Get smart: Embrace tech to light up your home

From smart plugs to smart switches, there are good, practical reasons for upgrading

Picture the scene: it’s late at night, no one is at home but as you pull in to your driveway, you can see the lights in your living room are already on, and the hall lamp turns on as you approach the house, making it look as if someone is at home.

Welcome to the world of smart lighting.

For some, smart lighting is a solution that has no problem. It is throwing technology at an issue that can easily be solved with some old-school timer switches or just leaving a light or two on around the house all day.

But there are some good reasons for installing smart lighting in your home – not least the rising cost of electricity.

Timers are fine if you have the same schedule, or are okay with having to adjust the schedule every few weeks as the time of sunset and sunrise changes with the seasons. But smart lighting can offer not only convenience, by allowing your lighting schedule to automatically change with sunset time, for example, but also more control over how your home is lit.

Depending on the system you opt for, you could get access to everything from sunrise and sunset automation, geofencing and routines to different lighting “scenes” and holiday modes that turn your lights on and off at different times to make it seem as if someone is home.

Compatibility

Before you begin investing in connected bulbs, though, there is one important consideration to bear in mind – compatibility.

With the current systems that are in place, it can be a bit complex to set up a smart home. Each manufacturer has its own app (or two, in some cases) to get the bulbs connected to your home wifi and working on the schedule that suits you. And while you can connect the bulbs into a smart hub such as Google Home, Alexa or Apple HomePod Mini, there isn't universal support for every manufacturer yet. So some bulbs will work with Google Home, Alexa or Samsung's Smartthings hub, but not Apple's HomeKit.

It is frustrating for consumers who just want things to work, but change is coming. The major smarthome players have come together to agree on a standard that will ensure you can plug in a device, such as your smart bulb, and it will work with the rest of your smart home. That's thanks to Matter, a collaboration between some of the biggest players in tech including Apple, Google and Samsung.

The new standard is expected to begin hitting the market in a few months, and you’ll be able to select products with the Matter logo. Until then though, make sure any system you pick is compatible with your chosen platform.

Smart bulbs

With that in mind, there are a couple of ways to get smart lighting into your home today. The first is through smart bulbs. These are connected bulbs that link in with your smart home system and allow you to control power, colour, temperature and brightness through an app or by using voice commands.

Some of the bulbs use wifi to connect directly to your broadband router. Others use bluetooth, or a technology called zigbee. Both of those will require a bridge, or a separate hub, to give you remote access.

For the cost conscious, TP-Link’s Tapo lightbulbs (from about €14.99) are good value. Not only are they reasonably priced, but you don’t need a separate hub. The wifi-connected bulbs have their own Tapo app that allows you to set them up, but they can be linked into the Google Home app on your Android phone or the Alexa app on iOS and Android, alongside all your other devices such as a video doorbell or smart thermostat.

TP Link’s other smart bulb, Kasa, has more automation options.

Ikea’s Tradfri system is also budget friendly, and has plenty of options for light fittings that includes everything from E27 (standard screw bulb) and candle bulbs to GU10 fittings (mainly used for recessed and surface spotlights). You’ll need the Tradfri hub (€35) for remote or app control, but you can also get dimmer switches (about €7) for the lights if you like the option of more local control too.

All-rounder

For the full bells-and-whistles option, Philips Hue bulbs fit the bill. Not only do you get everything from routines to geofencing, you can also choose from indoor and outdoor lighting, and from plain white bulbs that can be tuned to different colour temperatures, to colour changing bulbs that can be combined to create different colour scapes in your room. Fancy some candlelight? The Hue bulbs can recreate it. How about an underwater feel? Or warm sunshine?

The Hue bulbs also work across the spectrum of light fittings, including lighting strips. This also requires the Hue bridge (about €60) to work, or alternatively, an Amazon Echo (4th gen) (starting from about €50) that includes the smart home hub. The main advantage is that they link in with all the smart home systems, from Apple and Google to Philips and Samsung.

Light switches

If you have a number of bulbs in your room – several spotlights, for example – the cost of replacing the bulbs individually may be a bit off-putting. Also, you are unlikely to want to control them individually, so a smart light switch might be a better bet. There are a couple of options that can turn your standard bulbs into a smart option, including the Homekit enabled Eve, and the Philips Hue smart dimmer switch (about €24.99). The latter requires the Hue bridge.

Smart plugs

Finally, if you live in horror at the thought of using the “big light” and prefer lamps, you can either go for smart bulbs in your lamps or opt for smart plugs.

A smart plug plugs into a wall socket like a traditional plug, but allows you to turn your lamp – or another device such as a television or radio – into one that can be controlled by another device.

The advantages of going for the smart plug is that they can be used elsewhere for other appliances in your home, should you decide you no longer want to remotely control your lighting.

Among the more reasonably priced options are TP-Link’s Tapo smartplugs (about €15.95), which are also neat in size. If you are already wedded to a particular system, Philips Hue smart plugs (about €34.99) and the Homekit enabled Eve plugs (about €39.95) are also available.

Ciara O'Brien

Ciara O'Brien

Ciara O'Brien is an Irish Times business and technology journalist

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