Adding smart lighting to your home can be a cheap and easy way to start turning your home into a Smart Home.  Smart lighting can change the way you live, save money, add security, and it’s fun!  But before you start buying, check out the 7 facts below that every home owner should know about smart lighting.

1. Color temperature?

What color temperature is the right fit for your needs?  Measured in Kelvin units, there are three basic temperatures:

  • Soft or Warm White (approx. 2000-3000K), appears orange or yellow-white, often used for living rooms, dining rooms, and bedrooms, mood is cozy, relaxing
  • Bright or Cool White (approx. 3100-4500K), appears neutral white with blue tint, often used for kitchens, bathrooms, basements, garages, work environments, mood is bright, energetic, and vibrant
  • Daylight (approx. 4600-6500K), appears blue-white, often used for bathrooms, kitchen, security, garages, task or project lighting, mood is crisp and invigorating

The higher the Kelvins, the whiter the light but keep in mind that actual brightness of the light is controlled by Lumens so a lamp with higher Kelvins will be whiter but not necessarily brighter.
If changing the color temperature is important to you (and it should be), make sure that the bulbs you purchase do not have a set Kelvin rating.  At present, Cree, GoControl, TP-Link, and Insteon sell smart lighting that do not allow you to change the colour temperature.

2. Brightness?

In the same way you will check the brightness of a regular bulb when choosing it at the store, it’s important to check the lumens when buying smart bulbs.  The key is to remember that higher lumens will result in a brighter bulb.  In general, you’ll want one rated at a minimum of 800 lumens (especially if it’s dimmable so you can control the brightness) but there may be activities that will require a 40-watt or 75 watt equivalent.   The most common options are listed below:

  • 450 lumens provides the brightness of a 40 watt incandescent bulb.
  • 800 lumens provides the brightness of a 60 watt incandescent bulb.
  • 1100 lumens provides the brightness of a 75 watt incandescent bulb.
  • 1600 lumens  provides the brightness of a 100 watt incandescent bulb

3. Home Automation Integrations?

A standalone smart bulb is like having one flavor of ice cream.  It’s enjoyable but could be so much more with a topping or a second flavor.  This is why it’s important to consider how your smart bulb will integrate with other applications and the added features and functionality that may be available.

  • Are you already using Amazon Alexa, Google Home, or Apple Home Kit?  If so, make sure the bulbs you purchase integrate with your chosen hub.
  • Are you using applications like IFTTT, Yonomi, or Stringify in your Smart Home?  Not all bulbs work natively with all applications so before you buy, make sure it will suit your needs.
  • Does the bulb work with automation protocols already in use in your home?  If your system is currently based on  one protocol (e.g. wifi, bluetooth, Z-Wave, ZigBee, Insteon, Thread) make sure the bulbs you purchase use this protocol or you are willing to introduce a new protocol.
  • If the bulb offers third-party integration, it should prominently include the logo of the integrated apps on the packaging or be included in the specs or features listed for the bulb.  Check this carefully before you buy!

4. Dimmable Bulb?

This one may slip through the cracks but you need to consider all uses of the space and make sure you buy a bulb that will suit different activities within the same space.  If you want to dim the lights to watch a movie or increase the brightness to read, you will need to buy a dimmable bulb.

  • Cost:  Dimmable bulbs will cost more than static lamps but they will be cheaper in the long run because one bulb can suit multiple purposes.
  • Mood & Activity:  Setting the mood and appropriate brightness of lighting is accomplished by changing the temperature of the light along with dimming or brightening it to suit your needs.

5. Control from the Bulb or from the Switch?

Adding smart lighting to your home doesn’t mean the bulbs need to change.  Swapping out the switch will give you some of the most useful functionality and it is also an opportunity to add some uniquely cool stuff.
Some reasons to choose a smart switch rather than the bulb:

  • Cost:  It’s less expensive up front and also you aren’t hit with the cost of buying  a new smart bulb every time one burns out
  • Convenience:  If you want to make a change, you just change one thing (the switch) and not each bulb.
  • Features:  Advanced switches can provide additional functionality like motion sensing, touch screen interfaces, even energy monitoring, security systems and weather forecasts.

Some reasons to choose a smart bulb rather than a switch:

  • Features – A smart bulb will allow you to change the colour of the lights – not something a switch can do
  • Ease of implementation – You don’t have to turn off the electrical circuit to make the change.
  • Control – You can control each bulb separately with its own, unique settings.

Of course, for maximum benefit and features, you can install both a smart switch and smart bulbs!

6. Scalability?

Before you purchase smart home lighting and lock yourself into one solution, make sure that whatever you buy will allow you to build upon it and enhance the system later.  Some questions to ask yourself are:

  • Expansion:  What will my smart home look like in the future?  Will I want to expand the lighting control to multiple rooms?  Will I want to control the lighting remotely?
  • Budget:  Is it worth spending a little more now to keep options open for the future?
  • Purpose:  Am I buying this lighting to suit one specific purpose  or solve a specific problem?
  • Format:  Will I want to expand the Smart Lighting to feature formats other than the traditional bulb?  If you may want strip lighting, accent lighting, smart candles, outdoor lighting, or garden lighting in the future, make sure you buy into a system that offers these options.

7. Cost?

Although listed last, this is probably the first question you should ask yourself.  As with all technology, there are a lot of options and you are only limited by your budget.  Before you set your budget, keep in mind:

  • Spend now to save later – Although you may save a few dollars by buying a low-end system now, you may pay more in the long run if you need to replace it because it breaks or you need additional functionality.
  • Obsolescence – Manufacturers regularly roll out new products and build a planned obsolescence into their offerings.  For example, I purchased the original Hue bulb starter kit and when Phillips released the revised Hue hub, they removed the ability to run “party mode” on the original hub and require an equipment upgrade to the new hub to use this feature.   Also, the original hub doesn’t integrate with Apple Home Kit but the revised hub does.  The key is to find the sweet spot and set a budget that means that you  don’t overspend now, you buy a system that does what you currently need, but you are also aware that realistically, you will probably want to replace it within 3-5 years.

Bonus Fact!

Yes, we said 7 facts but here’s a bonus one for you…Sometimes you need to throw practicality out the window and buy something just because it has a feature that appeals to you.  Think outside the box and buy something fun!  How about LuDela candles – real flame smart candles that light themselves and extinguish themselves if they tip over!
What do you think about these 7 facts?  If you have any additional advice, post it in the comments.