Through all the tech I got in to review this year, smart lights are one of the most interesting to me. There are already a ton of lighting options available, and the production of incandescent light bulbs in the U.S. has been slowly phased out over the past decade.
Now we have more than just LED bulbs, as we initially feared. There’s a wide array of smart lighting solutions available on the consumer market, and I got a hold of as many as I could.
Some replace your standard light switches and outlets to allow control through a smart phone, while others are as simple as installing a bulb. Some require their own hubs, and you can also control different brands the same way, though it takes a bit of skill and some IFTTT recipes (along with the occasional extra hub).
Having installed and played with these brands for some time now, I put together the ultimate smart light guide to explain some helpful tips to get started in smart lighting.
Why Smart Lighting?
Although LED light bulbs are more expensive than traditional ones, they do save money in energy costs in the long run. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, LED bulbs use 20-30 percent of the energy and last up to 25 times longer than traditional halogen and incandescent bulbs.
Smart lighting takes these energy savings even further by allowing you to automate lighting usage. For example, bulbs can be automatically set to dim and turn off on automated schedules to save on electricity costs.
On top of this, many smart bulbs offer an array of whites, yellows, and other colors to supercharge your smart home. Your bedroom light can be set to turn red if there’s a break-in, outdoor lights can be turned green for night vision security cameras, while you’re on vacation, lights can be automated to make it seem as though you’re still home from the outside.
The possibilities with smart lights are endless, so while they’re at the top end of the cost scale, most last over two decades and provide a host of benefits traditional lighting simply doesn’t. Some of these solutions can even be implemented on top of your smart bulbs.
Necessary Equipment on Top of Light Bulbs
What’s necessary to automate smart lights is typically a hub, and which hub you get depends on which lights you want to get. Companies like Legrand and Phillips Hue use hubs of their own, while platforms like Lifx and Wemo do not require one.
Hubs like Samsung’s SmartThings and Wink Hub 2.0 are meant to bridge the gaps between brands and allow you to set aside all the proprietary apps and use one interface to control your smart lights, home entertainment, and other home automation gadgets and IoT devices you introduce into your home network’s ecosystem.
A Wink and SmartThings hub won’t replace a hue and Legrand hub. So if you’re not careful, you can quickly end up turning your router into a clogged up mess. Also, Samsung SmartThings packages do include Leviton smart lighting solutions, so that’s something to keep in mind.
Sylvania’s Lightify system (clearly labeled Osram above) does require a hub, but it’s much smaller and only takes up an extra outlet that can be anywhere. I installed one on the other side of the house and a different floor than the router, and it worked just fine.
Also, if you’re using outdoor lighting (especially accent and track lighting that moves into the yard and far away from the house, you’ll want to extend your wifi with a mesh wifi network like Amplifi HD.
With these extended wireless access points, your WiFi network’s range is greatly improved and extended. It’s an essential if you have a large yard with a lot of lights around it.
Also, if you’re using bluetooth bulbs and speakers, the Cassia Hub to the left of the Wink Hub above is the perfect solution to allow automation and even IFTTT connectivity for bluetooth devices.
Smart Lighting Solutions
Here are the smart lighting platforms I checked out this year and what we found with each.
Philips Hue (Meethue.com)
Philips Hue is the first smart lighting setup I got a chance to install and play with. The white and color ambiance kit is their highest end kit, capable of displaying thousands of whites and colors. You’ll want the Gen 3 bulbs for this, however, as the Gen 2 bulbs lack a lot of the spectrum.
Hue does require a hub, and is easily controlled by IFTTT and either the Wink or SmartThings hubs. The Hue app itself is somewhat limited, but Hue pro, a $2 third-party app, does the job, and if you have Alexa and an Echo Dot with IFTTT, you’re covered for all possibilities.
Lifx is a newer company than Philips, but their smart lighting solutions are constantly getting attention at events like CES. This is because they don’t use a hub like Philips Hue does.
Now of course, the Hue hub works flawlessly, and Lifx would require a mesh network to work as well because lights aren’t always in the best wifi coverage areas.
Still, Lifx is cheaper for smaller homes and does provide some great lighting options beyond just bulbs. Like Hue, check for Gen 3.
Leviton is partnered with Samsung and some of their smarthome equipment is being bundled with the SmartThings hub. Rather than replacing the bulbs themselves, you can turn normal LED and even incandescent bulbs into smart bulbs at the switch.
Instead of standard WiFi, Leviton uses Z-wave, which is a different radio frequency based on the Zigbee protocol to communicate. It just means it’s broadcasting on a different radio station that won’t interfere with your home’s WiFi or clog it up.
Connected by GE (GElinkbulbs.com)
Connected by GE are learning bulbs that adapt to your circadian rhythms to provide softer and warmer lights when needed based on your natural body rhythm.
These particular bulbs don’t require a hub of any kind, and don’t waste your money on all the colors of the spectrum that you may never need nor use since you’re not running a dance club. These bedroom bulbs by GE are a great way to get started with the basics of smart lighting.
The downside is you won’t get the IFTTT and Alexa automation you really want from these. But they’re the cheapest smart bulbs on this list.
Sylvania Lightify (Sylvania.com)
Sylvania (formerly Osram)’s Lightify system works similar to Philips Hue, although the hub is much smaller. This still doesn’t take away from the reach of the bulbs, and these still outperformed Lifx in our house when using automation to Hotline Bling it out.
Like Philips, and GE, Sylvania has been in the lighting business for a long time, so there’s a wide array of outdoor and accent lighting that can be set up so you can even automate holiday decorations for virality.
One of many bluetooth lighting solutions on the market, Ilumi works great for automating your home based on proximity.
WiFi bulbs can do some fun things using GPS like turning lights on, unlocking the doors, and opening the garage when you drive home with Automatic Pro installed in y our vehicle.
Unfortunately WiFi bulbs are terrible about knowing when you’re moving from room to room, and bluetooth speakers and bulbs make this easier. These outdoor and indoor bulbs by Ilumi are great to have around the house.
BeOn Home (Beonhome.com)
Another bluetooth bulb worth having around the home even if you have a WiFi automation platform built is the BeOn Home bulbs. These security bulbs have a built-in battery and learn/store lighting patterns within the bulb so they continue working while you’re on vacation.
The battery also means you’ll have emergency lighting in the event of a power outage, which can really cripple a home automation and smart lighting system.
Belkin Wemo (Belkin.com)
Another company looking to automate the home and lighting through the switches is Belkin, who’s also a veteran in the home networking space. Wemo light switches and outlets are great for monitoring and automating the entire home, although they’re really bulky.
The problem with controlling devices from the outlet is not every device behaves like you want it to when power is cut on and off. On a computer, for example, you could corrupt the hard drive and lose everything.
Still, WeMo does open up some cool IFTTT possibilities and the platform is simple to use and add lights to everything else.
Stack Lighting (Stacklighting.com)
Stack lighting is a company that is working on proximity and other types of automation that work without your phone. It’s also got built-in motion detection and IFTTT integration.
While Philips Hue is still my favorite smart lighting set because of the colors, it’s also a pain to integrate into the house and often leaves you struggling for your phone instead of hitting the light switch.
Stack lighting is the closest median I’ve found between smart and dumb lighting and a great place to start your foray into home automation.
Legrand is another electrical company adding connectivity to the switches to make your traditional dumb lighting smarter. The Legrand hub is much larger than Hue, SmartThings, and most the others, but it does work well.
Still, with so many other options out there, there’s nothing in particular that makes Legrand stand out from the pack.
Nanoleaf Aurora (nanoleaf.me)
The Aurora Smarter Kit by Nanoleaf changes the way we think of accent lighting in the house, with a Lego-like modular design that can be programmed and automated for a variety of cool effects.
Creative types will love this kit, which doesn’t require a hub to be controlled from your smartphone.