Years ago, if you were caught talking to your light bulbs, they’d likely have your head examined.
Today, however, it’s become common practice in many homes — thanks to the rollout of smart lighting products that enable you to control your indoor lights using your smartphone or a smart speaker powered by Alexa, Google Assistant or Siri.
“Smart lighting has become the cornerstone of the smart home, thanks to continued integration with digital assistants, which enables you to interact with all of your devices in one centralized place,” says San Francisco-based Matt St. John, strategic partner development manager for the Google Assistant.
Eric Blank, a Sioux Falls, South Dakota-based smart home expert and TheSmartCave.com editor, believes the convenience and personalization of smart lighting provide multiple benefits .
“These products save a lot of time and can lower your electrical bills,” says Blank. “Think about it — of all our built-in home products, we interact with light switches the most, and smart lighting allows us to streamline those interactions.”
Many consumers are jumping on the intelligent illumination bandwagon by adding smart bulbs, made by Philips Hue, Cree, Feit, LIFX, Eufy and other brands, that communicate with your devices via Wi-Fi or other wireless technologies (some, like Philips Hue, require a separate bridge/hub, included in its starter kit). These LED bulbs are either white (each around $10 or more) or color-changing (about $20 and up), fit within common E26 base sockets, offer a tunable color temperature between 2,700 and 6,500 Kelvin, and typically emit 800 or more lumens, providing 60-watt equivalent illumination yet only using around 8 watts.
“Pay attention to the bulb’s color temperature. Warm white is often best—close to a bright incandescent, whereas a cool white is more like a white fluorescent bulb,” Blank said.
“Smart bulbs let you set and create schedules to turn lights on and off at desired times and give you the flexibility to change your light scene based on your preferences and time of day,” said Mike Deschamps, director of product and channel marketing for Philips Hue at Signify in Somerset, New Jersey.
Blank enjoys a pre-programmed colored light scene, using the Philips Hue app, called Savanna Sunset “that makes me feel like I was sitting somewhere exotic with the sun peeking over the horizon. It’s really cool.”
But smart bulbs aren’t the only route to smart lighting. In addition or alternatively, you can install smart switches (often $40 and up), made by brands such as Belkin, Deako, Leviton and Lutron, that replace your existing “on/off” switch on the wall.
“If cost is an issue, smart switches can be the way to go, as one smart switch can control all the lights in one room versus having to buy individual smart bulbs for each light in the room,” St. John said. “The only downside is that you’ll need to install them, which is more difficult than replacing light bulbs. You may need to hire an electrician.”
An extra advantage of a smart switch is that some have dimming capabilities built in, plus “some also contain controls on the switch itself, giving you more control flexibility,” said Wes Nicols, chief operating officer of Seattle-headquartered Deako.
The third and simplest smart lighting option is to use a smart plug (around $10 or more), manufactured by TP-Link, Aukey, iHome, Belkin and other companies, that fits in a standard outlet — ideal when you want to control a single lamp, schedule power to a group of devices, or turn holiday lights on and off at preset times.
“If you don’t want your whole house to have smart lighting, then a smart switch or a couple of smart bulbs in a frequently used area would probably do the trick,” Nicols said. “But before investing in equipment, think about what lights you’d want to be smart. Ask yourself: ‘What lights get left on a lot? What lights turn on and off around the same time every day? And how often do I travel?’ ”