My smart light addiction – just one more bulb…

My name is Evan and I’m a smart light addict. There I’ve said it. I blame Google Home, of course. I tried one light in a small lamp, just to see how it worked with Home. Now I have 15 lights scattered around my home and I I’ve moved on to the hard stuff – smart switches.

Well, really, there’s a bit more back-story to this than my lack of will-power. You see I live in a converted church and that means (a) that re-wiring is a complex minefield of heritage listings and enormous runs of wire and (b) ever since we moved in we’ve been continually frustrated that, for historical reasons, you have to walk through rooms to get to the light switches. Now that’s all changed.

I’m using Philips Hue lights. I chose them after some research because they run off a hub which makes set up of rooms with multiple lights very easy. That turned out to be the case – I almost can’t remember the last time something set up so easily (well I can, and that was the Google Home). Plug the lights and the hub in, download the app, and it’s all there. You can name lights and assign them to rooms and then set them up as scenes so that you can easily choose a lighting palette if you’re that way inclined.

As a practical aside, getting hold of Hue bulbs is not entirely easy in Australia. I’ve found that the Apple store has the most stock by a long shot.

Linking the lot to Google Home is pretty much a tiny further step as long as you want to keep things simple. So I can say ‘turn on the hall lights’ and the lights in the hall come on. There are some limitations at the moment though – for example you can’t easily assign lights to more than one room (say you want to sub-divide your church-hall-sized living room).

IFTTT provides a neat way to extend what Home can do with your lights but it also builds in a small but noticeable delay. So we’re using IFTTT to turn off all the downstairs lights when we say “Hey Google, goodnight” but we’re not using them to turn them on.

Although we started down the smart light path thanks to Google Home and are still using voice for many controls, we’ve now also added in Hue smart switches. I have to say that if you want a piece of clever industrial design this is it. The switches are powered by you pressing them – yup, not a battery in sight. Thus far it has worked perfectly. The switches come with four configurable buttons so you can use them to control set lights, or to set levels of brightness, or, if you have coloured bulbs, particular scenes. The only weird thing is that to use the switch as a toggle (ie not just turning on, but changing from the current to the alternate state, involves using a fiddly beta system – something that makes no apparent sense).

For me the combination is a winner. Without re-wiring the house I can now put the switches where it makes most sense to have them – no more navigating dark rooms to get to the switches. In many ways the voice control is now just a nice-to-have, the switches are what makes this special in my circumstances. Isn’t this what technology is supposed to do – make things simpler.

Now my circumstances also mean that the fact the smart lights and switches are not so cheap still works for me. Given the alternatives of expensive re-wiring – and that I’ve managed to swap out ridiculously over-powered incandescent bulbs for the LEDs – I’m feeling like I’ve gotten a good deal. That might now work so well for others, but then a smaller home wouldn’t need so many bulbs.

The fact that my system is now smart comes with some added bonuses. It ties seamlessly into my security system and, for that matter, the whole house can mimic a normal light routine to give the sense of someone being home. We can turn lights on from the car as we arrive home. And our one coloured light can be configured to change colours when something happens – like when someone is arriving home.

The biggest problem we’ve had? I’ve had to 3D-print covers for our old switches to ensure that no one turns the lights off at the wall and so deprives them of power – and an opportunity to use my 3D-printer for goods is an added bonus.

While none of this is revolutionary, it certainly suggests that the dynamic of how you build a house is going to start changing soon. You’re still going to need power for lights (at least until someone finds a way of having them harvest RF) but switches will be a whole different ball-game in the future. And to a small degree that future is now!

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