As I mentioned previously, smart lighting sure has come a long way since I first tested it out several years ago. Now there are so many options to choose from, and definitely different ways to get everything connected and talking to each other.
One great benefit of smart lighting is energy savings! When you create different automations or obtain the ability to turn off lights when you aren’t at home, you can really see a difference in your electric bill. The key is to get the benefits of the smart lights, without losing the ease of regular dumb lights. I’m here to tell you that you can now have the best of both worlds.
The Battle of the Bulbs
The most popular brands for Smart bulbs are currently Philips Hue and C by GE. Sure there are a ton of different options and even more knock-off brands, but to really get smart about your lights it’s best to stick with some well-known brands that will for sure integrate with most other smart home devices.
Both brands offer full color and white bulbs. You will typically pay more for the full-color bulb, so unless you really want to get funky with colors, you can switch out the majority of your white bulbs for the smart version fairly inexpensively. The bulbs will last much longer than standard incandescent or fluorescent bulbs too, so you won’t be changing them out nearly as often. The savings you will get in your electric bill over time should make up for the cost difference pretty quickly as well.
Between Philips Hue and C by GE, the Hue system is much more mature at the moment. GE is quickly catching up, but they were slightly late to the party. Philips Hue also has a broader selection of bulb types and even has lighting that you can use with your entertainment system so it changes the lighting based on the colors and scenes playing on the TV.
Where C by GE really shines is how affordable the bulbs are, which are only just slightly more expensive than regular bulbs. They also don’t require you to have a hub or starter kit to get going. You can plug in a bulb and start using it right away.
Truthfully though, you can even have a mixture of both brands in your house and control everything from your Google Home, which they both integrate with.
Did you know that you can have smart lighting without changing out a single light bulb? Smart switches can be the perfect bridge between dumb lights and a smart home ecosystem. Again, there are a lot of different options for switches. My favorites are the Brilliant, WeMo and C by GE switches.
The Brilliant Smart Home Control is much more than a switch. It can turn dumb lights smart by just installing the control in place of the regular switch. It can control the light the switch plate would normally switch on and off, but it also will connect other smart home devices in your home. I can control my Sonos, my Ring Doorbell, my Philips Hue lights and my WeMo switches all from the Smart Home Control.
The Brilliant also has a camera built-in so you can use the control panel as an intercom with other Brilliant devices in your home. Since the Brilliant Smart Home Control is on the more expensive side, you really only need a few in your home to get the benefits. The rest of the light switches can be traded out with WeMo devices and your entire home can utilize smart lighting. I am doing a full review on the Brilliant Smart Home Control, posting soon.
The WeMo switches work great and there are a few different options. They have a dimmer switch or a regular toggle type switch. If you have more than one switch that controls the same light, you only need to put one WeMo switch on the line. In order to make it work for a multiple switch plate, you can either purchase the number of WeMo switches that would fit in the plate or if you only need one smart switch on the plate, you can just replace one and then use standard paddle switches for the other switches.
The only issue with the WeMo Switches is they only have the large paddle type switch. They don’t have the smaller toggle type switches, so if your house has mostly those, you may need to change those out for non-smart switches too.
C by GE does have a toggle type switch that can control the C by GE bulbs or dumb bulbs! The C by GE switches will not only make dumb lights smart, but it will also control C by GE light bulbs as well to ensure that their smart capabilities do not get lost when flipping on and off the light at the switch.
You can also purchase switches that work with Philips Hue lights. My favorite is the Lutron Aurora. The device fits right over a standard toggle switch to prevent it from being turned off. This also means there is no wiring required!
Once you have the Lutron Aurora installed you can press the inner circle to turn the light on and off, or you can turn the dial to adjust the brightness of the lights. I absolutely LOVE this device because it allows you to have manual control over your Philips Hue lights.
You can even set it to remember the last setting before you turn off the light by pressing the center circle. So, at night in my bathroom, I turn the brightness all the way down and then turn off the lights. If I need to use the restroom in the middle of the night I won’t be blinded by the super bright lights of the bathroom!
While just about every device you install has its own app, there are some apps that will enable you to control all of the devices in your home.
The Brilliant Smart Home Control app will allow you to connect with your Brilliant Switches which also happens to be able to connect to Philips Hue and WeMo. You can control all of those devices directly from the Brilliant app instead of the switch itself. Samsung SmartThings is another way to bring multiple vendors together for one pane of glass to control them all. This typically would require a SmartThings hub somewhere on your network. There are a few things that have the hub already built-in. My ADT security system does, so I am able to use that.
Samsung SmartThings has a lot of the products I have in my home, but it doesn’t have everything yet. C by GE, Kevo, and MyQ are on the top of my list of products I would love to see connected to SmartThings. I like the interface in SmartThings better than some of the others.
You can also use Apple HomeKit, but I don’t use Apple products, so I have very little to say about that. I know it can bring multiple platforms together as well, but it also needs a hub of some sort in your home.
The app I end up using the most, however, is the Google Home app. We have several Google Home devices throughout the house, but you don’t need one in order to connect various products. The great thing about using the Google Home app is that I am able to connect all of my smart lights, including C by GE. In fact, you don’t even need the C by GE app if you want to connect your bulbs directly to the Google Home app. You will lose a tiny bit of functionality by doing so, but not enough to make it painful.
All of these smart devices don’t get truly smart until you begin to utilize automation. These simple programs can make all the difference in the world. I mean, what’s the point of smart light bulbs if your kids CONTINUE to leave all the lights in the house on?
You can set up automations through the individual apps, through a single pane of glass, like SmartThings or Google Home, or you can set them up through a third party like IFTTT.
I can create automations to turn on specific lights at sunset and turn them back off at sunrise (whenever those might be as the program will check local sunrise and sunset times.) I can also create an automation to turn all the lights off and turn my thermostat to an eco-friendly temperature and lock my doors as soon as I leave a certain geographic location.
Another great automation I use is to gradually turn the lights in my room on to help me wake up at a specific time. Since I wake up at 4:30 AM, long before the sunrise, I like to mimic a sunrise in my bedroom to get my body awake.
Automation is where you will get the most benefit out of a smart home, and there are really so many different ways to use it that you can customize for your unique situations. That is what is so great about technology. No two people have to use it exactly the same way. Use technology in a way that makes sense for YOU!
Finally, I didn’t want to wrap up this tutorial without a brief mention of other smart lighting situations. For example, the Nanoleaf is an amazingly unique lighting product that can double as art in your home.
These unique lighting panels can be programmed to change color, or you can interact with certain models by touching them to see various reactions from the panel. These are a great way to light children’s bedrooms, and office, or even certain areas in your house. Not sure they would be ideal for utility type rooms like the bathroom, pantry or garage.
Philips Hue also has an HDMI connector that you can put in your TV and lights that can go behind your entertainment area. These lights can utilize the HDMI connection to adjust the lighting based on the scene shown on the TV.
What I love about smart lighting in 2019 is that you don’t have to commit to one platform anymore. In my home, I have a mixture of Philips Hue lights, C by GE, WeMo, Lutron and Brilliant Switches and more. i can create ways to make all of these devices talk to each other to benefit ME! Living in the future is the best. Won’t you join me??
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Sarah Kimmel is a digital parenting coach and family tech expert. She has spent the last 16 years of her career as a Microsoft Certified IT Manager supporting over 100 small businesses. During that time she started Family Tech LLC to help families understand and manage the technology in their home. She has regularly appeared as a family tech expert on KSL News, BYUtv and Studio 5, and has been invited all over the world from tech companies like Lenovo, Verizon, Microsoft, Dell, and Samsung. Find out more on her website SarahKimmel.com