Are smart bulbs worth the money? 10 things you need to know

Switching to smart lights? Read this first.

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Whether you’re arriving home late at night or just need some extra assistance around the house, the addition of smart light bulbs to your living space can help you find your way around without fumbling in the dark for a traditional light switch.

Smart light bulbs are just like regular light bulbs except that they can be controlled remotely by voice, Bluetooth, and mobile apps. If you’re teetering on the edge of setting up your house with smart home products, light bulbs are a great place to start.

Smart light bulbs are fairly easy to install and use, making them an ideal jumping-off point into the world of home automation.

However, before you outfit your house with smart light bulbs, there are some things you need to know before making your purchase.

1. How do I set up a smart light bulb?

It’s easy to install a smart light bulb. Just remove your current bulbs and screw in the new smart light bulbs. They will immediately function as a traditional light bulb, but you do need some sort of wireless connection to access the bulb’s smart home capabilities. Your first option may be to connect the bulbs directly to your in-home WiFi. Certain types of bulbs, like those made by Lifx, don’t require a bridge or hub to reach your WiFi network. You simply screw the bulb into the fixture and the accompanying app walks you through the rest.

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The second way is to purchase a corresponding hub like the Philips Bridge to set up the smart bulbs. A smart hub acts as the middle man between your bulb and wireless router. All you have to do is connect the bridge to your WiFi router. Once the three lights on the bridge appear, you can finish up the setup process by downloading the Philips Hue app. Note that the exact setup process may differ by brand.

The third option is to connect the bulbs via Bluetooth. Remember, the exact setup process will depend on which bulbs you buy. Make sure to read the instructions before attempting to sync the bulbs.

Install light bulb
Credit: Getty Images

There are smart light bulbs for most light fixtures—even outdoor lights.

2. How do smart light bulbs work?

You may be wondering how you can turn the lights on or off when leaving or entering a room. Again, you have a few options. Some smart light bulbs can only be controlled via an app that can be downloaded to your mobile device. Other smart light bulbs work in conjunction with assistive voice-enabled smart speakers like Echo, Google Home, and Apple’s HomePod.

However, the majority of smart light bulbs can be controlled both by voice and app.

Be sure to read the instructions that come with your smart light bulbs in full. There you’ll be able to find brand-specific information about which app to download and how to set up the bulbs with the smart speaker of your choice.

The good news is that you can use your smart light bulbs the old-fashioned way using a traditional switch. This is good to know for when the WiFi is out or you flip the switch out of habit. But keep in mind that if the physical light switch is off, the bulb is powered down and can’t turn on by voice or app. The switch needs to be in the “on” position for the smart bulb’s smarts to work.

3. How long do smart light bulbs last?

Since all smart light bulbs are LED (light-emitting diode), you can expect these light bulbs to last much longer than your old incandescent bulbs. And because LED bulbs are 90 percent more efficient than incandescent light bulbs, you may even see a reduction in your energy bill with enough smart bulbs on the premises.

Philips Hue outside
Credit: Philips

Many bulbs can be controlled using an app, like the Philips Hue lights.

4. Are smart light bulbs worth the money?

While upgrading to smart light bulbs may seem like a big upfront cost, it doesn’t have to be. You can buy a single C by GE Bluetooth Smart LED Light Bulb for as little as $18, or an entire smart home light fixture for over $200. Before you shell out big bucks for smart light bulbs, consider your needs. How many smart light bulbs you want to begin with? Do you want to start by placing them all throughout your house? Or would you rather start small with one or two bulbs before investing in a larger setup?

Read more: 6 apps you need to try if you use Hue bulbs

Also, many companies make smart lighting starter kits that include bulbs, switches, hubs, and other necessary accessories to get you set up. By purchasing a bundle, you may be able to save some money. If you are looking for a starter kit, we found the Philips Hue White and Color Ambiance Starter Kit Gen 3 has the best smart bulbs. Why? Our testing found that it is easy to set up, offers a large list of helpful features, and is compatible with an intuitive app to help you control the whole system.

Keep in mind, too, that since all smart home bulbs are LED, you should notice the overall cost of your power bill decrease over time. LED bulbs can save you up to $1,000 over a 10-year period.

5. What can I do with smart light bulbs?

The most basic functionality is to turn the lights on and off. But the bulbs can do so much more than that, especially if you use the smart light bulbs with Alexa, Google Home, or Siri.

With a tap of a button or a simple command, you can dim the lights, create a lighting scene, or set your lights on a schedule.

That last part can be particularly helpful if you’re going to be out of town for an extended period of time and want to give the appearance that you’re actually at home. Some smart bulbs are even smart enough to learn and mimic your behavior when you’re away, thanks to vacation mode.

6. Do smart light bulbs come in different colors?

Looking to add a pop of color to your space? Smart light bulbs can help with that. For example, take the Philips Hue White and Color Ambiance A19 Starter Kit. You can set the bulbs to a certain color to help wake you up in the morning, go to bed at night, and it's compatible with Alexa, Siri, and Google Assistant.

Colorful smart home bulbs also let you change the tone based on your mood or an event such as a birthday party. You can set some smart light bulbs to change color (and switch back) at certain times via a compatible app.

Philips Hue Starter Kit
Credit: Philips

The Philips Hue Starter Kit includes color-changing bulbs that can be controlled using an app.

7. Where can I use smart light bulbs?

Whether your place of residence was built over 100 years ago or is newly-constructed, you can use smart light bulbs to bring some convenience into your everyday life. Smart light bulbs can be used in lamps, installed in pre-existing light fixtures in the home, and, really, anywhere you would install a traditional bulb.

8. Will a smart bulb fit my fixture?

Just like CFL and incandescent light bulbs, smart light bulbs come in a variety of shapes and sizes that can be used indoors and outdoors.

There are different types of smart light bulbs including floodlights, Edison lights, recessed lights, and more.

The bulbs also come in different wattages like 60W, 40W, and 100W.

9. Where can I purchase smart light bulbs?

The smart home light bulb market has seen a lot of growth in recent years, so you can find smart light bulbs just about anywhere other light bulbs are sold. Home improvement stores such as Lowe’s and Home Depot carry them, and you can also buy them online from sites like Amazon, Best Buy, Walmart, and other major retailers.

10. Should I buy smart light bulbs?

The short answer is you don’t need smart light bulbs. You can definitely live without them. However, smart lights can help make life a little easier. Remember that time you whacked your shin on the corner of the coffee table while groping the wall for the light switch? Some smart bulbs can use your phone’s GPS to turn on the lights as you approach the door. It might be worth it to avoid the bruises at the very least.

When it comes to safety and convenience, smart light bulbs are the perfect place to start making your home a little smarter.

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