Nothing wastes electricity (and precious budget money) more than teachers and students leaving the lights on after the room has emptied, but rewiring with motion-sensing, timer- or network-controlled switches is expensive, complicated and require an electrician to install them. Enter Acer’s SwitchMate switch covers, which can turn the lights on and off when needed, and can quickly pay for themselves.
The switch covers are nothing short of ingenious and take 10 seconds to install. Rather than having to rewire a switch with new hardware, SwitchMate fits right over an existing toggle and rocker switch plate and is held tightly in place with magnets.
Inside, there’s a small motor that moves an arm to push the underlying switch on or off. It requires a pair of AA batteries (included) and you can hear the motor whirring while it’s working. While it’s a nice way to retrofit a light switch to be remotely controlled, the device raises the switch plate by about an inch and includes a small adapter you might need for some rocker switches.
SwitchMate’s Web site has a compatibility guide that will let you know ahead of time if the plate will work with your switches. At the moment, SwitchMate only comes in white and there’s nothing to remotely control an outlet, dimmers, half-size or press-button switches.
Once it’s in place, you can turn the light on and off by pressing the SwitchMate plate’s center. Switchmate comes into its own after you download and install the app for Android or iOS phones or tablets. Unfortunately, there’s no software for PCs or Macs. The app is very powerful, visually-oriented and easier to setup and use than WiFi-based automation gear. That’s because SwitchMates connect via Bluetooth. On the downside, the phone needs to be within range for it to control the switch.
Once your phone or tablet has made contact with the SwitchMate, you can name each switch (based on its location or the fixture it controls) and give it an identifying icon. At this point SwitchMate is ready for more important tasks, like turning the lights on or off at any time by tapping the phone or tablet’s icon. This alone would make it useful in the classroom after a projector-based lesson is about to start or has ended.
The switch can also be set to turn on when you get near enough for SwitchMate to sense your phone’s Bluetooth signature. Ironically, the reverse isn’t possible. It can’t turn lights off after a period when your phone isn’t detected.
The app can warn you when the switch cover’s batteries are about to die and the interface can control up to a dozen separate switches, plenty for a day of room-to-room migration. Each switch can be controlled by separate phones or tablets, which can allow different users to turn the lights on and off at a variety of rooms.
On the other hand, you’ll find that occasionally, the software can’t control the individual SwitchMates. After a little head-scratching, all you do is restart your phone’s Bluetooth radio and everything works fine afterward.
Unfortunately, SwitchMate is an island of technology that can’t be integrated into other automation schemes, but the company is working on getting it to work with Alexa’s voice activated home automation system. You can’t program SwitchMate to turn on at sunrise and off at sunset for outdoor security lighting or connect over the Internet to control the lights when you’re not nearby.
The switch covers worked on nearly every toggle and rocker switch that I could find, but even with the included adapter balked at one rocker. The way it works is uncanny and seems like magic, particularly when it turns on as you enter a room. At $40, SwitchMate can pay for itself in about a school year if a classroom’s fluorescent lights are turned off for an extra few hours a day.
$40 per switch
+ Works with standard toggle and rocker light switches
+ 10 second installation with magnets holding it in place
+ Phone and tablet interface
+ Can turn on when phone is nearby
+ All on/off setting
- Won’t work with dimmers or dual switches
- Slight delay
- No PC or Mac software