Belysning/Lighting

Alle aspekter av belysning/All aspects of lighting


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LIGHTING SOLUTIONS

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Lighting is arguably the area of the smart home market where it is easiest to get started and where the selection is the greatest, both in terms of manufacturers and products. At the outset, it is probably useful to break down the lighting category into some sub-categories depending on where and which type of solution you are considering (each of these are described in more detail below the list):

 

Indoor vs. outdoor

This distinction is not necessarily a key point, prior to the summer of 2018 almost all smart lighting products, bulbs and lamps, were primarily intended for indoors use. However, probably all the manufacturers’ smart bulbs can mostly be used for outdoor lighting as well, just like traditional bulbs. There are no bulbs (at least not for the consumer market) that per definition are water-proof or meant for outdoor use; thus outdoor lamps are water tight. By replacing old light bulbs (outdoor and indoor) can bring many benefits:

  • Control lights based on predefined times or automatically based on sunset/sunrise

  • Control lights based on other triggers, e.g., motion, people arriving/leaving home, the doorbell rings, etc.

  • Saving power, especially if the old bulbs are incandescent or some other type that consumes more power than LED lights (a caveat; smart LED lights use more power than non-smart LED lights)

  • Change color and brightness, e.g. more red lights during Christmas

Keep in mind, though, that depending on the wireless technology the bulbs use for communication and the distance to other light sources, outdoor bulbs might have problems connecting to the rest of the system. I have experienced this myself when trying to install a motion-controlled light in my garage using a smart bulb, where the distance at the time was too long. Notice, however, that it is not necessarily that range of your WiFi that determines the distance. Consider for example lighting from Philips Hue, which per now has the largest selection of smart outdoor lighting, the Hue system uses WiFi for communication between your smart phone/other devices and the Hue base station, but the base station uses the ZigBee protocol to control the lights sources. ZigBee works by transmitting signals from light source to light source and can therefore achieve much wider range than WiFi (every light source has a range of about 10 meters). Before you finalize the installation of an outdoor light source (or in a garage, outdoor shed, etc.), you should therefore bring an easily movable lamp with a smart bulb and test whether it is able to connect. If it cannot, you should consider a different solution or install an “intermediate” light source en route to the area currently out of reach (in my case, I have later installed more outdoor lights and my initial garage solution would probably work).

In addition to smart light bulbs as replacements for traditional bulbs, there are also many light sources/lamps made specifically for outdoor use. Check the pages presenting products from the different suppliers, but at least by December 2018, Philips Hue arguably has the broadest range of outdoor products, including wall lamps, spot lights, pedestals, pathway lights, light strips, etc.

 

Replacing a traditional light bulb with a smart bulb

Installing a smart bulb is the absolutely easiest way to getting started, both for lighting in particular and smart home upgrading in general. After a slower start, there are now a large number of brands and products to choose among, with large variation in features and prices, and with new products being launched frequently. I have no ambition of maintaining a complete and updated overview of the products available so I will only present some examples here, biased toward solutions I have myself either installed or considered installing.

Some key decisions that must be made are:

  • Type of bulb, both with regard to socket (in Europe, the choice is primarily between E14 og E27 screw sockets and GU10 socket) and whether the bulb should produce only white light or colors

  • Manufacturer, which to some extent determines which base station and/or app that must be used (even though it often is possible to use bulbs from different suppliers interchangeably, to exploit more advanced features and update bulb firmware typically requires the manufacturer’s own base station or app). The most relevant products for the European market are from Philips Hue, IKEA Trådfri, LIFX, TP-Link, Koogeek, Innr (there are certainly others as well)

  • Using a traditional bulb with a smart socket, if you have traditional bulbs for which there are no smart versions, a solution is to continue using that bulbs in combination with a smart socket, e.g., from Koogeek

  • The need for a base station (often called hub or bridge) in addition to the bulbs themselves. The systems from Hue and Trådfri stand out in that they both require a separate base station (these are, truth be told, not very expensive and can usually be acquired as part of starter kits with bulbs or other components) while the other suppliers’ bulbs only require WiFi to be connected

  • Availability of other components beyond the bulbs, where some manufacturers only offer a number of different smart bulbs while others have bulbs and different types of accessories. Accessories typically include switches/dimmers and sensors (primarily of motion, but some also measure light level and temperature)

  • Ecosystem/platform, which for many will be the most important choice when deciding which manufacturer/type of product to invest in. If you are only aiming to replace a few light bulbs and not foreseeing more advanced integration/programming of these, it is probably not that important whether products from different suppliers can communicate. But as soon as you start moving into more advanced solutions (and believe me, even if that was not the intention from the beginning, you quickly reach that point!), this is an essential factor. There are many alternative ecosystems/platforms to choose among, see a more detailed presentation of these under control & automation, with some important considerations being compatibility with one or more of the integration/voice control platforms Apple HomeKit, Amazon Alexa and Google Home and which communication platform is used, the most common ones being Z-Wave, ZigBee and open wireless protocols like Bluetooth, WiFi, etc. (there are others)

In my own experience, for some existing lamps/light sources, replacing the bulb is straightforward; there are smart versions with the right socket and the bulb fits the physical measurements of the lamp, even if smart bulbs often are a little larger than traditional ones. In other cases, bulb replacement is simply not possible, and the only solution is either to replace the lamp or implement some other means of smart control of the existing lamp.

 

Installing smart control of existing light sources

To achieve this, there are three (at least, there might be other ways) approaches:

  • Use a smart plug, i.e., a plug-in outlet that is placed between the wall socket and the lamp and which is connected so that it can be controlled from a smart phone/tablet/smart speaker/etc. These come in the form of single plugs and power strips where each outlet can be controlled separately (Koogeek even offers on with three outlets and USB-A ports). There are many smart plugs to choose among, although with some variation in available products between North America, Europe, and other parts of the world. Some frequently used products are supplied by Eve, Fibaro, Koogeek, TP-Link, and IKEA, but there are certainly others. Contrary to the option to dim (and change color of) smart bulbs, a smart plug only provides the option to turn on or off the light plugged into it, but on the flip side, many of these also measure power consumption.

  • Use a smart light switch, where the existing, traditional light switch is replaced with a smart version that can be controlled/programmed remotely. This is an especially useful solution if the existing light bulb cannot be replaced and the lamp is connected directly to a wall switch, thus making a smart plug an infeasible option. Such switches come in a few different versions, with the main distinguishing features being whether the switch is single or double and whether it only turns on/off the light or can dim it as well. Compared with a smart plug, installing a smart light switch is certainly more complicated and in many countries, only an electrician is allowed to perform the installation. One should also beware that such switches require constant power to remain connected, which means that most of them can only be installed when there is a neutral lead available in the wall box (an exception are the Lightwave switches, see links below), which is not always the case in older houses. Smart switches also pose some restrictions with regard to the wattage they can handle, which typically means that switches controlling traditional fluorescent light tubes cannot be solved this way (unless the tubes are replaced with LED tubes, but these often requires modifying/changing the fixture as well, or using the only switch I am aware of that actually handles fluorescent tubes; Aqara Wall Switch). The selection of smart light switches has gradually expanded, but this is an example of a product where the alternatives available in the US market are much more varied than in Europe, e.g., the popular Lutron Caseta line (there are also solution for the US market that snap on the existing switch, see for example Switchmate). For European homes, there are products from Koogeek, LightWave and probably others as well.

  • Use a “smart relay” behind an existing wall switch, where the tiny component is placed in the wall box and making it possible to remotely control the existing switch. When I started my process to upgrade our lights, the replacement switches described above were not as available as today, so for a few of my lights, I landed on the smart relay solution. There are many versions available, but for HomeKit, I have only found Fibaro’s switches, which I have so far installed four of. As for smart switches to replace existing switches, also smart relays require constant power supply and another consideration is that despite the relay being surprisingly small, the wall box must have room for it (it might also be possible to replace the box with a deeper one). And in many countries, installation of such relays require hiring an electrician, although the job is quickly done.

 

Replacing a traditional lamp/light source with a smart lamp

If it is impossible to make existing light sources smart through changing the bulb or installing smart control solutions (or if you simply want to replace an existing lamp), quite a good selection of lamps/light sources has been launched that have innate “smartness”. These come in many different versions; lamps with power plug that are simply plugged into a wall socket, lamps intended for connection through a wall box, and light for mounting in walls/ceilings, e.g., downlight replacements. Currently, I believe Philips Hue has the widest selection, but also IKEA carries some lamps/light sources in its Trådfri line, although the available products seem to vary from country to country, with more options available on the Norwegian site than the UK one. For the Hue lamps, the “smartness” either comes from regular Hue smart bulbs or the lamp itself is “smart” and without replaceable bulbs. IKEA adds “smartness” to their lamps through their Trådfri Driver, which is placed between the power outlet and the lamp.

We have smart light sources from both these companies and have good experiences with these.

 

Installing new smart light sources

This approach naturally allows more freedom as you don’t have to take into account whether smart bulbs fit existing lamps or whether existing switches/lamps can be replaced by smart ones. This opens up for far more creative lighting solutions. Also in this category the largest selection of alternative products come from Philips Hue and IKEA, but both Nanoleaf and LifeX (and others) offer exciting products. There are light strips, light panels, light beams, lights for the TV areas, lights for cabinets/drawers, “wake-up” lights, etc.

We have installed several such products that have contributed to better lighting around the houses, there are presented under the different rooms.

 

Automating/improving lighting control

This final category spans solutions that work for smart bulbs, smart plugs, smart switches, and smart lamps. Some solutions are limited to controlling the manufacturer’s own products, e.g., IKEA’s Trådfri control components, which are designed to only work with IKEA’s own bulbs/lamps (there are ways to work around this, but some experimentation has taught me that these are finicky and not very stable). Other products can be integrated in larger ecosystems and programmed to control products from many different manufacturers, which is the case for many types of sensors and buttons from companies like Philips Hue, Elgato Eve, Fibaro, etc.

The possibilities are almost endless, and the control & automation page explains more about these as well as presents examples, but let me mention some solutions here:

  • Set times lights should be on/off, either at fixed times or depending on sunrise/sunset throughout the year.

  • Use motion sensors so that lights in less frequently used rooms are turned off until someone enters and they turn off after the room is vacated again.

  • Even more advanced use of motion sensors is to let the light, e.g., in a hallway or bathroom, turn on at full brightness during daytime, but only at very low brightness during nights.

  • Turn off all/most lights when the last person leaves the house based on phone location and conversely turn on lights when the first person arrives home.

  • Automatically turn the lights to appropriate brightness/color for watching TV when the home entertainment system is turned on.

  • Let selected lights flash when someone rings the doorbell.

  • Use a smart assistant to turn on/off lights by “talking to the house”.

  • Etc., etc., it is really only the imagination that sets boundaries for what can be done, especially as new products are launched all the time.