Thinking of ditching Insteon. Are Inovelli switches a good fit?

I’m currently using mostly Insteon switches. I’m pleased with the functionality, but not so much with company. In any case I want to know, in detail, what I’m getting into if I decide to change technologies l. It’s bad enough to do the Circuit breaker run 5000 when setting these up, but stuck in programming hell is something I want to avoid. The juice has to be worth the squeeze to make the switch. A few primer questions I have:

  • One of the things I like about Insteon switches is that they don’t need a hub to operate. If the hub is down or the internet is off, the switches work as setup. Will Inovelli switches operate in the same manner?
  • Can you setup switches like traditional 3-way switches? What happens when you dim one of those switches, do the other switches dimmer slider/indicator move with the one setting the brightness?
  • How do you program the switches?
  • When a switch gets fried, is there a “replace switch” feature so you don’t have to manually rebuild the programming?

I’m breaking up some of my questions across posts to make it easier to respond to them.

So this is a real example, that is somewhat dumbed down just for explanation purposes. I’ll explain the original circuit setup, my Insteon setup and usage. I want to know how Inovelli switches would compare, and what (if any) functionality I would lose. I also want to know how programming occurs and what’s involved when a switch needs to be replaced.

Example 1. Suppose I have two traditional 3-way circuits, one which controls the lower stairs, and the other the upper stairs. Each circuit has two gang box SPST switches (4 total).

So on each circuit, I replace all the switches with Inovelli ones, and I short the wire that makes it a 3-way. I’m left with two switches that are connected to loads lower and upper, (L1 U1) and two switches (L2 U2) that aren’t connected to any load (but they are connected to black and the traveler wires).

Now let me describe a usage scenario I will name MyStairs. That is when any switch in U1,U2, L1,L2 is tapped on, both the lower and upper loads to turn on to 80% brightness, and ramp up to that in 4 seconds. When any of those switches are tapped off, they all dim to off in 4 seconds. In the Insteon world, I would create something like this on the ISY hub and this would be called an ISY scene.

Now suppose I want to program the switches as follows (and these have questions):

  • I want to take the info from MyStairs and apply it to the switches locally as a “network”. On the Insteon switches, I would use the ISY GUI to create a local network of the Insteon switches. It’s tedious and cumbersome, but you only have to do it once. Once I save that network to the switches (using the ISY), everything is ready to go. Is there a similar process to do this with Inovelli switches? Is it simple? When a switch needs to be replaced, is that simple?
  • Will the indicators on switches that aren’t being pressed mimic the same behavior of the of every other switch in the network? For example, if I manually adjust the brightness to 50% on any switch , will the other switches will follow? (and at the same ramp rate).

The beauty of creating a definition of MyStair is that I can
apply it to the switches themselves (in Insteon) using the hub to program them. After I installed my Insteon switches I then decided that I wanted to call MyStairs from my computer. Why should I have to move to one of the four switches to press them? But since MyStairs was already defined as an ISY Scene, it was only a simple matter to call that Scene from the command line, and eventually a website I created.

Hey Google, turn on MyStairs

And when Alexa/Google rolled around, I was able to import my already existing scenes and control them with voice in under 2 minutes.

Zwave does require a hub to set up and configure devices. However, you can still control the device locally (via physical buttons) even if the hub is offline. Internet access is not a requirement for zwave, but may be required for some hubs (such as SmartThings). I am not sure what the capabilities of ISY are.

Yes, kinda (it somewhat depends on how you wire everything up). If you replace all switches with Inovelli dimmers, you could use zwave association to set up a “virtual” 3-way), with 1 master switch actually controlling the load and the other switch(es) just communicating with the master switch. When set up this way, the LED brightness indicator/dimming level will be kept in sync. For this setup though, only 1 switch should be connected to the load (the other switches will need a line and neutral for power, but no load wire needs to be connected).

Programming is done through your hub, and may differ a bit by manufacturer. Not all hubs support all zwave features.

You can replace a failed device (so it includes into the network, but uses the same node ID as the failed device), but you will likely need to re-set any config parameters and associations after replacement.

I am not exactly sure what capabilities ISY has as a hub, but what you are trying to do is possible with zwave through Association. Of the 4 switches, pick 1 to be the master switch (lets use L1).

Switch Association Config Parameter 12 value
L1 L2, U1, U2 15
L2 L1 11
U1 L1 11
U2 L1 11

Whenever you press a button on either L2, U1 or U2, it will forward the command to L1, and L1 will then pass that information out to the other switches, which keeps the dimming levels in sync. This feature would work even if the hub is offline. On your hub though, you just need to make sure you always control your lights using L1. If you control any of the other switches directly with your hub, it will not forward the command to L1 and things will appear out of sync.

Its relatively simple (takes maybe a minute to set up). If you replace one of the switches, you will likely need to set up the association again though.

If set up how I described above, the brightness indicators will stay in sync. However, with the current firmware the dimming speed is not forwarded to associated devices (they will use whatever default value they are configured to use). If you Set all 4 switches to use a 4 second dimming speed/ramp rate, and then use your hub to tell L1 to turn on to 65% over 1 second, the Lower lights will turn on over 1 second as you expect, but the upper lights would turn on over 4 seconds. I am hoping this gets addressed in a future firmware update.


What happens if your scene contains two loads? For example let’s say I’m combining two previously 3-way circuits (say upstairs and downstairs stair spotlights) into one scene? I’d want every button to control all of the other switches as the same. That is any key press controls the load and ramp rate the same way. Yes, assuming the ramp rate is fixed in a firmware update.

Btw, can these switches have their firmware updated with a hub?

Which hubs do you recommend? My main one is Home Assistant, but I have no problem getting another for programming.

In your example above, what is the Config Parameter (11, 12,15)

With Zwave, a “scene” is an optional feature that the Inovelli red series supports. Whenever you press (or 2x press, or 3x, 4x, 5x), the device sends a notification to your hub letting it know which button was pressed and how many times. This allows you to set up automations or scripts based on the action taken (press the down button 4x to turn off all the lights in your house and arm the alarm, etc).

The zwave feature you are referring to is Association though, and it would work just fine if you had 2 loads (or even 4 loads). The maximum number of devices a single Inovelli dimmer can associate with is 5 though.

Yes, depending on your hub (Home Assistant with zwavejs2mqtt can update firmware)

I use Home Assistant, but many people on this forum use Hubitat or SmartThings. HA and Hubitat both work without the need for the cloud, but I think the current iteration of SmartThings requires the internet for processing. If you are already familiar with HA, I would recommend using that.

Yes, and information about the different firmware updates can be found here

Config Parameter 12 is used to tell the Red Series dimmer which types of commands it needs to forward to other associated devices. If not configured properly, you can end up in an infinite loop if you device L1 forwards a command to L2, and L2 forwards it back to L1, etc. For this particular parameter, a valuie of 15 means to forward all commands, and a value of 11 means to forward everything except commands received via zwave.

So this “Association” feature is common to all Zwave switches? Does that mean I could use any Zwave switch, or even a combination of brands to make an Association?

I why are Inovelli switches limited to 5 devices? Is that somewhat common compared to other Zwave switches? It seems rather low. I mean 3/way switch circuits with more than 5 switches aren’t that uncommon, and with a 5 device limit you couldn’t set that up unless you used a hub to catch events and create automations. Or am I misunderstanding this.

What are some features that are unique to Inovelli switches?

I really appreciate the education you’re giving me.

I actually have a experience that is probably relevant. We have 2 homes (main and seasonal). For years I have run ISY/Insteon in our main home and have been generally quite happy. When we got the seasonal home I decided to go with Z-wave for the most part. My main concern was that Insteon was/is a single source and had seemed to go pretty dead regarding new products. So in the new house I have installed initially HomeSeer Z-wave and now Inovelli stuff. I run Home Assistant for the hub. In a bit of a back port, I also run HA now in my main home along side the ISY. That provides what I think is a much better/richer non-Insteon environment that does ISY’s Node Server stuff. From this experience some personal conclusions:

  • With Zwave absolutely go Inovelli over HomeSeer. The latter have had a high death rate plus the Inovelli provide better function and customization.
  • Go with Home Assistant for a hub. Very active community with very responsive folks to fix or help with issues. HA provides an excellent single platform for combining multiple technologies. I run zwave but also have IP devices, cloud only integrations (pool controller) etc. and have yet to see anything I couldn’t integrate on the platform.
  • The easy path to begin conversion is to have HA install the ISY integration. That gives HA full view into your ISY environment and lets you start to automate stuff using HA that controls the Insteon devices while at the same time continuing to use your ISY programs. I have tended to add new automations of ISY/Insteon controlled stuff in HA simply because the HA programming/automation model is more straightforward than the ISY one (obviously in my opinion).
  • Bottom line, you can ease your way into Zwave via this path and decide where you want to make the effort to retrofit.

Happy to answer any questions given my experience on both sides of this.

By the way, I don’t personally use associations. I rely on the hub, but my experience is that the hub is very reliable. Initially I ran the hub code on Raspberry Pi systems and that worked fine. However, more recently I installed Synology NAS systems in both houses (I keep the homes connected via a permanent VPN) and moved the hub code there. I have had virtually no outages of my hubs other than those caused by a whole house power outage in which case the issue is moot.

Also, one other small advantage for 3 way switch setup. Inovelli (and some competitors) allow you to use a dumb switch or a cheaper “companion” switch as the extra switch(es) in the 3 way. So you don’t need a full function switch at each end. It always annoyed me that I had to pay for a second full function Insteon switch for the remote on a 3 way when I wasn’t really using any of it.

That is basically true for z-wave in general. However, Inovelli switches have a small ‘config’ button that can be used to set many config parameters locally without a hub.

With that said, there is some talk of removing that capability since the flash memory is limited and is currently full. They have slowly been removing some of the local config capability as new features have been added. But many of the basic config setting can still be done locally without a hub.

Hubitat can update Inovelli firmware also.

Thanks! Fortunately I’m already running HomeAssistant. I have my ISY integration and can access all of my Insteon devices. I just haven’t had an opportunity to “associate” any Z-Wave switches yet. I have a mix of GE, HomeSeer, and some no names. I haven’t figured out how to any configuration of them using HA, because they are mostly stand alone and I haven’t tried.

But I don’t even know where I would start. For example, I have a couple of light dimmers installed. Is it possible to to configure their local on brightness and ramp levels? How?

Since you’re familiar with Insteon, what do you think about the 5 device association limit? After joining lots of Insteon switches already, this has me perplexed at such a low value. I’m hoping I am misunderstanding this.

And the same is true for setting associations. I use zwave-js, is that what you use to set associations?

The different zwave manufactures have different capabilities. In your example, Inovelli can preset a default brightness when turned on (actually I think it can have separate default levels for local turn on vs hub turnon) whereas HomeSeer can’t. This has actually annoyed me because I have a couple of dimmers that I want to come on to very different levels when switched on in the middle of the night than during the day, at best with HS you have to work around to approximate that. You can set all the parameters from the zwavejs2mqtt control panel. I think they are working toward allowing all those settings directly in HA but don’t think they are there yet. There isn’t any downside to running the mqtt version of zwavejs - you just turn off the mqtt side and you get the better control panel.

I haven’t gotten any issues with the association limit because I don’t use associations. I run all my multi switch stuff through the hub and so there are no limits there. I don’t know what the practical limits of 5 is but as I understand it you’d need to be running a 6-way control of a light for that to be an issue (and you’d still be able to handle via the hub). I don’t think I’ve ever seen a 6-way but, of course, everyone’s house is different. What I generally do for my 2-ways (or 3-ways) is to use an AUX switch on the far end. This uses the already present traveler to connect the switches directly so for those it doesn’t use associations or the hub. I suspect that there are some complex cases where the Insteon direct communication paradigm is more efficient that you’d get with zwave but I think they aren’t really too common.

By the way, one place that Insteon has a clear product advantage at the moment is the Keypad Linc devices. I use quite a few of those to reduct wall rash controlling a lot of different lights/scenes. Inovelli has a product in preorder that comes pretty close though so I think that will get fixed.

My understanding is the association limit is a Z-Wave limitation, and has nothing to do with Inovelli.

This is correct.

Associations operate local to the switches, scene control goes through the hub. I use both and don’t notice a speed difference between the two frankly. It’s near instant in either path. I use HA on a very powerful server, so never really have any issues with the installation. I also use Node Red a fair amount for scene control, and we have good nodes for translation of scenes into ouputs, so there’s a great start there!

One other unique aspect of Inovelli is Smart Bulb Mode. SBM has 3 modes now that correpond to the type of load that you have.

  1. Normal Dimming capabilities
  2. On/Off (outputs 0% at level 0, outputs 100% at level 1 to 99)
  3. Smart Bulb (outputs 100% from level 0 to 99)

I use SBM in mode 3 and can ramp/control my switch which in turn dims my lights appropriately through association or automation. I can control any number of end devices to align with the dimmer, but most importantly can set my default levels, dim levels, and color automatically to track circadian rhythym. It works so well I can’t recommend it enough. The HA integration I use is called Adaptive Lighting. This allows the bathroom switch/light to come on and stay on at 1% at night, then track me back to bed while I walk then shut off. It’s a beautifully simple integration, but really comes to life with Inovelli’s parameter config.

@jtronicus @kevink

Let’s say I setup the association above and this one below:

Switch Association Config Parameter 22 value
M1 M2, V1, V2 25
M2 M1 21
M1 M1 21
M2 M1 21
  • These are two independent association groups, correct?
  • If I wanted to make this one association group, it would not be possible because the number of devices (6) are greater than the Zwave limit (5), correct?
  • Is “chaining” possible? I.E. can we associate U2 to V2 such that if someone pressed U1, the association would fire U2 and that would trigger the second group and vice versa associate V2 to U2 which would trigger the first group from keypad presses on the first group?

I have a bit of an apprehension here. I’m all Insteon now. Things work. When switches die, I replace them. But I want to be prepared for something like a new house or Smarthome goes belly up.

My first concern is I like the fact that my switches all work without a hub. It’s a bit of a pain to manage the way Insteon switches are setup, but the ISY does a (barely) acceptable job. Setting up these associations seems to be even more difficult, but possible. But only if you don’t exceed 5 devices.

  • If you exceed 5 devices you must use a hub, correct?
  • I assume (depending upon the hub) setting a “hub association” (does this have a name?) is fairly straightforward? It’s fast as an association and you’re not experiencing the popcorn effect?

I have no problems having a hub on 24/7. I’m doing that already. Is that one of the trade-offs of overcoming the association limit? Has it been an acceptable requirement for the smart switch community? The major problem I can envision is if the WiFi, hub, or local network goes down then the light switches won’t pass the wife test. Switches she expects to work a certain way and they won’t. And if I have to use the hub method, is there any benefit of setting up associations in the first place?

I think you are misunderstanding how associations work.

Zwave itself does not have an association limit, but each device does. The limit for the inovelli switches is 5.

Association groups are a way to allow 1 device to directly control other devices (bypassing the hub).
Associations only work in a single direction. If switch M1 is associated with switch S1, then pressing the on button on M1 will cause it to tell S1 to also turn on. However, turning on S1 will NOT cause M1 to turn on because S1 is not associated with anything.

In order to get a virtual 3-way going, we also need to set up an association on S1 (so it also controls M1). Now, buttons on M1 will also control S1, and buttons on S1 also control M1. This gets us most of the way there, but has an unwanted side effect: If M1 controls S1, and S1 controls M1, then the devices get stuck in an infinite loop trying to control each other. To fix this, we use parameter 12 (on teh red series dimmer) to prevent zwave commands from being forwarded.

I think there is a problem with your table. You have the same switches listed multiple times. I did my best to correct it based on what I think you are trying to illustrate:

Switch Association Number of Associated devices
M1 M2, V1, V2 3
M2 M1 1
V1 M1 1
V2 M1 1

In the example above, switch M1 is associated with 3 devices (M2, V1, V2) and the other switches are only associated with 1 (M1). This does not exceed any limits or cause any problems.

See above. “Association Group” is probably not the best term to use here, because you are not really creating a logical group of devices.

Not really. However, its rare to need to in the first place (your example from above would work just fine because you are not associating more than 5 devices to a single switch). The 5 device limit tends to be more of an issue if you are trying to control smart bulbs. For example, if I have a switch and want to use it to control 6 zwave smart bulbs, I would not be able to do it with associations (because I can only associate 5 of them). I would instead need to control the bulbs with my hub. The switch would send events or scenes to the hub, and the hub would then control all the bulbs. This method generally works fine, but it can cause minor delays due to latency if your hub relies on the cloud, and would not work if your hub goes offline for some reason.

You always need a hub (controller) with zwave (it is used to include devices into the zwave network, and the hub is used to actually set up the associations between devices). However, you can still control the switches locally or with other associated zwave devices in your network if your hub were to go down (provided you didnt change a bunch of config settings to disable local control or something). Zwave was not designed to run without a hub, but basic functionality will still work.

The hub can control any device on the zwave network (it doesnt need any special associations). Technically, if you are using your hub to control devices based on pressing buttons on a switch, it is not as fast as direct association (because a message is being sent to the hub, and then another message from the hub to the target devices), but I cant really tell the difference).

With direct association, the switch is directly controlling other devices.

When going though the hub, you are basically setting up an automation. When the switch sends a status update to the hub because you pressed the on button, the hub then fires an automation of your choosing that does whatever you tell it to do.

You may or may not experience a popcorn effect. The popcorn effect is typically caused by one of 2 things: how your hub decides to send the command, and signal strength.

  • When sending commands to multiple devices, there are 2 options for the hub: It can send multiple commands (one for each device), or it can send a special multicast command with multiple addresses. I am not sure if Home Assistant supports multicast yet, so you may still experience this. Zwavejs is much much faster than the old zwave integration though, so even if you do experience the popcorn effect it is nowhere neat as bad as it used to be.
    • Inovelli switches do support multicast though, so if you use association there is a much lower chance of the popcorn effect
  • If a command cannot reach its intended target directly (due to signal strength), the device may need to route the command through a nearby node on the mesh. Although not typically noticeable, it does add some latency and may result in the popcorn effect.

I would argue yes. One of the main uses of smart switches is for automation, and automation will always require some sort of hub to do all the processing.

Most of the switches in my house use zwave. If my local network goes down, there is no direct impact because zwave does not use wifi. I may temporarily use functionality of some of my automations, such as triggering outside lights at night when my phone connects to wifi, but I still have full control over the lights from the switch itself. If my hub goes down, I can still control the lights locally, but I do lose some automations, such as automatically turning on the bathroom light when motion is detectged and it is night.

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Perhaps I haven’t made myself clear. I know you always need a hub, at least as far as including devices into the Zwave network. The same technically isn’t true for Insteon, because those switches can be linked manually. However, it’s a pain so most people use some sort of hub (like the ISY) to program their network.

What I’m trying to understand is a situation like this. Suppose you have 20 switches in 10 groups of 2-gangboxes. devoted to stair spotlights for a 4 story house. With Insteon, I can link all of them together if I wish, and I’d use the ISY hub to program them. After programmed, if the hub is disconnected then the switches will still work because they don’t rely on the hub to send and receive any commands after setup. But instead of linking all 20 together, I’d probably link two groups of 10, with all of the “right” switches controlling the spotlights on the 1st and 2nd floors being linked, and the “left” switches controlling the spotlights on 3rd and 4th. Once linked/programmed, I don’t need the hub on.

  • With Zwave and Inovelli, this would not be possible with association groups because 10>5, correct?
  • Using a Zwave hub like Home Assistant, I could create two “central scenes” for floors 1-2 and 3-4 and when any left switch is pressed, the “upper scene” is called and right switch the “lower scene”, correct?
  • I’m unfamiliar with how dimming down/up works with Zwave and central scenes. Is it possible to press and hold the on button to start dimming from 0-100 level of brightness and let go at the desired level and have all of the switches brighten at the same time so it appears they are a single circuit?

I really want to understand this. I’m not opposed to a hub, especially for programming. I’m more concerned about using a hub to receive commands from switches and sending them to others. Insteon linked switches don’t need a hub to turn on/off/brighten/dim together to have several loads appear as if they are one circuit. With Zwave association groups, I take it they have similar performance? How close are central scenes that use a hub to local scenes as programmed in an association group?

Correct. If you are attempting to take 10 different switches and link them all together so that any 1 switch controls all 10 at the same time, you would not be able to do this via association on the Inovelli dimmers (and I am not aware of any other company that makes zwave dimmers that allows for more than 5 devices to be assocaited)

Central scenes are essentially just notifications. They are not something that you set up, and not all devices support them (the red series dimmers and switches do support central scene though). Whenever you press a button on one of the red series devices, it will send a Central Scene notification to the hub automatically. That notification would indicate what button was pressed on that particular switch. In order to make use of the Central Scene notification, you woulds need to set up an automation. The red series dimmers are able to send Central Scene notifications for the following:

  • On button pressed 1x, 2x, 3x, 4x, 5x
  • On button held down
  • On button released (after being held down)
  • Off button pressed 1x, 2x, 3x, 4x, 5x
  • Off button held down
  • Off button released (after being held down)
  • Config button pressed 1x

For example, you could write an automation that triggers when the on button is pressed 2x on switch 1, 2, 3 or 4. When the automation triggers, set the lights to 80% on all 4 switches. All the switch is doing is sending the notification though. It would be up to you (and your hub) to determine how to react to the notification.

Possibly, but probably not easily. You could trigger an automation when the dimming button is held down, and another automation to trigger when that held button is released. However, I dont think HA exposes the start/stop dimming zwave commands, so you may have to end up writing a script that iteratively lowers the brightness until the button released scene is triggered. I have not tried anything like this personally, so I dont know how well it works, but I believe other people on this forum have done with with varying levels of success.

It sounds like Insteon allows you to take a number of devices and group them together into a single logical device. To my knowledge, Zwave does not have this type of feature.

I will also add that the time required round trip from switch to hub to other switch for me is around 200ms. Noticeable, but not identified as a “miss” by others where they would repeat the hit again.

HA is local, so I really never run into issues where the hub is causing massive delays.

I’m kinda bummed that you can’t bright/dim multiple switches at the same time from the switch itself. Insteon really is the Betamax of smart switches.