Smart Bulbs: How Do Smart Lights Work?


I’ve mentioned various times lots of Smart Bulbs on this blog, but I’ve never really delved into the popularity, trends and reasons why Smart bulbs are so amazing for any Smart Home User.

They’re one of the best ways to improve your office or home life at an affordable price bracket and whilst they’re extremely popular, not many people understand how they work.

Rather than boring you with details on the difference between Z-Wave and Zigbee, this post will be a basic explanation of what Smart Bulbs are, What Smart Bulbs do and how they work.

What are Smart Bulbs?

Smart Bulb - Philips Hue

Smart Bulbs, like your standard light bulb provide lighting at a variety of different lumens but with the accesibility of being controlled remotely from your phone, voice assistant and Smart Light Switch.

Most Smart bulbs now have dimming capability as a default, this allows you to control the brightness of your bulb without moving. Simply ask your voice assistant “Ok Google, lower living room lights” or “Alexa, turn light brightness down to 2“.

If you pair your Smart Bulb with a Smart Switch, you can have the capability to provide extra features. Some smart bulbs don’t have an app or if they do, it’s lacking in features.

They simply connect to your Smart Assistant and turn on or off, however, with the power of Dimmable Smart Switches you may be able to turn that cheap Smart Bulb into a fully featured Smart bulb with scheduling.

Did you know you can also use Smart Switches to turn your normal bulbs into Smart Bulbs?

How do Smart Bulbs work?

The easiest way to understand Smart Bulbs is to think of your standard LED bulb, but for it to fully work it needs access to a Smartphone, Tablet or Voice Assistant.

It’s not necessary for you to have a Smart Home Hub, some of these bulbs work on a system where only one connects to your WiFi and the others simply ‘jump’ or ‘hotspot’ from that main bulb. These aren’t great solutions and can get messy, so if you can definitely do get a Home Automation Hub OR Smart Assistant like Google Assistant, Apple Siri or Amazon Alexa.

I’m going to assume at the very least you have a Smart Assistant, which a fantastic starting point. Your Smart Home Assistant will work as a hub to connect either Zigbee or Z-Wave devices, if you have an EchoPlus for example, you will be able to use Zigbee compatible device.

If you had devices like a Smart Bulb that works only with Z-Wave, the Amazon Echo Plus wouldn’t work unfortunately. You would need to buy an additional hub which is Zigbee and Z-Wave compatible and use it as a middle man.

Hopefully that helps explain that, if you do have any questions, drop us a comment and we’ll get back with you ASAP.

I suggest for most beginners to go with the Philips Hue Smart Bulbs, whilst they can be an expensive ecosystem to get involved in, they do come with a Philips Hue Bridge (Which is its own system for managing bulbs fluidly).

There are other brands which don’t come with a bridge or hub and require one like the Samsung SmartThings Hub (Highly recommend).

What if I use a Wi-Fi Bulb?

Typically a Wi-fi based network of bulbs will cause issues with your connectivity. Routers weren’t designed to hold a standard household of bulbs meaning you’ll likely only be able to add 10 bulbs before your entire internet connection in the house struggles.

What if I use a Zigbee Bulb?

Having a specific hub opens you up to much better connectivity, features and organising your lighting infrastructure. Not to mention most hubs support 5G and have a boosted connection.

To conclude, most Smart Bulbs have the ability to connect to any system through the use of a variety of methods, these are Wi-Fi, Z-Wave and ZigBee or Bluetooth.

There’s plenty of ways to weigh up the pros and cons of each, but there’s only one best option and that is likely a Zigbee network.

Whilst you can have backup networks incase the Zigbee network fails, more people tend to just use a SmartHub like Samsung SmartThings to keep their devices at least controllable from home.

There is no better voice assistant just for Smart Lights, so you can pick the Google Home, Amazon Alexa, Apple Siri etc with no worry of not getting the best value.

What can I do with my Smart Bulb?

Thanks to the wonders of Smart Homes, you can get your bulbs to do a ton of different things based on events, triggers and manual control.

For example, using Geolocation technology, you can make all your lights turn on if they’re off and your phone automatically connects to your Wi-Fi connection as you arrive home.

Alternatively you can use sensors to trigger your lights when you go in the garage, this sensor can be a laser which triggers when broken or the door handle being opened.

One of the many features of a Smart Home is the use of “If This Then That“, these can often be controlled within your app devices or Smart Home hub, but for anything external (Or if you just want to download these directly to your device use this site).

For example, you can make it so your porch lights turn on when Dominoes sets the delivery to “On its way”. Pretty pointless, but pretty cool!

Once set up, you need not touch these again as they should just work ™. In 2019, I ran through all my favourite IFTTT, definitely go check that out!

What are the best Smart Bulbs?

There’s a few we pick from, some are hated by others, some loved. But that’s really down to what you need from the market, whether they are dimmable, color-changing or simply very bright. The brands you’ll often see picked out are Philips Hue, Lifx, Hive, Xiaomi and Ikea Tradfri.

There are lots of third party bulbs as well which can be pretty good if you’re feeling adventurous, but I would avoid these if you’re new to Smart Home Automation.

Almost all bulb brands are compatible via Zigbee which means they will work with Smart Home assistants like Amazon Alexa.

Which Smart Bulb Technology should I pick?

This depends on your configuration as per above, however, this list of popular brands can be filtered into their respective technology which may help you decide what to use:

Zigbee & Z-Wave

  • Philips Hue
  • Hive Active
  • IKEA Trådfri

Wi-Fi

  • Wiz
  • Cree
  • Eufy
  • Sengled

Bluetooth

  • Philips Hue
  • C by GE


Not sure what to get? Check out our Recommended Smart Bulbs

How much do Smart Bulbs cost?

Smart Bulbs do cost more than your regular bulb, however, you can actually save money with Smart Bulbs.

Most Smart bulbs end up paying themselves off, especially when they are CFL or LED based, this is due to the amount of electricity that you will conserve when using these bulbs. Combine this with scheduling and triggers and you have yourself a much more eco friendly home!

Typically speaking a Smart Bulb will last anywhere between 15,000 to 25,000 hours before breaking. This makes them last a considerably longer time that most standard bulbs on the market.

Most Smart Bulbs cost anywhere between $15 to $50 per bulb, whether it’s a KASA bulb or a Philips Hue, the price will vary based on quality, popularity and reviews.

To conclude…

Having Smart Bulbs and setting them up correctly can save you $1000s in the long run. You can impress your friends, live in comfort and have a much more energy efficient home.

A bulb with diming capabilities can really make you feel at home after a long day at work.

So why not put your feet up and ask Alexa to close your blinds and dim the lights?

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