Does Z-Wave require a hub to work?
- By: Ashley Saunders
- August 2022
Regardless of what element you want to control within your home, there’s a Z-Wave device that can help. If you’re just starting to build your smart home, you might wonder does Z-Wave require a hub to work?
Don’t worry. We’ve all asked this question. What might confuse you slightly is that Z-Wave devices repeat communication signals, forming a mesh network. So you might think they can operate without a hub.
But that’s not the complete situation. The hub or gateway sends and receives signals, stores automation sequences and preset, and more. So yes, you need a hub to build a Z-Wave smart home.
Let’s explore “does Z-Wave require a hub to work?” in more detail.
Can you use Z-Wave devices without a hub?
It might be possible to use Z-Wave devices without using a hub. However, getting devices to talk to each other without a gateway isn’t very easy.
The Z-Wave protocol uses devices to repeat signals, meaning every device in a network receives the message and then passes it on. And so devices talk directly to each other. So, it is theoretically possible for them to operate completely offline from any hub or controller device.
But, there is a catch!
For a device to join a Z-Wave network, it first must talk with a controller to be correctly configured and associated with a group. Devices also need to create associations to correctly communicate.
For example, grouping two light switches together to work in tandem. When one is turned off, the other one will also turn off.
So, a controller is required to perform the initial setup. After, any devices remaining on the network should be able to continue operating together. And while we haven’t tested this method in reality, it’s theoretically possible.
Is there a difference between a Hub and a Controller?
A hub is a microprocessor that runs software, allowing it to find and configure a new device, control them and run sequences. They are very powerful, complex devices, despite their simplistic look.
A Controller sends a message to the hub that it converts into signals that tells a device to complete an action.
For example, pushing a button on a scene controller tells the hub to turn on a light and close the blinds. The hub then instructs those particular devices to complete the required action.
Unlike the hub, most hardware controllers only offer a single way of communication. They send signals but have no way of knowing if the required devices have completed the action or not.
Many people, therefore, use a mix of hardware (remote, buttons, switches, etc.) and software (app, online portal) controllers in their smart home.
Using software allows two-way communication, meaning you can see the status of a device. You can easily spot if a device has failed to complete an action, in real time and either try again or troubleshoot the device.
Can we use a device with a controller?
It’s possible to run Z-Wave devices without a hub and instead use a controller to operate it. However, you won’t have the level of control that you would with a hub. Your device will be slightly smarter, but you won’t have access to the full range of functions and features.
Think of it as watching TV with only pictures and no sound. Not fun.
Of course, by attempting to run the devices on their own with a controller, you wouldn’t need a hub, lowering the overall cost. However, you could find that your Z-Wave device needs a hub to work, costing you more money, time and effort in the long run.
Who makes the best Z-Wave hub?
There’s no shortage of Z-Wave hubs on the market. In our review of the best Z-Wave hubs, we looked at several options. However, Fibaro and Athom came out on top.
What Z-Wave controllers exist?
Moving on to Z-Wave controllers, there are several options available:
- USB dongles
- RaZberry board
- “Interface” devices
- HomeSeer Remote Z-Wave Interface
The USB dongles and RaZberry boards connect to a computer and open a communications channel. They then send and receive commands from the Z-Wave network onto the channel.
It’s best to view these devices as a bridge between the wireless Z-Wave world and the computer, which controls the network.
The Aeotec USB dongle is the most popular option. It simply plugs via USB into any computer and will begin receiving commands on its serial interface. It also works superbly well with Home Assistant, although there are many software options.
An exciting option that works with any device that plugs directly into a computer is Zwave2Mqtt. It can bridge all Z-Wave communications into an MQTT channel that virtually any software can use.
The RaZberry is an excellent alternative to the USB sticks if you plan to use is a Raspberry Pi and is typically cheaper than a dongle. It will only really work on the Pi. However, as many use a Raspberry Pi due to its compact size, it can be an excellent choice for many.
An “interface device” can also fulfil this requirement. For example, a HomeSeer system. It comes with a computer and an interface card (such as the RaZberry), reducing the complexity of setting up such an installation.
Typically, they are plug and play, much like a hub, while providing some separation between the smart home controller and the Z-Wave controller.
So, does Z-Wave require a hub to form a network?
While you can run Z-Wave devices without a hub or a controller, doesn’t mean you should! It’s possible to do but very difficult. Rather than needing a Z-Wave hub for a controller such as the Aeotec stick or the RaZberry.
Controllers add some pretty cool features, including two-way communication and remote control over Wi-Fi. You can turn lights on or close the blind from your phone while on the sofa watching TV.
As you can use a controller of sorts, you have more options over using a hub. Plus, controllers are cheaper too. So, you can save money while still building a smart set up.
So, does Z-Wave require a hub to form a network? No. You can use a controller device, but they require more programming. In our minds, it’s far easier, particularly if you’re building a DIY system, to invest in a Fibaro Home Center hub and use the time you save to enjoy life!