Smart Lighting

What is Smart Lighting?

Wall Switches. Clappers. Mobile phone apps. Voice-assistants. What do these things have in common? They are all capable of controlling the humble light globe. But as we’re about to see, simply adding a modern method of control doesn’t necessarily equate to ‘smart lighting’.

So what exactly is smart lighting? Let's take a look at two widely accepted types of smart lighting: Smart Modules and Smart Bulbs - you will quickly see the pros and cons of both...

Smart Modules

Smart lighting modules such as the Aeotec Nano Dimmer are small devices that can be installed behind virtually any light switch to ‘add smarts’ to any type of connected light. Used in functional lighting solutions, these modules can be retrofit and enable you to use your smart light switch to control the light as well as additional methods of control - you can turn off the light from the wall switch and turn it back on using the app or your voice (and vice-versa).

Smart Module

Smart Bulbs

Smart bulbs such as the Aeotec LED Bulb or Philips Hue have ‘the smarts’ built in to them, and are designed to be the modern replacements for the conventional light bulb. Used to create different moods and atmospheres with splashes of colour, smart bulbs require you to leave the physical switch on, meaning control is only possible from the app or voice-commands - if you turn off the light from the wall switch, you will not be able to turn on the light from the app.

Smart Bulbs=

Which is better? Smart Bulbs or Smart Modules?

Based on the above information, it becomes clear that only smart modules meet the criteria of smart lighting, as they make ordinary switches "smart" switches. Smart bulbs on the other hand do not retain manual switch control and are not truly 'smart'. But this does not mean that one system is 'better' than the other. In fact, they both perform an extraordinary job doing what they’re designed to do.

When used in conjunction with one another for their intended purposes (see below) in a well-designed smart home lighting solution, the different technologies complement each other - smart lighting modules add 'smarts' to your main lighting system while the smart bulbs are great for feature lighting.

Smart Module use cases

Smart-lighting modules are the ideal way to add 'smarts' to your main lighting system and should be used wherever you desire to maintain manual control from a light's wall switch. As they retain manual switch control and are seamlessly integrated in to your home, they lay the foundation for a home-wide functional smart-lighting solution. They will also save you a considerable amount of money as they work with your existing lights and light switches.

Clipsal Impress Momentary Bell Press Mech - Manual

Wall switch control.

Clipsal Impress Momentary Bell Press Mech - Smart

Wireless smart control.

Smart Bulb use cases

Smart bulbs are fantastic for creating different moods and atmospheres, and with adjustable hues and brightness, they're a lot of fun to play with. Bulbs are ideal for lamps or when physical control of the switch is not valued or required. You see, unlike Smart Modules, if you turn the wall switch off - the Smart Bulbs are no longer powered - rendering them useless until the wall switch is turned back on.

Clipsal Impress Momentary Bell Press Mech - Smart

Wireless smart control only.

Clipsal Impress Momentary Bell Press Mech - Manual

No wall switch control.

What's best for me?

You’ve made the decision. You want to control your lights from your smartphone or with your voice. But where to begin? If you’re just dipping your toes into the SmartHome world, the Philips Hue Starter Kit will enable you to learn the ins and outs of what’s possible with smart bulbs, before committing to a fully-fledged smart lighting system.

On the other hand, if you want to add 'smarts' to your home's main lighting system with room to scale (and aren't concerned about colour), we recommend the smart module route from the get-go. The modules are integrated into a complete Smart Home system, and work with other devices such as Aeotec MultiSensor 6, right out of the box.

This enables you set up your lights to automatically turn on when you walk into a room and off when you leave. To unlock these features and performance, you'll need a Z-Wave hub such as the Fibaro Home Center 2. And the great thing is, you can bring your Hue bulbs in to the Home Center ecosystem to enjoy both functional and atmospheric lighting.

Which is more affordable?

The rule of thumb here is this; the more smart lights you desire, the more cost-effective the smart module route becomes. Conversely, if you only want a couple of ‘smart’ lights, smart bulbs are likely the more cost-effective option. The reason is this;

  • Smart bulbs are DIY install and WiFi and Bluetooth versions do not require a hub.
  • Smart modules require a hub and must be installed by a licenced electrician.

One thing to keep in mind is that hubless systems can only support a limited number of devices and do not offer the advanced features of hub-based systems. This isn't an issue if you only plan on having a few smart devices, however if you catch the Smart Home bug and plan to add more devices to your system in the future, you may be in for spotty connections and reduced performance.

For a more comprehensive overview of the hub-based systems (local) vs hubless systems (cloud or limited local), check out this article.

Other Considerations

With so many smart systems available, it's easy to dive in to an ecosystem without first considering the system's ability to scale and its functionality. Will your system be able to cope as you add more smart devices to it, without compromising its performance? And will you be able to have your lights and other smart devices work together readily and seamlessly?

Not always. Here's some additional things to keep in mind before you commit to a system:

  • If you do not have a hub, your system will only support a limited number of bulbs (and devices).
  • Smart bulbs that operate without a hub use either WiFi or Bluetooth to communicate.
  • You can purchase battery-powered switches to control your smart-bulbs, however this is not a substitute for a fully integrated smart-lighting system and drives up the cost per bulb significantly.
  • If you do have a hub, your system will only support compatible smart modules and smart bulbs - either natively or through plugins.
  • Smart bulbs that operate with a hub use either Z-Wave, Zigbee, WiFi and/or Bluetooth to communicate.
  • The more powerful the hub, the more smart modules and bulbs your system will support.
  • LED strips are a simple and cost-effective way to add ambience to a room without replacing any bulbs.

Final Thoughts

In summary, true smart lighting takes advantage of multiple methods of controlling the lights in your home. That is, the same light can be controlled from the wall switch, from your Smart Home app and through voice-commands, and will stay in sync no matter which switching mechanism is used. Smart bulbs, although widely considered to be smart-lights do not meet this criteria, however they are great for feature lighting.

If you’re interested in smart lighting and would like to be certain of your direction before you committing to any system, drop a comment below or contact us. We’re always happy to answer any questions you may have :)

- Luke