The light bulb is quietly possibly one of the greatest inventions ever and smart bulbs just make them better. Smart bulbs have completely changed the lighting industry. It’s now a simple task to turn on and off lights without having to get up and go flip a switch. But there is a lot more than just that.
What can a smart bulb do? The basic features of a smart bulb include being able to be controlled wirelessly. This includes being turned on and off, and having the ability to be dimmed. On top of those features, some smart bulbs have the ability to change color.
That’s just the beginning to a whole new world of possibilities. Given those features, it is possible to control lights from anywhere in the world given an internet connection. And it doesn’t have to be you manually controlling them. It can be another device, or automation, or smart assistant like Amazon Alexa.
Join me as I explore what all a smart bulb can do. Hopefully you can make use of a few of these practical use cases laid out below.
Standard Smart Bulb Features
An old-fashioned light bulb (That’s what I call anything that isn’t a smart bulb) required to user to turn it on and off using a switch. If it was fancy, it might have a dimmer switch wired in, but still, you would have to go to the switch.
With a smart bulb, those switches have now become digital. A smart bulb can be controlled wirelessly through an app on your phone or tablet, a web interface on your computer, through a voice assistant, or through a variety of different options.
Have you ever spent time moving the slider up and down on one of those ole’ dimmer switches, trying to get the brightness to be just right? With smart bulbs, that is no longer a problem. Setting the brightness can be done with the push of a button, and it will be done precisely every time to the same level.
There are even some smart bulb apps that have pre-programmed suggestions, based on a feeling or energy level of your atmosphere. Of course, you don’t have to use the pre-programmed options. You can create your own as well, making it perfect and customized just for you.
Here is a video that demonstrates a smart bulb being controlled wirelessly through an app. Starting with installation and setup of a smart bulb through using the voice assistant in your phone. It shows you how a bulb can be dimmed or brightened, as well as some of the things you can do with color changing.
This video is for a particular brand of smart bulb, but most of the other brands out there have some sort of similar app interface for controlling the smart bulb.
A popular topic when smart homes are discussed are the energy savings. A lot of people find that they are saving money on their electric bills after installing smart bulbs. Their could be a couple of reasons for this.
The first reason could be that people are moving from older light technology, such as incandescent or CFL, to modern LED lighting. LED lights are extremely energy efficient compared to the older technology, which would result in a lot of savings when the energy bill comes in.
The second reason could be that when people are replacing regular LED bulbs with smart bulbs, they don’t leave lights on as much. People are more aware of lights they turned on with their voice or smart phone, and also it’s easier to turn off lights when you’re done in a room.
Their could be more reasons on the list too, such as people being more likely to have their lights dimmed, instead of at full brightness. Or it could be the novelty of having a new “toy”.
This may be more of a benefit instead of a feature, but in any case, smart bulbs end up saving people money. Also, smart bulbs are rated to last a really, really long time.
LED bulbs in general are rated for long periods of time. I’m talking decades, with most being 20-23 years. The technology hasn’t been around that long, so it remains to be seen if smart bulbs can really last for that long.
Places Smart Bulbs Can Be Used
If you are wondering where all smart bulbs can be used, the answer is that they can be used just about anywhere standard bulbs are used.
No matter if your house was built a century ago, or is a new-build, smart bulbs can work. There are smart bulbs made to work inside and there are those made to work outside.
They can be used in lamps, ceiling lights, outside, inside, you name it. It takes a little special consideration using smart bulbs in a humid environment, like a bathroom, but it can be done. If it’s somewhere a traditional bulb can go, there is probably a way to fit in a smart bulb.
Lastly, smart bulbs aren’t limited to certain houses based on if the house has a common wire or not. I say this because most smart switches that directly control a light require a common wire to be connected in addition to the normal power supply wires. Smart bulbs can be plugged into basically any light socket.
Controlling Your Smart Bulb
I briefly touched on ways you can control your smart bulb earlier, mainly discussing controlling the smart bulb through an application on your phone. Now lets take a look at the other methods available for controlling your smart bulb.
Through Home Automation (Plus Scheduling)
There are many ways to setup home automation. IFTTT is a common tool for doing this, and below is a video demonstrating home automation using Google Home Routines. The video also demonstrates how you can schedule certain events to happen at various times throughout the day, such as turning on the Christmas lights when it gets dark. I few scheduling as a subset of home autmation.
Through a Smart Dimmer
I’ve already briefly discussed how to use a smart dimmer switch to control your smart bulb, but there are a few more details that I need to delve into.
The most important of these is that the smart switch and the smart bulb need to be able to communicate with each other. This usually means that they use the same type of wireless communication. If a bulb uses Wi-Fi, you will need a Wi-Fi Smart Switch. The same goes for other popular protocols such as Zigbee or Z-Wave.
The exception to that rule is when the communication goes through a hub which is able to communicate with multiple device types. This can happen with Zigbee or Z-Wave devices, which need a hub. The hub will connect to your home internet, and may be able to send commands to your Wi-Fi devices.
Using Your Voice
Lastly, there is the option to control your smart bulb by using only your voice. This is done by using Google Home, or Alexa. Apple’s Homekit is also starting to gain some popularity.
It’s also an option to use multiple voice assistants. Here’s a video demonstrating the use of voice assistants to control your smart bulb. It also shows how to connect the smart bulb to those systems.
Things To Consider Before Buying Smart Bulbs
There are two main communication protocols that smart bulbs use to communicate with the outside world. Wi-Fi and Zigbee. Z-Wave is also a third option, but Zigbee seems to be winning out over Z-Wave, and they are similar enough to each other.
If you plan on using a lot of smart bulbs, or having a bunch of other smart devices in your home, consider using Zigbee.
With WI-Fi, interference can occur when there becomes too many devices operating on your local Wi-Fi network. If interference starts to occur, you may notice that the speed of your internet connection has slowed down to a snail like pace. You may start to notice a slow down with around 20-30 devices on the network.
Zigbee on the other hand can support over 60,0000 devices without slowing down. In fact, more devices help expand the Zigbee network. With Zigbee devices, you will need to get a hub. That hub will connect to your WI-Fi, or be hard wired to your router. If connected to Wi-Fi, it will only be one device connected directly to the router, instead of many (although you may have many devices indirectly connected to the router through the hub).
Choose How you Will Control your Smart Bulbs
Each brand of smart bulb has their own app that is able to control the bulbs smart features. However, if you buy more than one brand, you’ll end up having to use multiple apps to control the various brands.
Don’t fret though. There are apps, and programs, and voice assistants that help take care of that problem, but that is why you have to spend a few minutes thinking about how you are going to control your smart bulbs. Not every smart bulbs is compatible with every platform.
The most popular voice assistants are Google Assistant and Amazon’s Alexa. The smart bulb packaging will should have this prominently displayed, usually in the form of a rectangular logo.
The other option is one app that is able to control all your smart devices in one place. There are several options for this, but the most common option is called IFTTT.
An added benefit of connecting all your devices in one place is that is makes home automation easier. You will be able to use smart bulbs when certain events happen on things like your smart video doorbell, smart thermostat, cameras, etc. Some of those automatons are highlighted in my practical uses listed below.
Alright, lets take all that information and go have some fun.
1) Set Visual Alerts
Using some home automation, you can set your smart bulb to change color when an even occurs.
For example, did you ever leave the house and forget if you locked the door as you were starting to drive away in your car? Now there is a way to get rid of the annoyance of pulling the car back in the driveway, getting out, and walking to the door.
And you probably found that you did remember to lock it.
If you have a smart lock on your door, you can program a smart bulb to change to a certain color, for a certain period of time, as a visual indicator that the door is indeed locked.
Then again, it is a smart lock, so you should be able to open the app and check if the door is locked, but in my case I don’t have cell phone signal when I leave my house. In any case, a light is a quick visual way to be notified.
2) Prepare for Outside Weather
Today’s homes are pretty well insulated, and looking out the window isn’t always a good judge of what it feels like out there. Have you ever been inside for a day or two and then go outside and get shocked by the weather? I know where I live, the weather can have big temperature swings from day to day, or even within a day itself.
This actually makes me thing of flying on an airplane. When boarding, walking down the ramp, you get a taste of the temperature, but when boarding it isn’t really a surprise because you already know what the weather outside is. The shock comes when you are getting of the airplane and step out of that nice climate controlled aircraft and get hit with whatever the weather is in the new city
The solution to this is having a smart bulb change color based on the temperature outside. Maybe have it located by the door, or someplace that you will notice before going outside.
An app such as IFTTT can be used to turn your lights blue for clod weather, and red when it gets hot. And since you get to do the setup, you can define what cold and hot are and everything in between.
3) Prepare for Bedtime
This use case could go a couple different directions depending on how you want to prepare for bedtime.
The first use is to program the lights to start getting dimmer at a certain time of day. This may not work if you don’t have a normal routine, but if you have a job you have to wake up for every weekday, you could program the lights to start dimming at a certain time at night to help ease you and encourage you to go to bed.
That could also work for those of us with children as well. An indicator to the kids that its bedtime.
The second use is to actually turn off lights when you go to bed. You probably don’t want this to be an automation, but rather a push of the button on your phone once you get in bed.
Now you never have to worry about getting back out of bed to go turn off a light you forgot about. Just grab your phone and hit a button. Everyone sleeps with their phone within arms reach, right?
4) Phone Call Notifications
Most of us ignore a lot of phone calls these days, but there are a few we get from certain people that we’d like to answer.
Now when you receive a call from a certain phone number, you can have your lights flash a certain color for that person. Now you have a way to know who the call is from, and also a way that makes sure you don’t miss their call.
Also, you can have the lights set to a certain color for an unknown number, or just not change color at all.
Sorry Apple iOS users, this is only available on Android right now. Hopefully you don’t have to wait too long.
5) Night Lights
Again, this is a couple practical uses cases under one heading.
The first use is the obvious one (at least to me) based on the name “Night Lights.” Yes, I’m talking about the good ole’ fashioned night light, but now it has a twist.
A smart bulb allows you to set the night light to the exact brightness you need, and to your desired color. That’s the main reason I never liked night lights. I always found them to be too bright.
The second practical use for night lights is having lights turn on when you get home. That’s right, you can have your smart bulbs turn on when you get home. It doesn’t necessarily have to be at night, but that seems the most practical to me.
Personally, I have lights setup to turn on when my phone picks up my home network, but their are more options, such as using geofencing to have the lights turn on when you get within a certain distance.
Keep in mind, it doesn’t have to be just inside lights. You can use smart bulbs outside as well to light up around your house to increase security or just help light your way.
6) Deter Criminals
Smart bulbs are a great compliment to your homes security system. If your camera picks up motion is detected in a certain region, a light can be triggered to turn on and light up that area.
Multiple regions can be setup using a single camera to turn on how every many lights you need or desire. Also, smart motion detectors can be used as a cheaper alternative to cameras, or where it doesn’t make sense to place a camera.
Another way that is used to deter criminals is having lights turn on and off at random times. This is a great feature to use when you are on vacation, so it makes it look like someone is actually home.
This idea is pretty heavily marketed, but there are a lot of great ideas under this category.
Are you about to watch a movie? Set your smart lighting to the perfect level that for the room you are in. Or fade the lights to black once the movie starts.
What about holidays? Light up your house in green and red for Christmas, orange for Halloween, an array of pink for valentines day, or all green for St. Patrick’s day. It’s a fun and festive way to set the mood, and one the kids will surely appreciate.
When you are having a party at your house, you can set the lighting to match the color theme, or you can change colors throughout the party based on events happening during the party. Or you can set a party mood by having the lights switching through a variety of colors.
8) Places Light Switches Anywhere
Having the option to control your smart bulbs from anywhere through an app or home automation, or even your voice is great, but sometimes its nice just to have a switch that you can hit real quick.
That’s another feature that smart bulbs provide us. A switch can literally be placed anywhere in the house, and be able to turn on and off whatever smart bulbs you programmed it to control.
Switches no longer have to be in fixed positions on the wall, and the most advanced smart switches don’t even have to be wired. There are smart switches you can buy that are powered by just the push of the button.
9) Know When The Mail Arrives
Place a sensor in the mail box, and it’s now a smart box. Once you have received the mail, you can have one of your smart bulbs change color or turn on to notify you that “You’ve Got Mail!”
I’m probably aging my self by using the movie reference. I bet most smart bulb users won’t get that reference.
I hope that you have found this list useful. Let me know what other practical uses you are using your smart bulbs for. The imagination is the limit here.
What do I need to use smart bulbs?
To use a smart bulb you will need a wireless connection, which may require a hub if the bulb uses Zigbee or Z-Wave, and a device, such as a smart phone, to control the smart bulb. You will also need to supply the bulb with a constant power supply.
Can smart light bulbs be used in any fixture?
Smart light bulbs can be used in any fixture where a light bulb was previously. Smarts bulbs cannot be used with a dimmer, as they require full power. Smart bulbs also need access to a wireless network in order to use their smart features.