Do smart bulbs require smart switches too?

The other day, I was contemplating the smart light bulb, and I ran into the same roadblock I always run into — those things are expensive. I mean, not individually — a smart light bulb costs somewhere around fifteen dollars for a white bulb. But my house has so many light fixtures. The math is dizzying. Then I had what you might call a “lightbulb moment.” Each and every light in my house is controlled by a switch, with a bulk of those being wall switches.

So it occurred to me, “I’m going to have to get smart switches too!” I live in a house with children who don’t have smartphones. They won’t be able to use phones to turn lights on and off. My family hosts every holiday party of the year and my father is going to need to turn on the bathroom light at some point. Did I just double the cost of my smart home investment? As it turns out, no.

Smart smart bulbs

smart switches

Smart bulbs do a smart thing — no pun intended. When you disconnect a smartbulb from power, like when you turn a switch off, and then reconnect it, the bulb turns on at 100 percent. The behavior mimics normal light bulbs (imagine that). When the kids are roaming around the house, they can still turn lights off and on as they need to. The problem is when lights get turned off and then left off. Obviously, no amount of shouting at Google Home will turn on a light bulb with no power. There will need to be some changed behavior in the house.

Long story short, the kids and grandpa can still turn on lights if they need to. But still, it rankles a bit doesn’t it? Of course, if you want to go the smart switch route, there are a ton of options out there. This FAQ outlines most of the options available to you. For most, combining switches and bulbs will give you the most flexibility, but it’s also the most expensive. To figure out if you want just switches, just bulbs, or bulbs and switches — you’ll want to check out our guide. 

For my particular case, I have narrowed down my options to three:

  1. Just don’t use anything and deal with it, bro. This will be our starting strategy.
  2. Phillips Hue dimmer switch.
  3. Smart switches with regular bulbs — but this is mostly for outside lights.

These are the best smart bulbs you can buy

The plan

Philips Hue - Best Smart Lights - smart switches

To start off, we’ll be going with smart bulbs only, and deal with the steep learning curve and 40 years of habits that have taught us to flip a switch to turn off lights. The most annoying this will get will be when we want to turn a light on, but the switch has been powered off. In my home, this is complicated by the fact that most of my lights have three-way switches, which means that two switches control one light. Your home probably has at least one of these as well. It doesn’t really change much, but now there will be two switches to ignore, and twice the opportunity to screw something up.

The Phillips Hue dimmer switch is an intriguing possibility. Since our smart bulbs will likely be Philips Hue, we’ll already have the hub up and running, so it’ll work with those. The Philips Hue dimmer switch has a coin battery, which some reviews say last upwards of 18 months or more. Plus, the switches can be mounted anywhere, since they’re independent of wiring. This will allow the family to turn lights on and off without cutting power to the bulbs. Of course, this does double the smart bulb investment. If used strategically, it might not be a bad way to go.

Phase 3

smart switches

Finally, for phase 3 of the Doud lighting revolution, I’ll be replacing switches for exterior lights with smart switches. Exterior lights generally don’t require dimming — just on and off. I’m also not fond of the idea of placing $20 bulbs outside of my home. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t also concerned about those bulbs surviving Chicago winters and/or summers.

Another possibility is to move to switches with built-in timers. These timers have sunsets programmed into them for the next 100 years or so. They’ll turn on the lights automatically at sundown and power them off at a predetermined time afterward. It’s not “smart” as in assistant powered, but it’s automated, which in my world is just as nice.

Adapt or die

smart switches

The bottom line here is that we are still in the infancy of smart home technology. The vast majority of houses around the world were never designed with smart bulbs in mind, and that includes the electrical systems. As we move forward, it will be interesting to see how home builders adapt to this brave new world we’re living in. Should smart home tech be built into brand new homes? A big part of me wants to give a resounding shout of “YES!” but I also understand that this kind of technology is intimidating to a large part of the population.

So, for the foreseeable future, each home is going to have to be adapted to this new way of living — one bulb and one switch at a time. It’s fascinating to watch it all come together. As a former contractor and electrical worker, it will be even more fascinating to watch how the future handles it as well. We have a long way to go, but we’re taking bigger steps every day.

Have you integrated smart lighting into your home? What approach did you take? Did this article inspire you to take the plunge and start investing? Let us know in the comments down below.

Leave a comment