If you're new to smart bulbs and want to learn everything you can before making a purchase, you've come to the right place. This guide will teach you everything you need to know about smart bulbs, and give you the answers to some frequently asked questions (FAQs).
A smart light bulb is a LED bulb that is connected to a wireless protocol (Zigbee, Z-Wave, Wifi, Bluetooth) that is able to be controlled via a mobile app, hub or voice command. These bulbs screw into any standard E26 or E27 base, and allow you to control their various settings, all without you having to rewire your existing light switches.
They can be controlled to change their color, brightness, and color temperature if the bulbs support these features. These type of lights are perfect for beginners looking to get into home automation and are extremely easy to get up and running.
LED stands for light-emitting diode and when an electric current passes through a microchip inside of a light bulb, these small diodes all light up together and form a light. LEDs with an ENERGY STAR rating are said to be 75% more efficient and last 25 times longer than incandescent lights and are commonly used in smart bulbs.
LED lights typically last anywhere from 15,000-30,000 hours while incandescent bulbs only last around 1,000-2,000 hours. To put this into perspective, lets say your lights are on for 3 hours every day. LEDs would last 13.7-27.4 years while the incandescent lights would only last 9 months to 1.8 years.
They also have the ability to change the brightness of their light, which is perfect for home automation. LED lights use a heat sink to reduce the overall heat inside of the bulb, which causes them to typically last longer than incandescent and fluorescent lights.
They are usually considered “burned out” when the overall light output of the diodes decrease by 30 percent, even though they usually don’t physically burn out. Instead this is called lumen depreciation and as the name suggests it’s when the light output degrades below 30 percent.
Smart bulbs work by sending and receiving commands from a wireless protocol to other connected devices like smart hubs or mobile apps, that instruct them what to do. The bulbs can be told to change their on and off state, brightness setting, color temperature and light color all through an app or voice assistant.
They are powered by the electricity from the lamp or light socket that it’s placed into and continue to work as long as the light switch remains on. If a smart light is off and the switch that controls the power stays on, the bulb will continue receiving power while staying connected to your protocol’s network.
Unfortunately, if your light switch or lamp switch is shut off, your smart bulbs will no longer be connected and you won’t be able to be interact with them until those switches are turned back on.
The main features of smart light bulbs are:
Smart LED bulbs can cost anywhere from 10 to 50 plus dollars for each light bulb. If you want the ones that can change colors, brightness levels, and color temperatures, they will cost more money.
Another factor to consider is if the lights require a special brand’s smart hub (bridge) for them to work properly. This can make those products more expensive and limited in features until you buy them. From what I’ve noticed, Wifi and Bluetooth bulbs seem to be less expensive than Zigbee and Z-Wave based lights.
Smart bulbs typically last anywhere from 15,000 to 30,000 hours (~13.7-27.4 years) with them being on for 3 hours a day. Before you can calculate how long the bulbs will last in your home, you need to know a few things and they are:
With this knowledge you can take the following steps to calculate how long your lights will work in your house under normal conditions.
If you want an easy way to calculate the lifespan of a light bulb, check out my light bulb lifespan calculator by clicking on the video above.
Here’s a chart to show you how much longer LED bulbs last compared to incandescent and fluorescent lights running at 3 hours a day.
|LIFE SPAN||INCANDESCENT LIGHT BULB (ILB)||COMPACT FLUORESCENT LAMP (CFL)||LIGHT EMITTING DIODE (LED)|
|In Hours||1,000-2,000 Hours||6,000-15,000 Hours||15,000-30,000 Hours|
|In Years||9 Months-1.8 Years||5.48-13.7 Years||13.7-27.4 Years|
These type of products are extremely safe to use and present no danger to yourself or your home. This is the biggest reason why beginners typically start with these type of bulbs because they are easy to use, safe, and require no wiring.
The standard base size for most lamp and light fixtures is E26/E27 and most smart bulbs are designed to fit into these bases. North America uses the E26 base while Europe uses the E27 one.
E26 bases were designed for North America and they primarily use 120V AC, while the E27 ones were designed for Europe and they commonly use 240V AC. While bulbs designed to fit into one of these bases can fit into the other one with ease, it’s recommended to use the base that’s designed for your country.
This is because the differences in voltages could play a big role in damaging your bulbs because they were not designed to handle the voltage that another country uses. It may be ok to use them in either base, but if you want to be really safe and not damage your bulbs, try to only use the bulbs that are designed for your countries voltage and base size.
The "E" stands for the Edison Screw, which is the base that Thomas Edison came up with when he created the first light bulb and this base is still used to this day. The numbers after the “E” is to show the size of the external thread screw of the light in millimeters (mm).
E26 is sometimes called the Medium Edison Screw or MES for short. Lights that are labeled A19 frequently use the E26 bases.
Lumens are a measurement that tells you how bright a light is. Generally, the more watts a bulb uses, the more lumens it has, resulting in a brighter light output.
In the past, we used to measure how bright a bulb was by it’s wattage, but that method has become an unreliable way of comparing how bright a light is. Instead, we measure the light output of bulbs with lumens and it’s energy usage with watts.
The number of lumens you need for your smart lights depend on how bright you want your bulbs to be. Traditionally most people would find 600-900 lumens (incandescent equivalent 60W) to be suitable for everyday use.
When looking for a LED light that is comparable to that of incandescent bulbs, companies will usually include an incandescent equivalent rating. This rating will give you a good idea of how bright the light really is.
Here’s a chart to show you how many lumens you’ll roughly need to have the same light output as an incandescent light based on it’s wattage.
|LUMENS||INCANDESCENT LIGHT BULB (ILB) EQUIVALENT WATTS|
The brightest smart bulb on the market is the LIFX smart light rated at 1,100 lumens, equivalent to a 75 watt incandescent bulb. It has 16 million different color combinations and can adjust it’s color temperature between 2500K-9000k while only using 11W of power when on and 0.5W when in standby mode (off).
Wattage is the measure of electrical power expressed in watts. It’s used to determine how much electricity a device is using, with a lower number being better for your electric bill.
Smart lights are always in one of two states when they have power running through them and they are:
At first glance it may seems like smart lights use more electricity because these devices are always on (if your switches are on), but when you set up routines for your lights, that’s where the true savings begin. With the ability to automatically turn on and off your lights based on time, certain events happening or when you’re away, you can lower your electricity usage by a lot.
When smart bulbs are in the off state they consume less electricity compared to being in the on state. They require a small amount power even when turned off, so that they can continue to send and receive data.
When you’re able to automate turning off lights that are usually left on, that’s when you start to see the savings in energy and electricity. This saves you energy and money because smart lights in an off state consume less power than regular lights in an on state.
Here’s a comparison chart to show you how many watts a smart LED bulb consumes when in use compared to incandescent and fluorescent light bulbs.
|LUMENS||INCANDESCENT LIGHT BULB (ILB) EQUIVALENT WATTS||COMPACT FLUORESCENT LAMP (CFL) WATTAGE||LIGHT EMITTING DIODE (LED) WATTAGE|
Here’s how to calculate your electricity usage costs:
Your electric bill should tell you what your per kilowatt hour rate is. The average rate for electricity in the United States is around 12 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh).
If you want an easy way to calculate your electricity usage, check out my electricity usage cost calculator by clicking on the video above.
The most popular brands for smart bulbs include:
Here’s a list of smart bulbs that are compatible with Alexa and Google Home Assistant:
If you want to buy bulbs that will work with Amazon’s Alexa Echo devices, you’ll first need to make sure the lights are either:
If you want to buy bulbs that work with your Google Home devices you’ll need to find a label on the product, box, or listing that says “Compatible with Google Home Assistant”.
Alexa devices are able to control smart lights by using your voice or through it’s app, when paired to a compatible Zigbee device or hub. Alexa operates on the Zigbee protocol, but it’s possible to control your Wifi and Z-Wave devices with the Alexa app or voice control.
This can be done by pairing your Alexa device to a Wifi app or to a smart hub that supports both Zigbee and Z-Wave. These apps or hubs will be able to “translate” what Alexa is telling it to do and send that command to the protocol that you are using.
Smart lighting continues to work if the internet goes down, but some wireless protocol won’t allow you to send and receive updates until it comes back on. Lets go over each protocol and see how the internet affects it.
Zigbee: The internet going off doesn’t affect this protocol too much, but it does prevent you from remotely controlling your devices from another location. Sending commands from a remote location using your smart hub’s app, will fail because the hub can’t receive commands without internet access. The good news is that routines and schedules that you have already set up, such as lights turning on when they detect motion will continue to work fine without the internet.
Z-Wave: This protocol works exactly the same as Zigbee.
Wifi: While your devices would continue to stay in the same state that they were left in, you wouldn’t be able to change them if the internet was down. This means bulbs that are off would stay off and the lights that were on would stay on. Any command from a voice assistant or app wouldn’t work because they both use the internet to process these commands.
Bluetooth: Bluetooth smart devices have to be paired to your phone or tablet and requires them to be within a certain range for those devices to receive commands. Because of this, the internet going down wouldn’t have any effect on devices using this protocol.
Here’s what you need to know about smart bulbs using these 4 wireless protocols.
Zigbee: There’s a good chance that you will have to buy a separate hub (bridge) that only works with the bulbs you are buying, to utilize all of the light’s features. This isn’t a normal smart hub used by you devices, but it’s a bridge hub that helps your smart hub and lights be able to understand each other and process commands (kind of like a translator).
Z-Wave: Won’t require a specific bridge hub since all Z-Wave products are interoperable with each other, but it will still need a smart hub that has support for Z-Wave.
Wifi: Doesn’t require a hub to work because it uses the internet and Wifi to be able to send and receive commands.
Bluetooth: Doesn’t require a hub to work because it’s directly paired to your phone or tablet’s Bluetooth connection.
If you’re ever in doubt, read the product’s description because most of the time it will say something about requiring another one of their products for it to work properly.
All Wifi and Bluetooth connected smart bulbs don’t require a smart hub, but this comes at a cost. For Wifi lights, in order to continue controlling your devices operating on Wifi, they will have to be connected to the internet 24/7.
With Bluetooth, you don’t need an internet connection, but you will always have to be within the Bluetooth range in order to control these devices. That’s because these lights are paired directly to your phone or tablet’s Bluetooth connection and it requires them to be close to each other, so the lights can receive the commands.
Here’re the top 3 best smart bulbs that don’t require a hub:
Smart lights come in 2 color varieties and they are:
The white variation will allow you to change the brightness setting and the color temperature (if supported). The rgb lights allow you do everything the white ones can do while also being able to change your light’s color between 16 million different colors (if supported).
Brightness levels are the settings of your lights that control how much light output is emitted from the bulb. The range of these settings are between 0-100 percent where 0 is the lights at their dimmest and 100 is the lights at their brightest.
Most smart bulbs support this feature and it’s usually called dimmable. LED lights can sometimes have some flickering problems when dimmed using regular “dumb” dimmer switches, so it’s best to only dim them from within their own bulb.
Color temperature is a measure of a light’s color that is measured in Kelvin. It’s used to give your lights a different colored tint that can make it easier to relax, focus or see, depending on the color temperature.
A smart bulb’s color temperature is typically between 2500K-9000K.
The lower the range, the warmer the light color will become (orange-red). The higher the range, the cooler the light’s color will become (light blue-dark blue). Lastly, when the color temperature is in the mid range, the lights will produce a more natural white color.
Most people will probably want to use bulbs that have a color temperature between 2500-7500 depending on your use case.
Most of the time a smart bulb will allow you to change the range of the color temperatures, so you don’t have to choose. Just be sure to buy the lights that let you change the temperature and play around with them to get the look that you are after.
The main color temperatures for lighting are:
Here's a color temperature chart to show you the color range of light bulbs.
Choosing the right color temperature for a room will come down to what you need the lighting for. Here's the pros and cons of each color temperature.
Here’s how you setup and install a smart bulb:
Smart bulbs can be used outside if the specific model of that light is rated for outdoor use. Indoor models can be used outdoors when not exposed to the elements, but it’s not recommended because it’s lifespan would be reduced since it’s not built to handle those harsh conditions
If you have an enclosure that can protect the indoor bulb from rain,snow,etc then it would be possible to use it outside, but there’re still a few things that could go wrong. Heat, moisture, and dust could get inside of the light and over time degrade it’s life expectancy.
My recommendation is to just buy a light that is rated for outdoor use and has a rating of IP-65 to IP-68. This way it’s built for extreme weather conditions and has the protection it needs to prevent dust and water from damaging it.
Once you have the lights paired up to your network’s protocol, you can control them with your hub’s app, bulb’s app, or voice assistant depending on your setup. Smart lights can also be manipulated automatically by using schedules and routines.
The most common ways people control their smart lights are with the following methods:
These type of LED smart lights don’t require a dimmer switch because they have the dimming functionality built right inside of the bulb itself. As long as the bulb itself supports the ability to dim, you won’t have to buy a special dimmer switch.
It’s been reported by people over the internet that some LEDs have problems with regular “dumb” dimmer switches that cause them to have flickering issues.
It’s probably best to just buy lights that have a built in dimming feature and avoid using a dimmer switch to control them. Bulbs with this feature usually call it “dimmable” in their specifications for that product.
As long as your “dumb” light switches stay turned on, the smart bulbs will continue to work and be controllable without any problems. Once you turn off a light (lamp) switch that has a smart light connected to it, the bulb will turn off and won’t work until you turn the switch back on.
The benefits of using smart bulbs are:
These type of lights only take a few seconds to screw into your existing light (lamp) fixtures and only take a few more minutes to get them paired to your protocol’s network. The typical installation and setup time for installing these lights is around 3-5 minutes.
Smart bulbs allow you to see and control the states of your lights with a voice assistant or app. If the bulbs have these specific features you’re able to change the state, color, brightness and color temperature all with your phone, tablet, or voice.
Smart lights replace your existing light bulbs and don’t require any other type of switch or wires in order to get them up and running.
Since you’re only screwing in a light bulb and not rewiring your house, these devices are as safe as installing a regular light bulb.
Smart bulbs are always using electricity when they are turned off and the switches controlling the power are on. These lights always need to have powering running through them to send and receive data, but they use less energy when in off mode sometimes called standby mode.
Smart bulbs don’t use any more watts than a regular light bulb would, but they last a lot longer. Typically LED smart lights use around 8-12W when on and around 0.5W when in standby mode.
When the lights are turned off they are using a lot less power consumption compared to when they are on. So you might be thinking, how is this being more energy efficient and this is where scheduling routines comes into play.
You can schedule routines that can turn on or off your lights automatically at a specific times of day or when nobody is at your house (if you have the right accessories). In the long run using these rules to automate turning off the lights based on specific conditions can save you energy and money.
By using routines to automate turning off lights at certain times, you can lower your electricity bill, thus saving you money in the long run. These LED bulbs are also extremely energy efficient when compared to incandescent and CFL bulbs.
The disadvantages of using smart bulbs are:
The way a light switch works is by allowing the current of electricity to flow to the light fixture when the switch is on and blocking the current when the switch is off. When this happens the smart bulb is no longer receiving the power it needs to stay connected to your protocol’s network, making it impossible to talk to this device until the switch is turned back on.
Smart bulbs are not immune to going out and can be pricey when you consider having to replace a whole house full of lights. Although they can last thousands of hours before they degrade, the downside is that they will eventually stop working, costing you more money if you decide to replace them.
These type of lights are perfect for beginners wanting to start building their smart home, but for people looking to save money in the long run, consider buying smart switches instead.
Smart bulbs are totally worth it, if you are looking to automate your life and make it more efficient. Being able to turn off multiple lights in your house at the same time using your voice or an app makes you wonder how you lived without it.
If your lights offer advanced features such as the ability to change the color, brightness, and or color temperature, it can be a lot of fun to incorporate it into the rest of your smart house. For example, you could have a smart sensor turn a light in your room red when it detects motion.
When you start to see all the different possibilities that these lights can offer, you’ll start to think to yourself "Why didn’t I buy these sooner?".
My name's Charles and I love how technology is making life easier and more convenient. I created this website to share everything I've learned about smart devices and show off cool ways to automate your life. If you're looking for in-depth information, tutorials, reviews and ways to make your life smarter, not harder, then you've come to the right place.