Once upon a time, our friend, Anne Roberts, attended a conference. For coming the farthest distance to get to the conference, she got a door-prize. Which she thought was nice but also had no interest in; an Amazon Echo Dot (3rd gen). “The hockey puck” She, in turn, gifted it to us. And I promised that we would at least test it out.
I set it up in the kitchen. I asked Alexa about the weather and sports and news. She helped me out as a kitchen timer. She could play music. I allowed her to interact with our Xbox. Just basic things really. On. Off. Tell the Xbox to start Prime Video. That sort of thing. That’s all good.
For cheap, I got her three friends, also all named Alexa. Or maybe I just got her three more bodies to inhabit. I haven’t decided if there is only one Alexa or if each is it’s own self. But, I had a singular purpose in mind. There is an intercom feature called ‘Drop-in’ that’s available when multiple devices are on the same network. Good intentions. But the experience is a bit ‘meh’. The volume is a bit low, and the microphone is a bit hollow. But it’s useful.
Meanwhile the repertoire of skills Alexa has available continues to grow. Thea gave her permission to access her Pandora account. I gave her access to my SiriusXM account. So more music connections. She knows ‘I(Heart)Radio’ so we can listen to radio broadcasts by station letter.
What else can I get Alexa to do for me? How about adding home automation? For $20 I can get a wifi-enabled light switch and give her access to it. It’s important to me to say it that way. It’s a switch that’s still a manual switch that a person can turn on and off. But the wifi componant means that I can also have Alexa turn it on/off for me.
My original intention was to put it in to control the kitchen lights. It’s the most problematic set of lights we have. And the problem is that the kitchen lights are visible from the living room. When you leave them on, they are reflected off the bottom of the TV. So I was thinking, “If only I didn’t have to get back up when I forgot to turn them off.”
So I got an Amazon Basic 3-way switch. After opening the box to inspect the contents, I’m delighted to see that for my convenience when installing the wires are color-coded. Instructions included but this looks easy enough. I’ll just scan them. Okay. Something about a neutral. I’ll just dive in and wing it.
Well, no need to flip the breaker yet. I’ll just remove the cover plate on the wall box. With a flashlight I can see behind switch that there is a single, four-wire bundle. I’m not sure what I was expecting, so I’m not sure what I’m seeing. I need to review how three-way lights are wired.
A three-way switch has three connections plus a ground. Let’s call the connection points A, B, and C. When you use two switches in series to control a light, either switch can turn the light off or on. In the wiring of the switches, power comes in the C-point, called the common, on one switch. The A-points and B-points, called travelers, are wired straight through to the other switches A-point and B-point respectively. Power then leaves to turn on the light from the seconds switch’s C-point. So each switch switches the common from A to B. If the switches are aligned to A on one switch and B on the other, the light is off. ‘On’ then is AA or BB and ‘Off’ is AB or BA.
Since the first box I opened only has one bundle of four wires; black, red, white, and green, it must be the switch that sends power to the light. Otherwise there’d have to be a power source bundle of wires and a lighting bundle of wires in this box. Let’s look in the other box.
The other box is obviously the main one. There are four bundles of wires in it. I was only expecting three. One for the power source. One for the light. And one for the other switch. But we can deal with four. Only one bundle of wire has a red wire. So this bundle goes over to the first box. All the white wires not in the bundle with the red wires are tied together. They must be the neutrals that the new switch needs to work.
Here goes. Ready to wire. Breaker off. White wire to neutral bundle. Red to red. Black to black. Green to green. Brown to… Brown is labeled as a traveler so I connect it to white from the red-wired bundle since it’s the only wire left. Breaker on. Nothing. Reverse the travelers maybe. Not sure. Hmm. No indication of anything. Let’s put it all back together and try something else.
This switch can be used to replace a single-pole or a 3way. Let’s see what it looks like as a single-pole replacement.
The instructions say that I won’t be using the brown wire at all. So the switch box that is my new victim right now has two green wires tied together, two white wires tied together and two black wires hooked up to the switch. Breaker off. Green to green. White to white. Black from the bottom of the old switch to black. And that leaves the black from the top of the old switch, the black that goes to the light, to connect to the only other color that I have available … red. OK. Breaker on.
There’s a small green dot flashing at me and the light works. Connect it to Alexa through the app. Scan the QR-code. Poof. Alexa has control of the light.
Let’s order a new switch, leave this one in place, and figure out where the wiring for the kitchen light goes. I’ll just put all the wiring in the wall box and close it all up.
What did I learn. First, it is not very obvious that red is the power-out wire. So red is going to connect to one of the black wires when I’m working on the kitchen switch. There are 4 of them in that box to sort through. I can eliminate the one coming from the other switch box. but I need to figure out which ones go to the lights and which have power. And for that I need a multimeter.
While I’ve owned several multimeters over the years. The one that I found when I went looking for one is an old swinging needle analog type. I’ll just put a new battery in it and test it. How does this work again? I’ll set it to test up to 500V~ since I know that the electric wiring I’m testing is 120V~ I then push the two leads into the two slots of an outlet. And the meter needle swings to … 3. To be fair, I could be reading the wrong scale. There are a lot of them on here. One of them probably means 120V~ I don’t really need to figure out where it says that though. I just need to see ‘a’ result when testing a powered wire and the absence of a result otherwise.
The new switch has come in and I’ve opened up the kitchen switch box, turned off the breaker and unshielded the wires. Now I’ll turn the breaker on and put one of the multimeter’s probes against a neutral wire and touch each of the black wires in turn with the other. Once the meter needle swings to 3 I’ll know that there’s power on that wire. And that means that I will have located the black wire I need.
Breaker off again. Green to ground. White to neutral. Black to the wire I identified as having power which is also black. Red to the other blacks. And brown… Brown is confusing. The diagram shows the black on the far switch should be tied to the source of power black wire and the red wire that’s a traveler on the far switch should be connected to the brown on the Amazon switch. So I’ve got a three wire bundle of black power-wires and two wires that go to the lights. And brown is connected to red wire from the other box. That leaves the white wire from that far box unused. (It also means that I don’t actually need a 3way switch for the far switch since only the black and red are used. Something to remember for later.)
And the switch works. There’s a green dot flashing. Connect it to Alexa through the app. Scan the QR-code. Poof. Alexa has control of the light. I’ll just rename the lights so Alexa knows which is which and we’re good.
Or are we? Every time I turn off the kitchen lights, there are other outlets and lights in other areas of the house that go off as well. Unfortunately, I didn’t notice it before I put the wiring back in the wall and put on the switch cover. I’ve got to open things back up.
Breaker off. I had the switch’s red power-out wire connected from the switch to two of the black wires thinking that they both controlled half of the kitchen lights. It has to be that only one of the wires controls all of the lights and the other is a runner that goes all over the place. I’ll just guess which one is the right one. (I can only be wrong once) After I figure it out, I can close everything up again and be done with things.
Breaker on. Alexa programmed. Lights tested. Now I don’t have to get up from my show to turn off the lights or put down the groceries when I come in to turn on the lights. I’ll just say, “Alexa,…” and tell her to do it.