Introduction: RF Outlet to Light Switch Hack

Kickstarter (and later Indiegogo) project Hook was something that was an easy choice to back since it made cheap and readily available home automation devices smart by adding the ability to control using your smartphone and/or IFTTT. The biggest downfall that I quickly determined was that they had not identified a light switch that they could communicate with. Additional internet searching on my part also came up blank however part of the reason I am posting this project is to see if anyone else has found a better solution.

The Etekcity RF outlet become an easy choice to hack into something that would work as a light switch. Even if you are not a Hook backer from Kickstarter or Indiegog (you can still support on Indiegogo) this project works great with the provided remote.

The project will only work with a two-way circuit and due to the size of the outlet unit I currently have only used them in a single gang box (i.e. to big to use side-to-side).

The starting outlet is intended to be used ONLY with 120V (standard US household voltage) and limited to 10 amps. As a safety factor I would not recommend drawing more than 5 amps. If you have CFL or LED light bulbs this should not be an issue however you should always calculate the circuit load before performing this project and installing. Never exceed the limits of the device. (AC Watt to Amp Calculator)

Warning: Disconnect power at circuit breaker or fuse when servicing, installing, removing and/or modifying current household wiring and/or electrical fixtures. Electrical fixtures shall be installed and/or used in accordance with appropriate electrical codes and regulations. Electricity is dangerous and can cause personal injury or death as well as other property loss or damage if not used or constructed properly. If you have any doubts what so ever about performing electrical work, hire a certified electrician to perform the work.

Warning: This project shall only be used with US standard 120V AC voltage in a 2-way circuit. The circuit created by this project shall never exceed a power output of 10A(max). This project shall only be used indoors and not be used in areas of moisture or humidity (i.e. around a sink, in a bathroom, etc). This project is not intended for areas of rough use where the switch may be easily damaged (i.e. workshop, garage, child's room).

Step 1: Getting Started: Skills, Tools & Supplies

This project utilizes Etekcity's remote controlled electrical outlet switch with the learning function. You will need to be able to perform simple dis-assembly of the unit and desolder the current wiring and then solder in new wire to allow you to wire the unit in place of your two-way circuit light switch.

This project will not cover the skills of soldering and desoldering however there are plenty of instructions provided online (including instructables) on how to perform these tasks.

Skills

  • basic soldering
  • basic knowledge of using hand tools (i.e. screwdriver, drill, etc.)
  • basic multi-meter operation
  • household wiring

Required Tools:

  • corded or cordless drill (cordless preferred)
  • assorted drill bits (just drilling plastic, don't need expensive bits)
  • #1 tri wing screwdriver (typically in a security bit set) or narrow flat screwdriver (from a precision screwdriver set)
  • soldering iron (adjustable, 60W)
  • wire cutters
  • wire strippers
  • x-acto knife

Recommend Tools:

Supplies

Step 2: Modify Etekcity Outlet

  1. Remove the two(2) screws from the back side of the case.
  2. Insert a small flat screwdriver into the top of the case.
  3. Rotate the screwdriver to open the case.
  4. Remove the two(2) Phillips head screws from the circuit board (white arrows). Retain the plastic white button cover (blue arrow).
  5. Remove the three(3) Phillips head screws from the outlet terminals (white arrows). Remove circuit board from the case.
  6. Desolder three(3) wires from circuit board (white arrows). Remove excess solder from holes. Recommend holding circuit board in vise or circuit board holder during desoldering operations.
  7. Cut new wire(s) to length. Recommend 12" and trim excess later as needed.
  8. Stripe wire(s), only need 1/8" exposed.
  9. Solder new wire(s) to circuit board. Recommend using a helping hand tool to hold wire during solder operations. Use the attached wiring diagram. To mimic the original wiring I used UL 1015 16 AWG for the red and black connections and UL 1015 18 AWG for the white connection.
  10. Use multi-meter to confirm continuity of new connections.
  11. The front half of the housing will need to be modified to cover female outlet holes. I had some scrap matte photo paper that matched the color and texture of the housing well. I glued the photo paper to the circular housing cover using super glue and then trimmed the photo paper after the glue dried using a x-acto knife to get it to match exactly.
  12. Next, glue the circular housing to the main part of the front housing. I used hot glue.
  13. Drill a 3/8" diameter hole in the back half of the housing (see diagram). This will be used later to access the screw of the wall plate.

Step 3: Mounting Solution

The mounting portion of this project is where I have only a decent solution currently. First, I didn't want to provide exact dimensions of where and how you should lay out the mounting since it seems like every Etekcity housing I used was slightly different and the blank wall plates can be different even from the same manufacture. Basically you need to measure your exact hardware to ensure you are getting it centered.

  1. I used blue painters tape to allow for easy layout of lines/markings to determine where the outlet housing needed to be placed on the wall plate.
  2. Drill a 3/8"-1/2" diameter hole in the center of the wall plate for where the wires pass through. Remove any sharp edges from the hole.
  3. Next I placed the outlet housing on the wall plate using the centering marks and a small amount of hot glue to hold it in place.
  4. If everything looks centered and the 3/8" hole that you drilled earlier in the back housing lines up with the upper hole in the wall plate then drill two small holes through the housing and wall plate. Use the smallest drill size needed for the zip ties to pass through.
  5. Dissemble everything removing the hot glue and tape.
  6. Re-assemble using the zip ties to attach the outlet housing to the wall plate. You will need two(2) zip ties per hole. Trim the excess off the zip ties.
  7. I also added some additional hot glue after the zip ties to make things more stable (see picture).

Step 4: Wiring

Updated 11/12/2016: Added additional wiring diagrams on how to connect to home wiring.

Warning: Disconnect power at circuit breaker or fuse when servicing, installing, removing and/or modifying current household wiring and/or electrical fixtures. Electrical fixtures shall be installed and/or used in accordance with appropriate electrical codes and regulations. Electricity is dangerous and can cause personal injury or death as well as other property loss or damage if not used or constructed properly. If you have any doubts what so ever about performing electrical work, hire a certified electrician to perform the work.

I will not be covering all the detailed specifics on how to perform household wiring. The work being performed is similar to the replacement of a two way light switch. The process may take some time, especially if you have a small gang box. Trim back the new wire as needed to ensure you have enough space in your gang box.

Note: I am using an empty gang box to provide better pictures of the installation process since getting pictures of an actual installation is difficult when you have to disconnect the power and no longer have a good source of light.

  1. Prepare switch as shown.
  2. Disconnect power to the switch you will be working on.
  3. Remove the existing light switch.
  4. Using diagram provided, install the new switch. You may need to trim the wire from your new light switch to get everything to fit in the gang box.
  5. Install new wall plate and switch.
  6. Push excess wiring into gang box and install circuit board to back housing using the two screws saved during the housing dis-assembly process.
  7. Ensure the black and white wire are pushed away from the two circular boss fitting on the back housing. The front housing has similar features to fill this space.
  8. Install front cover.
  9. Turn on power to the switch.
  10. Use white button on the side of the housing to test the switch.

Step 5: Step 5: Future Development

Added 11/12/2016:

My end goal is to get all the electronics into the gang box. I would only recommend doing this if 1) you have a plastic gang box, a metal gang box will likely cause interference and 2) you build or find a small enclosure to place the electronics in before installing inside the gang box. Ideally I will be able to find a small electronics enclosure to fit everything and be small enough to fit inside by gang box. I have new construction with nice large gang boxes so I have confidence I will eventually find something. Hammond has a pretty large selection and I have a few options on order.

Warning: This is 110V power and proper protection and insulation is required. I would not install the electronics inside a gang box without an enclosure.

I attached a picture of the Sparkfun LED button I am considering using for the next version of this project.

https://www.sparkfun.com/products/10442

https://www.sparkfun.com/products/10467

Finally, please post in the comments if you have found a solution or have a recommendation. Getting feedback up to this point has only made this instructable better and I thank you in advice for taking the time to make a comment.

Comments

author
JJ70 (author)2017-07-20

Anyone with some help on bypassing the "off" default of the Etekcity RF ZAP outlet device? When power to it goes out and then goes back on this ZAP device defaults to stay "off". The Etekcity manufacture has designed these devises to default in the off mode when the power source to them goes out and then back on... which is probably a safety and practical feature to keep your house lamps (or anything the ZAP is being used with) off if power to your house goes out and is later restored. I'm trying to find a way to bypass this "off" default so when the power to it goes back on the ZAP device is on too. Reason for wanting to change this default is that I have the ZAP device wired to an outside patio siren and the ZAP device gets power from a motion sensor when it detects motion. Since the ZAP is defaulted off when it looses power it doesn't activate the siren when the motion sensor sends the 120v power to it. I've look on the web to find the wiring schematic of this ZAP device to see if this "off" default is hopefully an easy fix (like shorting two points on the circuit board) or is programmed in a chip which can't be changed.

author
MichaelP494 (author)2017-01-08

I just tried it today. It works well. I used my dremel and cut off the entire circular part on the bottom and was able to fit it inside of the gangbox behind the light switch. And linked it with Alexa! What a great and cheap way to automate lights. Great instructable!

author
moyerek (author)2016-11-12

I have updated the main instructions with the information provided in the comments sections and have added a new step that I will start to document some of my future development work of this project. Thanks again for everyone who has taken the time to ask questions and provide feedback.

author
DW29 (author)2016-10-31

Works great. Thanks for the idea. I've been testing trying to house the unit within the gang box but it seems the metal gang boxes may interfere with the radio signal. Still have to test further. Also, trying to find a way to convert the momentary tactile push button switch into something bigger. Anybody have any ideas or parts for the push button? Thanks

author
moyerek (author)DW292016-11-09

Thanks for commenting on my project. I could see your metal gang box as creating RF interference with your unit. You may be limited to keeping outside the box. My end goal is to also install the guts into my gang box. It's not that much larger than the current switch but I have been using a Sparkfun LED tactile button in the development of the next version to install inside my gang box. The are available in different colors.

https://www.sparkfun.com/products/10442

Sparkfun LED Button.jpg
author
rroesadi (author)2016-04-22

I've VERY interested in doing this. But unfortunately I'm not familiar with electrical work at all. From what I've been Googling, a typical light switch has three wiring (hot, neutral, and ground). From the diagram, I know where to connect the black and white wire, but I got lost to where I'm suppose to connect the red wire to (if you could provide more information on the wiring, that would really help me out a lot).

Also, would it be possible to use the existing wires instead of replacing with a UL1015?

Thank you!

author
moyerek made it! (author)rroesadi2016-04-25

Hopefully the attached graphics will help clarify any questions you may have in regards to wiring. The first graphic shows a generic two-way light switch. The second graphic identifies each wire as labeled on the circuit board. The final graphic then shows where to connect the three(3) wires to a generic two-way light switch. For this circuit there is not connection to ground since the original outlet does not connect to ground.

You could use the existing wiring from the outlet (since it is also UL1015) however since the existing wiring will not be long enough you will need to pull the household wires into the outlet housing and do you connections in the outlet housing. Room will probably be an issue. Also, for connecting the "N" wire you will need some type of jumper wire to connect to your household neutral circuit.

Comment 1.jpgComment 2.jpgComment 3.jpg
author
moyerek (author)2016-04-08

The circuit board could go inside a gang box however it would need an enclosure since the board does carry live 110V. This project came out of the need to confirm the functionality of my idea before making it more compact and getting it into the gang box. In regards to RF interference I wouldn't expect any if you did get the guts inside the gang box since my remote works from several rooms away with no issue.

author
MichaelM574 (author)2016-03-13

I'm curious. Why not just install the circuit board and wiring in the gang box and mount the switch on the back of a modified blank gang box cover? Safety? RF range?

author
petecal (author)2016-01-12

It would be nice if you told us what this actually does early in the description. And what it doesn't do.

Or am I just dense?

author
moyerek (author)2015-12-30

Thank you both for your feedback. In regards to the missing pictures I thought I had uploaded pics to cover the desoldering and soldering process and those are now loaded. In regards to the watts calculation I did use the AC equation but assumed a power factor of 1.0 which after further investigation this was a poor assumption. For an incandescent a PF (power factor) of 1.0 might be close to correct but its seems like LED and CFL bulbs can be anything from 0.6 to 0.9. I have read of a couple forums people getting PF as low as 0.2 with a dimmer LED however I don't see this happening in a non-dimmer scenerio. I have updated my information to provided the website I used to calculated my circuit load. There is a good amount of information of the web of using a "Kill A Watt Meter" of determining the PF of light bulbs and appliances you would use with this project.

author
Yonatan24 (author)2015-12-30

I think you might have a mistake in calculating watts, V*I=W is only in DC Voltage. In AC, I believe there is a different way to calcutale

author
Thejesterqueen (author)2015-12-28

pics of the soldering steps are missing. It goes from step 5-11. Aside from that, it's super easy to follow. Thank you so much for all the info.

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