I’ve been playing with smart lighting the past 6 months, with every brand from established players like Philips Hue and Sylvania Lightify to innovative startups like Nanoleaf and Ilumi looking to disrupt the lighting industry. Each has its pros and cons (which are discussed in better detail in my 2016 smart light roundup), but in general, smart lighting has definitely improved my overall comfort at home since installing it.
The convenience doesn’t come cheap, however, which is one hurdle the industry needs to overcome in the next three years to maintain IoT growth projections. If you’re going to spend $100+ for smart light starter kits that typically include no more than 3 bulbs (vs $1-$5 on traditional bulbs) there needs to be plenty of upside to justify the up-front expense. Also, if more than one brand of bulb is used (which isn’t uncommon), your phone or tablet can easily be bogged down managing everything.
Hubs by Wink, Samsung, Cassia, and others make things simpler by integrating several brands across home automation beyond just lighting, and digital voice assistants like Siri, Alexa, and Ok, Google expand the options even further. When considering whether or not smart lights are necessary in your home, there are six main factors to take into account.
Smart lighting can makes things both more and less secure, depending your setup and how much you’re willing to invest. Smart lighting options communicate wirelessly either via bluetooth, zigbee, or WiFi, and each has its pros and cons. Zigbee lights have proven security flaws with proximity, and hackers have exploited them. Smart lights (especially Hue) have also been featured in the coverage of late 2016’s Mirai botnet that affected security cameras, appliances, and DVRs as well.
It’s important to understand exactly what your smart lights are connecting to, how, and what information they store. IoT is both convenient and dangerous, and you don’t want your smart lights to become a major security risk.
With that being said, several smart bulbs are designed specifically with home security in mind. BeOn, for example, has bluetooth bulbs that work on battery power and can be automated while you’re not home. They also have a two-way speaker that’s useful when placed near outdoor entrances. Several companies like Sengled also make light bulbs with HD security cameras and motion sensors built into them. In addition, home automation features of just about any smart light bulb can provide the illusion you’re home, even while on vacation.
One of my favorite parts of owning smart light bulbs is the ambiance they provide. I have a very minimalist lifestyle packed into a comfortably large one-bedroom apartment, and being able to change the colors of my bulbs makes for a much more interesting living space. In the dining room, I have multiple colors at all times, which I can change to suit any mode. I love the dimension it adds to the room.
In the closets and hallways, I use C by GE bulbs, which adjust to circadian rhythms throughout the day. The bathroom, bedroom, and balcony have color-changing bulbs as well, so I can create a variety of colors throughout the house for full-spectrum lighting options that adjust anytime I want.
Also, when the weather changes, your air monitor readings go beyond certain thresholds or other events happen, you can create a specific scene to set the perfect mood.
3. Home Automation
With or without an additional hub, smart lighting can be automated in a variety of ways. Traditional timers while you’re away are just the start (although those are useful as well). Using Alexa, Spotify, and some IFTTT recipes, it’s possible to change the lighting to move with your music (or even your TV with the right setup). A Logitech Harmony remote can also open up options, and that’s just the more entertaining options.
Smart cars, garage doors, beds, thermostats, and more can be connected to the smart lights to create any effect you want. When you wake up, your Eight Smart Mattress can trigger the lights to turn on, and when you lay down to go to sleep, they can turn off. Turn them on and off as you enter and exit rooms, leave the house, and more – you can even set everything to turn red in emergency situations like a door or window breach. Smart lighting is the foundation of home automation and a great place to get started if you’re fascinated by the technology.
According to Gartner research, smart lighting has 50 percent savings in energy costs over traditional LED lighting, which itself has over 75 percent savings over traditional incandescent bulbs. Smart lights use the same low-energy LEDs but can be adjusted to dim and turn off according to presence, proximity, and other triggers. This means they’re only on when necessary, which is where the additional savings come from. They also remain efficient for 50,000 hours, which is approximately 50 times longer than incandescent, 20-25 times longer than halogen, and 8-10 times longer than CFL bulbs.
The U.S. Department of Energy found an average household can save up to $50 per year by switching from incandescent to LED, which would come out to approximately $75/year saved with smart lights. Also, while 50,000 hours will last 11 years at 12 hours a day, smart lighting can stretch the bulb life out another 10-15 years. This means while you may spend $500 replacing 15 bulbs, you’ll save over $1000 over their lifetime.
Aside from the ambient art you get from just changing the light colors, there are a lot more lighting options on the market these days, thanks to the smart light craze. When I was in college, we bought colored light bulbs in the dorm rooms and fraternity houses to provide a party atmosphere. These lights were often overpriced and no more than oversized Christmas bulbs that didn’t even change color. You could easily drop $100+ for a full selection, and a lot of younger guys use actual Christmas string lights in their home to provide low-cost light.
Now, one smart bulb can do all of that, and the options are broadening even further. Smart string lights are made by Philips, Lifx, and a few others, and the Nanoleaf Aurora goes a different route, creating lit triangle LEDs that stick to the wall to make bright, vibrant color light art. I have an Aurora starter kit in my living room that does a great job lighting the room while also providing a conversation starter for any visitors and neighbors that pass by.
There are also non-traditional smart lights that aren’t necessarily connected, but still provide some great art options. My favorite so far is the Lumio booklight, which is available in a variety of color options (for the book itself, not the light, which remains yellow) that make it look magical anywhere it’s displayed. It charges via micro-USB and is a better quality book cover than most actual hardcover books.
While this may all sound great, it’s difficult to go halfway or piecemeal it together. You’ll need to put in research to learn which home automation hub is best for your situation and be comfortable using Google Home, Echo, or Apple Home to even begin enjoying the benefits of smart lights. It does take some technical aptitude to get used to, even if setup is relatively simple. This is because some lights function differently when the manual light switches are turned on and off. Philips Hue, for example, resets back to default white when turned off from the switch (which I’ve found true in all generations so far).
Before making your life a living hell by adding another step to your every day life, find out if the Wink or SmartThings Hub, Logitech Harmony Universal Remote, and voice assistants can work with your lifestyle. IoT is about adding convenience and data to your life, not obstacles and hurdles. Once you do get it down, however, you’ll find there’s a lot of use-cases for smart lighting.
Aside from making my indoors space more comfortable, convenient, and secure, I’m also using the color-changing abilities of the smart lights to supplement the lighting for the plants I’m growing indoors and on the balcony. There’s no limit to what can be accomplished once you have smart bulbs installed in your home.