Automating the lights in our home has totally changed my life in ways I never imagined. But I was super resistant to the idea at first…
I was really skeptical about automating our lights. I wasn’t sure if it was worth the investment and I assumed it would be complicated. I wondered how lazy do you have to be to avoid flicking light switches? I was convinced home automation is expensive. And if we couldn’t afford to automate everything, it wasn’t even worth getting started.
I’m happy to report I was wrong on all counts.
Thankfully my husband ignored my skepticism and moved forward without me. He decided to buy a lighting automation starter kit that included two light bulbs for our living room lamps.
Within a few days of having the living room lights automated, I was the one begging him to do more. I was sold.
The benefits of lighting automation just kept popping up. First I want to share with you all the benefits of lighting automation that I didn’t understand until I experienced them firsthand. Then, I’ll let you know what you need to start automating the lights in your home so these benefits can be yours too.
1. No More Twilight Zone
I hate that time between when the sun goes down and when we get around to turning on the lights. I call it the twilight zone. It’s especially bad for us here (in Minnesota) in the winter. On our shortest days, the sun is down just after 4PM. Then there’s that creepy time of disappearing daylight light throughout the house and we’re forced to go around and turn on all the lights before dinner.
Now, we have the lights set to come on 15 minutes before sunset. This is awesome because we totally avoid that awkward twilight zone. It’s also great because it’s based off of sunset time, so as the days are now getting longer, the lights automatically come on later.
2. Created Consistent Routines
You can use light automation to create daily routines for your home. My husband set up the living room lights to create bedtime signals for the kids. Half an hour before bedtime, the living room lamps dim automatically to 50%. This signals to the boys that there is a half hour left to play. We also make that the cut off for screen time. The dim light also settles everyone down and creates a more relaxed mood.
At bedtime, the lights automatically go out. The boys know this is the signal to go upstairs and start getting ready for bed. There is no more negotiating for five more minutes or debating if the clock is off by a few minutes. They don’t argue with the lights going out.
The living room lights are set to come back on at 50% an hour after bedtime, which is when my husband and I return to the living room for the evening.
Of course, we have a bedtime too. We usually don’t stay up this late, but just in case, the lights are set to go off again at 11PM to signal to us that it’s our bedtime.
3. Simplified Light Switches
Most of the lights in our home and the outlets in every room are controlled by wall switches, which is great. But, almost seven years after we moved in, we still find ourselves flicking multiple switches to get the right light on. All of our switch plates have 3-4 switches each. And most of the lights can be controlled from two different switches on opposite sides of the room. It’s crazy complicated.
Lighting automation has simplified everything. I can control the lights from my phone or iPad. And every light is labeled by room and number.
Also, I can control a whole room at once—turning on or off all the lights, or I can control individual lights…even if they’re on the same light switch. It’s the ultimate in flexibility.
4. Dimming Lights Without Dimmer Switches
Now all of our lights can be dimmed, but we didn’t have to put in any dimmer switches. We have complete control over the intensity of the light. We can set the dimming by percentage. We most commonly use 100% or 50%, but our entry lights are set to dim to 15% in the evening.
It’s also cool when I’m laying down reading on the sofa. If a light is glaring in my eye, I can just dim it down or turn it off from my phone.
5. No More Vacation Timers
We don’t have to put in and set those clunky light timers when we go on vacation. Because the lights are already automated, they’ll keep doing their thing even if we’re out of town. I think it’s even better than light timers, because the light automation exactly matches our everyday routine.
We can also control the lights in the house remotely from our phones if we ever need to.
6. Can’t Forget to Turn the Lights Off
If we go upstairs for bed and forgot to switch a light off downstairs, we can do it right from our phone. There’s no more forgetting to turn lights off…anywhere in the house. Our phones show us instantly which lights are on and off without having to walk around the home.
7. Never Wake Up in The Dark
Just like twilight zone in the evenings, I hate waking up to a dark home in the winter. My husband set the lights so they all come on at 50% when he gets up at 5AM. Later in the morning when we are all up making breakfast and getting ready for school, the lights automatically go up to 100%. At a set time after sunrise, the lights all automatically go off.
8. A Home System that Moves with You
The other cool thing about the system we are using is that it’s 100% portable. Not only can we move around lights within our home to change which ones are automated, but we can also take the entire system with us when we move. It’s a wireless system and besides the communication bridge, the only other change you need to make is to switch out the light bulbs. We will definitely be taking this system with us if we move.
That means this system is also renter-friendly. It’s one improvement you can make in your apartment that won’t require your landlord’s permission and you can take it all with you when you move.
9. It’s Affordable and Extendable
So this has to be the best benefit based on my earlier skepticism. The system we used (more on that below) is super affordable, especially when you factor in that the LED light bulbs last for a really long time.
The other thing that makes it affordable is you can start small and then add on from there. We started with just the two lamps in our living room, then we added four bulbs in the mudroom, then four bulbs in the foyer, then two recessed bulbs in the hallway, and next up will be the recessed lights in the kitchen.
Because we’re automating room by room, we’ve been able to squeeze the lightbulb purchases into our normal monthly budget for home stuff.
What You Need to Automate Your Lights
For your convenience this post contains affiliate links. I may receive a small commission on purchases made after following an affiliate link. See my full disclosure here.
So here’s what we used to automate our lights:
- Philips Hue White A19 Starter Kit (includes bridge, which can connect up to 50 lights, and two LED light bulbs)
- Philips Hue White Ambiance BR30 LED light bulbs (recessed lights that can change from bright daylight (blue light) to warm relaxing (more orange) light)
- Philips Hue White A19 LED bulb, 2-pack (you can add on up to 50 of these on the same bridge)
You also need a device to control your lights. Any of these will work:
- IPhone, iPad, Android phone (with Philips Hue app or third party app)
- Windows phone (with a third party app)
- Amazon Echo, Amazon Echo Dot, or Amazon Echo Tap
How Wireless Lighting Automation Works
Each lightbulb communicates wirelessly via the bridge with your device. You can program and control all the lights via an app on your phone. You can also use Siri with commands like, “Siri, turn living room lights on 100%.” Or, “Siri, turn all lights off.” The Philips Hue system also works with Amazon Alexa.
Once you have the bridge installed with your wireless router, it’s almost as simple as changing a light bulb. You have to put the light bulb in, make sure the light switch or light is in the on position, then from the app on your phone you can control the light and set up automation sequences.
The easiest way to get started is with the Philips Hue app (for iPhone or Android). There are also third party apps you can use to control the lights. We chose to use the HomeKit app (pictured above) on the iPhone to control our lights. I have it set to pop up when I swipe up on my phone, so it’s super quick to access all the light controls.
We are really just scratching the surface of what we can do with lighting automation and we’re excited to do more. I’ve got my eye on these light strips for under cabinet lighting in the kitchen. I know my husband wants to try out a motion sensor in the office, because we are in and out of there often, but not on any regular schedule. We also want to try the White Ambiance bulbs on our nightstand lamps so we can wake up to daylight, but change the lights to a warmer, amber light before bed. I’ll keep you posted as we extend our system and try out new features.
Do you use this for any outdoor lighting like at the front door or around garage doors? That is something I’d love is to have our house well lit at night when the sun goes down.
Shelly, We have not automated any outdoor lights. The Philips Hue system is designed for indoor use.
Donnie Lawson says
I’ve been wanting to do this for so long! I keep getting hung up on what system to go with.
Do you know if it’s possible to do this without the bridge? I read somewhere that you can use an iPad that stays at home as the “hub” with Apple HomeKit but I’m not sure this would work with the Phillips Hue bulbs.
Donnie, The iPad method may work with other systems. But I believe the bridge is required for Philips Hue. The bridge is practically free with the Starter Kit which comes with two bulbs. The bridge purchased separately costs more than the starter kit. Once you have a bridge, you can connect up to 50 bulbs (I think that’s enough for most homes). We have 12 bulbs on our first floor and only need 5 more to finish the kitchen and office. Hope that helps!
Jackie, you have done a great job. Thank you so much for sharing.
Really interesting article! I’ll be sharing this with my hubby. : ) Thanks for sharing!
Stacey W says
Tinfoil hat beanie time: What precautions have you taken to ensure your system can’t be hacked and/or compromised and used as a bot for attacks? Does the Philips system “phone home” and transmit data elsewhere? Finally, are the bulbs usable without the hub, say if Philips decides to abandon this technology?
Am I paranoid? Maybe. I’ve just worked in I.T. too long to feel good about implementing any kind of “internet of things” in my home, even if the advantages seem really awesome. :(
Stacey, The system operates on our home wi-fi and doesn’t communicate with the outside world. We have our wi-fi network secured (as everyone should). My husband works in IT security and has no concerns with using this system.
The light bulbs also operate like normal light bulbs with your light switches, if your wi-fi was down or if the bridge was off.
What happens if there is no internet for some reason? Do you also have a manual switch to control the lights?
Jen, The light switches can still be manually used to turn the lights on and off. The wireless control would not work if the wi-fi in our house was down.
Jackie! Sorry I have a question not by the topic, but where did you get that gorgeous art above your fire place?
Marina, I made it. Here’s how: https://schoolofdecorating.com/2012/07/pinterest-challenge/
That’s amazing!!! Thank you so much for sharing! you’re so talented!
Gwen Condit says
Thank you for sharing. I’m thinking this would be a nice gift for my daughter (but she doesn’t even know she needs!!!). She’s expecting her first baby and wouldn’t it be great to have an option of a dimmer on at night so no more stumbling around in the night? Oh the advances!! No need for a lamb night light like she had as a baby! I think it’s great you have used it as the tool for signaling bedtime soon. Made me say to myself, No arguing with the lights!!!!
Gwen, The motion sensor by the door might be great for a nursery. It could be set to a dim light and come on automatically only when she walks in the room.
I find smart light switches to be a better option than bulbs. You can control your lights (including dimming and scheduling) with your phone, tablet, or voice, but you can also use the physical switch if you want, which is often more convenient.
Have you tried switches? Is there a reason you choose bulbs over switches?
We can still use our switches as normal switches. We did not want to change all the light switches in our house. It’s much easier to switch out light bulbs. The light bulbs can also be used in lamps that plug in to outlets not controlled by light switches.
How do you use your switches? If the switch is turned off, you can no longer control the bulb with your schedules, voice or smartphone. If you use the switches you need to always be sure that they have been turned back on. You must have your family and guests trained well!
I use smart outlets for lamps for the same reason. I can manually control the lamps by using the switch and it doesn’t affect the control via phone, schedule or voice. They are always accessible.
I agree that bulbs are easier but the switches are quite easy as well.