As the owner of a Wink Home Automation hub that includes Z-Wave, ZigBee, and Lutron Clear Connect, I have a wide variety of Home Automation devices to choose from. Inevitably there will be some devices that come in both ZigBee and Z-Wave. If you have the option to add both, how do you decide? The first criteria I would consider is what devices do you already have? Just like WI-FI, home automation devices need a good signal back to your hub which is often best to locate as close to the center of all your devices as possible. Both ZigBee and Z-Wave create mesh networks. What this means is that any device that is not battery powered (door sensors for example) will strengthen the mesh and range of your signal. So if you have several Z-Wave light switches installed already and are trying to automate a switch far from your hub, adding an additional Z-Wave switch to take advantage of your existing strong Z-Wave mesh would be a great choice. Attempting to add a ZigBee switch far away from your hub with no repeaters in between could lead to low or no signal strength for your device.
Pros and Cons
One of the most talked-about disadvantages of a ZigBee network is the fact that it operates on the 2.4Ghz frequency. In the US a ZigBee device can also operate on 900Mhz frequency but doing so does affect your data transmission speed. On the other hand, Z-Wave operates between 800-900Mhz meaning that it can steer clear or most all potential interference.
Configuration of both types of devices really comes down to the hub that you use in your home. Both are configured and paired to your automation hub in a similar fashion. Security-wise, both protocols currently use AES 128 standard of encryption leading to a safe and secure suite of home automation devices.
One area where Z-Wave starts to shine is the availability of different devices. If you go on Amazon or AliExpress you will find many Z-Wave devices from various brands. Whereas with ZigBee the choice is often much more limited depending on the device type you choose.
When buying home automation devices I often look for positive reviews and for battery-operated devices, the life of the device’s battery. Battery life in the same type of devices, for example, door sensors, can vary greatly by manufacturer and is something that you as the consumer should base on user reviews when available. In the end, look for what works for your budget and your existing devices both ZigBee and Z-Wave offer similar hardware specifications and both have similar security features.