Many people like yourself think about switching to a smart home, and sooner or later, smart homes will become standard. Until then, a lot of research has to be done, as there are plenty of different way to do it.
Smart-lighting has many advantages. A very obvious one is energy efficiency, but often we underestimate the convenience and security aspects. Image you come home late from work, and the lights automatically get on when you come in, or when you go on holidays and the lights go on and off (depending of the time of the day/night) so that everybody thinks you are still home.
The easiest and simplest form of smart-lighting would simply be to switch regular bulbs with smart-bulbs, or you could also plug your lamp into a “smart-plugs”.
So… What are smart bulbs?
In essence, smart bulbs are bulbs with integrated wifi radios or bluetooth. They have the advantage that you don’t need any hub device, as they can communicate directly with your smartphone or tablet. Then there’s another, a bit trickier, option: ZigBee. Some manufacturers use this signal to communicate between devices (such as Philips Hue), so if your smartphone doesn’t know ZigBee, you’ll have to install some kind of hub or bridge to act as “translator”. Bear in mind that smart-bulbs can also be a costly measure, the cheapest bulbs start at 15$/14€ (but you’ll find most of the around 30$), so it would be fairly expensive to set up your whole house with that.
Other options would be to buy a starter sets with included hub.
To summarise, setup is relatively simple with the bulb approach, and it’s easy to move a bulb to a new fixture if needed. With many of your options, the cost of scaling up and adding lights to your setup is fairly low. With a little increase in your investment, you’ll get feature-rich bulbs that change colors, track motion, stream audio over Bluetooth, or double as connected cameras.
On the downside, smart-bulb options are A-shape bulbs with standard-size E-shape screw-in bases. If you have another system… bad luck 🙁 The smart-bulbs might also have some compatibility issues with built-in dimmers, causing the bulb to flicker. The options, so far, regarding brightness and color temperature are also limited.
Now you might ask yourself, what else is there?
The answer is… Smart switches
I hope that you’ve got some basic DIY skills, because this requires some basic knowledge, as you’ll need to install the smart-switch into the wall. With this option, you don’t automate the bulb itself but the on/off switch.
Most smart switches use, similar to the smart-bulbs, wifi or ZigBee signals. Agains, the wifi systems can connect directly with your smartphone and tablet, while ZigBee will require a “translator” device. Smart-switches are also a little more expensive, usually ranging along 50$ for 1 switch.
To sum up, with that option you can use whatever bulb you want, so that’s ideal if you are sensible about light quality, or if your fixture requires bulbs of a particular size, shape, or style that’s incompatible with smart bulbs. It’s also good for people with a “standard routine”, as in most cases your scheduled lighting changes will still run even when the switch is turned off.
On the negative side, installation is more time consuming and also more costly. In addition, if you want to change the programmed lighting times, you’ll have to get your hands dirty and get the switch back out the wall.
Not satisfied with either option? Check out smart plugs and outlets
With this option, you can automate anything with a plug on it, or turn it on and off remotely using a smartphone app. Most smart plugs are designed to work with whatever you plug into them, but some are lamp-specific, with built-in dimming controls.
If you want the full comfort option, you’ll pair your smart-plug with a motion sensor, so whenever you wake up in the middle of the night to go for a loo, lights will illuminate your way. Newer plugs such as the iDevice Switch are also compatible with iOS, which means that you can give voice-controls to Siri. Best of all, you can also automate other electronics such as coffee machines, which could start making your coffee every morning when you wake up.
Smart plugs are definitely my favorites as they are easy to use, especially if you are not the most skilled DIY type of person. Smart outlets are also a very good option, they look quite cool and there are a lot of different options to choose from.
On the downside, smart outlets are a bit trickier to install and off course, they only work (that’s also the case with smart plugs) with electronics that can be plugs into somewhere – so no fancy wifi / bluetooth stuff.