Caseta system has no photocell or discrete timer switches, and so does not support this directly.  Sunrise/sunset is, however, supported by the Smart Brdige/app system, so maybe I'll have to pony up for the Bridge after all.  It would be nice to have a unit that didn't need the Bridge for this, but none exists at this time.

[Update]:  This functionality would cost too much in Caseta.  I recommend the Intermatic ST01, which provides full astro/DST sunrise/sunset functionality at about one-third the cost of an equivalent Caseta.  (1/2 the cost if you already own a Smart Bridge, which I don't.)

-  On reflection (ha!) I rather like the idea of an ambient lighting sensor like the Powr Savr Daylight Sensor for the Maestro system - it auto-adjusts room lighting according to the total ambient (including sunlight).  This was not an initial requirement but once I ran across it, it seems like a nice idea.

The daylight sensor seems to work with Caseta but only if the Caseta switches are NOT being used with a Smart Bridge.  But this is a frill feature so I don't care much.  Maybe I will install a Maestro dimmer specifically in those rooms that can take advantage of this, or maybe use a Staples Connect Hub or other functionality, or simply not pair that switch with the Bridge.

I suppose the Daylight Sensor could even work as a sort-of photocell system if one did not want the Bridge.  Unfortunately, it costs about $100, may require another Caseta dimmer, and is not readily available in Canada, so I won't be experimenting with it anytime soon - it would probably not pay for itself for a decade or more.  The Bridge itself costs about $100 and obviously does dusk/dawn, as well as a lot more, meaning that would be a better investment.

-  A truly brilliant solution would be to let me buy smart shades for our enormous south-facing window.  They would have to be triggered by both sunlight, exterior temperature AND house temperature.  For example, if it is full sun, hot outside and too cold in the house, open the shades; if sunny, hot outside and too hot, close them.

Caseta does support Serena wireless shades, but won't do this sort of complex control.  This is hardly a critique of the Caseta system, though, since no system I know of will do this to the complexity I want.

Anyway, this is all theoretical.  I still have to run to HD and get a Caseta PD-6WCL dimmer kit plus a remote wall-mount kit, and try them all out.  The pricing works out such that no matter what I do, I end up buying a Caseta dimmer/remote kit anyway, so it's a good way to get started.  I'll try and update if they work with my intended Philips 60W / 7W "Warm Glow" dimmable candelabra LED bulbs, or if they don't.

[Update]:  On inspection I do, in fact, have a neutral wire in the wall box of interest.  Which is good for me since it means I can use any of the offerings that need a neutral wire.  But I'm still sticking with Caseta for now since I've done the homework on it and it seems to fit my needs.

[Update]:  I tested the Caseta dimmer and it does work with a single Philips 7W candleabra bulb.  It turns on and off and dims just about as you'd expect.  The low and high dimmer trim levels might do with a tweak but that is not important - what's important is that it SHUTS OFF!!  (And with only a single, 7W, "unsupported" bulb, too.)

[Update]:  The dimmer is in place and works very well with 15 7W/60W Philips "Warm Glow" candelabra bulbs.  Dimming at the very low end is a touch nonlinear, but I have not bothered to adjust the switch yet so that is probably not its fault.