Upgrade Your Home To Smart Lighting. Easy and Inexpensive.

Upgrade Your Home To Smart Lighting. Easy and Inexpensive.
September 8, 2017 Christopher Mohs

For most people when they think of smart home technology they immediately imagine complicated circuit boards, CAT5/6 cables pulled through the walls, and hours of an electrician’s time and expense. But those days starting slipping away a few years ago and now a well-known consumer brand is making it even easier – and cost effective too!

Just this month, Philips Lighting announced changes to their Philips Hue lighting system. More economical multi-packs, additional styles of light bulbs and fixtures, all coupled with their easy-to-upgrade interface. It literally makes upgrading to a smart lighting system as easy as changing out your light bulbs. And take it from me, once you start with a few smart lights in your home, you’ll quickly scrap the old conventional bulb and find additional rooms to upgrade and enhance.

“Whether you are looking to personalize your lighting to gain peace of mind when away from home, see and feel better throughout the day and help get a better night’s rest, or take your entertainment experience to the next level, the Philips Hue family of products can smarten up your home, room by room,” said Mark Cieri, Vice President & General Manager, Home Systems, Philips Lighting US. “Consumers can quickly outfit a space and discover all that light can do, at a great value, with our new expanded Philips Hue starter kits.”

The Philips system gives you three options on types of lighting. The basic is the standard White bulb and it’s by far the most economical. If you are just dipping your toes into smart lighting, this may be the best place to start. The bulbs emit a basic warm glow light, similar to standard incandescent bulbs and are great for lamps you may have around the home.

Pictured is the Philips Hue Starter Pack (Hue Bridge, 2 White Ambiance Bulbs, Dimmer Switch)

The White Ambiance bulb is where the science Philip’s is known for comes into play. Locked deep in our DNA we are creatures that are moved by the sun, and the sun gives us different hues of white throughout the day starting with a warm dim glow during sunrise. The natural sun spectrum moves to a very bright white daylight by mid afternoon and then slowly coming back down again to sunset hues. The White Ambiance bulbs allow you to mimic this inside your home so that your lighting is giving your body what it needs in terms of stimulation during the day to keep you going strong, and of course sleeping well at night.

Their White and Color Ambiance bulbs are the most exciting. They give you the full temperature range of lighting from warm light in the evenings to bright white light during the day, optimizing the way you work and live while in the evening, helping you to prepare for sleep. An added bonus is the wide array of colors. If you are an entertainer, this is definitely the way to go. Turn your house orange for Halloween, pastels for a summer soiree, or go all out disco.

The Basic Upgrade

Whether you want to go all out or just start with one lamp in your bedroom, upgrading to the Philips Hue system is beyond easy. It integrates with all the major mobile and smart home platforms (think iOS, Android, Alexa, Google Home, etc.) and you can access additional functionality through the Philips Hue app.

The beauty of the Philips Hue system is that it envisions a world where light switches (and return visits from an electrician) are a thing of the past. Every device and light bulb connects into the Hue Bridge which can be hidden along with your WiFi router. The system works as a mesh network (read more about this in our previous write up on network extension) so the more bulbs, light fixtures, switches and sensors you use, the broader the connected network becomes for the system in your home (this improves the system’s range, not your home wifi network). Each Hue Bridge supports 150 devices, so you really have to pack an average home before you max out.

Upgrading the home is absolutely simple with the standard Philips Hue lightbulbs, just replace the bulbs in your existing lamps and light fixtures and you are done. Just remember that if you switch the light switch off, the bulbs will not be “live” to connect. If you are ready to commit, we actually recommend having an electrician come in to remove the switch, place a cover plate over the box and then install a Philips Hue Switch in its place. The battery operated switch works the same as a regular switch but won’t disrupt current to the bulb. It also doubles as a hand remote in case you want the added mobility in the home.

The Philips Hue system has been on the market for the past few years. But what they announced this month gives us so many more options.

Starter Kits which now include 4 bulbs and the Hue Bridge start at $99.99 for the White, $149.99 for the White Ambiance, and $199.99 for the White and Color Ambiance.

The Expanding Opportunity For Upgrades

With the new products announced from Philips this month, easy upgrades for the Philips Hue system in your home have greatly expanded. Sleek light fixtures such as their flush mount ceiling fixtures, suspended fixture, and even small and large format recessed lights. They also have several lamps and have included new bulb sizes so you should be able to swap out virtually any bulb in your home with a Hue powered device.

The Cher Pendent, new to the Philips Hue lineup.

The flush mount fixtures are sleek and modern and work great in any room where you want to swap out the standard ceiling mounted light fixture. They are equipped with built in LEDs using Philip’s white ambiance technology that lets you adjust the color temperature depending on the time of day. In the same way the suspended fixture and recessed lights contain the same integrated LED white ambiance bulbs, making these fully contained no fuss fixtures. The 20 year lifespan of LED fixtures let you think through lighting design once and you’re done, giving you maintenance free lighting for 20 long years.

Philips Hue White Ambiance Being Flush Mount Light Fixture

The recessed lights are probably the easiest install as they give you two options. You can either bring in an electrician and hardwire them in, or use the existing light can and simply screw the fixture into the current light bulb socket and snap the light into your existing recessed light ceiling hole. It’s really quite simple.

In the kitchen under the cabinets, along book shelves, or maybe along the perimeter of the bed in the teenager’s room, consider the strip lighting option. It comes in 80” strips and can be plugged into any standard outlet or hardwired in with the help of an electrician.  If you have a 60” span you are trying to cover, don’t fret. You can easily adjust the length of these strips with the use of a standard craft scissors to cut to your desired length. To get longer lengths up to 33 feet, you can connect additional 40” strips to maximize the reach.

Philips also offers several lamp styles that you can incorporate into your home, although if you are like us and love the extra style, the varying bulb sizes will help you make any lamp from any store into a smart lamp.

Taking Control

The beauty of all these upgrades is the level of control and customization you’ll have in your home. Gone will be the days of running around the house turning light switches on and off. You can literally control the entire home from your smart home, or other programmable switches that you can place around the home (mostly for guest use). The term you will become accustomed to is “scenes”.

Creating scenes is basically akin to taking the helm of a theatrical lighting designer for your own home. With the touch of a button you can turn on every light in your home, set to predetermined colors, shades of white, or dim level automatically. Time to watch a horror movie? Let’s dim that hallway light and and turn family room lights to a blood red dimly lit backdrop for the event. Gone are the days of running around to turn on/off lights throughout your house.  One switch can activate a scene throughout your entire home.

Safety also plays key in terms of controls. Switches that double as remotes can be placed around the home to make things more accessible for guests and kids. And motion detectors can be placed in the bathroom or common areas to light the way with a dimly lit light when you get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom or grab a quick glass of water from the kitchen. Ever thought of your lights as a safety measure? In the event of a fire or other emergency, your smart lighting can also be triggered by a connected smoke detector to automatically turn all lights to full brightness in the event you needed to get out quickly – now that’s smart.

Philips Hue Motion Detector, Philips Hue Dimmer Switch, Philips Hue Tap Switch.

Three primary controls are offered as part of the Hue system.  The standard switches which can be attached to the wall anywhere and don’t require electrical wiring are $24.99. The tap switch which is a small circular puck that has three preset buttons can be placed near the bedside table to quickly engage up to three pre-set scenes. The tap switch retails for $59.99. Finally the motion sensors, which are small enough to be tucked anywhere, retail for $39.99.

Our Overall Impression

Smart lighting is certainly the way to go. We’ve looked at and tested several systems and unanimously agree that life after implementing smart lighting is far superior to life before it. In fact at this point we really can’t imagine life without the luxury of smart lighting. Prices for these systems differ tremendously and will have a major impact on what system you ultimately go for.

If you followed our project at The Greenwich House, you’ll know that we installed a high-end Crestron smart home automation system. This made complete sense as the home was located in a very affluent community and there was a need to tie in and control several systems that required custom programming to bring it all together. By no means inexpensive, but if you have lots of high tech systems to bring together its the way to go.

Another option we’ve looked at in the past is the one offered by Lutron, another industry leader. It’s certainly a good option if you are up to maintaining wired outlets and have the support of an electrician to make it all work. The system also expands to control other items such as window shades which is helpful if you don’t have the benefit of say Apple’s HomeKit to tie these all together. However priced starting at $54 for the light switches it certainly will be an investment for your entire home.

This brings us to why we are head over heels for Philips Hue. It’s simply economical and easy to upgrade compared to other systems. It’s also great for people in a rental situation where you can’t really alter the electrical system. You can start with the light bulbs, move on to light fixtures, slowly cap off light switches and use a Philips switch to cover over the resulting plate. It really is a DIY dream and since you can easily do it yourself you can ease into it, replacing bulbs as they burn out, or going room by room with your upgrades. Best part? The system is easily portable. You may never have thought to pack up your lights when you move, but this may be the first instance where you seriously consider it.