Den – Installing a light switch

In a previous post, I covered the Den Automation Smart Hub setup. Next up, I’d like to cover the installation and setup of their 1 gang light switch.

I ordered four of these, to cover the rooms upstairs in my house. I’ll post the processing I went through to install one of the switches.

WARNING – CHANGING THESE SWITCHES REQUIRES EXPOSE TO MAINS VOLTAGE, WHICH IS EXTREMELY DANGEROUS. TAKE THE NECESSARY PRECAUTIONS. I AM NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR ANY INJURY THAT MAY RESULT. REMEMBER TO ISOLATE YOUR SWITCHES AT THE FUSE BOARD. IF IN DOUBT, GET AN ELECTRICIAN!

The humble light switch. Please ignore the filth of my walls!

Having turned off the lights at the fuse board (see my stern warning above) I removed the face plate.

A simple switch. Brown is the live and the blue is the switched live. The box is earthed too.

Den Switches require an earth connection to function (I’m guessing they use the voltage across live and earth to charge their capacitor, keeping the leaked current so low it doesn’t trip the RCD – clever sods!)

The Den switch has four inputs, Earth, Live, Switched Live 1 and Switched Live 2.

Den provide a small Earth cable that acts as an extensions, so I wired that into the backing box.

I added the Den earth extension into the earth connector of the backing box.

The backing box on my switches isn’t deep enough to accommodate the Den switch, so I had to use the provided spacer. I hung that over the wires.

I then connected it up and screwed it in place (using the longer screws provided by Den)

The Den Switch after installation

After restoring the power at the fuse board, I was able to turn the light on and off. Pretty useful to know that still worked 🙂

To pair the switch with the Hub, I launched the Den App and, under the settings part, opted to add a new light switch.

The app starts to guide you through the process, similar to the Hub setup
A soft light starts to blink on the switch after holding down the button

The pairing process took about fifteen seconds.
Customising your new light switch

Name the light using their own names or create your own
Add it to a new room….
Choose an existing room
Done

The installation process was quick and painless.

Unfortunately, after I’d installed mine and I was cleaning it down, I noticed it didn’t quite fit correctly:

An imperfection in the switch prevented it sitting flush against spacer

I wrote to Den’s support email and, whilst it took two days to get an actual response, they dispatched a replacement which I received the next day. I swapped them out and the replacement was perfectly fine. I would have liked a faster reply from support, but they did resolve the issue without any question (I just included the above picture).

I swapped out four light switches upstairs, so I can now control all the bedroom lights.

Firmware update messages are kinda useless as you don’t know the room!

One point of complaint that I still has is that one of the switches hasn’t updated its firmware yet. Three updated to the 1.3 firmware without any issues, but the forth is still stuck on the 1.1 firmware. I need to contact support about this.

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Den – The Smart Hub

The Den Smart Hub is the core component of Den’s smart home offering. You need to have one in order to use any of their other products.

The Hub is responsible for remote access and firmware upgrades. It’s worth noting that the Den products will operate *without* an internet connection (once initially setup). This is something that’s important to me. I find it really frustrating that an internet outage renders most smart home stuff useless. Den have addressed that and state the app etc. will work when on the same network as the Hub. I haven’t tried this out myself, but intend to.

Setting Up

Once you’ve signed into the Den app, the first thing it asks you to do is setup your Hub. I’ve covered the unboxing of the Hub in an earlier post.

I plugged my Hub in and connected the Ethernet cable to one of my Google WiFi units. For most users, I expect they’ll just plug the Hub directly into their WiFi router.

Of course, I immediately tried to pair and failed miserably.

I then read the letter that Den supplied with my order and there, they clearly state, that I should give it 10 minutes after plugging it in to update itself. So I made a cup of tea and sat at my table to drink it.

After scanning again, it found the Hub and asked me what room it was in. I just chose Kitchen as I was there and hit finish.

Conclusion

Simple as that. The process was simple. A small indicator within the app informing me of a firmware update might have been a useful and it’s something I’ve suggested to the Den team.

Next up, install a Den light switch!

Den Automation – Unboxing

It’s been a long time in the making, but Den Automation finally started fulfilling their pre-orders earlier this month. I received my pre-ordered items, an order I placed in March 2018, last Monday. I’ve been looking forward to getting my hands on some Den gear since I first heard about the company in 2017. I love to dabble in home automation and the idea of a light switch that was a drop in replacement for a “dumb” light switch sparked joy!

I should point out that I’m an investor in Den Automation, holding a few shares that I bought through Seedrs.

So, what did I buy?

  • Smart Hub (required to control everything else)
  • Four One-Gang switches
  • One Double Gang socket

Den, as a thank you, threw in a remote too. That was a nice surprise.

The packaging looks nice and reminds me a little of Nest product packaging, with a nice sleeve surrounding the box.

The Smart Hub

The Smart Hub is the brains of the operation.

Opening up the Smart Hub Box.
The contents – The Hub, Some instructions, an Ethernet cable, power cable, adapter and mounting screws.

The hub itself was a little smaller than I expected. It was very light in weight. If I’m honest, it does feel a little cheap, but I’m only comparing that a Google WiFi unit that I had close at hand. That said, it didn’t feel flimsy and the connectors were solid when I plugged in the power and Ethernet cables. I was surprised that the power connector on the hub itself wasn’t USB. I was also surprised the Smart Hub required an Ethernet connection.

UPDATE: 28 Jan 2019 I’ve installed four light switches and they feel solid now that they are on the wall. After a few operations I couldn’t tell the difference. The Hub is also in position and I’ll hopefully never touch it again, so comments on its weight seem silly now.

The Smart Switch

This particular device was the reason I love Den’s concept. Smart WiFi switches are nothing new, but most are either touch based or require a neutral connection (like Sonoff’s offerings). I like the old fashioned rocker switch. Familiar and reliable. Lightwave RF have offered WiFi switches for a long time, but I’ve never taken to their push button design.

An extra earth wire, additional screws, spacing plate and switch.

On lifting the switch out and flicking the rocker a few time, I have to admit I felt a little disappointed. The rocker lacked the weight I’m used to. I handed it to my wife and she agreed. Of course, it’s easy to criticise something like this and, weighting aside, we agreed to reserve final judgement until I’d installed them. Having something that can flick itself on and off is *never* going to as solid as something manual.

The spacing plate is provided in case the backing box isn’t deep enough. it was well packaged, being hidden under the insert. This meant it didn’t get in the way of the Switch itself and the box was opened.

The insert contains a message to slip the box over. Wasn’t very obvious! I knew the spacer was included and lifted the insert out in search of it. That message probably needs to more obvious?

I read some of Den Automation’s early tweets and the use of Earth is crucial to the operation of their light switches, so I’m glad the included some extra cabling.

The Smart Socket

I ordered a Smart Socket just to try it out. I currently use one Sonoff Smart Plug to controlling power to my TV. It’s used a lot (the standby on my ten year old telly draws more wattage than I’d care to admit). The sockets in my house are brushed steel downstairs, but the sockets behind my TV aren’t visible, so I think this is a natural place. It will mean I turn off both my Apple TV and the TV itself.

Smart Tags, screws, the spacer and the double socket

One of the things that Den have done in this space is something I personally find very clever. They have created a concept of Smart Tags. These little tags fit over a plug and can be used to identify an appliance or item.

The socket included four smart tags

I haven’t tested them out yet, but the idea is as following. You pair a tag with an appliance i.e. a hair dryer. When you plug it in, the socket *knows* what’s plugged in. The example Den give is around hair straighteners and a person leaving them plugged in and turned on. I think it’s innovative, but requires every socket in your house to be a Den Socket (I don’t know if they have a patent on this idea).

As a neat touch, Den also put a Smart Tag on the power supply for the Smart Hub. That made me smile!

The Smart Hub power adaptor came fitted with a Smart Tag

The Remote

As a gesture of goodwill, for the numerous delays in shipping, Den chucked in a free remote.

It seems to just be an on or off type deal, but I don’t know anything beyond that. I assume you can pair it to one or more sockets or switches in the Den App. Once I get everything setup, I’ll be sure to write more about it.

Summary

The packaging was nice and well presented, but the items themselves felt a little cheap. It’s hard to explain. I have put this feeling down to the type of plastic and how it feels. The weight of the items also feeds into that feeling too. I know it’s pointless to try and gauge quality by the weight or feel of something and I’ll reserve judgement until I’ve installed them and used them.

I’ll do another post on the setup once I get more time.

I’m happy to answer any questions you might have. I think it’s fantastic that a small UK startup are producing products like this and that they have finally shipping is a testament to their hard work and determination. I’ve played no part in the development of the product, nor do I personally know anyone involved, but I can appreciate the monumental effort required to deliver hardware and software, especially consumer facing.

I take my hat off to Yasser and his team.

Best laid plans…

Wanted to work on my garden LED lighting project weekend. Unfortunately, I may have made a slight miscalculation with my measurements…

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I placed an other with RS for a replacement box, this time a little wider! If all else fails I can always take the circuit board out of the case and place it directly in the junction box, but I’d rather keep it housed.

I did manage to test it out though and the lighting is effective enough.

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Maybe next weekend?

 

WiFi enabling my porch light with a Sonoff Basic Smart Switch.

Having failed to read the warning regarding neutral wires, my attempt at using a Sonoff T1 Smart Switch to control my porch light went down in flames. My plan B was to try using a Sonoff Basic WiFi Smart Switch to perform the same job. My plan to put the relay between the ceiling rose and the bulb holder. It wouldn’t be pretty, but the aim was to test utility before spending £££ on proper smart switches etc.

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As you can see, my porch light is pretty standard.

First step, I turned off the power at the fuse box. Can’t stress this one enough. Don’t go near any mains electricity until you’ve isolated the power. Don’t just turn off the light switch!! I gathered all the parts and tools I’d need.

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I then disconnected the light bulb holder, removing the little red plastic thing and the curved lid.

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Using a short piece of flex, I connected the Smart Switch directly to the light bulb holder.

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Next, I connected the Smart Switch to the cable hanging from the ceiling!

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As it was hanging a bit low in the porch now, I created a loop and used two tie-wraps to hold it in place.

As it was all hooked up, I turned the power back on. Nothing started to smoke, so I knew I’d gotten that part done okay. The green light appeared on the relay and I started the pairing process. This involved holding down a black switch on the relay for a few seconds until the green light started flashing quickly.

I then launched the EWeLink app and hit the Add Device button. The process is straight forward. When you push the button down on the device, it creates its own WiFi network. You then connect to that WiFi network, enter details of your own WiFi network (SSID and password) and it then connects itself to your EWe account.

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Following the instructions, I found the Smart Switch’s WiFi point and connected.

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Once connected, the pairing process starts.

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After a few seconds, you’ll be able to control the device! I tapped on the power and, eh voila, the light came on.

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Job done!

Smart switches and the missing neutral!

As part of my learning and experimentation with Homekit and home automation, I recently picked up some Sonoff Basic Smart Switches. I’ve successfully installed one them outside, controlling a few metres of LED strip lighting.

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It’s pretty novel to turn it on and off via Alexa or from my iPhone, but to be honest, it’s not very practical. Flicking a switch is just than saying “Alexa, <pause> turn on the side alley light”. Pause. <click>. “Ok”.  Whilst voice control gives you flexibility (hands full etc.), 99% of the time the light switch is the king.

In my quest to check whether the smart home is practical, I wanted to try out a proper, in the wall, smart switch. I’d found a few companies such as Den Automation (who I’ve actually invested in, but who’s stuff isn’t on sale yet) and Lightwave RF, who make normal looking switches (normal from a UK style). The downside is that this stuff is expensive.

Taking Lightwave for example, a single Lightwave switch will run you £60. They also require a hub or bridge, which means an additional outlay of over £120 before you can even use the switch! Spending the bones of £200 just to check whether a smart switch is useful or useless is a bit much. I needed something cheaper to get me started!

Enter the Sonoff T1 WiFi lightswitch

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I dropped £31 and bought two switches, a two-gang and a three-gang. Aesthetically, I don’t find them appealing since they are just white and I hate touch buttons, preferring something that actually clicks.

I digress. The first step with any new light switch is to actually install it in your house. For me, I wanted to get the maximum value, so I opted to replace the three gang switch in my hallway. The hallway light switch operates the hall light, the porch light and the upstairs light. Three lights that are used pretty frequently.

I started by unscrewing the switch.

Then I stopped.

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There were more wires than I expected!! I knew the upstairs light and the hallway light were three-way switched, but the porch light isn’t.

The back of the T1 looks like this:

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I was going to need some professional help! Thankfully, as my father and two of my brothers are electricians, I could get *free* professional advice.

After getting a handle on the wiring, I realised that the T1 switches just wouldn’t work. No neutral connection was available. I mistakenly the blue wire to be neutral when it is switched live. I should have paid more attention when my father was teaching me this at age 15. I checked a few more of the switches and confirmed that there was no neutral in any of them.

The listing for the Sonoff switches on Amazon does indicate that a neutral is required, but since I mistook the blue switched-live for a neutral, I went ahead and bought them. I’ll be returning them.

This was a disappointment.

My main annoyance was that I’ve only had my house completely rewired last year. I was kicking myself because this should have been something I was aware of. That said, a lost of forum entries seem to indicate that most electricians won’t add a neutral that doesn’t connect to anything. Even if I did ask my electrician to add a neutral to each switch, he could very well have said no.

At this point, I took a step back. The Sonoff switches simply weren’t going to work.

The Lightwave RF stuff was too expensive for the purpose of playing around.

I needed a plan B. I decided to put one of the Sonoff Basic Smart Switch onto my porch light. This would mean leaving it switched on at the wall, but I figured that would be okay. I’ll do another post on that soon.

UPDATE 16 Feb, 2019Den Automation now offer smart light switches that work in the UK without the need for a neutral. I’ve written a post on the pre-ordered items I received.