Smart lights, which do you choose? Bulbs, Switches or Plugs

Smartening the lights in your home not only provides numerous conveniences, but deciding what technology to install isn’t always easy.
Rob Green

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17 February, 2021
smart light vs smart switch vs smart plug

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Introducing smart lighting into your home, where do you begin, what do you choose?

If you’re thinking about introducing smart lighting into your home, you first need to know your available options and then figure out which one(s) you should be purchasing. So that’s exactly what we’ll discuss in this article.

With three technologies available to smarten the lights in your home, and we’ve gone ahead and broken down each one into their benefits and drawbacks.

However if you’re just after a quick rundown on what you should be installing and where, you can skip to the scenarios section right here. There’s also no reason you can’t include all three technologies in your home – though it does come with a downside of added complexity.

Just a heads up, when say smart lights we’re referring to smart light bulbs specifically, with smart tiles and light strips labelled as additional lighting sources.

What do they have in common?

Before we discuss what makes them different, let’s look at what they have in common. You’ll find all three have similar ways they can be controlled, which is broken down into four key areas;

Voice, Schedule, Trigger, Manual Control
  • Voice Control (e.g. Alexa turn on the bedroom lights)
  • Scheduling (e.g. turn on/off at set times, like when the sun sets)
  • Triggers (e.g. turn on/off when you open the front door, or enter the room)
  • Manually* (e.g. through app on your phone or with a physical switch)

No matter the technology you pick you’ll most likely have the above control options available to you, with some also including in built motion and ambient light sensors.

Controlling your lights is the biggest benefit they offer, so it’s good to know that all three provide similar control options.

What are the differences?

While we go over in more detail the benefits and drawbacks of each technology in the benefits and drawbacks section later on, we wanted to provide a very, and this is very much a high-level summary for you.

  1. Smart light switches – Useful for controlling whole rooms, they’re the most cost-effective solution and can be used like a normal light switch, but with added benefit of more control options than you traditional switch.
  2. Smart light bulbs – Offers a few more features such as changing the colour of your lights, you can control lights individually or in groups, and will cost you a lot if you plan to re-fit your whole home.
  3. Smart plugs – Not a go-to smart lighting solution, however they allow you to control say lamps and certainly lighting like Christmas/Halloween lights which the other two can’t.

It’s fair to say that smart light switches and smart light bulbs are the only two solutions that can directly replace the lights in your home. With smart plugs being useful when you have certain lights (e.g. Christmas tree lights) which the other two can’t automate.

If you’d like to know more about a certain technology, we’ve created separate articles for each, which you can find linked below. 

Smart Light Bulbs | Smart Switches | Smart Plugs

Benefits and drawbacks

Every technology has its benefits and its drawbacks, so to help you understand a bit more we go through the most common ones you’ll come across for each of the three technologies.

If you’d like to skip this section for now and jump straight to common scenarios, and which technology you should be using, you can do so by clicking here.

Smart Light Bulbs

Most expensive option out of the three, which comes down to the fact they offer features the other two can’t. Namely their ability to change the colour of the light and setup unique situations, like controlling individual lights to create immersive mood lighting. Installing smart lights is generally a straight-forward process, connecting directly to your WiFi or a hub.

Benefits (Bulbs)Drawbacks (Bulbs)
Easy enough to install and setupExpensive to replace all lights in the home
Can change the light colour/tone and brightness (select models)Can be difficult managing tens or hundreds of individual lights
Control individual lights, or create custom groups to control multiple lights simultaneouslyGets complicated if you mix and match different brands and models in your home
Certain models include sensors such as motion detection, turning the lights on as you enter the roomControl and setting up schedules/triggers is through an app
 You will need to keep the rooms light switch in the “on” position at all times

Smart Light Switches

When you don’t want to spend a small fortune replacing every light in your home, but you still want smart lighting. They are the most difficult to install out of the three, often requiring an electrician to ensure they’re installed correctly. As they replace your current light switches, you can continue to operate your lights as normal. Or through different smart features offered such as voice control, schedules, and triggers.

While they lack the ability to control individual lights or change their colour, some are capable of dimming, which is a nice feature to set the mood.

Benefits (Switches)Drawbacks (Switches)
Most cost-effective way to automate home lightingHard to install, requires electrician if not confident with DIY
Continue using a light switch to control the lightsCan’t control individual lights
Some models have sensors such as motion detectors, so the lights turn on as you enter the roomIf multiple switches are controlling the same light, a smart switch might not work
Dim the lights, provided you purchase the right oneCan’t change the colour or tone of a light

Smart Plugs

While not a direct competitor to smart switches or bulbs – their ability to add smarts to a device it’s plugged into (within reason) means they have a cross over-use with smart lighting. Their biggest offering is their ability to bring smart features to light sources such as Christmas/Halloween lights – which the other two can’t do.

They are just as easy to setup and use as smart light bulbs but limited in their usage when smartening the lights in your home. Only lights that use a plug to operate (e.g. lamps, party lights, etc.) can take advantage of a smart plug, so while their usefulness in the lighting area is limited, they’re a good option in certain scenarios which is why we included them in this article.

Benefits (Plugs)Drawbacks (Plugs)
Easy to install and setupNot a direct replacement for all lights in your home
Automate lighting the others can’t such as Christmas, Halloween or party lightsWon’t work for all lighting situations
Can be repurposed and fitted to other devices like a heater/fanMost connect through WiFi which can cause interference problems when there’s too many
Some are capable of measuring energy usage

Common scenarios for smart lighting in your home

Now you know some of the benefits and drawbacks for each technology, let’s look at common scenarios and the best technology to use for them. Given the difference and similarities between smart switches, lights and plugs, some scenarios can be solved with say smart lights and smart switches – though you might want to stick to only using one type.

Not matter what option you choose, they all aim to achieve the same goal; to bring more conveniences to your home life.

ScenarioOptionsDetails
Automate Floor Lamps / Table LampsBulb / PlugWhile a bulb will cost more it can change the brightness and colour of the light, which a plug can’t.
Smarten your whole houseBulb / SwitchPlug can’t replace most lights, so you’ll want to stick with bulbs or switches
Smarten certain rooms / areasBulb / Switch / PlugMaybe you only want to smarten a lamp in your study, or put a smart switch in rooms you use frequently
Automate lighting accessoriesPlugFor pre-existing outdoor lights or holiday lights
Setup mood lightingBulb / SwitchBulbs and switches can both control brightness, with bulbs allowing for more granular control and options.
Multiple people in the homeSwitchWhile plugs and bulbs are great, they need to be controlled via an app on the phone, which smart switches

While there’s something to be said about using smart bulbs throughout your home, we recommend switches for most people due to the fact they can be operated like a normal switch. This comes in hand when you have multiple people (i.e. children, elderly or even guests) that don’t have your smart bulb app and want to control the lights in a simple way.

Using smart plugs comes in really handy around the holiday time, where you have say party or seasonal lights that you normally turn on or off at set times anyway, automating this function reduces your effort and helps you reduce power usage.

Smart plugs are pretty great in certain situations, but for a lot of home owners the ability to change the colour of a light or control individual bulbs is a nice to have an not a real need.

Our final thoughts

With all that said here’s our final thoughts and a quick rundown on common scenarios, which you’ll run into when thinking about introducing smart lighting into your home. Just know that smart lightings main benefit is the added conveniences they provide.

Smarten your whole home
If you’re look to introduce smart lighting everywhere in your house and you don’t want to spend a lot of money – invest in smart light switches. You can also add a few smart light bulbs, if you’d like to control which switches can’t control.

Smarten part of your home
We’d also recommend smart switches here, however, if you only need to smarten a few lights in certain rooms or you’d like to be able to change the colour of the lights, then smart light bulbs can be a great alternative.

Other considerations
Here’s some special areas where you’ll want to include particular technologies

  • Add colour to a room = Smart light bulbs
  • Smarten a lamp = Smart light bulbs for colour or if you already have light bulbs, else go for a Smart plug
  • Control individual lights = Smart light bulbs, they can also be grouped for more control options
  • Automate unique lights = like your Christmas tree – Smart plugs

The needs of every home is different, but we see smart switches as having the best cost-benefit ratio. With smart light bulbs being an alright option for certain rooms and scenarios where you need more granular control. We enjoy using our smart plugs to automate the lights around Christmas time, but this is by no means a necessity.

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