Smart Bulbs vs Smart Switches

Smart Bulbs vs Smart Switches

The Great Lighting Debate

Lighting your smart home can be confusing. A decision that used to revolve around a handful of bulbs must now account for dozens of variables… How important is power consumption? Do I need colored light? Do I want my house to send me notifications? Can I still use a wall switch?

Those are just a few of the questions we’ve asked ourselves over the past few weeks as I’ve researched every solution I could find.

Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of each setup to get things started.

Dumb Bulbs

What Are They?

The typical bulb you’d buy off-the-shelf at your local home improvement store. They come in halogen, compact fluorescent, and LED. LEDs are definitely the way to go… Check out our review of the Cree 60w replacement and the Philips SlimStyle 60w replacement.

Pros?

Inexpensive, easy-to-find, and the most energy efficient (if you choose the right LED bulb). They’ll also behave exactly as you expect them to, turning on and off immediately with a switch and working with regular dimmers.

Cons?

They provide light, and that’s about it. Nothing fancy or fun.

Affordability

They’re the cheapest way to light your home, and costs are continuing to drop every year. With bulbs like the Cree 60w replacement (see our review), they can also use considerably less energy than the smart bulbs mentioned below.

Smart Bulbs

What Are They?

Smart Bulbs include networking technology in each bulb to allow advanced scheduling, color modification, and much more. They give your home automation system unparalleled control over every lighting fixture in your home. Popular choices include the Philips HUE, the Philips HUE LUX, the LIFX, and the GE Link.

Pros?

Smart bulbs provide families with some truly novel features. Bulbs like the HUE and LIFX offer thousands of color options including complete control over the tone of white light. You can program a room to have different lighting throughout (maybe bright in the reading corner but dim near the TV). You can even pair them with nerdy services like IFTTT to notify you of various events that are important to you. Imagine your lights flashing when a new email arrives or a child arrives safely at school.

The possibilities are endless.

Cons?

They may be overkill for many people who would never use the advanced features. They typically require a hub of some sort, and it seems like there’s a ceiling on how many of the bulbs you can use reliably in one home.

There’s also an issue when it comes to control. Many of the bulbs mentioned above lose their settings when you flip a switch on and off. For instance, the painstakingly chosen Christmas lighting you set up through HUE would be lost if someone accidentally flipped a switch; you’d be left with normal lighting until you opened the app again to reset the color scheme. It’s not a huge deal, but it’s something worth noting.

Affordability

They’re all really expensive, with the exception of GE’s disruptive Link bulb that was introduced earlier this year. With the exception of the Link, you’ll probably pay 3-5x the cost of a solid LED dumb bulb.

If you have a lot of lights, be prepared to drop some serious coin if you plan to outfit the entire house.

Smart Switches

What Are They?

They look just like the typical light switch/dimmer you’d place on the wall, but contain networking gear that integrates with remote controls and many home automation hubs. Some popular choices include the Leviton Vizia, Lutron Caseta, and the Quirky/GE Tapt.

Pros?

They look and function just like a typical switch/dimmer, but are fully accessible by your smart home hub. You can use your wall panel or smart phone to control your lights (by zone), monitor which lights are on, adjust dimness settings, and set up up triggers for different lighting scenarios. Imagine your porch and foyer lights turning on when you pull into the garage, or turning off all downstairs lights before you go to bed with just the tap of a screen. They’re extremely useful.

Cons?

Since the switches only work for the zones your panels are wired for, you don’t have as much granular control over your lighting as you would with a smart bulb. Also, installing a new light switch is a little more intimidating than screwing in a fancy bulb.

Affordability

Not too bad. A high quality dimmer runs about $30, and a smart dimmer only costs twice as much at $60. It’s not cheap, but it’s a lot more affordable than a few dozen smart bulbs.

The Big Question: What Are We Planning to Do?

I think that we’ll mostly use smart switches. We have lots of recessed lighting in different zones throughout the house, so a handful of dimmable smart switches should give us the control and automation potential we’re looking for.

That said, I’m picking up a few of the GE Link bulbs for lamps in our bedroom, and will probably try a few HUE/LIFX bulbs throughout the house as accents. Those seem especially fun for kids… I can already imagine blindingly pink light pouring into the hallway from Jovie’s room…

Do you have a smart lighting setup in your home? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.

Author

Eric is the creator of At Home in the Future and has been a passionate fan of the future since he was seven. He's a web developer by trade, and serves as the Director of Communication and Technology for a large church in Nashville, TN (where he and his family are building a high tech home in the woods).

3 comments

  • Can you program your lights automatically with any of these methods? I’d love my outside lights to turn on when it gets dark, and turn off when the sun comes up. And maybe have a few inside lights do that as well.

    Reply
    • Yep – both methods are extremely flexible. I’m working on a review of several of the smart bulb options right now, so check back soon for more details on that.

      Reply
  • I have found the best system is smart lights for lamps and smart switches for any switches. The risk of having smart bulbs in pot lights in the ceiling and then someone hits the switch and they become dead is too risky. I love the Phillips hue for the bedroom and family room lamps. and Lutron caseta everywhere else.

    Reply

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