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So you're thinking about outfitting your home with smart lighting and you're not exactly sure where to start? Zigbee, Z-Wave, Thread, WiFi, RGB, Kelvin range, tunable, Edison screw, Bayonet, A19, BR30s...confused yet?
Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered with 10 questions to consider before outfitting your home with smart lighting.
Does the size and shape of the bulb fit with your current light fixtures?
Before bulk purchasing smart bulbs to retrofit your entire home, determine which bulb sizes and shapes work with your current light fixtures. The light bulb that fits in your kitchen socket may not work with your desk lamp.
Bulbs come in a variety of sizes and shapes – from the traditional A series bulbs most often seen, to the B series “Christmas light” bulb, CA series “flame” bulb, R series “spotlight”, and dozens of other options.
Understanding the size requirements of your bulbs before buying will ensure that you are able to install smart bulbs everywhere you initially planned.
Does the base type fit with your current light fixtures?
Size and shape aren’t the only things that matter. It’s just as important to ensure that the base type fits. The bulb may be the right size, but if it’s a “screw” base (the most common screw base is called an Edison screw) when your socket is a “twist and lock” base (Bayonet bases are becoming more common), you’ll never be able to connect the bulb to its energy source.
With dozens of bases to choose from, it’s critical to confirm that your bulbs and light fixtures fit together appropriately.
Are the smart bulbs color or just tunable white?
While all major smart bulb brands allow you to adjust the brightness and intensity of the light, some also give you the ability to navigate through millions of unique colors – adding an entire new layer to your ambiance and mood lighting.
When deciding between color or white bulbs, the real question is: Would you rather have access to an extensive spectrum of colors, or save a few dollars with exclusively white light bulbs?
For example, the LIFX white bulbs are $29.99 for a single light. Meanwhile, the LIFX color bulbs are double that at $59.99. Because both bulbs are expected to run for 22.8 years, that extra $30 isn’t substantial in the long run. However, in places where you would never be interested in color lighting (perhaps your workstation or a closet space) it could make sense to select the tunable white only bulbs.
Color accuracy is also something to keep in mind. Not all color smart bulbs can produce colors accurately. For example, even though they can produce over 16M colors, the very popular Philips Hue smart bulbs cannot produce green and many other colors accurately. This is because the Hue’s LEDs are not primary Red, Green and Blue as are used in RGB LED lighting products. The Red is closer to 'orange', the Green is more of a 'lime-green' and the Blue more of a Violet.
There are also differences in the number of LEDs in the actual bulb. Here is an under the cover comparison of the Philips Hue and the WigWag Filament. More shots of what the Philips Hue looks like under the cover can be found here.
Pictured Above are the Philips Hue (Left) vs WigWag Filament (Right) without the covers to show the differences in LEDs between the two bulbs.
If you care about color accuracy, so green is actually green and blue is actually blue, look for smart bulbs with 5-Channel RGB plus cool and warm whites (RGBWW) . This means the bulb’s LED diodes can independently produce Red, Green and Blue (RGB), which in turn can be mixed into millions of accurate colors. The WW in RGBWW means it is capable of producing cool to warm whites, we get into that next.
What is the color temperature range of the bulb?
"White light" is measured by its color temperature, measuring the hue of "white" light is a way to describe the light appearance provided by a light bulb. It is measured on a scale of 1,000 to 10,000 in degrees of Kelvin (K). Usually, home lighting falls somewhere between 2000K to 6500K. A bulb’s color temperature tells us what the look and feel of the light will be.
Think of your stereotypical fluorescent light vs. a flickering candle. The candle has a warm light (1,900K), while the fluorescent light (6,500K) is cool. The morning Sun is about 3,000k, while high noon is about 6,500K.
Most smart bulbs give you access to a wide range of Kelvin temperatures – making it possible to adjust the light from a bright “daylight” to a warmer “sunset” or “campfire” hue.
Being able to adjust the Kelvin temperature of your lights isn’t just a gimmick. The light temperature can have a serious effect on your mood, productivity and even your health. For most of human history, we mainly lived outdoors. Our lives revolved around the movements of the Sun. We have become accustomed to what is known as a circadian rhythm that works on a 24 hour cycle tied to the Kelvin temperature of the Sun.
However, if you’re one of the millions of people who spend the majority of their day indoors, your circadian rhythm isn’t able to match itself to the Sun. You go from the office to your home and television – barely ever using the Sun for lighting.
By installing smart bulbs that have access to a wide Kelvin color temperature range, you can enhance your productivity and improve your sleep cycle through adjusting your smart light’s color temperature to match the lighting for that time of day.
What type of networking technology does it use?
Most people are familiar with Bluetooth and WiFi for wireless communications. Both of these protocols use what is known as a hub-and-spoke topology (or the star topology). In this topology the devices are connected wirelessly back to the access point (such as a router, Relay, hub or a smartphone) like spokes on a wheel. All network traffic goes through the central access point.
Because all network traffic goes back to the central access point, this topology has its pitfalls – starting with range. Anyone who has experienced WiFi dead spots will understand this limitation. This is one of the reasons you generally want to stay away from WiFi and Bluetooth if you are serious about outfitting your home with smart lighting.
As you expand your network to 40, 50 or 100+ devices, WiFi and Bluetooth could leave you literally in the dark. In one of Ed’s posts, he touches on networking in the Quick Intro for Newbies section of his post on OpenThread.
We’ll go more in-depth on the pitfalls of WiFi and Bluetooth for Home Automation in future posts, but for now we’ll just say: Smart bulbs using these protocols are great if you just want a few bulbs to try out smart lighting.
If you're serious about building a Smart Home, you will want to have an Interoperable and flexible hub or controller and use a meshing protocol. Some of the many IoT meshing protocols include: Thread, 6loWPAN, Zigbee and Z-Wave. We will go into each protocol in more depth in future posts.
A meshing protocol expands it’s own network using the devices themselves. In other words, as long as one smart bulb (or other smart device) is within range of your access point (Relay or Hub, ), that bulb can communicate messages to the other end of the house – by hopping (or meshing) from one bulb or switch to the next.
How much heat does the bulb produce?
Although, LEDs run much cooler on average than traditional incandescents, some smart bulbs put off substantially more heat than others. This may not be a concern to everyone, but this should at least be considered.
Energy produces either heat or light. Therefore, when the bulb is hotter it means there is more energy being consumed that’s not turning into light. This higher energy consumption means the bulb isn’t producing light as efficiently as possible, which could lead to a higher electric bill.
Also, when your lights run hotter, summer time becomes that much more miserable. Not only do hot light bulbs consume more energy themselves, but they heat up your living area – requiring you to either roast or keep the A/C running.
If you’re interested in finding the most efficient smart bulbs, view the results to our experiments here and here.
Does it buzz?
Buzz is another consideration that may not be a concern for everyone. Some people are more sensitive to sound than others. Most of the time your smart bulbs will run completely fine – unnoticed except for their (expected) light. However, some bulbs have a tendency to buzz when used with a dimmer switch. This is due to the loss of voltage in electricity flowing to the light.
Because smart lights can be dimmed from their respective apps, and they are already energy efficient, there is no need to include a dimmer switch with your smart light. However, if you plan to install the bulb into a lamp or outlet that already has a dimmer switch, you may want to do additional research to ensure that the light won’t buzz when the voltage is reduced.
Many of the cheaper smart bulbs we‘ve tested also tend to buzz, in a dimmer switch or not. For most people this won’t be a problem, but if you are sensitive to buzzing sounds do your homework and read the bulbs product reviews.
What’s the bulb’s lifespan?
All smart bulbs have a much longer lifespan than traditional incandescents and even compact fluorescents. But, they do range from about 8 years on the low end to nearly 30 years on the high-end. This should be considered in you cost considerations, because longer lasting bulbs have a better payback on your investment. That being said, anything over 10 years is probably all you need (Our Filaments are rated for 20 years).
As someone who has spent a lifetime in technology related start-ups, I can confidently say: Who knows what we will be using for light in a decade – much less three decades? What’s going to happen when you move into a home with 25 year old smartbulb software in the bulbs you just inherited? You’ll probably be able to buy new ones that are better – for the equivalent of a dollar.
Just imagine, bulbs with the ability to fully replicate that Sun’s light running on a watt of power and with excess computing power that’s serves part of a global distributed computing system.
How much does it cost?
As with all purchases, cost is an important element to consider. We all want to receive the most value for our money – so how do you do that with smart lighting?
Because of the many options and quality standards available within the smart lighting industry, prices per bulb can vary widely. From a low of about $10 for the cheapest bluetooth bulbs, to about $60 per bulb on the high-end. When you take into account that the average 2,000 square foot home has about 40 bulbs, the initial investment may seem high, but it doesn’t take long for smart bulbs to pay for themselves in energy savings – and vastly improve your quality of life along the way.
What protocol does it use, is it compatible?
Compatibility is also a key consideration. The good news is that there are lots of companies making smart bulbs, and there is certainly a smart bulb that will fit the needs of almost any fixture in your home. The challenge will be that some of the smart bulbs you want will be made by different companies using unique protocols.
There isn’t an agreed upon standard for protocol systems (such as the ones mentioned above) and from the looks of it, protocol fragmentation will continue. It’s even worse than what we covered, there is also fragmentation within Zigbee (Zigbee HA, Zigbee LL, etc.), but that’s a subject matter for a future blog post. For now, just be aware the Philips Hue uses Zigbee LL (Light Link) and almost everyone else that makes Zigbee products uses Zigbee HA (Home Automation) – but the labeling looks the same.
So, should you hold off until the industry agrees on one standard? That’s one option, but you could be waiting forever. The best path forward is to simply invest in an expandable and inter operable controller, such as the WigWag Relay. Using an expandable controller capable of controlling multiple protocols gives you the ability to mix and match smart bulb brands. This give you the freedom to make the best decisions based on the specific needs of each fixture. It will also, allow you to get more out of your smart home by enabling all your smart devices to work together as a system.
Outfitting your home with smart lighting can seem intimidating at first – but don’t worry, we are here to help. You can always begin with a simple starter kit and slowly grow to fit your home, budget and needs. If you have questions along the way, we have many support resources and a thriving community of home automation enthusiasts eager to share their knowledge with the community.
All you have to do is sign up, find a thread that fits your topic, or make a new one if none of them are the right fit. Let us know what questions you have about outfitting your home with smart lighting or if you would like to share any of your smart lighting experiences with the community in the comments below.