You can accomplish smart lighting through three approaches:

  1. Adapting What’s There: Smart bulbs, Wi-Fi-connected plugs… Keep your existing stuff and control it via voice or App.
  2. Going Wireless: Retrofit your existing wall switches with a new-and-improved wireless system for smarter control.
  3. Going Panelized: Take advantage of a new construction or major renovation by hiding all the junk but keeping all the control.

 

Adapting What’s There

Smart Bulbs

DIY, Your Techy Friend, Professional

  • Benefits: They’re easy to install, really affordable, and they play nice with Alexa and Google Home. Philips Hue has also gotten really good at tuning both the brightness and temperature to the time of day.
  • Challenges: Most require a hub to convert your Wi-Fi to a second wireless protocol, and when either signal drops (which will happen) the connection does too. DIY setup means DIY troubleshooting.
  • Conclusion: A solid application for single room needs (I want to turn this lamp off through Alexa), but know the occasional troubleshooting is inevitable… Which is one reason this approach is almost unusable across multiple rooms (the other is its difficulty understanding what room you’re talking about.)

Plug Adapters

DIY, Your Techy Friend, Professional

  • Benefits: You can keep your existing light bulbs, and most don’t even require a separate hub. They are also the most affordable option and are easy to set up.
  • Challenges: This approach really only works for lamps (and other lights that plug into the wall.) Look elsewhere for ceiling lights. Like smart bulbs, the addition of another wireless protocol in the home doubles the already troublesome likelihood of a connectivity drop. Finally, the cheaper ones don’t concern themselves with pesky safety limitations around amperage.
  • Conclusion: Another workable application for single room (single lamp, really) needs. Just make sure you’re using dim-able bulbs if dimming matters to you.

 


 

Going Wireless

You can find full wireless ecosystems from WeMo, Philips, Leviton and more. The main factors to consider are the wireless protocol it uses, the overall device limit the system can handle, and how open its integrations go (does it work with HomeKit? Alexa? Nest? Sonos?)

Now we’ll walk you through two options from Lutron. Why Lutron? Their wireless technology is more reliable, in great part because the wireless spectrum they use (434 mhz) is federally regulated so it deals with less interference.

Caseta Wireless

DIY, Your Techy Friend, Professional

  • Benefits: The most affordable way to retrofit smart lighting into your home. Wi-fi enabled switches can be swapped in with relative ease, and the results give you App control, scheduling, voice and HomeKit integration. It also offers (limited) integration with some of the smarthome devices you may already have (like Nest and Sonos.)
  • Challenges: It doesn’t work for every home. Bulbs must be incandescent, fluorescent or LED, and they must be dim-able. It also requires a hub, and as a platform limits your total number of devices (dimmers, switches, plug-in adapters, remotes) to 50. Finally, the panels also have a lower end plastic feel to them (not important to everyone, but it is something you touch every day.)
  • Conclusion: For a lighting system that feels integrated rather than bolted onto a home, Caseta is the more affordable option that really works. While more reliable than the two options above, all wireless systems depend on wi-fi and therefore are not impervious to outages. Also, the geofencing feature only works for those who live alone. You don’t want to kill the lights on your partner when you leave the house.

Radio RA2

DIY, Your Techy Friend, Professional

  • Benefits: Designed for whole home control, can handle up to 200 devices vs Caseta’s 50, and expands its product offering to include occupancy sensors, Lutron’s thermostats and their entire line of smart shades and drapes. RA2 also offers backlit custom engraved touch panels, and runs on an overall superior wireless protocol than Caseta.
  • Challenges: Installation is complex and needs to be done by a professional. Also, while its wireless capabilities are best in class, wireless is still less reliable than wired.
  • Conclusion: Most homes looking for a full-blown lighting makeover (that can also integrate shades) will find RA2 to be the highest performing and most flexible approach within the wireless category.

Note: Lutron also offers a tier in between these two called RA2 Select. Its complex setup still requires an installer, but the programming can be done by the home owner. The device limit is 100.

 


 

Going Panelized

DIY, Your Techy Friend, Professional

  • Benefits: Panel materials are premium, responsiveness is instant and reliability isn’t dependent on any wireless signal. Also the range of bulb compatibility is the widest, and it opens up the ability to remove wall acne while maintaining granular control.
  • Challenges: It’s the most expensive option and usually only makes financial sense during construction or a major renovation. While wireless components can be tied into a wired system, careful foresight is needed to wire correctly up front.
  • Conclusion: Panelized lighting is the best way to bring intelligence into home lighting while eliminating troubleshooting altogether, and keeping acne off the walls.