Smart Switch Test Bench

Lately, I’ve had problems with smart switch installs. I had a run of 4 defective Z-Wave switches. Amazon has great customer service and getting an exchange or refund is never a problem, BUT there’s still the problem of investing my time in installing a defective product. It doesn’t take many failed installs to make me think of a better way of doing things.

Part of my problem is that I’ve been spoiled by great luck with Zigbee and Wi-Fi switches. I’ve got a SmartThings hub, but, so far, very few things for it to smart with. The other part of my problem is I spent 15 years in QA and have a test-first mentality. When I just flip a breaker, pop a wall plate, wire it up, and then get nothing when I reset the breaker, I kick myself for not having tested it out. Especially if putting a test bench for smart switches is easy.

Parts List:

Leviton 600-watt medium base lampholder – qty 2 (approximately $3)
4 inch 1 gang plastic round box – qty 2 (approximately $12)
4 inch 2 gang plastic square box – qty 2 (approximately $8)
3/4 inch wood screws – qty 8 ($3 for a box of 50)
14/3 Romex wire – 4 feet (approximately $1 per foot, sold by the foot)
60 Watt light bulbs – qty 2 (aproximately $1)
2 x 2 x 1/4 plywood square (4×8 foot sheet is approximately $20)
Single pole light switch – qty 1 (approximately $1)
3 prong appliance dropcord, 3 feet min length – qty 1 (approximately $10)
Bag of assorted wire nuts – qty 1 bag (approximately $2)

If you don’t have some or all of the materials at home, you’re looking at around $60. You can save money by buying a smaller sheet of plywood, using particle board, using less expensive gang boxes, etc. Most of us have a lot of the materials needed sitting in the garage already, which makes this a much more economical project.

First, mount your gang boxes on the plywood using the wood screws. Keep in mind that you need to place them closely enough that you can feed the wire between the boxes. If you’re able to give yourself a little slack, that will make assembly a lot easier.

Next, cut two 1 foot wire lengths. Remove the black, white, and red strands. Strip the ends a little longer than you would normally expose, as you’ll want to make hooks of the ends to connect the lampholders.

Take 1 black and 1 white lead and hook both of the stripped ends on each. Feed one end of the wire through a hole in one of the round gang boxes. On that end of the wires, connect a white lead (neutral) to a silver screw of the lampholder. Connect the black lead (line) to a darker screw. Feed the other end of the wires into the other round gang box. Connect the black lead to a dull screw and the white lead to a silver screw.

Take another black lead and another white one. Form hooks on one end of these leads and connect them to the appropriate screws in the lampholder. Secure both lampholders to their respective gang boxes. Feed the “unbent” ends of the black and white leads into one of the square gang boxes.

Take 1 red lead and 1 black lead. Bend them into a U shape and feed each end of each lead into a different square gang box. Cap the ends with wire nuts but do not connect them to anything.

Cut the “socket” end off the appliance drop cord and remove roughly 3 inches of insulation, exposing the leads inside. Strip roughly 3/4 inch from each of the leads. Cap the ground wire with a wire nut. Connect the white lead from the appliance cord to the white lead fed from the lampholder, capping the wires with a wire nut. Hook the ends of the black leads and connect them to the single pole light switch. Mount the light switch to the gang box.

Screw in your light bulbs, plug in the drop cord, cross your fingers and flip the switch. Your tester should now work!

Just a quick note – the reason for installing a switch is to verify that your test bench works. You can now test single pole smart switches easily. You’ve got your red lead for a 3 way switch’s traveler and the black for a 4 way switch. And, the best part is that you can configure your new switches before you ever remove a wall plate – provision them while they’re on the test bench!

Enjoy! is the website for our Facebook community, The Smarter Home Club – which is an umbrella for all kinds of smart home technologies – home automation, security, custom electronics, weather stations, alternative energy, you name it. DIY focused.

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