What Is Z-Wave Technology?

Z-Wave is one of the most common smart home protocols.

To put it in jargon-y terms, Z-Wave is a wireless connectivity protocol that uses radio waves to link smart home devices together through a mesh network. Basically, that means that Z-Wave lets all your different smart home devices talk to each other.

Because Z-Wave uses 800–900 MHz radio frequencies, it suffers from less interference than a competing smart home protocol, Zigbee. And it uses a lot less energy than Wi-Fi. Think of Z-Wave like Bluetooth, but with a longer range.

What does Z-Wave do?

If you’ve done any research at all on smart home products, or even home security systems, then you’ve probably seen the term “Z-Wave.” Whatever you want to automate, whether it’s lights, locks, or smart security sensors, Z-Wave is one of the most common home automation protocols out there.

Without a protocol like Z-Wave, each of your smart things would live in its own world. Your smart outlets, smart locks, smart lights, smart garage door openers—whatever it is—would work all by itself without communicating to anything else.

But with Z-Wave (or another smart home protocol, like Zigbee or Thread), your smart devices can “talk” to each other, so to speak. You can make it so that all your lights turn off when you lock your doors, or so that your smart outlet that controls your curling iron turns off when you arm your security system.

How do I get Z-Wave?

The simplest answer is, you get a Z-Wave hub and then add on compatible devices. You can buy a standalone Z-Wave hub, like a Samsung SmartThings hub or Nexia Bridge. But one of the easiest ways to get Z-Wave is through your home security system.

Many home security systems support Z-Wave through their control panels or base stations, including Vivint, ADT, Link Interactive, Scout, and Abode. Security systems with Z-Wave support other compatible home automation devices, so you can build a total smart home.

How much does Z-Wave cost?

It depends on which type of hub you use. If you choose a security system with Z-Wave, you’ll have to pay for equipment, and you’ll probably pay a monthly monitoring cost as well. Some systems, like ADT, charge extra for smart home support.

If you opt for a standalone hub and add in devices on your own, then you’ll basically just have the cost of equipment. Z-Wave does not charge a standard membership fee.

What kinds of devices can I include?

You can see compatible brands and devices through the Z-Wave Alliance website. There are a couple thousand Z-Wave devices that cover just about every smart home (or home security) function you could want.

Types of Z-Wave devices: 

  • Locks
  • Lights
  • Thermostats
  • Garage door controllers
  • Security sensors
  • Fan controllers
  • Window blinds/coverings
  • Plugs and outlets
  • Sirens and alarms

You can also use smart speakers, like Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, to control Z-Wave devices. But you might still need a connecting Z-Wave hub, especially for Google. Alexa can control many Z-Wave devices directly.

How do I know something is Z-Wave compatible?

Look for the logo. Compatible products will often have a Z-Wave logo on the box or shown online. If you have a Z-Wave-compatible home security system, double-check with your security company first that any third-party devices you want to add will integrate with your whole system—even if the product has the Z-Wave symbol.

Now that you know, what’s next?

Find out more about a Z-Wave hub.

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Check out the best Z-Wave home security systems.

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