Getting Started With Smart Lights

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Man controlling home light with digital tablet in interior of modern house. Concept of smart home and light control with phone, mobile device

For most people, upgrading their lights is the first step towards living in a smart home. It’s easy to go smart from the start if you’re renovating or moving into a new build, but what if you live in a Victorian property or centuries-old cottage? Thick stone walls and period features are charming until you need a reliable Wi-Fi signal in order to dim your smart lights. Does that mean you have to be left in the dark?

Can I install smart lights in my current home set up?

The good news is that you can still enjoy smart benefits in an old house, there are just a few extra challenges to overcome first. Spacious, luxury homes are also prone to drops in connectivity over multiple levels, but rest assured that smart lights are possible no matter what set-up currently exists within your home.

In this article we’ll discuss the 3 steps you need to take in order to integrate your existing fixtures with smart lighting:

  1. Choosing A Smart Home Hub
  2. Wired vs Wireless vs Wifi
  3. Integrating Smart Lights With Existing Lights

By the end you should feel inspired to upgrade your lights and take your first

1. Picking A Smart Home Hub

Instead of controlling lights across multiple devices and apps, a smart home hub allows you to control lights throughout your entire home from a central place. These hubs can also integrate with your smart security system, smoke detectors, irrigation controllers, and other household appliances.

Some smart home devices will come with their own hub, however there could be a conflict with other smart systems already in place within your home. For example, if motion sensors detect you arriving home they might not be able tell the outside lights or hall light to come on. Different smartbulbs from different manufacturers will come with their own corresponding hub and app, too. This is where a central home hub helps cut the clutter by controlling all your smart devices from one place instead of several disparate hubs.

To take your lights from bright to brilliant, our top choices would be the following brands:

Control4, Rako and Lutron have been on the market for a long time. In our experience, these lighting controls are superior to other brands in terms of flexible and reliable smart lighting solutions. However, Philips Hue is a respectable budget option should you wish to install it yourself – or DIY it as we say!

Man holding smartphone with lighting control application, turning on the lights sitting in kitchen house with automation lighting system. Person using smart home software working remote at laptop

2. Wired vs Wireless vs Wifi

The smart living marketplace is filled with debate about which smart lights are better: wireless or wired or wifi.  To explain the difference here is a quick explanation.

Wired – as it says –  the system has wires or cables between all major components such as lightswitches and hubs etc.

Wireless – these systems generally use a proprietary communication such as Zigbee or Z-wave which is much more robust than wifi and less susceptible to interference.  They also have the benefit of operating as a “mesh” system which means that communication is faster and the system will “heal” itself if something goes offline i.e each part in the system has the ability to talk to any other part and can “hop” through other parts to get to where it needs to.  This can be helpful when retrofitting in older properties.

Wifi – needs no explanation – products communicate via your existing wifi and are then susceptible to all the issues that come with it – such as loss of signal, drops in strength, intermittent operation etc.

Remember that while modern homes can enjoy smart lighting without needing to rewire the whole house, some devices must be hardwired to work properly regardless of your property’s size, age, or existing set-up.

Which devices need to be hardwired in a smart home?

In reality, nothing needs to be hardwired other than things that need electricity, like the light bulbs themselves.  However, if you do a little research around wifi lighting systems you will find many complaints about the inconsistency of operation i.e that they often don’t work, have delayed operation or do their own thing.  Many people experience the situation where they try to switch the light off only for it to stay on but switch off seconds or even minutes later.  Imagine trying to go to sleep with the light on full!

A good Smart Living Integrator will establish what can be cabled and what needs to be wireless or wifi.  They will ensure that your system operates robustly and easily with no annoying hiccups like the ones mentioned above.

Remember that the myth around Smart Lighting needing to be controlled by an app is not true – all good Smart Lighting systems will usually have keypads in place of the conventional light switches.

Woman dimming lights in room via smartphone application on phone

4. Integrating smart lights with existing lights

When it comes to upgrading your lights to a smart set-up you have several options.

If you simply want to replace bulbs in some areas of your home, then smart bulbs are a quick and easy fix. Smart bulbs work by connecting wirelessly to the internet. Usually, smart bulbs need to connect to a router via a home hub. The hub acts as an intermediary between the lights and your smartphone or tablet, allowing you to control lighting remotely via an app.  Smart bulbs can be used in almost any light fitting and you don’t need to upgrade your traditional switches to use them. However, replacing every single bulb in your home with a smart bulb isn’t the most efficient smart lighting solution.

Smart outlets and switches replace your existing light fixtures. However, installing a few switches is less hassle than replacing every single smart bulb. Lutron Caseta, Rako and Control4, offer enhanced control of your lights: create lighting scenes by voice command, control lights remotely, and integrate with other smart devices like thermostats and blinds, all from a central hub. Smart outlets give you control over lamps or other electrical devices that need plugged in at the wall.

Can I simply replace my normal light bulbs with smart bulbs?

Yes, smart bulbs are a quick and easy way to replace old, inefficient bulbs. If all you want is control over certain lights in particular areas of your home without changing fixtures or rewiring, then smart bulbs are the obvious choice. Again, we recommend Philips Hue. Philips Hue offers the best smart light bulb and smart plug designs that connect wirelessly to your phone via Wi-Fi. The downside is it can get costly and time-consuming if you have a large property. And bear in mind that convenience doesn’t equal reliable; while wireless lighting is quick and easy to install, there’s more reasons not to rely solely on Wi-Fi for your smart home. As we always say – you only get what you pay for!

Why should I hardwire smart lights?

We always recommend upgrading to a whole-house smart lighting system if you have the budget. Cutting-edge technology from the likes of Lutron, Control4 and Rako give greater, more reliable control over the lights in your home, and professional installers take the headache out of installation.

More pros to a hardwired lighting system:

  • Control lights from a central location. This means fewer switches in your home
  • No Wi-Fi, no problem. If the internet goes down you’ll not be left in the dark
  • Tighter security. Wireless connectivity is convenient but it attracts hackers. Protect your home by hardwiring your internet and smart lights
  • More freedom and functionality. A whole-systems allows for greater integration with other smart home devices

John Ross Smart Living are experts in Smart Lighting. Need a lighting system that fits the unique needs of your property? Get in touch with our light technicians for a tailor-made solution.

Can I wire smart lights myself?

There’s plenty of user-friendly products on the smart market aimed at consumers who feel handy with drill. Smart bulbs are as easy to change as ordinary bulbs, but smart switches and outlets require you to connect wires on your new smart switch to the wires in your wall.

Hardwired smart lights throughout your home ensure you get all the benefits of intelligent lighting, but rewiring your entire house is a lot of work and best left to professionals. Electricity is dangerous in inexperienced hands. Hiring smart home experts or trained electricians ensures your safety and gets you reliable, integrated smart lights for your home.

Do I need to upgrade my light fixtures to use smart lights?

If you have beautiful built-in light fixtures like chandeliers and wall sconces, or recessed lights, you probably don’t want to replace them. Smart dimmer switches are your answer — they work just like normal light switches except you can control brightness levels and program lights remotely or from an app via your phone. Upgrading the switches rather than the bulbs is easier and more economical in this instance. Control4 have a nice range of Smart Dimmer Switches which are able to dim most types of light fitment.

What if someone accidentally turns my smart switch off?

Unfortunately, for smart bulbs to work the switch always needs to be left on. This gives the bulb the energy it needs to connect wirelessly to your smart hub and accept commands. The trouble is that guests and family members — even yourself! — are hardwired to switch lights off, thus rendering your smart lights dumb.

Smart dimmer switches overcome this issue as they replace the existing switch so removing the problem. Furthermore, every light on the circuit will stay smart. You won’t need to buy new bulbs to make use of this feature, either.

Can I dim lights with smart switches and bulbs?

The clever thing about installing a smart dimmer switch is that it controls an entire circuit. This means all lights controlled by your old switch are now ‘smart’ without you having to replace bulbs. However, you’ll only be able to take advantage of a smart switch’s dimmer function if the bulbs in your light fixtures are dimmable bulbs, LED or otherwise.

John Ross Smart Living — the UK’s smart lighting experts

Ready to switch to the bright side? John Ross Smart Living are experts in smart lighting systems and design. We’ve designed custom smart lighting solutions for a variety of properties. Our technicians are adept at designing custom smart lighting for complex properties while neatly concealing cables to keep your smart home sleek and functional.

Call us today to start living better with smart technology.

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