Bulb, Switch, or Plug? The 2019 Ultimate Guide to Smart Lighting

Bulb, Switch, or Plug? The 2019 Ultimate Guide to Smart Lighting

There are many advantages to equipping your house with a smart lighting system. The convenience you get is unmatched, not to mention that you increase the security of your home. And, thanks to the smart home industry that has experienced an impressive boom lately, there are plenty of alternatives to choose from.

Ecobee Smart Light Switch

That being said, what are smart switches, how do they work, what means of connectivity do they use and what else should you know about them? These are some of the questions we’ll discuss, and not only. So, without further ado, let’s break it down.

How Does a Smart Light Switch Work?

If you want to build a new smart home, it is fundamental to understand how everything works. Usually, smart light switches are connected to a network. It could be your Wi-Fi home network; there are other options, as well, but we’ll address them later on.

A smart switch enables you to control the light in your house in two ways. Firstly, by using the switch on the wall. And secondly, by using your smartphone.

In other words, a smart lighting system allows you to control the bulbs in your house, from a single smart device. This is genuinely convenient.

So, how does it work? You can automate the on/off switch, and program everything according to your needs. Afterward, the signal is transmitted via the mesh or Wi-Fi network, allowing you to program all the lighting in your house.

Smart Light Switch vs. a Regular Switch

A smart light switch is similar to a regular switch you install on your wall, in order to control lighting, a socket or a fan. The main distinction is that you can adjust the switch through an app. Equipping your home with smart light switches is an excellent way to make your home more energy efficient, allowing you to control the lights as you please.

Smart Vs Regular Light Switch On The Wall

Unlike regular switches, the majority of smart-switch items utilize Wi-Fi, ZigBee or Z-Wave technology, depending on the product. In the case of Wi-Fi models, you can link them directly to your home network and your phone. In the meantime, models featured by ZigBee technology necessitate a sort of control device or hub.

Additionally, in comparison with regular switches, a smart switch gives you utter control of your use of energy. There are additional features that make smart lights more appealing, such as dimming capabilities, or full-screen touchscreen displays, as well as built-in microphones.

Nonetheless, we’ll talk about the main features that a smart light switch should have later on in this article.

It’s also worth noting that a smart light might not work in every home. Why is that? For the most part, smart light switches must be wired up to a neutral wire. On the other side, typical light switches don’t.

In some homes, especially older ones, the light switch boxes don’t feature any neutral wires. As a rule of thumb, though, homes that were built after the 70s should have that. To be on the safe side, you can always check the wiring setup to determine whether it is likely to support a smart light switch or not.

A notable advantage of getting the best smart home lighting is that you can control it. In fact, this is, perhaps, the main element that convinces so many homeowners to implement smart lighting in their homes.

On a final note, smart switches have little in common with regular switches. Smart switches allow you to regulate the lights in your house via an app or smart home system. When it comes to the design of a smart switch, it is pretty similar to a traditional control, featuring a physical switch you may use to turn the lights on or off.

Nevertheless, there is also the possibility of purchasing smart switches equipped with traditional toggles. It all depends on your preference and budget.

The bottom-line is that it is also critical to understand your home’s wiring. That’s because a significant percentage of houses aren’t capable of powering the smart home devices available for the time being. So, before you consider changing your light switches, you should get informed in this respect.

What’s the best for smart lighting? A Smart Light Switch, a Smart Lightbulb or a Smart Plug?

We know that selecting the right devices for your home can be confusing. During your browsing, you might have found smart light switches, smart bulbs as well as smart plugs.

Smart Light Products

Since we’ve already covered the functions of a smart light switch, we’ll outline the pros and cons of smart light bulbs and smart plugs.

Smart Bulbs

For the most part, smart bulbs are equipped with wireless connectivity. This would allow you to connect the smart bulbs to your phone or tablet. Considering that the bulbs have Internet connectivity, this would allow you to complete a handful of tasks.

To begin with, you can simply turn the lights on and off. Additionally, you might even schedule the lights in your home, as a part of a more complex smart home setup.

For instance, you can choose to automatically turn off smart bulbs in the house, as you lock the door behind you. To that end, when the smartphone senses you are approaching your home, the lights will turn back on.

Aside from the fact that you can choose from numerous sizes, smart bulbs allow you to pick from a range of colors. In other words, you can fully customize the lighting in your home, depending on your preferences.

What is more, some smart bulbs have the functionality of security lighting. For instance, they can automatically turn on whenever the door rings. Alternatively, if motion is detected, the smart bulbs can turn on, as well.

So, how do you know if smart bulbs are the right ones for you?

Evidently, there are some pros and cons worth considering. We could argue that smart bulbs are more flexible than smart switches. You can easily remove or move them, without the need to install them.

At the same time, you can choose from various colors. Plus, the majority of bulbs are dimmable, without the need for a dimmer switch. The fact that you can save a lot of energy is also an advantage, due to the LED technology, whose durability is also notable.

For instance, with standard use, most smart bulbs are likely to last for decades. Eventually, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that they’ll pay for themselves, due to the low energy usage.

Nonetheless, probably the biggest disadvantage is the lack of distinct shapes and sizes. At the same time, smart bulbs are on the expensive side, meaning that they necessitate a considerable upfront investment.

Pink Light Smart Bulb

Concurrently, they necessitate the use of a hub that you plug into the router in order to function.

So, if you don’t have a router, this will account for an additional cost. Nevertheless, if you have the money to spend, and you are on the lookout for a plug-and-play solution for your house, smart bulbs might be the right option for you.

They represent the simplest and easiest solution to include connected lighting in your home.

Smart Plugs

Moving on to smart plugs, such items are meant to turn devices on and off. A smart plug is controlled by an app, and you can literally control any appliance in your home that would plug into a standard wall socket.

They are quite versatile, in the sense that you can use them for various purposes. You can schedule certain appliances or devices in your home to turn on at specific times of the day, or when you’re on your way to arriving home.

For instance, if you have an alarm at the house, you can program the lamps to automatically turn after the alarm detects motion.

At the same time, smart plugs are convenient, allowing you to automate everyday devices. For instance, you can adjust the coffee machine to start working in the morning or to have your tea kettle boiling when you’re still in bed.

If you like slow-cooking, you can prep your meals and have the slow-cooker work when you’re off at work.

What is more, we could say that smart plugs can help you save energy, as well. Did you know that most of your home appliances consume energy in standby mode? Not to mention that having certain appliances on during your sleep can be really detrimental.

A smart plug, however, can help you program every appliance in your home.

Still, smart plugs are a bit bulky, meaning that they aren’t necessarily the most aesthetically appealing items in your home.

At the same time, it’s worth noting that, when it comes to cutting down energy costs, getting smart bulbs might make more sense.

Although smart plugs can aid you to monitor when your appliances are off and on, when it comes to energy saving, smart bulbs might be more efficient, in the long run.

What is more, you cannot automate all the lighting in your home. This means you have no control of hardwired lights and fixtures.

What Are Z-Wave and ZigBee and Why Are They Important?

When it comes to smart home devices, they are equipped with wireless communication.

Zwave And Zigbee Logos

As a matter of fact, this is the primary means through which they send data to your phone, or to each other. As a result, almost every smart plug or switch should have Z-Wave, Bluetooth, ZigBee, or Wi-Fi connection.

These are the main means through which the devices are interconnected with other gadgets you have around the house.

In a star network, each device is directly connected to the central hub. In the case in which a device isn’t linked to the central hub, it merely means that it’s no longer a part of the network.

Now let’s answer the question, shall we? Both Z-Wave and ZigBee are referred to as mesh networks. In a mesh network, the signal is transmitted from the central hub, similar to the star network. Nonetheless, the devices don’t need to communicate directly with the main hub.

That’s because a mesh network enables each device in the network to function as a repeater – in this way, passing the signal on to a different device.

As a result, it wouldn’t be wrong to argue that mesh networks are increasingly more versatile. They cover significant distances, not to mention that they work around obstacles.

For example, in a mesh network, devices communicate directly, without the need for a middleman. If two gadgets are out of reach, they’ll utilize a third gadget, located between them. And that is accomplished without the third gadget having access to what’s being communicated.

How Do They Compare with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth?

We’ve already noted that the best smart home devices should utilize a wireless transmitter. Nonetheless, what makes Z-Wave or ZigBee better than conventional Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connectivity?

For one thing, standard Wi-Fi is known to consume a lot of power. So, from this point of view, a Wi-Fi connection isn’t the most convenient option.

On the other side, ZigBee and Z-Wave are very low power. To be more precise, they utilize approximately one friction of the power necessitated by Wi-Fi. This is, perhaps, one of the many reasons why ZigBee and Z-Wave are the right fit for smart home devices.

For instance, some devices can function for years, on a single coin cell battery. Nevertheless, a device with a Wi-Fi connection would finish that energy in days.

While Bluetooth might do a better job of conserving energy, its capabilities are limited. For instance, a device featuring Bluetooth connectivity has its share of limitations when it comes to the number of devices it can connect to, as well as signal range.

Four Different Smarthome Connectivity

In the meantime, Z-Wave and Zigbee comprise decentralized mesh networks. This way, each device has the possibility of connecting with other devices within range.

Considering that two devices are at a considerable distance, there’s nothing to worry about. That’s because their signals can be transmitted through intermediate devices.

Additionally, Wi-Fi is a centralized network. Thus, it relies on the existence of a router, in order to facilitate a network. Also, the more devices you connect, the slower the connectivity will be.

This is the opposite of Z-Wave. As a mesh system, it is a more resilient option. This is one of the reasons it is used in security systems.

In other words, the more Z-Wave compatible devices you have in your home, the better the connection will be.

Are They Safer?

You should also know that Wi-Fi is susceptible to an extensive range of security exploits and attacks. For instance, did you know that the Wi-Fi connectivity in our phones is utilized in an attempt to track our whereabouts?

On the opposite side, each Z-Wave network and its products feature unique IDs. Additionally, they are encrypted. On top of that, Z-Wave has the benefit of not being incorporated into so many devices, as it is the case with Wi-Fi.

That being said, from this point of view, Z-Wave and Zigbee networks are increasingly safer than the conventional Wi-Fi network connections.

What Are the Must-Have Features of a Smart Light Switch?

Some of the must-have characteristics of the best buy home automation system are the following:

Connectivity With UIB UnificationEngine®, Amazon Alexa, and Other Popular Ecosystems

As we noted beforehand, smart lighting systems can be regulated through WhatsApp and other communications channels as well as tablet or smartphone apps. For example, the Phillips’ Hue system functions with UnificationEngine, Apple HomeKit, Google Home, and Amazon Echo.

What does this mean? You can rely on these platforms for voice commands. You can ask to turn the lights on, whenever you please.

Not only that this is extremely convenient, but it is rather cool as well.

Dimming Feature

When you equip your home with a smart lighting system, you have the option of choosing switches that allow you to dim the lights. However, in order to make that happen, you should get light bulbs that are dimmable.

Energy Saving Dimmer Switch

As a rule of thumb, most high-quality LED bulbs and CFL bulbs have this characteristic. But, in order to make sure, you should read the bulb’s packaging and the switch manufacturer’s specifications beforehand.

Individual Light Controls

Individual light control is also an important consideration. To that end, we advise you to check the product’s specifications before adding it to the shopping cart.

Another hint would be to look for both smart light switch reviews and Wi-Fi light switch reviews to determine if a product is the right one for you or not.

How to Install a Smart Light Switch?

In comparison with other smart home devices that you must simply plug into an outlet, the installation of the best smart lights implies more steps. To be more precise, you’ll have to replace your existing in-wall switch.

Considering that only a few products require professional installation, you should have a basic comprehension of electrical work. In other words, you should know how to turn the circuit breaker.

On the other hand, if you want to have full wireless access, you should follow the next steps. To begin with, you should replace the existing unit with the smart switch. And you do that by merely attaching the wires to the switch, as well as the neutral wire.

As a rule of thumb, smart switches tend to be a tad bulkier than conventional ones. To that end, there is the slight possibility that the new switch won’t fit into the electric box. In this case, you should also get a new box.

Perhaps you should get the assistance of an electrician. That’s primarily because some older homes might not have the right wiring. This way, you’ll be on the safe side.

Another thing worth taking into account is that a smart switch won’t work in the case in which you have numerous switches that control the same light. This is referred to as three-way or four-way lighting. So, bear this in mind, as well.

After the installation of the best programmable light switch, you should connect it to your smart home system. Alternatively, you can connect it to your mobile app.

If you invested in the best Wi-Fi light switch, you should utilize the manufacturer’s app for the process.

Nevertheless, if the switch uses Z-Wave, you have to put the smart mode in pairing mode. Regardless of the type of light switch you choose, setting it up shouldn’t take too much.

Conclusion

Our goal was to comprise a complete guide on the topic of choosing a smart light switch, and we hope that you’ve found it comprehensive. Updating your lighting system is entirely up to you, and it is advisable to consider all the steps and costs associated with this decision.

Smart Light Switch In Bedroom

Of course, you should compare the options you have at your disposal, to ensure that you’re getting the right product for your needs. In this respect, we have a few upcoming articles on this far-reaching topic, which will bring more light to the subject.

That being said, you should check SmartHomeRig.com’s buying guide, which includes recommendations for top products that are worth trying.

As you might already know, each unbiased smart switch review is helpful. And that’s what we aim at creating: unbiased, informative articles that make the shopping process easier for our readers.

If you have any suggestions, questions or thoughts you’d like to share with us, we encourage you to do that in the comment section!

About the Author:

Ken Herron
UIB Chief Marketing Officer Ken writes about the latest IoT and AI global news, trends, and best practices.