Mary Lou Roberts Talks Smart Bulbs

Another good introduction to a smart home...

Smart bulbs are another good introduction to a smart home, just like smart plugs. They have many of the same benefits described in an earlier article about smart plugs with one major addition—aesthetics.

Color-changing bulbs come with a variety of features and prices to match. The term RGB is often used because they make use of the three primary colors, red blue and green, to create anywhere from a few colors to hundreds or even millions. Basic color-changing bulbs simply cycle through a set series of colors. Others allow the user to establish the color pattern, dim lights or use a timer function. For users who want to go all out, colors can be synced with favorite music which can even be played from a speaker in the bulb. They can be controlled from remotes, apps and voice assistants. Prices reflect the array of features with prices for a single bulb ranging from a low of about $11 to $50 for the market-leading Philips Hue bulb. That, of course, doesn’t factor in in multi-bulb packs, sale prices or the many accessories that may be optional or required.

What if you don’t want mood lighting; you just want bulbs that make your life easier? There are plenty of white bulbs that have desirable features with new bulbs at lower price points frequently being added. They can provide the essential convenience features of remote control, automated scheduling and lighting effects like diming. They can also execute more complex rules like turning on when a security system is disarmed or when a doorbell camera is activated. White lights also come in shades, providing for softer lighting.

A major advantage is that smart bulbs are energy efficient. They use LED lights which use less energy than the traditional incandescent lights which have been phased out. LED lights also last for many years which mitigates the initial higher price over time. They are connected devices so they do draw some “vampire energy” as explained in the article on smart plugs. However, the standby energy use is very small and doesn’t impact the overall energy efficiency.

Bulbs can also include what’s called geofencing. That is the technology that allows a perimeter to be drawn around a location, allowing another technology to work only within that perimeter. In the case of smart bulbs that means working with the GPS in a smart phone to know when the user is within range and trigger some activity like turning on the lights when the owner nears home. Geofencing is one of many features prospective buyers should consider. Again, here is a review that lists important features and which bulbs do and do not have them.

Describing the ease of using smart bulbs, writers are prone to say “just screw them in.” That’s not quite true. The user must have an account for the brand of bulb and connect it to the home Wi-Fi system or voice assistant or to the home hub is that is being used. If you plan to use an app to connect to Wi-Fi, research the app quality as well as the bulb quality. Smart bulbs can be hacked, giving access to other devices on the system, so pay attention to security settings.

One issue with smart bulbs is that they are still on a switch. If someone turns off the light switch, control through the app or voice assistant will not work. Not surprisingly, someone has come up with a light switch cover that keeps people from turning off the switch.

These bulbs are expensive, but they have a warranty, so breakage is not a big drawback. Taking on too much too quickly always is, so the usual advice of starting small and seeing what works for you is a good idea.

Where to start? There is something called a lighting audit. Here’s a description with links that give more detail. If you own or pay electricity bills for business premises you can find specific instructions for businesses that could result in noticeable cost savings and might improve security. There are commercial providers of lighting audits and it is part of Mass Save’s energy assessment.

All in all, smart bulbs can provide a good insight into the benefits of a well-thought-out smart home.


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