Smart technology has crept into every aspect of our lives. Think about it, we carry small computers in the palm of our hands, most of our cars are computerized, our children are using technology in school like never before, and a wide range of technical advances happen all of the time.
One of the biggest trends in smart technology is smart lighting. Which begs the questions… What is it? Why do we have it? And What are the advantages of smart lighting? Don’t worry, we’ll get into all of that and much more.
So, what makes smart lighting smart? Smart lighting is the term used to describe several smart technology components that, when used together properly, can make our homes more energy-efficient, automate parts of our lives, and in many cases offer us remote control over what we can see, hear, and experience.
Why Smart Lighting?
There are a ton of reasons to consider buying smart lighting. Whether you want more lighting options like colors or the ability to dim lights, or maybe you want to group an entire set of lights together and be able to operate them as a single unit. You have an endless amount of options.
One of the best features of smart lighting is scheduling. You can program an entire lighting system to respond to a change in the environment, like coming home from work. Smart lighting gives you hands-free control over every aspect of your lighting needs.
Types of Smart Lighting
As we mentioned smart lighting is actually several different types have smart technology these components work together, and in some cases independently, to give us control and a little bit of flexibility in our day to day lives. So, what are these different components?
Smart Bulbs – The Flexible Smart Lighting Option
Smart bulbs are probably the single most common smart lighting device. These days you see them everywhere. They are definitely hot topic online, but have also ventured into mainstream media, becoming commonplace in prime time television!
Smart bulbs offer a combination of an energy-efficient LED and integrated sensor technology. In fact, it is actually the sensor that is the brains of the smart bulb. This built-in sensor communicates with other smart devices that tell the bulb when to turn on, off, or even change color and brightness.
Smart bulbs are available from a variety of companies and retailers, but all of them will fall into two basic categories; like many other smart home devices, that would be hub required or no hub required.
Smart bulbs that do not need a hub can usually connect directly to your Wi-Fi and can be controlled by you’re an app on your smartphone. The ones that need a hub will have compatibility limitations. (don’t worry, we’ll get into that a bit later)
Smart Light Switches
Smart light switches take the control out of the individual lighting fixture and put it in the wall. Smart light switches can control all kinds of things, both smart technology, and normal stuff. For example, plug a fan into an outlet let’s powered by a switch; flip the switch the fan turns on, flip the switch again, the fan turns off.
Depending on where you install a smart light switch you can control the significant amount of your home. Some smart light switches have traditional toggle switches included, while others are strictly voice-activated. The best smart light switches will combine those and add in features like programming, dimming, and some even motion-sensing technology.
In a way, smart lamps are really just a fancier version of the smart bulb. Smart lamps come in all, shapes, and sizes, and can offer many of the same flexible options as a smart bulb. Most of them are voice-enabled, offer various color settings, and can even be programmed to go off after a specified amount of time. Smart lamps can be deceiving too, many designs mirror traditional lamp styles but with all of the bells and whistles.
Technically, it could be argued that smart plugs are not lighting, but they can be used with lighting and is often one of the first things people try when trying smart lighting and home automation. Smart plugs are simple to use devices to almost anything you plug into a regular outlet. Smart plugs usually require a smart hub, either a dedicated hub or smart speaker with a built-in hub, like the Echo 2.
To use a smart plug, simply plug it into the outlet and plug whatever you want to control into the smart plug. In a way, it is just like having a smart adapter for your electrical items. Once connected you can use either a mobile app or voice-enabled the device to control what is plugged in.
What You Need for Smart Lights to Work
If you want to pay the price you can get a smart lighting device that requires almost nothing additional to work. However, you will still be limited if you ever decide to add any other smart device. So, let’s go through what you need to know to get a smart bulb to work.
See, told ya we would get into compatibility. Compatibility is looked at from two different angles. First, there are specific restrictions that some devices have that determine what other devices they are able to communicate with, although this is technically compatibility is often referred to as connectivity. However, it’s really the same thing. Specific manufacturers limit communication with other brands so that you have to purchase more of their products.
On the flip side, compatibility refers to the language protocol; that is whether or not a specific device uses Zigbee or Z-wave to communicate. For example, if you want to purchase a Z-wave Smart bulb then you’re an existing hub or whatever you used to control your equipment has to have Z-wave protocols to be able to control that bulb. Most smart hubs have either Zigbee or Z-Wave, although a growing number are being made with both. Also, a few smaller brands use Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.
In simple terms, think of it as each bulb speaks its own language, some smart hubs are bilingual, others can’t even translate.
We Have the Power
The next thing to remember is that smart lights (except for a few rare exceptions) need the power to operate. More importantly steady power. Let me explain…
If you install a smart bulb into a lamp, set everything upright, then later the lamp gets accidentally unplugged. Guess what no light, and you may have to reset the bulb and start over.
Another issue can arise if you lose your internet connection. Most smart lighting devices use the internet in some way to control them. Without the internet, they will act like they suddenly forgot you. Scream all you want, they will not turn off, or on. Trust me… been there.
Benefits of Smart Lighting
Only briefly touched on convenience and flexibility but we thought we’d go into a little bit more detail on the range of benefits that smart lighting can provide.
- Reducing energy consumption – we hear over and over and over again about decreasing our carbon footprint and safeguarding our natural resources. All smart lights use LED bulbs. LEDs can save as much as 40% of the energy compared an incandescent bulb that provides the same amount of light.
- Security – The truth is smart lighting has been around for some time. Motion sensor and solar lights are forms of automated smart lighting. They’ve just gotten smarter. No smart lighting can provide a level of security like never before. You can program your entire home’s lighting system to look just like your family is there when you could be hundreds of miles away. You can also make sure that no one ever enters your home in the dark.
- More Flexible than Other Lighting Options – Even the most basic smart light can provide more lighting options than any other standard bulb. Paired with other smart home technology, and you can throw your very own disco party if you wanted.
- Light Therapy – You may have noticed that your cellphone has this feature that blocks blue light. That is because blue light waves make it harder for us to relax, and then fall asleep. Smart light can take that simple idea and integrate light therapy throughout your entire home. Program the light beside your bed to turn on low, then slowly increase in brightness, allowing you a gentler waking experience. The options are truly endless.
- Smart Lighting Can Be Fun – Admit it you want to know what it is like to change the 4 different bulbs in your living room all different colors? Or maybe you really love the color purple and would love your bedside table purple for a few minutes each morning to put you in a good mood. Or, and here’s a fun one, let the little ones tell the light to change into the weirdest color they can imagine. It can also be hilarious to use your app to mess with lights when someone doesn’t know you have them.
- Automation – Another benefit of smart lighting is that you can program or schedule your smart lights to turn on or off at specific times. You can also use other features in connection with the scheduling option on some smart lighting devices. This means that you can automatically have your light come on and be set at a specific brightness.
- Expansion – Most smart lighting devices are not designed to be a standalone unit. Smart lights are designed to work together to provide a dynamic, customizable, and unique experience. You can add several smart lights to a single hub, many up to 50 or more. This gives you even more options.
You can group sets of lights, treating them as a single unit that can be controlled simultaneously. Another cool trick is to schedule lights to come on in succession for a dramatic effect.
Smart Lighting Buying Guide for Newbies
Now that we’ve explained what smart lighting is, what you need for them to work, and a few of the benefits (and fun times to be had) you are probably wondering how in the world to you know why smart lighting things to buy.
We could give you an in-depth review of every possible lighting device available, then give you an arbitrary list of features to try to talk you into buying what we think you should. However, the reality is that your situation is so unique even attempting to try to put together the right set of variables would be horrific.
Instead, we’ll walk you through deciding what you want and need out of your smart lighting, and that will help set you up to make the perfect choices in smart lighting fixtures. Let’s get started.
We’ve touched on some of the features that you can find in smart lighting already, but there are so many options to keep track we wanted to put them all in one place for you.
- LED adjustable light (ok, so this is going to be in all of them), but there may be a slight difference in the LEDs that can be found in each type of light. For example, several smart bulbs are called A19 bulbs, some are the equivalent of 60W bulbs, while others will be closer to a 65W bulb.
- Colored lights – also self-explanatory
- Motion sensors – Motion sensors can allow you to set up a light to come on automatically when you enter a room!
- Smart speakers – Listen to your favorite music or podcast anywhere you have a light with this feature
- Voice-enabled – use with your favorite virtual assistants, such as Alexa, Siri, or Google Assistant. This allows you to control your lights and, in many cases, other devices by expanding the reach of your virtual assistant
- Compatibility – if you can get a smart light that has both Zigbee and Z-Wave for the most compatibility options.
- Hub Requirements – Some smart lights will require you to purchase (or already have) a compatible hub, the hub will use the same Zigbee or Z-Wave protocols.
- Wi-Fi Repeater/Range Extender – Some smart light fixtures have built-in repeaters that can extend the reach of your Wi-Fi signal. This is great when you have a multi-level home or want a stronger signal at the opposite end of your home.
We know it may all boil down to how much smart lighting costs. There are smart lighting options available for almost any budget. There are smart bulbs that cost as little as $8 for a simple white bulb, and others that can run as high as $50 or more with color options.
Smart lamps will run you around $30 or $40 for a nice table lamp, up to hundreds of dollars for a designer table lamp with audio speakers, and multiple led smart lights. So, you can see that the cost can be very different, depending on your unique lighting needs.
Starting with a Kit
If you still have no idea where, to begin with, your smart lighting conversion, a great way to get your feet wet is with a simple starter kit. Most major brands have a starter kit, that will give you everything you need to get up and connected. These kits allow you to experiment with smart lighting without shelling out hundreds or even thousands of dollars, to end up having no idea how to use them. Here’s a quick look at our favorite smart lighting starter kits.
This Starter kit is an excellent way to jump into smart lighting. This kit features 4-A19 white bulbs and a hub compatible with Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, and even Apple home. Each bulb is the equivalent of a 60 Watt bulb and can be controlled using voice, the free mobile app, or schedule.
Philips Hue is often considered the leader in smart lighting technology and has consistently provided excellent products that perform at or above expectations.
This starter kit from Sengled has 4 soft white A19 bulbs and includes a Sengled Hub. Sengled can also be easily connected and controlled with Alexa or Google Assistant. Sengled is often referred to as the budget-friendly smart light brand.
This kit includes a hub and 2 A19 soft white bulbs and works with any Alexa-enabled device for added voice controls. Additional GE options are their Sleep Starter Kit or Life Starter Kit for more dynamic lighting options.
The truth is that technology is always changing, and smart lighting technology specifically is only going to get better and better. Whether you decide to get your first smart bulb or jump in with both feet, smart lightly can open you up to an entire work of smart home automation possibilities. And we have to say it can get a bit addictive, but it’s a lot of fun.