Smart bulbs or smart light switches? Which one should you buy?
There are numerous benefits to using smart lighting over traditional lights. Most people find that the increased convenience is a huge benefit. With smart lighting, you can turn on and off lights, either via an app or automatically via automations. In addition, you often get more control, such as changing the lights' colour, brightness, and temperature.
Once of the biggest challenges when starting out can be: do I need smart bulbs or smart light switches?
The answer to this really does depend on your situation as both approaches have different pros and cons. So let's take a closer look!
Provided you can find a compatible bulb for your light fitting (e.g. E14, E27, etc.), smart bulbs are often easy to install into an existing light fitting.
Compared to regular bulbs, smart bulbs can be a fair bit more expensive. If you consider a brand such as Philips Hue, a single smart bulb could set you back somewhere in the region of £25-55. However, other brands such as Lifx, Wyze or Innr can be cheaper.
Some smart bulb ecosystems, such as Philips Hue, may also require you to purchase a bridge or hub for some functionality to work, so it's always worth carefully researching your options.
Smart bulbs are usually best controlled using the smartphone app that
the manufacturer provides. You can turn lights on and off through the app and typically adjust colour, brightness, and temperature.
If your family is used to turning the lights on via the light switch, this might require a behaviour change. After all, if you turn off the light switch, the smart bulb will no longer have power and won't be reachable via the app or any automations you may have set up. So if you want to use your light switch to control your lights without impacting the app or any automations, you'll likely need to replace the light switch with a remote switch made by the same manufacturer as the bulbs.
Smart Light Switches
Installing a smart light switch is a bit more involved than installing a smart bulb. After all, a smart bulb installation often just requires replacing a bulb. However, some wiring changes are often needed with a smart light switch. As a result, you need to be competent when working with electrics or use a qualified electrician (always use an electrician if in doubt).
However, using smart light switches can be more cost-effective and provide greater choice and flexibility.
If you have a room with several downlights and take the "smart switch" approach, you just need to upgrade the light switch to a smart light switch rather than replacing each bulb with a smart light bulb. So rather than needing several smart bulbs, you'll just need one smart light switch, which can typically set you back in the region of £15-40 depending on what you need.
Smart light switches are great because they don't constrain you to the type of light fitting or bulb that you need. So if you already like your lights and light fittings, smart light switches can be a great way to go. And unlike smart bulbs, smart light switches let you turn on and off the lights "manually" via the switch without impacting your ability to control the light via an app or automation.
One thing to consider with smart light switches is that most smart switches require the neutral wire to be run the switch so that the smart switch always has power. In some houses, the neutral wire is run directly to the light. In others, it is run to the light switch. Of course, neither approach is wrong, but you may find yourself with fewer choices if you have "no-neutral" wire at the switch.
With smart light switches, the choice of designs and aesthetics is certainly different compared to traditional light switches. What if you already like your light switches, and you just want to make them smart?
If you don't want to replace your light switch, you can consider using a smart relay such as a Shelly 1L or a Shelly Dimmer 2. These devices fit in the backbox behind the existing light switch, and these devices will convert your traditional switch into a smart light switch.
With a Shelly, you can use the light switch like a conventional light switch and control it via the Shelly app or smart assistants such as Google Assistant or Amazon's Alexa.
The Shelly devices can also work with or without neutral wiring and will typically set you back between £14-29 depending on the type of Shelly that you need.