How to Tell Your Lights What to Do
Google Home + SmartThings + Leviton = Fancy Pants
I can now tell Google to toggle or dim every light in my condo. While at first I feared the whole project novel and not very practical, I’ve actually found myself telling Google to turn on or off and adjust my lights far more than physically using the light switches that empowered me to do all of this in the first place. When I do reach for switches, I catch myself forgetting which one goes to which light. I’m growing more and more dependent on telling my home what to do. What at first seemed ostentatious quickly became habit and may one day evolve into expectation.
Many have asked what it takes to replicate my setup, so I figured it most efficient to compile notes and share. After a great deal of research, I narrowed my setup down to using Google Home, Samsung SmartThings™, and Leviton smart products with Z-Wave technology. If you prefer Amazon Echo or plan to use another smart hub or connected home protocol other than Z-Wave, this guide may not be for you.
What You’ll Need
Google Home ($129). The voice-activated speaker you will boss around to make your home feel like magic and show off to your friends. Keep an eye open for promotions because you might be able to score one for cheaper.
Samsung SmartThings Hub ($99). Think of this unit as the brain controlling all of your smart stuff. Google Home will communicate with SmartThings over Wi-Fi and SmartThings will communicate will your smart devices using another wireless protocol called Z-Wave. At first, I did not understand why you needed a hub and also grew disappointed when I found out that Google Home could not double for this purpose. Maybe in the future. For now, SmartThings had a stronger market position with a great deal of support out there, so it seemed like the obvious choice. That, and they were 50% off on Black Friday. Just saying.
Leviton VRMX1–1LZ 1000W Universal Scene Capable Dimmer (~$50). These dimmers work great with dimmable LED lights and work well with Google Home and SmartThings. I personally have 9. I got these for as cheap as $43.95, so do a little shopping before buying in bulk. Yes, they’re freaking expensive. I’m sorry. Think hard whether you want all of your lights upgraded. But beware…it’s addicting.
Leviton VP00R-10Z Dimmers (~$20). For any place in your house where you have two or more switches controlling the same light (a “3-way or more” lighting setup), you’ll need to put one of the VRMX1 dimmers in one place as the “master” switch and for the rest use these VP00R-10Z dimmers as “slaves.” They’re digital coordinating remote dimmers designed for the purpose of answering to the master switch in a setup. You cannot put two VRMX1s on either end of a 3-way setup. Even if you could, it wouldn’t make sense—you’d have two master switches competing to control the same light(s). I learned this the hard way.
Leviton DZR15–1RZ Duplex Receptacle Outlet (~$40). For any place in your house where you might want to control something plugged in by voice like floor lamps or Christmas trees, use these outlets. Note that only the top outlet can be controlled by voice; the bottom will be “hot” all the time.
For my condo, I switched out all light fixtures that were not dimmable to dimmable LEDs. Therefore, I did not require any normal non-dimmable switches. If you have need for one, check out the Leviton DZS15–1BZ.
The short answer here is: call a certified electrician. If you don’t have one, use Thumbtack to post your job and get bids for free. I had a mess of neutral wires that I needed to run to get my switches to work and couldn’t do that alone. But if you insist on installing all of the switches yourself, Leviton provides pretty extensive instructions in their boxes.
Once you’ve installed all of the hardware, you’ll need to link them all to SmartThings. After following the instructions to set up your SmartThings Hub, select “Add a Thing” in the app (available on iOS and Android).
SmartThings will start searching. Frustratingly, Leviton did a poor job of telling you how to make your outlet and switches recognizable.
For master switches, you’ll need to press and hold the switch until the light turns from green to orange. Orange will signify pairing mode and should almost immediately appear in the app. Rename the switch it recognized to whatever you want and—ta-da!—you can now control your switch from within the SmartThings app.
For outlets, you’ll need to press the right-most button. The left light should turn green. Engage pairing mode in SmartThings on your mobile device. Then, press the button again so that the light turns orange. It should then be detectable by SmartThings and show up on your phone. Rename the outlet to whatever and — ta-da! — you can now control whatever is plugged into the top outlet from within the SmartThings app.
Now that devices have been added to SmartThings, you’ll want to authorize them for use with Google Home. Assuming you already set up your Google Home unit, you can follow the steps to authorize Google Home to control everything through SmartThings:
- Open the Google Home app
- In the top left corner of the Home screen, tap Menu. Verify that the Google Account that is listed is the one you used to set up Google Home. To switch accounts, click the triangle to the right of the account name.
- Tap Home control.
- Within the DEVICES tab, you’ll see devices connected to Google Home.
- To add a device, tap the + sign in the bottom right corner of the screen.
- Tap the name of the provider you’ll use to link lights (SmartThings).
- Enter your account username and password. Tap Log in.
- Read what info will be used when connecting lights to Google Home.
- Select the switch or outlet you’d like to connect to Google Home.
- Tap Authorize.
From there, you can save nicknames for devices and create rooms to group them together. Rooms help you turn on or off more than one light at once. For example, “turn off the living room” turns off four switches I have saved under the “living room” room group.
Timers and Such
I’m only beginning to explore all of the possibilities available through the SmartThings community. In short, SmartThings offers many tools to program your devices to do pretty much whatever you want. You can browse what Samsung calls “SmartApps” that give you more control over your connected products by going to the Automation tab in SmartThings and tapping “Add a SmartApp.”
For example, I could set up a timer by going to Lights & Switches, selecting the “Smart Lights by SmartThings” SmartApp and going through the prompts to have my lights turn off, on or hit a certain level when triggered by various things like motion sensors, sunrise or sunset, or by setting a specific time. If there’s anything you want to achieve in the realm of automating your lights, assume it is possible and browse for what you’re looking for. Odds are, someone else cared enough about the same thing to code a SmartApp to help you.
With Google Home authorized, you can now pretend to be a wizard.
- Hey Google, turn on the bedroom lights.
- Hey Google, dim the sink lights.
- Hey Google, set the chandelier to 75%
- Hey Google, dim the patio by 23%
- Hey Google, turn the hallway light orange.
- Hey Google, turn off the den.
- Hey Google, turn everything off.
Getting Really Wizardly
Google Assistant is rolling out to more Android devices this year. Soon, you’ll be able to tell your home what to do from anywhere using voice on your mobile device. Obviously, you can just go into the SmartThings app to control most of them from anywhere as well, but where’s the fun in that? Telling your house to turn on as you approach it without opening an app is way more badass. You’ll get dirty looks from your passengers.