Smart lighting is one of the best ways to use smart home technology. But doing it well takes a little planning. Part of that planning is deciding when to use smart bulbs and when to install smart switches.
Some people may try to convince you that you need to have all smart bulbs or all smart switches. Don’t listen to them. I have lots of experience using both devices. Often times, an even better result can be achieved with a mix of both.
Smart bulbs can bring dynamic, mood enhancing color into any room. Whereas smart switches make a more user friendly experience for you and your family. What follows is my advice on when to use each.
The big problem with smart bulbs
What do you do with the wall switch?
When you install a smart bulb, your wall switch can become a nuisance. If you or someone else uses your standard wall switch to turn off your smart bulb, the lights will turn off. However, the power for your bulb’s wireless communication will turn off too. Therefore, you will lose any ability to control the light with your smart home until you manually turn the switch back on.
Fine. I’ll just stop using the wall switch and always use voice to control the lights. No big deal, right?
There are many times when a good old-fashioned wall switch is the best, most convenient way to turn on the lights.
It’s also universally understood. Family members or visitors may not know the proper voice command, but everyone knows how to use a light switch.
You never want something as simple as turning a light on or off to become confusing or difficult.
The big problem with smart switches
The world is cooler with color and smart switches don’t do color.
A smart switch replaces your old wall switch and controls the power to your light fixture. Most people install standard lights in the fixture.
If you have no desire for color changing bulbs, then you don’t really have a decision to make. Smart switches are the better choice for sure.
But, if you’re like me and think color lights are awesome (more on that below), it makes things more complicated.
5 More Factors to Consider
Although the big problems described above will usually be enough to decide whether you want a smart bulb or a smart switch, there are a few other factors and situations that might sway the decision towards one or the other.
1. Smart bulbs are easy to installEmbed from Getty Images
How many blondes does it take to change a smart bulb?
I don’t know. But, it should be the same number as it takes to change a standard bulb. Installing a smart bulb is as simple as unscrewing the old bulb and screwing in the smart one.
On the other hand, installing a smart switch requires you to remove the old switch from the wall and replace it with the new smart switch. It’s not super complicated, but you’ll need to be comfortable using a screwdriver and working with electrical wires.
2. Multi-bulb fixtures
One of the better use cases for smart switches is in situations where a light fixture requires multiple light bulbs. Rather than replace each bulb with a smart bulb, you can just install one smart switch.
For example, I have a light fixture above my bathroom vanity that requires 4 light bulbs. I could buy four smart bulbs or one smart switch. There isn’t really any need for colored light with the vanity lights. Therefore, a single smart switch makes the most sense.
But what if you DO want color? Well, you’ll have to buy an expensive smart bulb for each socket. But, the result can be stunning.
I have a 3 bulb fixture above my dining room table. Each bulb can be set to its own color which can create some really cool effects. If you have Philips Hue bulbs, their app comes with a bunch of pre-made scenes that look great. Two of my favorites are Tropical Twilight and Savanna Sunset.
3. Tunable white and color LEDs
Some of you traditional folks probably scoff at the idea of color changing lights. Before I had a chance to try them, I was in the same boat. I thought they would be one of those things that would be fun the first few times you use it, but then become unnecessary after awhile.
I was completely wrong. I love my colored lights.
Also, do not underestimate the power of light to influence your mood.
Even if you’re not convinced you need RGB color changing bulbs, it’s hard to argue against tunable white bulbs.
The color temperature of light in your home can have a big effect on your mood and health. The body runs on cycles which are intended to be regulated by sunlight. Since we spend so much time indoors, those cycles can be disrupted. Smart bulbs can be programmed to display the correct color temperature depending on the time of day.
The effect is greatest when you are first waking up or getting ready to go to bed. Therefore, use them in rooms where you spend a lot of time, especially in the evenings or mornings.
4. Smart bulbs work with no neutral wire
If you have an older home with older wiring, you may have some switch boxes that don’t have a neutral wire (What’s a neutral wire?).
Unfortunately, most smart switches require a neutral wire. There’s a few that can work without it (see above link for a list), but most have limitations.
On the other hand, a smart bulb will work with or without a neutral wire.
5. Smart bulbs in an apartment
If you live in an apartment, you could get in trouble from your landlord if you swap out the existing electrical switches for smart switches.
Therefore, by default, smart bulbs are the preferred option for apartment dwellers.
Plus, you can easily remove them and take them with when you move out.
A Better Solution: Why not both smart bulbs and smart switches?
Why can’t we have a smart switch that controls smart bulbs?
In most cases, you won’t be able to use a smart bulb and a smart switch together. A standard smart switch turns off the power to the light bulb. Once the power to the bulb is cut, the smart bulb no longer has any power to stay connected to your smart home.
In order for a smart switch to control a smart bulb, it would first have to supply continuous power to the bulb. Second, instead of it cutting the power when you flip the switch, it would need to send a wireless message to the bulb.
Seems simple enough. But, until recently, there weren’t any cost effective products that could do that. It’s now possible to buy smart switches that control your smart lights and they work pretty well.
What do I Recommend?
If you ask most experts whether they recommend smart lights or smart bulbs, the majority will say smart switches. The main reason for this is that smart switches are easier to use.
People that have been around home automation for a long time understand that the result needs to be something that is easier than before. It’s cool to turn the lights on with your voice, but you will quickly realize that there are many times when a simple flick of a switch as you walk into a room is way simpler.
I tend to agree with this, with one exception:
Avoid buying smart switches that can’t control smart bulbs (unless you don’t mind replacing them in a few years).
I see a future where the standard single color light bulb is virtually extinct. It will be replaced with color changing smart bulbs. They may not all be RGB, but they will at least have the ability to shift between cool white and warm white.
For that reason, I see smart switches that don’t work with smart bulbs being obsolete in the near future.
I know, this pretty much eliminates 99% of smart switches on the market today. However, there are a few options that work seamlessly with smart bulbs and the list is constantly growing.
First buy the switches, then buy color changing smart bulbs whenever it’s financially feasible.
Most experts recommend smart switches because they don’t have the usability problem of smart bulbs. However, the release of some recent smart switches that are able to work with smart bulbs means that you don’t have to choose one or the other. You can have both.
5 thoughts on “Smart Bulb or Smart Switch: Does it really matter?”
I hate the fact that nearly each kind of smart thing in my house if from a different company. Nit to ne company serms to do all. Eufy door bell, Kasa electric outlet, Meross gatage and LED strips, Outside smart plug (how come No company thought of making Smart outdoor outlet!), Feit or Senglid bulbs (the only 2 companies that come with respectable brightness lumens)…
Do you happen to know if the upcoming Kasa smart 3 way motion dimmers will communicate with smart bulbs?
Thinking here, can you use a routine or scene configured in the app that allows to use smart switch and smart bulb at the same time?
For example, a routine to turn on the smart bulb,
First the bulb is OFF and the smart swicth its in the ON state.
the routine could have two conditions:
1. smart bulb is OFF and
2. smart switch is OFF
then the actions will be
1. turn ON the smart switch (reversing back to “ON” state)
2. turn ON the smart bulb
I’ve made some tests and the “Smart life App” of the tuya ecosystem allows to create a routine based on multiple conditions.
i just don’t have a smart switch yet to test the ideia of my example routine described.
The problem is that when the smart switch is in the off position, power is cut to the smart light meaning that any command sent to the light will not be received. The solution is to have a smart switch that doesn’t cut the power when in the off position. I listed a couple devices like that here: 4 Smart Switches that work with your smart bulbs
I think you are correct @Rodolfo B.
I also thought of the same solution and I don’t understand how the author says this is not possible. I even think that it is thanks to this idea that it is possible to have 3-way and 4-way switches combined with the smart lamp (as long as one of the 3-way switches is smart).
1) Fact 1: When my SONOF smart bulb is electrically powered, not only the electronics turn on, but the light also turns on (by factory default).
2) Fact 2: There are already smart switches with physical buttons on the market. And even some are adapted for 3-way and 4-way switch electrical circuits (2 or 3 interconnected switches, controlling the same lamp bulb).
– (smart bulb is electrically OFF and light is off) + (smart switch is in the OFF position, but it is always connected to electricity)
– then: we combine the two elements within the app to trigger together
– then: we give the command to turn the set ON (or even turn on just the smart switch, as this will take energy to the lamp bulb, and then the lamp lights up, since I already said that the lamp lights up automatically when it is energized).
– RESULT: (smart bulb is electrically ON and light on) + (smart switch is ON)
– If I delete the set (lamp + switch) via the app, we return to situation 1.a.
– If I turn off the switch manually (by hand), the lamp is de-energized and the light turns off, and we return to situation 1.a.
– There would never be the situation where the smart switch is ON and the lamp is OFF.
– Any system switch could turn the lamp on or off
– When turning off the lamp (by the app or physically), it would always be turned off completely, losing the connection to the wifi. But without being a problem. It would even save energy, by keeping only the switch always connected to the electricity.
It bothers me that all of my “Smart” bulbs have scenes available through their respective apps – but I cannot access (or schedule) a scene from the Google Assistant. Not to mention, you cannot set a custom scene (say, LePro LampUX bulbs & app) and share that custom scene between them. (Don’t get me started on setup & routines not being sharable between the only two people that live in my house – to have the actual routines show up on my spouse’s phone, I would need to start from scratch and add every routine to another phone… and we both have tablets, too)