Installing a Wireless Switch
Traditionally, adding a light fixture that could be controlled from several locations meant retrofitting three-way or four-way switches–which can turn into a nightmare of fished wires, fumbling and patchy repairs. Fortunately, today’s electricians have another, almost effortless option–installing wireless switches.
Installing three-way wireless capability can be as simple as replacing a mechanical switch (a single-pole toggle, for example) with an electronic master switch and locating a wireless controller at some distant point. In this photo sequence, we installed a Lutron® Maestro Wireless® dimmer and a companion Pico® Wireless control.
Start by turning off power to the existing (mechanical) switch, and use a voltage tester to be sure it’s off. Remove the switch cover plate. To be doubly sure the power is off, apply the voltage tester to the switch’s terminals and wires. Unscrew the switch from the outlet box, then pull out the switch and disconnect its wires.
Electronic switches are sensitive (and expensive), so follow the manufacturer’s installation instructions exactly. As most do, the Lutron electronic dimmer looks like a standard back-wired switch, with a green grounding lead coming off it. Attach the wires per instructions, screw the device to the box, install the cover plate, turn the power back on to the switch, and program the Pico Wireless control via buttons on its face.
Mounting the wireless control–say, at the far end of a hall–is as simple as sticking an adhesive-backed mounting plate to a finish surface. If you want a more permanent mounting, use the screws provided–and expansion anchors if the wall is drywall. The wireless control slips into the mounting plate and is in turn covered by a snap-on plate. The controller needs no wires because it has a tiny battery that’s typically good for 10 years. It needs only enough power to “talk” to the master switch.
Even modest wireless devices have a lot of useful functionality. The Pico control also can be clipped to a car visor so that as you approach home, you can turn on the porch light. Inside the house, you can program lights to turn off and on. In a baby’s room, for example, you could program a light to dim slowly over a 10-minute period so the baby isn’t startled by sudden darkness as he or she drifts off to sleep.
This excerpt comes from Renovation 4th Edition, just published by Taunton Press, which represents the collective wisdom of hundreds of electricians, plumbers, carpenters and other tradespeople whom I’ve interviewed and photographed on job sites since writing the first edition more than 30 years ago. Master electrician Michael McAlister assisted with this sequence; he is also my co-author on Wiring Complete, also published by Taunton Press.
© Michael Litchfield 2012
All you need to retrofit wireless switches. From left: a wireless controller, a visor clip, wall-mounting plate for the controller, and an electronic master switch.
Step One. Turn the power off, remove the cover plate of an existing switch, and test to be sure the power's off.
Step Two. Electronic switches are expensive, so read installation directions carefully. Here, existing hot and switch-leg wires are attached to the electronic dimmer's terminals. The green switch lead is connected to a bare copper ground.
Step Three. Tuck in wires, screw the electronic switch to the box, then install the cover plate. After testing the switch, program the wireless controller. The controller will talk to the dimmer, telling it to raise or lower the lights- in effect, it is a three-way switch.
Step Four. Down the hall, a small mounting plate is screwed to or stuck on the wall. The controller slides into the plate. No cutting, drilling, or wire-fishing required! Cover plates will make it look like any other switch.
Renovation 4th Edition represents the collective wisdom of hundreds of tradespeople across North America, gathered over a period spanning more than 30 years.