What You Need to Know About Smart Light Bulbs
Smart light bulbs are an excellent option for those who want to upgrade their home technology. The "smart" means the light bulbs can be remotely controlled—via your smartphone, home automation system, or even with voice control. Not only are they highly user-friendly, but they tend to be energy-saving as well—typically using LEDs to generate the light, with the LEDs in a tiny communications device that connects the light bulb to whatever gateway device or smartphone you're using to control it.
Smart bulbs are either white (your standard on/off bulb) or colored (with a pre-set range of colors). Some colored bulbs are intended to be just one color, while others can run through a broad spectrum of colors in order to add mood lighting to your home. The white bulbs are cheaper, but they don't offer the same versatility as colored bulbs.
The smart bulbs are designed to pair with your smartphone via your home Wi-Fi network or Bluetooth. Some of them are directly controlled, while others are integrated into an existing home automation system for all-in-one control. Bluetooth bulbs are cheaper, but they offer a shorter range. Wi-Fi bulbs are pricier, but they allow you to turn off your lights from LITERALLY anywhere in the world.
Some smart bulbs are designed to be compatible with Google Home and Amazon's Alexa system, allowing you to control them via voice commands.
The beauty of smart light bulbs is that they're nearly identical to regular light bulbs, at least in terms of the base type and size. They're compatible with your typical bases—Edison screw type, spotlights, bayonet cap, etc.—which means they can be inserted into any light fixture around your home.
Pros and Cons of Smart Lighting
- Setup and installation is fairly simple. All you have to do is screw the light bulb into the fixture, and it will automatically switch on the Bluetooth or Wi-Fi signal. You can then go to your smartphone or home automation device to "Search" for the new smart device.
- It's versatile. You can install the light bulb into any fixture in the house, and move it around at will. It's the light bulb that's "smart", so it will work with literally any fixture. Best of all, it's easy to find smart light bulbs for just about any fixture in your home.
- Features don't cost much more. A smart light bulb will cost roughly double what you'd pay for a basic LED light bulb, but you'll find that most smart light bulbs are in the same general price range, regardless of features. You can get awesome features like audio streaming, camera functionality, and motion tracking for just a few dollars more.
- Save money and time. With a smart light bulb, you can use your home automation system to switch off your light bulbs automatically. And, you can program the lights to switch off at the same time every day/night. You'll drastically cut electricity costs—both because you're using LED light bulbs and because you have an easier time remembering to turn off the lights.
- Light bulbs have a shorter lifespan. The use of a Bluetooth or Wi-Fi communications device increases the heat sink of the light bulbs. This in turn can decrease the lifespan of an LED light bulb. Instead of the 25,000 hours you'd get from a regular LED light bulb, you end up with more like 15,000 hours.
- Fewer options. Smart light bulbs are designed to be compatible with most light fixtures, but not all. If you have specialty fixtures (such as candelabra bulbs), it's almost impossible to find a bulb that fits.
- Negative interaction with dimmer switches. If the smart bulb is installed into a fixture that's connected to a dimmer switch, the bulb is prone to flickering or buzzing. It's just one of the side effects that occur when a dimmer is paired with a smart bulb.
How Much Money Can Smart Lights Save You?
According to the U.S. Government, "By replacing your home's five most frequently used light fixtures or bulbs with models that have earned the ENERGY STAR, you can save $75 each year."
Your typical LED light bulb will use anywhere from 25 to 80% less energy than an incandescent bulb, and has a lifespan anywhere from 3 to 25 times longer.
However, most people these days have gotten rid of their incandescent bulbs and made the switch to compact fluorescent lighting (CFL) in order to save electricity. CFL bulbs are cheaper than LED bulbs, but they have a shorter lifespan and use more energy.
One website did a breakdown of the cost to use a LED or CFL lightbulb for 25,000 hours. Though the initial cost of an LED bulb was higher ($8 on average), the ultimate cost (number of lightbulbs purchased, total electricity cost, etc.) was $38 for an LED light bulb and $48 for a CFL light bulb.
On the flip side, the incandescent bulbs cost an average of $200 for that same 25,000 hour use. Though the bulbs themselves were significantly cheaper, their shorter lifespan and higher energy consumption meant the cost rose sharply.
If you're trying to save money, you're DEFINITELY better off using LED light bulbs in as many light fixtures around the house as possible. LED bulbs tend to be brighter than CFL bulbs, and they will generate less ambient heat. Though they come with a higher initial cost, they'll save you a lot of money in the long run.
Smart Light Bulb Tips and Tricks
If you want to make the most of your smart light bulbs, here are a few tips to help you out:
Remove the dimmers – If you install a smart LED light bulb into a switch that's connected to a dimmer, it's likely to cause flickering or buzzing. Either remove the dimmer switch or install the LED bulb in a socket that's not connected to a dimmer.
Consider Wi-Fi vs Bluetooth carefully – Wi-Fi smart bulbs give you the option to control the lights via your home network, but what happens if your Wi-Fi gets cut off or your router starts having problems? How will you be able to control the lights without Wi-Fi? Bluetooth may not offer the same range (35 to 60 feet may be all you get), but it's more reliable in terms of signal. On the flip side, Bluetooth connectivity can be spotty or problematic with older smartphones.
Both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth offer good options, but they both come with their drawbacks as well. Think carefully and decide which serves your needs better.
Group your lights – Many home automation systems and smart light bulb apps allow you to control up to 64 light bulbs at a time, but why control them all individually? Instead, group them into rooms or areas you want to control, such as "Dining Room" or "Living Room Overhead Lights". That way, it's easier to turn on/off/dim/change color on a lot of different lights with the press of one button.
Set up pre-sets – For many smart light bulbs, you can program pre-sets, such as the time to switch on/off, pre-set colors, dimming at a certain time of night, etc. The smart light bulb app will allow to create your own pre-sets, which will make it easier for you to control your lighting.
Try third party apps – All the manufacturers of smart light bulbs make apps that allow you to control the lights, but there are many third party apps that offer more versatility, control options, and features that the manufacturer app doesn't. They're worth looking into if you want to have total control over your light bulbs.
Use IFTTT – IFTTT ("If This Then That") is a suite of programming instructions that say "If this happens, this next thing has to happen". It allows you to establish pre-set instructions for your smart light bulbs. The IFTTT "Recipes" can offer you a lot of amazing features to help you have more control over your home's smart lighting.
Use Geofencing – Geofencing is an option that allows your smartphone to connect to your home lighting system when it's in within a certain range. With geofencing, you can pre-set the lights to switch off when your phone is out of range, and switch back on when your phone comes within the range. That way, your lights will automatically switch on/off without your having to do anything more than come home or leave.
Try it as an alarm – If you have a hard time waking up in the morning, use the pre-sets to program the lights to slowly brighten in the morning—simulating the sunrise. You'll know it's time to wake up every day, even without the noisy alarm!
Sync the bulbs to your phone number – This is a nifty feature that allows you to connect your smart bulbs to your phone so they'll flash or change colors when you're getting a call. You'll never miss another phone call with this setup!
Cover LIFX vs Phillips HUE
The LIFX and Phillips HUE bulbs are the two most popular smart bulbs on the market. Many people have asked us "Which of the two is better?" As you can see by its position on our list above, we believe the Phillips HUE bulb is the better choice—but not by a whole lot!
Here is a general breakdown of the HUE vs. LIFX:
Brightness – The LIFX can generate as much as 1,100 lumens, on par with a 75W light bulb. The HUE however, can only generate 800 lumens, on par with a 60W bulb.
Colors – The LIFX has a better range of colors than the HUE, with more concentration of light and better brightness.
Energy Usage – The HUE only uses 10W, while the LIFX uses 11W.
App – The HUE app is much more user-friendly and straightforward than the LIFX app, with a simpler interface that makes controlling your light bulb a whole lot easier. However, the LIFX app is more precise when it comes to controlling the colors and brightness.
Light Bulb Platform – The platform is the device that connects your smartphone to the light bulbs. The HUE is the original platform, and offers a lot more customization options than the LIFX. It's also the only of the two to work with Apple HomeKit (for now), and it's compatible with off-brand Zigbee bulbs. This is great if you want to expand to third-party smart lights. However, HUE's platform allows you to change the light bulb's color using voice control.
Reliability – In terms of reliability, the HUE bulbs have a slight edge. Both LIFX and HUE deliver a long-lasting LED light bulb (with up to 15,000 hours of use), but the HUE bulbs will last a bit longer with regular use. They are incredibly consistent in terms of performance and lifespan.
Ease of Installation – The app for the HUE is easier to use right out of the box, making it easier for you to get your lighting set up right away. If you just want simple functionality (on/off, timer, geofencing, etc.), HUE is the better option. They're incredibly easy to pair with your Bluetooth/Wi-Fi and home automation system.
Cost – In terms of pricing, the bulbs themselves are pretty much identical—anywhere from $25 to $70 per bulb. However, the LIFX bulb has the slight edge in that you DON'T need the bridge/platform to run the light bulb. It can simply be connected to the smartphone app directly. You can use the LIFX bulbs with a platform (even a third-party one), but the HUE doesn't give you the option to control the bulbs without a platform.