Lights - Smart or dim?

by Rory Milne on February 10, 2021

Smart lights in 2021

As with the rest of the smart connected technology movement, lights are smartening up real quick! Smart bulbs, smart strips & smart switches are widely available. A quick search around Takealot will reveal just how prevalent these devices are.

What's so smart about them?

These are also known as connected devices, meaning they can be controlled by more that just the power switch. Usually this means a Wi-Fi connection to your home router and then some access and control via an app on your phone. There are a some other means of connecting besides Wi-Fi, (Zigbee, Z-Wave, Bluetooth) and these usually require a "bridge" for your home Wi-Fi to be able to connect you. Learn more about bridges and hubs. As well as info and concern around cloud vs local solutions.

Why do we want them?

The promise of smart lighting in your home or business is a multitude of modern improvements.

Monitor your light status from a single point, (i.e. your phone) from anywhere. Knowing a light that should be "on", is actually "off", is nothing without the ability to rectify the situation. So the control thereof, from the same point, is what really makes the difference.

The ability to know light statuses and take control, digitally, opens a world of opportunity for automations. This means that lighting scenes, groups or modes can be activated without your personal intervention. In 2021 do any of us really have time wonder about turning lights on and off????

So how do we choose? 

Well let's look at some of the different technology available.

  1. 1) Smart Bulbs
  2. 2) Smart Switches
  3. 3) Light Strips
  4. 4) Connection types
  5. 5) Controller options

Smart Bulbs

Besides having built in remote connectivity, smart bulbs often have the ability do extra tricks. RGB bulbs (Red,Green,Blue) are colour changing bulbs, great for setting a specific mood or scene. The ability to "dim" is also usually included. Like most things in life, you get what you pay for. So a lower price usually means less capabilities. Also of no surprise, quality often takes second place while keeping the price down is the main objective. Sticking with reputable manufacturers is a good rule of thumb. If you do find an irresistible deal, test it out thoroughly before committing your whole premises to the bulbs. Provided you have a controller that meets all your requirements, having 100% smart bulb coverage can be amazing. Every light on one dashboard, yes please!

A down side to be aware of: 

If you turn off a smart bulb at the wall or the lamp switch, power is cut to the device. Which means there is no power to connect it to your wifi or your controller. Which means you can not turn it back on, with out re-activating that particular light switch! This simple issue has plagued many a smart home when family members innocently turn off a switch, and unwittingly render all your smart efforts dumb again!

Smarthome Africa is a local South African supplier making Philips Hue products available. These are great products, but unfortunately Philips knows it, hence the pricing.

Smarthome Africa is a local South African supplier making Philips Hue products available. These are great products, but unfortunately Philips knows it, hence the pricing.

Give Takealot a quick look for Smart Lights. Its great that 2021 has great options, but its becoming harder and harder to choose. Careful not to get too sucked in!!Hopefully this guide will help you keep on track! 

Smart Switches

These clever little guys solve the down side mentioned about smart bulbs. These devices can be a wall switch replacement or simply tuck in behind the exiting light switch panel. Either way they take control of your existing light and switch by intercepting the power control and connecting it to your central controller. So you will have light control from the wall or from the controller, without either being a "master' controller, and disabling the access of the other.

There is usually a distinct cost advantage due to the simple fact that most homes, or businesses, have more bulbs than switches. Many light fittings have multiple bulbs & down lighting systems usually have multiple bulbs per switch. So you are able to get away with purchasing fewer devices and still control the entire premises. 

The installation is not going to be as simple as screwing in a bulb, and you should be aware that a neutral wire is often required for smart switches to work properly. Make sure you know your homes neutral situation before you choose switches.

Limitations:
A switch doesn't turn a plain bulb into an RGB or dimmable bulb. If you want improved features as well as control you will have to upgrade your bulbs.

Though some more advanced smart switches do have dimming capabilities, they still need to be paired with a compatible bulb.

Here is an example of a smart wall switch replacement available on Takealot or preconfigured for you at our store . This is a Sonoff item, they have a broad range.

This is an example of a Shelly 1 that fits in behind your existing light switches, to smarten them up. Also at Takealot or preconfigured for you at our store.

Light Strips

This has become a really interesting space, gone are the days of just a line of little lights...

Individually addressable LED's are where the industry is now. This means that every LED on the strip can be individually controlled, having an individual colour and brightness. The opportunity for effects is now only limited by the imagination.

But know that not all strips are made equal. China churns out strips with little plastic IR remotes buy the 100's of millions!! They are very cheap and very nasty. A remote doesn't make it smart, it makes it post 1970's.

For real integrated benefits your strips need to connect to the same controller that is managing the rest of your smart home. Your pile of remotes just becomes a pile of apps... Milney makes use of Home Assistant because it's not scared to incorporate a broad range of products and manufacturers.

Check out Kenny's amazing DIY LED how to guide

Connection Types

Wifi is the most common of the connection types, and it makes sense as most homes have a wifi router in them already. The trouble is an entry level router is generally no good after 20 or so connections. If you add up your phones, tablets, laptops and tvs.... then start adding smart home devices, lights, climate sensors, door sensors, motion sensors, door locks, cameras etc... You very quickly have dozens of devices clogging up a router.

Zigbee is a connection standard that is ideal for smart homes with multiple devices. It allows for many connections on a single "coordinator", requires very little connection maintenance, and best of all uses minuscule amounts of power. This means your home sensors can be tiny, with minimal battery, and still last months or even years. Z-Wave is also a popular alternative to wifi, with less possible concurrent connections per network compared to Zigbee, but better range.

What ever you go for just make sure that your devices can actually talk to each other. Multiple communication types means multiple bridges. Its a good idea to plan your homes automation before you get too invested into the various technologies.

Learn more here if you are really bored!

 

- Zigbee 

- Z-Wave 

- Wifi 

Controller Options

Your controller is what brings it all together. Most smart device brands do have their own apps that can be installed onto your phone. Bear in mind that you would have to change apps per manufacturer, so either stick with the limitations of a single brand, or be satisfied with switching from app to app.
At Milney we are not satisfied with switching from app to app. We have also explored the security concerns around cloud based apps. We have logically opted for Home Assistant that brings all your lights, and more, into a single, safe & flexible platform.
Home Assistant is an open source platform and free, with more than 3000 developers contributing to its ongoing improvement. It can be installed multiple systems including a spare home computer, a server or a Raspberry Pi. It's by far the most flexible smart home system and can be tailored to meet any level of required security and automation requirements. It also integrates with thousands of products already .
Give it a go, its free after all. However if you would like us to help, give us a shout and we can get you there!
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