Is smart lighting tech just a visitor pleasing colourful show-off or is it a worthwhile investment?
In this article about smart lighting I intent to set out what smart lighting is, how it can help with security, how you can make your rooms look more interesting and share my views on one of the most popular lighting systems.
What is smart lighting?
Lighting play such a vital role in creating the atmosphere, mood and setting for each room in your house. If your rooms are only lit from a single bulb hanging from the ceiling, then the setting and mood will be a bland electric light look which is actually not that healthy!
There are different types of smart lighting bulbs, ones that provide a range of white light – from cool blue to the warmer yellows and ones that are able to provide the full spectrum of colour (Red, Orange, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet and everything in between). With a number of full colour bulbs you can fill a room with a range of colourful themes.
These full colour bulbs can be set to create a ‘Caribbean sunset’ or if you would prefer, the cool blue theme ‘Artic aurora’. There are many pre-determined lighting themes you can choose from like; ‘Spring blossom’ or ‘Tropical twilight’ or you can make up you own themes.
The bulbs connect wirelessly to your home network via a device known as a bridge. The bridge creates what is known as a ‘virtual private network’ (VPN). The VPN ensures that only known devices such as your smartphone or tablet will be able to operate the lights in your home.
Once you have your bridge and VPN set up you will need to download the appropriate app to your smartphone or tablet and complete the steps to make the connection. Now you will have control over your smart lighting from not just anywhere in your house but anywhere in the world!
Smart home lighting – is it for you?
It may be fun or even a novelty to soak you room in a blaze of different colours each night, but you may be wondering if there are any other benefits?
Smart lighting is not a gimmick it has some very partial benefits with regard to security. Using the appropriate app on your smartphone you can program your lights to switch on or off at certain times, very useful when you are away from home. You can have your lights turn on when you approach your house, again useful if you need to search for keys to open your front door.
You can set the lights to switch on and off in different rooms at different times, again very useful when you are away on holiday. You can add in things like sensors which will switch the light on when you enter a room. To stop them switching on during the day you set the daily hours on the app.
The bulbs from manufactures like Philips for example are eco-friendly and long-lasting. A Philips Hue bulb can last up to 25,000 hours of use!
Who produces smart lighting?
There are a number of smart lighting products on the market, but the ones I am familiar with are the ones from:
Belkin WeMo Lighting – the WeMo bulbs have both a bayonet and screw option, but only offer shades of white from the cool blues to the warmer yellows. You control the lights from the app on your smartphone via the WeMo link (the bridge). You can buy a starter pack – which includes two bulbs and the WeMo link, or you can buy the bulbs and link individually.
Hive Active Lighting – British Gas markets its smart devices under the brand name Hive. As part of the Hive system you can purchase smart thermostats, door sensors, smart plugs, smart webcam and smart bulbs. All the devices are controlled using a smartphone via the Hive app. Hive produce a range of bulbs with bayonet and screw fixing and either white tones or full colour. Once again you will need the Hive Bridge to make a secure connection to your Wi-Fi network.
Philips Hue – Philips were the first company to create smart lighting for the home and as such are probably the most popular solution. The Philips Hue range is an extensive offering including, bulbs, lighting units, strip lights, sensors, dimmers and spots. You can control the lights using the Philips Hue app via the Philips bridge, which makes the secure connection. (there are many third-party apps that can add even more effects).
IKEA Tradfri Smart Lighting – smart lighting has been made more affordable by everyone’s favourite Swedish company IKEA! The IKEA bulbs are screw thread only (you can buy adapters for bayonet connection) and only available in white tones (blue through to warm yellow) at present. The lights are controlled by a well design app via a bridge.
Setting up and using the Philips Hue Lighting system
Philips Hue is the most popular lighting system and it happens to be the system I use. Setting up smart lighting is relatively easy if you purchase a starter kit. The Philips Hue starter kit has a number of options, but I chose the option with three coloured screw fixing bulbs and the Philips Bridge.
I decided to place my first three bulbs in table lamps in the living room. The next job involves installing the Philips Hue Bridge. The bridge requires a power connection and an Ethernet connection to the router (or switch if the router does not have a spare socket).
Once you power on the Hue bridge three blue lights will appear which confirm the power is on, the connection with the local network is complete and the bridge is emitting its VPN signal. Make sure your Philips hue bulbs are switched on. Then download the Philips Hue App to your smart phone.
Once the app is installed you will be prompted to search and connect to the Philips Hue bridge. Connection to the bridge involves pressing the big round button in the middle of the Hue bridge, it takes a few minutes to establish the connection.
Once the connection with the bridge is made you will be able to use the app to locate your lights. You will be able to assign the bulbs to rooms, group them together if you require and switch them on and off!
Using the app you will be able to switch on the Philips Hue bulbs, set the colour and dim or brighten the light. If you have bulbs in a group in one room, you could set up a theme such as ‘Caribbean Sunset’, this will fill your room with a warm orange glow.
There are many things that you can program using the Philips Hue app, such as, waking up in a morning – the light comes on at the set time at a low level and slowly brightens over a period of time, say 20 minutes, to a full warm glow (it simulates sun rise).
You can fool burglars to thinking that you are at home by scheduling the lights to switch on and off in different rooms at different times! You can even have the bulbs change colour to alert you when you have an incoming phone call!
However, one of the coolest ways to control your Philips Hue Lights is to issue voice commands to Amazon’s Alexa or Apple’s Siri. “change the living room lights to blue” or “switch off the living room lights”.
I agree, this is the part that’s a bit gimmicky and is great fun to show off. However, there are times when voice control is useful. I can walk in to a dark room with my hands full and say “Alexa turn the living room lights on”
Great fun and no more spilt tea!
Is it worth installing smart lighting?
If you are interested in building a smart home or you want to make better use of lighting, then my answer would be a definite yes. I would advise you to consider the Philips Hue or Hive Active systems.
If you just want to have a coloured bulb in the corner of one room, I would say no, it’s costly. However, you may be able to buy a coloured bulb from IKEA that will work without the need for a bridge and app – you will be able to switch it on and off as normal.
I hope this article has shed some light on smart bulbs (sorry I couldn’t resist the pun!) However, if you have an unanswered question about smart lighting please state it in the box below and I will respond.