Lighting is our favorite aspect of the smart home. It’s the quadfecta: convenience, energy efficiency, security, and ambiance.
Now, you can manage that oft-forgotten bathroom light with your phone, voice assistant, or better yet, motion sensor. You can set any mood with dimming or a splash of color. Then, you can schedule lights to turn on and off when you’re away from home to deter theft.
We’re convinced that incorporating smart lighting is a no-brainer, it’s just a question of how deep you want to plunge. There are options for every preference, whether it’s simply switching out a few essential bulbs, or a whole home solution integrated with motion sensors and automation. We’ll start by saying that your most effective means of converting your home is to use smart switches to control sets of lights all at once. For example, you may have 10 can lights in your kitchen that can be switched on/off all at once. Instead of replacing individual bulbs, replace your light switch with a WiFi smart switch that you can control from anywhere. Of course, this takes knowledge of electrical installation, which is better left to the trained professionals. Investigate this solution if you’re willing to pay an electrician (ours?) or if you’re a seasoned DIYer (please read all product disclaimers and safety warnings). Keep switches in mind as you continue reading, as most of our considerations for selecting bulbs apply to switches as well – Do they have a dimmer? Do they connect to a hub? Which apps can I use them with?
Consider switches, but also note that individual light bulbs and strips can be equally (if not more) effective in many applications. Small rooms and fixtures may only need a single bulb to transform the space. Not to mention, they’re an easy first step. Smart lights differ in a few main ways:
1) It the light white or color-changing?
2) Is the light dimmable?
3) Does it communicate via Bluetooth or WiFi?
4) Is a Hub required?
5) What are the compatible Apps?
We’ll discuss these differences, but we’ll give you our conclusion first, in case you’re in a rush: White WiFi bulbs connected to a Hub are likely your best option.
White vs. Color-Changing – This is pretty straight forward. Do you want your lights to simply illuminate the room? Or do you want to set a mood, create an ambiance, or add effects like color changes to what’s playing on the stereo or TV? As you guessed, the white bulbs will tend to be cheaper, while the color-changing bulbs cost more. So, if you’re interested in adding a splash of color, we recommend picking specific rooms or fixtures where you would like to add a fun or romantic dimension.
Dimming – Another straightforward aspect is whether or not you can dim the bulb. Either it simply switches on/off, or you can adjust brightness levels to darken or light up a space. Our general thought here is that dimming is a nice feature to have. The price difference shouldn’t be such that you’re inclined to neglect the dimming bulbs, unless you truly don’t care about the brightness of a room – maybe the garage or a play room?
Bluetooth or WiFi – Technically speaking, this is a more complex difference, but our suggestion is simple: go for WiFi. The tradeoff for cheaper Bluetooth bulbs isn’t worth it. Bluetooth bulbs have to communicate directly with the device controlling them (ie. your phone), so you have to be within that range to adjust them. So, you’ll have the convenience of controlling your lights from bed, if they aren’t much further than a room or two away, but you won’t be able to control them from outside of your home (say, from your child’s soccer game or a client meeting at the coffee shop). WiFi bulbs will connect to the internet either directly or through your hub, allowing you to control or monitor your home from anywhere. Not to mention, the Bluetooth bulbs are often exclusively managed in their own app, so as you incorporate more devices you may end up jumping between apps to toggle different devices – yuck!
Hubs – Again, more complex, but a simple recommendation: It’s worth it to incorporate a hub. It will provide a substantial increase in convenience and has the ability to interconnect devices as you scale your smart home and add fun stuff like automation and voice control. The hub will aggregate everything in one place and allow you to incorporate the bulbs in automation and scenes. For example, you can use a hub and corresponding app like Samsung’s SmartThings to set an automation you may title “In Bed” that locks your smart locks, turns on your hallway security camera, turns off all lights except the bulb in your reading lamp, which it dims to 50%. How cool is that!? It’s especially neat if you trigger it with you voice assistant and didn’t have to lift a finger… or your head off of the pillow.
Compatible Apps – Similar to our notes on Hubs, take into account which apps the bulb may be compatible with. For example, the Philips Hue bulbs can be controlled with the Philips app, or incorporated into the SmartThings app. They each serve a purpose. The Philips app allows to you set scenes of color, brightness, and interaction with the stereo or TV. The SmartThings app lets you trigger that automation that controls your locks, cameras, and bulbs all at once. Our suggestion here isn’t as explicit because it boils down to your preference. Take a minute to consider any apps you prefer, and how a particular bulb may be compatible with your whole-home management strategy.
Now that we have explored our primary considerations for lighting, we’ll detail a few switches and bulbs to consider. Please review the suggestions below, and let us know if you have any questions.