How can I use a smart outlet/switch to solve bedroom light issues?
August 8, 2017 8:07 AM   Subscribe

I'm trying to understand how I can use a smart outlet and/or switch to solve a weird issues with our beside lamps.

We bought a new house and I've installed two wall-mounted lamps that plug into switches. There is no overhead lamp so these would be the initial lighting you would activate by switch on your way into the bedroom, but also will be controlled by on/off switches on the lamps themselves. I don't have the engineer's logic to figure out how to solve this myself given a few constraints.

On the wall, there's a switch heading into the bedroom. It controls the bottom port of the leftside outlet only. The top of the leftside outlet, and the entire rightside outlet, work independent of the switch.

My ideal solution is - flick a switch entering the room and both the leftside and rightside bottom ports engage. The top left and right outlets will be used for alarm clocks and other things so I would like them to be always on.

What I don't want is - a solution where we have to tape the switch "on" or an extension cord behind our bed. I'd also like to avoid rewiring as I am no electrician. Is this something I can solve using smart switches and/or outlets that I feel comfortable installing?
posted by notorious medium to Home & Garden (6 answers total)
Just a clarification:

We bought a new house and I've installed two wall-mounted lamps that plug into switches outlets.
posted by notorious medium at 8:08 AM on August 8, 2017

You could use something like this remote control switch. I use a similar system to turn all my Christmas lights on and off. The remote units go into outlets, the lamps go into the outlets on the remote units. You use the remote to turn things on and off.

The downside is you'd have to push one button for each lamp. You might be able to find a system that uses a single button for all outlets, or depending on the system you might be able to switch them so they're all controlled by the same button.
posted by bondcliff at 8:35 AM on August 8, 2017

One solution is a smart-home approach: startup a Philips Hue system - you'd have to buy a hub, light bulbs, (often sold as a starter set) and wall switch.

The limitation would be that the outlet needs to be powered-on ALWAYS (the bulb itself is turned on and off via Hue hub), so you wouldn't be able to use the manual switches on the lamps themselves. (you could use the switch to turn on/off the bulb, but if it's in the off position, the Hue wall switch can't turn it back on). But you could turn the lights on/off with both the Hue wall switch and your phone (via Hue app). You could also use the wall switch or a Hue Tap as stand-alone Hue buttons if you wanted.

There are other smart light bulb options, but I've only used Hue. The colors and dimming options for Hue bulbs are what I love, but if you don't want color there are definitely cheaper options.

A note: you probably won't be able to change your current outlet set up (which outlets turn on with current switch) without doing some (minor) electrical work.
posted by chemicalsyntheticist at 8:40 AM on August 8, 2017

Yeah, that's a tricky one. Any of the solutions I'm suggesting below would require you to control the lamps from your phones instead of switches on the lamps themselves. Assuming that's acceptable:

I think the first step would be to replace the wall switch with a Zwave or Wemo switch.

You can use the undesirable extension cord to include the right lamp, but then they both go on and off together, which is probably not ideal for nighttime reading.

You could replace the extension cord with a smart outlet on the right that is tied via software (either the Wemo app or a smart hub) to the switch, but then the two lamps are still coupled.

For complete de-coupling of lamps, I'd plug them both into smart outlets (and the left hand smart outlet should be plugged into an always on wall outlet). The smart-switch no longer controls the electricity to either lamp, but it can be tied via the app or hub to control the two outlets wirelessly. If you need the extra outlet on the left side, you could probably rewire the switched outlet to exclude the switch pretty easily.

You may also be able to add Z-wave modules (something like this) into the switching mechanism of the lamps themselves rather than using smart outlets, but that may not be ideal for a lamp. We added one of those to a couple of existing wall switches, but the antennas are hidden in the walls.

If you really want physical buttons but don't want to wire into your lamps, I think there are Zwave remotes you could keep on each bedside table.

If you go completely Wemo, you should be able to do everything with the app, though you might need to use IFTTT to tie the switch to each disconnected lamp. If you go Zwave, you'll need a hub. I'd probably recommend SmartThings or Wink. If you're a DIY programmer type, I use HomeAssistant on a Raspberry Pi.
posted by natabat at 9:58 AM on August 8, 2017

It's possible to do this with a Lutron Caseta system, specifically with two plug-in dimmers, one remote, and one wallplate bracket for the remote. You'd end up taking the current wall switch and connect the two wires on the inside so that it's like the switch is permanently on. You'd then replace the switch with the remote, so that you still have a switch on the wall (even though it's not connected to your home's wiring). The remote would be paired with both plug-in dimmers. I have a total of 3 remotes mounted like this in my house (though they pair with other in-wall switches, not he plug-in kind, but that shouldn't make a difference), and it works great.
posted by noneuclidean at 2:13 PM on August 8, 2017

Thanks everyone - reflecting on this, it seems to me the most prudent route would be to have an electrician disable the switch's control over the left outlet port and to go with a Lutron Caseta. We can mount one remote to the wall and keep one bedside which should allow us to control the lights from both positions effortlessly.
posted by notorious medium at 6:13 AM on August 9, 2017

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