Cover Image for Smart Lighting: Bulbs vs Switches

Smart Lighting: Bulbs vs Switches

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5 minutes
Bryan Jenks
Bryan Jenks

If you’re interested in smart home devices then you’re undoubtedly familiar with smart lighting and at least some of the everyday benefits that come with having this feature in your home. Not only can it be delightfully convenient, but it can also help save on energy costs. Smart lighting allows you to manage in-home ambiance through voice, remote or preset control. All in all, it’s useful, customizable, and generally a pretty cool feature compared to traditional lighting. 

While there are many variations of smart lighting, there are two primary applications that channel light: bulbs and switches. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. A lot of it depends on your living environment—your aesthetic preferences and what are you working with now. There’s no wrong decision, but we’ll let you decide what’s best for your property by giving you a breakdown of the pros and cons of each.

Smart Bulbs: Plug-and-Play Lighting

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Light bulbs have come a long way since Edison (or whoever you want to assign credit for the invention), but they’re still very manageable. Smart bulbs are no different. Simply swap your regular light bulbs for the smart bulb of your choice. And there are A LOT of options to choose from, which is great. 

The Episense team is a big fan of the Philips Hue because they offer a wide spectrum of personalized features. You can choose from white, white ambiance, and full color ambiance options. Their regular white bulbs feature soft white light that, like all of their bulbs, can be managed through Bluetooth, their app or a voice-control device. Their white ambiance bulbs emit warm-to-cool light tones and everything in between. Lastly, their full color ambiance bulbs can set the mood by filling your room with over 16 million shades of white or color light. 

Now the Philips Hue examples above cover your basic smart light bulbs. They’re high quality, affordable, and reliable—perfect for new smart device users and more practical consumers. BUT if you’re looking for something more advanced, there are smart bulbs out there that can track motion, stream audio over Bluetooth, or double as connected cameras. Like I said, we’ve come a long way since Edison. 

As easy as smart bulbs are to install and control, they do have their disadvantages—I should say their limitations. One is that smart bulbs are just now catching up with the numerous sizes and shapes that the fixtures people have installed will require. Each day there are more options that hit the market, however for smart bulbs to work with more unique fixtures you may sacrifice some of the aesthetic appeal of the original bulb. Also, if said fixture is connected to an in-wall dimmer switch that isn’t in the full on position, the bulb is likely to flicker and buzz—a recipe for migraines. Finally, the bulbs simply won't work if the light is switched off, so you’ll have to keep people’s hands off that light switch at all times!

Are You Ready To Make the Switch?

Now let’s switch to switches (see what I did there). Swapping your traditional light switches for smart switches is more complicated than swapping out bulbs because you may have to tinker with the wiring. If you’re handy and a DIY type of person, you should be able to make it happen without moving mountains. Now rather than automating the bulb, you'll be automating the switch. Seems to be a “six-to-one” sort of situation, right? The issue becomes the desired application.

Smart switches, like bulbs, can connect to WiFi. If that is the application you’re after, then you’re ready to go. Models like the Belkin WeMo can pair directly with your home network, run through your smartphone, and you won’t see any interruption. Models that use ZigBee, however, require some sort of hub or control device, since your phone doesn’t speak directly to the switch. 

Okay, let’s get to the pros of smart switches. With a smart switch, you're free to use any bulb you want, perfect if your fixture requires bulbs of a particular size, shape, or style that won’t work with the current smart bulbs on the market. That means those of you who have extraordinarily ornate bulb arrangements—I’m looking at you chandelier folks—should likely choose the smart switch route. Another brilliant opportunity presented by smart switches is the integration of motion detection that’s built into the switch. This means you don’t have to place additional devices around your rooms to assist with automations. Speaking of automations, let’s see how those factor into your decision.

If you create automations and turn a switch off, there is a chance that it will fault the automation. However, if you use bulbs and you turn off a switch then it will fault the entire lighting scene! Suffice to say, automations can elevate a user’s experience so long as the IoT engine you’re using to program them works with your usual behaviors. 

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In Light of These Facts, Decision Time!

Bulbs or switches, switches or bulbs. One thing stands out more than the rest: color. If you want to add color to your room’s scenes, then bulbs are your horse. If you need to stick with the original fixture’s bulbs, make the switch to smart switches. If automations are your ultimate goal, find the engine that drives them best. All three factors are equally prevalent in the decision making processes of not only the DIY user/installer but the grandiose implementations inside the MDU and Hospitality arenas. 

Evaluating where the additional value lies will ultimately give you the direction you need. If you need assistance figuring out what’s best for your property, need to rethink the direction you previously chose, or simply need another set of eyes to make sure it looks correct, don’t hesitate to reach out. 

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