Enerlites HOSS: an occupancy sensor switch without ground

The Enerlites Top Greener HOSS is an occupancy sensor switch without ground wire requirements, and it’s pretty cheap too, at $12. A Lutron switch costs almost twice as much.

But the HOSS does come with some compromises. The HOSS does require a neutral (white) wire. But most switch boxes will have the whites in there and accessible, so that’s not a big deal. It’s also a bit trickier to wire than a Lutron, and it doesn’t look as nice.

That said, it’s nice to have an option for older houses that may not have a ground connection available. People in older houses need energy savings too.

Let’s talk about wiring first. Usually there’s a bundle of white neutral wires tucked into the back of the box. Simply pull the bundle out so you can reach it, remove the wire nut, tie the white wire off the switch into the bundle, and replace the wire nut.

Now the tricky part. Unlike the Lutron, the black wires on the HOSS aren’t interchangeable. The black wire on the switch goes to the live wire from the box. This will usually be the wire on the left, if the outlet was wired by a professional. Unfortunately the only way to know for sure is to turn the breaker back on, then use a voltage tester to see which of the two black wires from the existing light switch has voltage on it. If you don’t want to mess with that, wire the switch up and see if it works. If it doesn’t work, you have the wrong black wire on the switch’s black wire.

The other wire from your existing light switch goes to the red wire on the switch.

The HOSS has a green ground wire, but if you have no existing ground connection, you can leave it unconnected. If you do have a ground connection, of course I recommend you use it.

I actually test the switch before putting it back in the box, because putting it in the box and taking it back out again is a pain. I turn on the power at the breaker box, then see if the switch sees me and turns the light on. If not, push the button on the switch, wait 60 seconds, then see if it turns the light on when you’re near it. If not, turn the breaker back off and check your connections.

Once the switch works, mount it in the box. The HOSS also takes up more space in the box than a Lutron, so you’ll have to be careful with your wiring. First tuck the white bundle back into the box on one side. Tuck the green wire into either the top or the bottom of the box. Finally, tuck the black wires into the other side of the box. Get the wire nuts as far back into the box as you can. Then slowly tuck the switch into the box, folding up what’s left of the black wires in an accordion fashion. It’s a tight fit, but if you’re patient you can make it work.

The viewing angle is good. I put one in the basement stairwell, and as I open the door, it senses me even though I’m completely at the side of the switch. An LED blinks when it senses movement, and the light goes on with an audible click, so you know it worked.

One other nice thing is that the controls are on an actual control panel. You can adjust the light sensitivity, timeout, and the range, but the manufacturer doesn’t recommend changing the range setting. The defaults are usually sufficient.

The pushbutton is nice. You can push the button to disable the switch, which is nice in a bedroom when you don’t want to turn the light on every time you turn in your sleep. A Lutron doesn’t have this option. The best you can do is switch it to vacancy mode, which will turn the lights off when it doesn’t see you for a while. But that mode won’t turn the light on for you when you walk in the room. That’s a distinct advantage over the Lutron, because I can’t use a Lutron in a child’s bedroom if the child can’t reach a Lutron, but a child doesn’t have to be able to reach a HOSS. You can just turn the HOSS on during the day and turn it off at night.

Overall I like the Lutrons better. They’re easier to wire as long as you have a ground available, and they’re a bit smaller. They fit in the box better and call less attention to themselves on the wall. Lutron is also a known quantity–they’ve been making light switches and dimmers for years. I have no way to know if the HOSS will match Lutron quality. But for places where a Lutron isn’t an option, it’s nice to be able to get the HOSS, and the price is right.

I’m happy enough with the HOSS in the basement stairwell that I’ll be getting one for the garage, and probably for the last outlet or two in the basement where I couldn’t quite justify spending $25 for a Lutron.

I like occupancy switches for several reasons. Not everyone is religious about turning their lights off, so if that’s the case for you, they save you money. It’s also nice not to have to fumble for the switch in the dark. And if you have an armload of stuff, it’s nice to not have to set it down to flip on the light. And if you have small kids who can’t reach light switches, it’s nice for the switches to accommodate them. It gives them a bit more independence.

More energy saving ideas

I’ve done a number of other things to help me save energy over the years. Most are pretty inexpensive. I installed thermal blinds and thermal curtains. Then I insulated my electrical outlets and added child safety plates. Of course I use LED bulbs. I also insulated my hot water pipes.

My electric usage dropped 19 percent in 2011, so these things work.

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