February 3, 2020 Rodney Cowled

Smart Home Lighting: How to Smart Up Your Lights.

Smart home lighting control is one of the best places to start when it comes to designing a home. It is one of the most affordable and impactful ways to smart up your home. 

Commanding your lights with a voice will make your life easier, and impress your guests in equal measure. 

What is Smart Home Lighting? 

Traditionally, home lighting is manually controlled by the home’s occupants, who manually turn on and off lights. Smart home lighting involves adding some form of “smarts” to your home lighting. These “smarts” may include, but are in no way limited to:  

  • Scheduling – e.g. automatically turn lights off at 11pm
  • Automation – e.g. sensors which trigger lights to turn on at night. 
  • Voice-based control – e.g. using voice control to turn lights on and off. 
  • App-based – e.g. using an app on your phone to control a group of lights

Where to Start?

I break smart home lighting control into 2 areas, the first being controlling inbuilt lighting (ceiling lighting, wall scones & similar) & the second non-inbuilt lighting (lamps & similar).

The reason that I do this is because the solution which I recommend to each is different. 

As it’s the easier of two options, let’s start with the non-inbuilt lighting. 

Non-inbuilt Lighting – Lamps & The Like

A smart lamp or 2 is a great place to start your journey into the world of smart homes generally, & smart home lighting control specifically. You’ve got 3 options to choose from – smart lamps, smart bulbs and smart plugs. 

1. Smart Lamps

Smart lamps are completely separate devices. A new lamp which you add to your room. These devices are usually an all-in-one solution – lamp, bulb & smart tech all packaged together. 

Generally speaking, this is the easiest and most-straight form of smart home lighting. Unfortunately, it is also usually the most expensive.

Additionally, the available styles are limited, & mostly designed in ultra-modern forms which don’t suit all homes. 

An example of a smart lamp is the Philips Hue Bloom.

2. Smart Bulbs

Next up, smart bulbs. These guys are the most prolific and heavily marketed of the smart lighting devices. 

Rather than replacing an entire lamp, smart bulbs replace the existing light bulb in your lamp. You keep your existing lamp, in its existing style. (Your home’s Balinese-boho-luxe vibes need not be messed with).

One con with these bulbs is in situations where your lamp has more than one bulb, the price blows out and smart bulbs become the expensive option. The better option here would be to look at a smart plug and maintain your current bulbs. 

Into colours? That is, you’d like to be able to turn your lights blue, purple, red or any colour in-between. Well, certain smart bulbs have this feature too. 

Two of the major creators of smart bulbs:

3. Smart Plugs

Smart plugs sit between your wall outlet & your device. In this case, your lamp or another lighting device. They contain a smart controller which acts as a switch for your lamp. When you control the smart plug using an app or voice assistant, the plug acts to turn your lamp on or off.

Smart plugs are the right choice when you want smart up a current lamp and changing the bulbs isn’t possible to desirable. For example:

  • Bulbs are inbuilt & can’t be changed – lamps with LED strips
  • The lamp has 6 bulbs, rather than one – it’s cheaper to use a plug.
  • The bulb in the lamp is part of the design – Edison style Bulbs. 

In situations like these, a smart plug is an ideal choice. 

Some examples are made by TP Link & Dlink

Bonus Tip: Smart plug can be used to smart up other devices. I use one to smart up a small fan by adding ON/OFF voice control. When it gets a little hot, I just ask Alexa to turn on the fan. No one wants to move more than necessary when it’s hot & humid right?

Non-In Built Lighting Pros Cons
Smart Lamps All-in One solution Simple.

Colour Control – RGBW.

Physical Control Buttons – ON/OFF.
More Expensive

Limited Style Options
Smart Blubs Practically Unlimited Styles.

Colour Control – RGBW
More Expensive – if more than 1 bulb in lamp

No Physical Control Buttons – ON/OFF
Smart Plugs Generally Less Expensive

Physical Control Buttons – ON/OFF
No Colour Control – RGBW

Inbuilt Lights – Downlights & Wall Sconces

The second category of smart lighting control, is control of inbuilt lighting. By inbuilt I mean downlights, wall sconces, ceiling pendants & other lighting which is built into your house rather than plugged into a wall outlet/power point. 

The two options are smart bulbs (like above, but with different pros & cons) or smart switch controllers. 

As you’re now familiar with smart bulbs, we’ll start here. 

1. Smart Bulbs

Again with smart bulbs, we are replacing the existing bulbs but this time in your ceiling, pendant or other inbuilt lighting. So far it’s mostly similar to smart bulbs in lamps but that’s where the similarities end and the BIG cons start appearing. (spoiler: the cons are such that I’d almost never recommend someone using smart bulbs for in-built lighting.)

So what’s the big problem…

…with smart bulbs for smart home lighting control of inbuilt lights?

Replacing your inbuilt bulbs with smart bulbs breaks the connection between the wall switch and the inbuilt light. The smart bulb only works while the wall switch is on, so to use the smart features (apps, voice control, & etc.) you’ve got to leave the wall switch on ALL. THE. TIME. 

Good luck communicating that to your partner, children, guests & anyone else you let into your home. 

Having to leave the wall switch on all the time IMHO effectively renders it useless, nothing more than  some kind of kill switch. 

The Exception.

The only time I’d recommend using a smart bulb for an inbuilt light, is when your wall switch is located in an out-of-the-way or just generally annoying place AND you’re not interested in getting an electrician involved. A smart bulb can be a quick and easy solution to this problem. 

2. Smart Switches & Smart Switch Controllers

Smart switches & smart switch controllers are two options to solve the same problem. They both smart up your wall switches. 

  • Smart switches replace your existing switches with a smart switch. 
  • Smart switch controllers are added to your existing switches to give them smarts. 

These are my go-to recommendation for those who want to smart up their inbuilt lighting. 

Wall switches and smarts (apps & voice control) work in harmony. They both work in harmony to provide a seamless experience. 

Unlike smart bulbs, it doesn’t matter if you last turned off your lights by using the wall switch, you may still turn them on with just the power of your voice (and your voice assistant). 

Some examples are:

Inbuilt Lighting Pros Cons
Smart Switches (or behind-switch controllers) Generally Less Expensive

Physical Control Buttons – ON/OFF

Invisible Smart Home Practically Unlimited Styles
May require Professional Install (Electrician)
Smart Blubs Practically Unlimited Styles

Colour Control – RGBW
Wall Switches – rendered partially useless

More Expensive – if more than 1 bulb per circuit