Buying Guide – How to Shop for a Smart Light
What happens when you apply leading smart technology to the traditional concept of lighting? You get smart lights, bulbs that use wireless connectivity to control your home’s lighting in a variety of ways. In this guide, we’ll explore how smart lights work and some important things to consider when buying them.
What Are Smart Lights and How Do They Work?
“Smart” is a term applied to WiFi or Bluetooth-capable products that can be controlled via apps on various devices. Smart lighting involves specially designed LED light bulbs that pair with apps on your smart devices, allowing you to utilize a variety of features. Perks of smart lights include:
Millions of colors options Smart bulbs can cycle through millions of colors, allowing you to set a unique atmosphere anytime you want. This sets them apart from older, more traditional bulbs with a more limited color range.
Healthy, light-driven alarm: There’s been an increase in non-traditional alarms on the market, including wake-up lights. Certain smart bulb apps allow you to use your light as a gentle alarm that mimics the natural sunrise, which works with your body’s circadian rhythm for more refreshing wake-ups.
Energy conservation: Perhaps one of the “smartest” aspects of these bulbs is their ability to give off the same brightness as regular bulbs while consuming far less energy, making them very eco-friendly by comparison.
Lower utility bills: Smart bulbs use less wattage than traditional bulbs. Smart bulbs might cost more than traditional bulbs upfront, but they lead to energy bill savings in the long term.
Smart Light Features
Here are some common features to look for when shopping for smart lights.
- Connectivity: Smart light bulbs require a wireless connection to work. While some may be able to operate independently using solely a Bluetooth or Wi-Fi connection, the majority connect to your home internet using an app on your mobile phone, tablet, or smart home device. Others may require an additional hub product to interface between your smart light bulbs and the app, such as the Philips Hue Bridge.
- System compatibility: Many smart lights are compatible with multiple wireless technologies and smart home brands, including Apple HomeKit, Samsung SmartThings, Amazon Alexa, Google Home, Wink, and Xfinity.
- Mobile app connectivity: Smart light bulbs have an app. You’ll use this app to configure your smart lights during installation, and to make adjustments moving forward. You’ll name the light bulb locations in your home, assign them to rooms, and set schedules, such as when they should turn off for sleep, or if you want them to begin dimming ahead of bedtime to begin calming your mind for sleep.
- Voice commands: At their most basic, you can turn your smart lights off using your voice. Beyond that, you can use your voice to change the color hue, temperature, and brightness, or select from pre-programmed lightscapes.
- Scheduling: Smart light bulbs allow you to set predetermined schedules. For example, you can set the lights to automatically turn off whenever you are at work during the week, so if you forget to verbally turn them off before leaving the house, they’ll turn off anyway. You can set schedules for vacation or whenever you’ll be away from an extended period, to make it appear as if someone is still in the home and lighting different rooms.
- Sleep/wake scheduling: Some smart lights come with sleep and wake settings included, so all you need to do is program in your bedtime and wake up time. With others, you can program in your own adjustments. Schedule the lights to dim in the evening, helping you feel more tired in preparation for sleep. In the morning, have the lights slowly brighten before your alarm clock goes off, waking up you up easier and with more energy.
- Scene programming: Smart light adjustments go beyond dimming and brightening. Many enable you to adjust the temperature, and, in the case of full color bulbs, the color of the light. At night, this means you can introduce more red into your light bulb, removing the energizing blue that keeps our brains awake. In the morning, you can give yourself a subtle energy boost with brighter, bluer whites. You can also develop mood lighting for movie watching, video game playing, or relaxing.
- Trigger actions: Depending on what kind of compatibility your smart lights offer, you can program them to make further “smart” adjustments based on what other devices are doing in your home. For instance, if you have a Nest Protect smoke alarm, and it goes off, your Nest-compatible smart lights will begin flashing throughout your home, further alerting you to the potential danger. If your bulbs are compatible with IFTTT and Alexa, and you have a special playlist you listen to as part of your bedtime routine, you can schedule the lights to automatically dim whenever that playlist goes on.
- Motion sensing technology: Smart light bulbs use the GPS on your phone to know where you are within your home. Based on your smartphone location, they’ll determine whether or not to turn on the lights in a particular room.
- Size: Smart light bulbs come in the standard sizes most homes need for lighting, including floor and table lamps, floodlights, thin lightstrips, and other specialty lighting needs. Most lamp bulbs will be 60 watt equivalent LED.
- Color: Smart light bulbs come in full color, soft white, and bright/cool white. Full color bulbs include shades of white.
How Smart Lights Can Help You Sleep
As previously mentioned, certain smart lights have a sleep/wake setting that allows you to use lights to mentally prepare you for bed and then later gently stimulate you awake. To understand how this is possible, you’ll need to know a bit about how light affects your body’s natural wake and sleep cycle.
Light and Sleep
For many generations, humans used natural light as an internal guide. During daylight hours, early humans would hunt and gather food, stopping to rest for the night when the sun went down. Even now, light can have a direct impact on your body’s wake/sleep system.
Light and circadian cycle: One of the biggest factors influencing your sleep-wake cycle is light. Exposure to bright light suppresses the secretion of melatonin, the sleep hormone that is responsible for sleep. When you’re in a dark and quiet environment, however, sleep hormone secretion increases, letting you drift off to sleep.
That’s why it’s important to dim your lights or cut them off completely at night, because beyond a certain time of day, light exposure can negatively interfere with your circadian cycle and make it hard to get a good night’s rest.
Blue light vs. natural light: When we think of “natural light,” we often associate it with sunlight or moonlight. Natural light contains a full spectrum of colors, but artificial light tends to focus on certain parts of the spectrum. Blue light in particular is known to suppress melatonin and make it harder to sleep. The light emitted from smartphones, televisions, computers and even regular light bulbs consist of high amounts of blue light, often keeping people awake who are exposed before bed. Even if your room is dark except for the light of your phone, it can still negatively affect your ability to fall asleep easily.
Limiting your exposure to bright light at night is important for improving your sleep quality. At the same time, understanding how light naturally stimulates wakefulness is an essential part of the equation.
Smart Light Sleep Benefits
It’s possible to use your smart light’s settings to help prepare yourself for sleep. One method is to use warm colored light tones instead of blue lights before bed, as red and yellow lights are less likely to interfere with your circadian rhythm than blue colored lighting. If the option’s available, you can prepare a timer to have your lights turn off when it’s time for bed. Additionally, you can set your lights to turn on in the morning, preferably with blue lighting if color functionality is available.
By using smart lights for sleep, you begin to train your body to react to certain light stimuli. This is a great way to help improve your sleep hygiene. It’s a subtle way to positively influence nighttime changes that will let you ease into a relaxed, sleep-ready state at night and then wake up refreshed and ready to go the next day.
Other Benefits of Smart Lights
Smart lighting systems help you fine tune the lighting in your home for additional comfort, convenience, and security. They’ll automatically light up your bedroom in the morning to help you wake up more easily, dim to make movie watching more enjoyable, or turn off when you’re not using them.
One of the obvious benefits to smart light bulbs is their convenience. You don’t have to walk over and turn the switch off and on anymore. You can turn multiple (or all) of your lights on or off, simply by speaking a verbal command or tapping a button on your phone.
Pre-program schedules according to your daily habits, and your smart lights will automatically turn on or off, dim, or change color accordingly—preventing you from even having to use your voice. Some bulbs use the GPS on your phone to determine whether the lights need to be on in a specific room or in your house as a whole, depending on your location.
There’s also a matter of security. When you go on vacation, you can assign a schedule for your smart lights to randomly turn off or on, making it appear as if you are home. You can even use the mobile app to make adjustments during vacation, so it doesn’t appear pre-programmed. This is much more convincing (and a lot cheaper) than leaving all the lights on, like you’d be forced to do with a standard bulb.
Finally, many people enjoy the futuristic feel of having smart light bulbs. If you’re already outfitting your home to be more modern, by investing in smart security cams or smart speakers, smart light bulbs are just one more step toward a smarter home overall.
Smart Light FAQs
How much do smart lights cost?
Smart light bulbs cost significantly more than a standard LED bulb. Standard LED bulbs can cost around $5 each, while the cheapest smart bulb is more than double that. When you get into additional features, like scene programming and multi-system compatibility, smart light bulbs can range from $20 to $60 each.
Smart light bulbs do have a significantly higher upfront cost than traditional bulbs, especially if you haven’t already purchased a compatible smart hub. However, they provide significant cost savings in the long run. As you experience energy savings thanks to their efficiency, your smart lights will pay for themselves fairly quickly.
Do smart lights need a hub?
It depends; some smart light bulbs require a hub to function, while others function independently.
The biggest thing you need to consider when purchasing a hub is whether you’re willing to “commit” to that brand. Non-branded lights typically will not work with a branded hub. Many brands let a smart home device serve as their hub, while others, most notably Philips, require you to use their particular hub.
How long do smart lights last?
Smart light bulbs last as long as a non-smart version of the LED light bulb, which can be up to 20 to 25 years.
How do I install smart lights?
Installing smart light bulbs is generally a pain-free process. You start by screwing in the light bulb like any other bulb you’d purchase. Then, you’ll need to download the manufacturer’s mobile app to pair the bulb with the hub, WiFi, or Bluetooth connection.
From there, the app will walk you through how to identify the bulbs in different rooms in your house, group them into rooms, set up your schedules, pre-program scenes, and plug in your sleep and wake times.
Will my smart light bulb work with the rest of my smart home devices?
Most smart light manufacturers design their bulbs to be compatible with the most popular smart home systems, such as Amazon Alexa, Google Home, Apple HomeKit, and Samsung SmartThings. Before purchasing, review the compatibility of any smart light bulbs you’re considering to avoid having to make a return.
Should I use WiFi or Bluetooth to control my smart lights?
Many smart light bulbs can operate using both Bluetooth and WiFi. The advantage of using a WiFi connection is that you’ll be able to make adjustments remotely whenever you want, whether or not your Bluetooth-connected device is in range.
However, if you choose to use a WiFi connection, that means you’ve now introduced one more device onto your home wireless network, which will eat up some of your bandwidth. If your internet goes out, you will not be able to adjust your light bulbs.
How can I save money on smart light bulbs?
Although they last the same amount of time, smart light bulbs cost more than traditional LED bulbs because of their enhanced functionality. The upfront cost can be even higher if you don’t already own a compatible smart hub. Fortunately, there are ways you can save money on smart lights.
You can buy smart light bulbs in the same big box retailers you purchase traditional bulbs, including The Home Depot or Best Buy. You can save money during certain times of year by watching when these stores have sales, such as during Black Friday weekend.
Or, you can save year-round by purchasing online. Many smart light bulb manufacturers offer discounted pricing for multi-packs on Amazon, and Tuck readers can save even more by using the affiliate links we’ve provided above.
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