The Basics of Smart Lighting

It would seem that the days of the incandescent or hot filament light bulb are numbered. As in so many areas of our lives, smart technology is taking over. There is a growing trend towards fully automated smart homes, and lighting is just one step on that path. Smart lighting is designed primarily for energy efficiency, but it also offers flexibility, extra security and of course cost savings. But is it, and can it benefit your home? Read on for the basics of smart lighting.

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The Basics of Smart Lighting:

How is Smart Lighting Different from Existing Technology?

Traditional lighting options, such as the filament, fluorescent or halogen bulbs, are binary in nature. In that, there tends to be one switch that is either on or off, and you need to be there in person to operate it. Standing up and flicking a wall switch is very last century.

Smart lighting, on the other hand, allows you to adjust brightness, colour, intensity, and timing from a remote location. The possibilities are endless from setting the scene for a romantic occasion or house party to security lighting to simulate occupancy and deter intruders.

Smartphone technology now allows you use apps on your phone to control your lighting from anywhere in the world or, if you are feeling very comfy, from your sofa. A good app will not only allow you to switch lights on and off but also to dim and set lighting schedules.

What are the Smart Lighting Solutions?

Bulbs or switches? That is the question!

When planning your smart lighting the first decision you have to make is whether you want to go for smart bulbs or smart switches. On cost alone, switches are the least expensive option. Especially if you can control multiple light fixtures from one switch, but there are other factors and features to take into consideration.

Let’s talk about bulbs first. With oh-so-simple plug in and play functionality, they look just like regular bulbs except for the price tag. Cost aside, the main issue with the bulbs is that the switch will always need to be on in order to power the built-in WIFI radios in the bulbs that receive lighting commands from your phone or tablet. Your bulb is only smart as long as nobody accidentally switches it off.

That said, bulbs offer a great deal of flexibility in terms of adjusting brightness and colour. With colour changing bulbs, such as Philips Hue where you can change the white colour temperature to simulate natural light throughout the day as well and create animations and light shows.

Phillips lighting - the basics of smart lighting
Source: Engadget

Smart lighting switches do not require smart bulbs. You can use any regular bulb, but it’s probably worth pointing out that you will need the dimmable variety if you want to dim the lights. Check the packaging to be sure.

The possible downside of smart switches is that they do not suit the wiring in every house. The installation of smart switches will require neutral wires in the switch boxes. As these are not required for regular switches, some older homes (pre-seventies) may not have had them. Check this before you embark on your smart lighting project.

You can also combine smart bulbs with smart switches. It gives you the ability to set up the switch to control whatever lights you require. Plus switch them all off or on with one touch. You can also turn them on and off just like you would with a traditional switch.


Assuming here that you are not going for a full home automation project, of which lighting would only be a part, most smart lighting switch packages require self-installation. Therefore a fundamental grasp of household electrics is needed. You’ll be replacing the entire old unit with a smart switch. Involving some basic wiring including the neutral wire to allow wireless access.

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