Switching to a smart home

A smart lighting demonstration is always fun. Being able to dim a light, change the colour, or even cause a flicker or a wave of colour with a tap or swipe of a finger is very impressive. This is why most home owners choose to start their smart home journey by installing some smart lights. However, shortly after installation, most people will find themselves running into a very basic problem – human habit.

We have been taught since we were young that we need to press a physical switch to turn the lights on and off. Due to this, some household members will inevitably press on these switches. A smart light connected to a switch that has been turned off will produce the highly frustrating ‘No response’ message. This frustration manifests from the fact that a single button press is all it takes to eliminate all the smart features of app control, voice control, and automation that a premium was paid for.

The simple solution for this is to pair your smart light with a smart switch. In fact, you can use smart switches in place of any regular electrical switch used for non-smart lights and fans as well. For me, installing smart switches is the better smart home starting point.

I am currently using the Aqara D1 Wall Switch throughout my home. Besides always having on/off control from my iPhone, iPad or Mac, it has enabled a few additional benefits.

Do note that HomeKit integration requires an Aqara Hub.


One tap and done

Any appliance can be turned on/off by tapping the relevant tile in the Apple Home app or by asking Siri. This is hardly different from pressing a physical switch. The real advantage of using a smart home system is the flexibility it allows in grouping any action that you perform often. For example, if you always turn on your living room fan together with turning on the three lights in your living room, you could create a scene to do all this with just one tap.

If you combine a smart switch with smart lighting, turning the light(s) on to your desired brightness and colour would involve multiple steps such as tap and hold to bring up the brightness slider and colour selector, then swipe to your preferred brightness, then tap a preferred colour. A simpler way would be to set a scene such as ‘Work Focus’ so that the light(s) will be turned on to 100% brightness in cool white with just one tap. Then add another scene called ‘Couch Potato’ to have the same light(s) turn on to 30% brightness in warm white for your binging sessions.


Elegant automation

Analogue timer switch

I’ve used timer switches for a long time. It does its one job but it comes with a number of drawbacks, including being:

  • hard to programme and reset.
  • less precise due to being analogue.
  • unable to set different schedules such as weekday/weekend and home/away.
  • hard wired, making it difficult to combine with other automations and to connect/disconnect multiple lights in the future.
  • generally not a good look on your wall.
  • not really cost effective, and with a non-replaceable backup battery.
  • hard to manually override (at least for my mother).

The Aqara D1 Wall Switch is essentially a tiny computer which solves all the issues of the analogue timer. More than that, automations are elevated to a new level as you can use variable times such as sunrise/sunset and people home/away detection. Even complex automations become easy when combined with sensors to detect motion, open/closed doors or windows, and/or temperature changes. This complex automation – set the scene Couch Potato, 30 minutes after sunset, on weekdays, only when somebody is at home – is easily set with just a few taps in the Apple Home app.

Do note that HomeKit automations require a home hub such as an Apple TV, iPad or HomePod.


New tricks

I have a windowless bathroom with a ventilator and a light fixture. There are times when a bathroom user may want to run the ventilator a bit longer after they leave, but also to save energy by having the light turned off. However, the original wiring in my home connects a single power wire from the switch that splits at the appliances end. This means I can’t install each appliance to its own switch without hacking my walls and hiring a licensed electrician for some rewiring.

As an electronic switch, the Aqara D1 Wall Switch allows for some clever, yet simple solutions. The double switch for my bathroom is only physically wired to one switch, leaving the second free. Using an Apple Home automation, the ventilation issue is solved by making the second switch automatically turn on whenever the first switch is turned on. Following that, another automation will only turn off the light when the second switch is pressed, while the normal behaviour of the first switch turning both appliances off remains.

Solutions are only limited by your creativity, and here are two more ideas. Use wireless switches instead of additional cabling and 2-way switches for staircases or common areas with multiple entry points, which also avoids having switches in the on position when the lights are actually off. Or have each switch do something different if you have more switches than lights, like having the first two switches turn on individual lights, while the third turns both on.


Designer wall

An electronic switch even helps with room aesthetics. The nature of mechanical switches means they must be physically moved to a different position to turn on/off, which necessitates being hinged in the centre. When you have multiple switches in different on/off states, your wall looks like it is out of alignment. The Aqara D1 Wall Switch is not constrained in this way, allowing it to be hinged at the top with the switch returning to its starting position after being pressed, leaving your walls always perfectly aligned.

Air conditioner switch, physical wall switch with left switch on and right switch off, and Aqara D1 Wall Switch (Triple Rocker)
Left: Air conditioner switch. Middle: Traditional wall switch. Right: Aqara D1 Wall Switch

Ultimately, I would have been happy with these switches just to avoid the ‘No response’ issue. Including the bonus of all the additional benefits listed above makes it a tremendous value proposition.

Note: All links to products are from a seller I trust and where I bought my Aqara products mentioned in this article. I am not paid for any purchases made through these links.