The ordinary household light bulb is a fine piece of technology that has stood the test of time for over a century. In its more recent history we’ve largely switched from inefficient filament bulbs to long-lasting LED-based illumination, but there’s a way to make your lights do even more for you.
That’s with the use of smart bulbs, globes that include microprocessors and the ability to connect via either Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or their own proprietary networks to enable a range of clever features that go beyond simply switching on or off. Here’s what you need to know to make your home lights into a smart home lighting extravaganza.
What can I do with smart light bulbs?
Feature sets do vary a little by type and manufacturer, but across the entire suite of smart lighting solutions, beyond simple illumination, you can expect many of these features to be open to you:
Remote lighting control
Whether it’s having your lights come on in your house while you’re getting out of the car after a busy day, or switching lights off because you forgot to do so while on holiday, most smart lights offer a remote, app-based control system.
Most lighting systems will work with Apple’s Siri, Google’s Assistant or Amazon’s Alexa – and many will happily chat with all three. This skips the need for an app or smartphone handy, as you can simply tell your assistant of choice to control your lights as needed.
Many bulbs will allow you to set certain lights to come on or off at predetermined times, whether it’s for security reasons, or simply to raise the lights slowly as day breaks so you can wake up in a more comfortable way.
Rather than head to multiple switches, or have a sparky install a grouped switch at additional cost, you can group bulbs and light strips together, so you can (for example) switch on all your kitchen and open plan dining lights at once, or have groups of lights that you enable as needed.
Custom dimming and colour choices
For traditional bulbs, the only way to dim or change the light colour was to have a dimmer switch – which mostly don’t work with LED bulbs now – or buy a different light colour bulb. Many smart bulbs have both these features as standard, and you can have a lot of fun setting custom colour and light intensity scenes, whether it’s for a romantic dinner or a movie night at home.
Are all LED lights “smart” lights?
No, not at all. LED (Light Emitting Diode) lights describes the illumination technology used in most standard household light bulbs for some years now across Australia, but just because a bulb is LED doesn’t automatically mean that it’s a smart bulb.
Typically smart bulbs will cost a little more than a standard LED bulb, and that’s because each bulb is, in effect, a tiny computer by itself, with chips inside built to regulate its lighting and communication features.
Can I install smart lights myself?
In most cases, the answer to this question is yes, because the actual installation of most smart lights is no different to putting in a fresh light bulb. Pick your screw type – typically either Edison Screw or Bayonet type, pop out the old bulb and put the new bulb in. Some smart lights do require a smart “hub” device, such as Philips Hue, and that connects up to a spare Ethernet port on your home broadband router. From there, it’s a matter of connecting and configuring through the bulb’s specific app on a smartphone in most cases.
However, managing multiple bulbs across you home network can be tricky – so why not call a Geek? We make Smart Home Installation hassle free, so give us a call today!
Do I have to buy all the same brand smart light bulbs?
Strictly speaking, no, you don’t, although there are some obvious advantages to choosing a brand and sticking with it. That gives you just the one app for configuration and control, and an easier general way to group lights and control lighting effects.
However, there is a way around this if you do end up with mixed brand bulbs, because most of them work quite well with Apple’s Siri and Home, or Google’s Assistant and Home Apps. If you’re using either to control your smart home, then they’ll just treat compatible lights as lights, full stop. You can group in Apple Home or Google Home apps and then use that approach for control. Speaking from experience this can work, although the different response speeds of some bulbs can mean that grouped bulbs from differing manufacturers may actually come up with slight delays between bulbs.
What happens to my smart light bulb if I switch it off at the wall?
It gets switched off, but that should be rather obvious. The real key factor here is that a smart bulb isn’t in any way smart with no power, so if you’re having trouble getting one to respond, try checking that the wall switch isn’t in the off position, especially if you have any lights with multiple switch positions.
Most smart bulbs go into very low power modes when not “on” as bulbs (but still “on” at the wall), and being LED bulbs they’re already quite power efficient. The core idea is that once you’ve switched to smart bulbs, you shouldn’t need to actually hit the wall switches at all any more.
That being said, you absolutely can still use your regular light switches for straight on/off control. If you do have older dimmer dials in place, the dimmer parts won’t work with smart bulbs, but the straight switch should still operate without issue.
Which smart light bulb or system is best?
This is a super open question, because it very much depends on your needs and budget. There are some super-cheap smart light bulb systems on the market these days, as well as more established – and slightly more expensive – “brand names”, such as Philips Hue or LIFX.
The best way to approach setting up a smart light system is to consider what you need out of it, and where any future expansion plans might sit.
If you’ve got smart speakers in your home, for example, look for bulbs that advertise that they work with that assistant, whether it’s Google’s Assistant, Amazon’s Alexa or Apple’s Siri. In the latter case, most Siri-compatible bulbs will talk about being Apple HomeKit compatible.
The more expensive platforms generally offer more features, including colour changing bulbs, a wider – and sometimes more comfortable – range of dimming levels and often easier configuration. Cheaper bulbs absolutely still have their place, but you may find them harder to get connected to your home Wi-Fi, or on some cases a little less comfortable to do so. One type I’ve tested in the past (sold under many brand names) lets you know it’s ready to pair by blinking the actual light bulb on or off. That works, but it’s like being stuck in a cheap disco until you get it paired and it stops blinking!