Smart bulbs vs switches part 1 - Smart Bulbs

Smart bulbs are the place that most people start when it comes to a ‘Smart House’ - they’re easy to fit, relatively cheap, and can talk to all kinds of home assistants, but are they always the best solution?

In this post we’ll look at smart bulbs and the possibilities as well as the downfalls, and then we’ll look at the smart switches in a future post.

Smart bulbs

Let’s start by looking at a typical smart-home scenario - you were given some money for Christmas, started browsing Amazon (other retailers are available!) and saw that the MiLight WiFi RGBW Smart bulbs were on sale and even cheaper than usual. “That looks fun”, you thought, so you bought a couple because they were so cheap, along with the Hub that was needed to control them.

The bulbs arrived, you installed the app on your phone, connected the hub to your WiFi network, plugged in the bulbs and immediately bathed various rooms in the house in a whole rainbow of colours just from your phone. “This is amazing!”, you think to yourself, and go to bed looking forward to playing with the lights again tomorrow…

The next morning you wake up and show all the family the new bulbs. It’s a massive hit and you decide that you’re going to go “all in” on these types of device, especially as they’re all on sale. Logging back on to your retailer of choice, and taking advantage of their sale once more, you buy enough bulbs to fit out every room in the house including all the rooms with spotlights because now they do a GU10 version of the bulb as well. The bulbs turn up, and you install them all over the place and your entire family gasp in wonder as the kitchen is bathed in a soothing green whilst the lounge is an angry red…

After a few days, you realise that changing the colours on the main lights in each room really is very much a novelty, and that it’s better to have the lights on either cold or warm white. The colour changing side of things is great to impress people with, but the truth is it’s just not much fun trying to cook when the entire room is bright purple, so you leave the lights as white.

A few weeks later, your in-laws or parents come for a visit. They’re staying over so you can go out without the kids for the evening, so you connect their phones to your WiFi and install the app so they can turn the kids’ lights on and off as needed, and go out for a meal with your partner. You get back late and the house is in darkness. You open the app, press the button to turn on the lights, and nothing happens. Your visitors have gone to bed, and switch off every light switch in the house as they’ve gone, disconnecting the power from all of the smart-bulbs…

The next day, you explain to them that there’s no need to use the switches any more, and that it can all be done via the app that you installed for them. They agree to try and remember in future, but you know that it will almost certainly happen again so you go out and replace all of the light switches in the house with a blanking plate and relax, safe in the knowledge that the bulbs will always be “on” even if they have been switched off in the app.

A few days later, the complaints start - “I need to turn the light on and I can’t find my phone!”, “How is this ‘smart’ if I need my phone on me all the time to turn the lights on/off?!” - so you decide to upgrade to a more expensive system that has integrations with a home assistant such as the Google Home or Amazon Echo. You do your research and settle on Phillips Hue because it also has “smart switches” that you can put over the top of your blanking plates, giving you the control that you need on the wall as well as from the app. Feeling smug with yourself, you spend the money on the bulbs and switches (even though it’s nearly three times more than the MiLight kit cost) and install them.

The voice assistant integration is great! You’ve named all the rooms, assigned them to commands, and feel like Tony Stark talking to Jarvis as you walk around the house turning lights on and off and changing the colour just using your voice. “Problem Solved”, you think to yourself, and then the complaints start…

“Alexa doesn’t recognise my voice properly!” “Dad, my sister keeps telling Alexa to turn my lights on full whilst I’m trying to sleep!” “Why are the lights coming on at 5am, I thought you set them to come on at 5pm?!!!” “Why does this light switch have more than one button?! All I want to do is turn the lights on and off!”

Thoroughly frustrated with the fact that no one else in the family appears to be able to deal with this technology, you uninstall the lot, go back to boring normal lights and switches, and sell everything on a well known auction site, your dreams of a smart home in tatters…

The above may or may not be my experience of smart bulbs (although I didn’t replace the MiLight bulbs with Hue as I couldn’t afford it at the time, that part is based on others I know who have done the same!)

In the next post, I’ll talk about smart switches and why I’ve come to adopt those instead, whilst also explaining some of the pitfalls behind three of the major manufacturers/switch types that are available.

As always, feel free to add comments below, I look forward to hearing from you all!

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