The Future Is Here: Smart Lighting Solutions For The Modern Home

  • 01 of 07

    The Future Is Here: Smart Lighting Solutions For The Modern Home

    Modern living room with designer lighting from Lamps Plus
    Lamps Plus

    Close to two decades into the 21st century and it's about time for us to take a look around and see how the present that we're living in stacks up against the future that we've been anticipating for so long. On the one hand, we've got super powerful little computers that we carry around in our pockets. That sounds pretty futurish. On the other hand, we still haven't cured the common cold. Luckily we know where to look for a tie breaker. From the bedroom to the back yard the latest generation of smart lighting solutions are changing the lives of homeowners everywhere, giving them full control of their home's lighting from a phone or tablet.

    So what’s topping the list of the hottest trends for smart home tech? Good question. We were wondering the same thing. So we turned to David Gray, the lighting and smart home expert for Lamps Plus. He's got all the answers when it comes to the new generation of home tech - what exciting new features are on the way, and which one's you can bring home right now without burning a hole in your budget. He gave them to us, and now we're sharing them with you. Take that common cold.

    All images provided by Lamps Plus

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  • 02 of 07

    The Future Is Here: Smart Lighting Solutions For The Modern Home

    Colorful living room with floor and table lamps from Lamps Plus
    Lamps Plus

    AC:     We’ve seen the term “smart house” being used more and more lately, but It seems as if it can mean a lot of things. What's your definition?

    DG:     A smart home is one equipped with systems (such as thermostats on heating and cooling units) or electronic devices (e.g. lighting, door locks, security systems or entertainment centers) that are linked to a controller, smartphone, tablet or computer. Homeowners can control the linked systems or devices, doing everything from turning on lights before they arrive home to firing up a favorite playlist for a dinner party. 

    AC:     Do the homeowners need to be in the home to control it's systems? 

    DG:     Not at all. Many smart home systems or devices allow consumers to remotely control home functions from any location in the world. You just need your smartphone or a computer or tablet with an internet connection. With phones and tablets, you most likely need to download an app as well, but they’re all pretty easy to set-up. One of the main incentives for programming a smart home is that you can operate it while you’re at work or on vacation. There are other systems that rely on handheld remotes, however. They can be used inside the home to manipulate lights and other functions, but aren’t connected to the internet so they can’t be controlled from outside the home.

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  • 03 of 07

    The Future Is Here: Smart Lighting Solutions For The Modern Home

    Gray living room with custom lighting from Lamps Plus
    Lamps Plus

    AC:     Smart homes sound exciting but expensive. What are the typical costs of creating one?

    DG:     Well, there are more expensive systems that integrate all home functions into one system. Those can be pretty pricy. There are lots of options, and they run the gamut in terms of functionality and price. 

    In terms of new products, you’re probably familiar with some of the first gen devices such as Google Home or the Amazon Echo, among others. These devices are voice controlled and can respond to commands to stream music, set alarms, offer up weather and traffic forecasts and so on. On the other end of the spectrum you can use different products for each function. They'll still seem pretty integrated if you control them all from your phone, but the might lack some of the seamless functionality of the more expensive units.

    AC:     Do these devices control lights and thermostats like you just mentioned?

    DG:     They can, but only if you’ve updated your light, thermostat, or whichever system you want to control to a “smart version,” that is,  one that is capable of receiving commands via Wi-Fi. You also need to make sure that the updated light or thermostat is compatible with the particular device that you have. Not all are, so you have to check things out carefully before you buy.

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  • 04 of 07

    The Future Is Here: Smart Lighting Solutions For The Modern Home

    Modern living room with neutral color palette standing lamps from Lamps Plus
    Lamps Plus

    AC:     So it's not just a matter of apps. For the house to be “smart,” the devices you’re trying to control need to be smart as well.

    DG:     They need to be "smart ready." They won’t be the same light control or dimmer that you’ve had in your home for the last 20 years, but they don’t have to be capable of connecting to a wireless voice-command unit either. If you’re just looking to do one specific thing, say control the lights in your home, there are simple, off the shelf systems that will do just that. The latest generation of these systems were just on display at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas in January.

    AC:     What were some of the other highlights at CES this year?

    DG:     Aside from the latest hi-def TVs, smart home devices definitely took center stage. There was a lot of interaction between manufacturers, tech enthusiasts and consumers. One particular trend that stood out was that the next generation of some of the stand-alone smart home systems. By stand-alone I mean systems that are dedicated to doing one thing, like controlling the lights in a home.

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  • 05 of 07

    The Future Is Here: Smart Lighting Solutions For The Modern Home

    Striking blue living room with elegant overhead chandelier from Lamps Plus
    Lamps Plus

    AC:     And what’s the particular appeal of systems like these?

    DG:     For one thing, they tend to address specific needs that a consumer may have, so they are a little more understandable and approachable in terms of set-up and in terms of what they actually do. And, as I said, a few of these systems are in their second go-around, so they have been refined and enhanced from their previous version. 

    AC:     So if we're looking to smarten up our homes, what are some good products to start with? 

    DG:     One is the Philips Hue LED Dimming Kit. This wall dimmer works with the Philips Hue LED light bulbs which have been around for several years now. The dimmer controls a single dedicated LED bulb. An optional remote lets you control up to 50 of the bulbs from anywhere in your home. It’s not as flexible as an app controlled system that lets you control the lights from anywhere in the world, but it’s a solid, basic system for people who are exploring a smart home. The remote works only with the Philips Hue Bridge, basically a router just for the lighting system, and requires Wi-Fi connectivity.

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  • 06 of 07

    The Future Is Here: Smart Lighting Solutions For The Modern Home

    Industrial loft dining room with overhead lighting from Lamps Plus
    Lamps Plus

    AC:      So this is a good system for testing out the experience. Is it relatively inexpensive?

    DG:      I’d say so, and a good system for anyone who just wants to control the lights in their home. A kit with the dimmer and a single LED bulb runs around $35.

    A similar system is from Lutron, a name you might know from wall dimmers. Their Lutron Caseta System lets you take control of your home lighting system from anywhere in the world on a smartphone or tablet. Unlike the Philips system, it will work with the bulbs you have. You don’t need a special LED bulb. Similar to the Philips system, it requires a “bridge” router unit. You install the dimmers, plug in the bridge, connect it to your Wi-Fi, download an app to control it all, and you’re off and running. It also works with the Apple iWatch. It’s a quick DIY installation; takes about 15 minutes.

    If you don’t want to add on the expense of buying the bridge router, you can just opt for a handheld remote that will work in your home. A kit with a wall dimmer, wall plate and remote is around $60. You can buy other wall dimmers or plug-in units for table lamps and run them on the same remote.

    AC:     And what about some of the more cutting-edge systems that are out there? 

    DG:    Well, the line of LED Pulse bulbs from Sengled comes to mind. These products aren’t just LED bulbs, they combine an LED bulb with a built-in JBL Bluetooth speaker. You just screw in the new “bulb” into a fixture or lamp. The bulbs are a little oversized, so they may not fit all lamps. You control the light and the speaker with an app that runs on any Apple or Android device. There’s even a separate bass amp you can tie to the system for enhanced sound, and there’s a motion sensor floodlight bulb for outdoor areas. The outdoor lights can even come with a built-in camera. A 2-pack of the LED Sengled bulbs goes for around $150. 

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  • 07 of 07

    The Future Is Here: Smart Lighting Solutions For The Modern Home

    Moody dining room with stunning overhead light fixture from Lamps Plus
    Lamps Plus

    AC:     So that’s a case of smart technology being fused with a regular home device or home product?

    DG:     Yes, that’s a good way to look at it. Rather than an outside device with the technology coming into the home, it’s the case of the technology being built-into a product that’s already in everyone’s home.

    Another example of this is the high-tech that’s beginning to be included with regular light fixtures. There are high tech craftsman style outdoor porch lights that come with built-in cameras, microphones and speakers. It looks like a regular porch light, but it can be used to greet guests, talk to delivery people and so on. Through your phone and the live feed, you can see your porch or patio, and speak and operate the light from anywhere. It even has a built-in alarm you can trigger in case of unwanted visitors.  It runs through an app, and costs about the same as a regular porch light, around $200. 

    AC:     So, what do you think lies further ahead in the future of smart home tech?

    DG:     I think the trend of smart technology being built into our everyday objects is going to increase, along with new ways to interact with them. We’re already seeing “smart” stoves, refrigerators and coffee makers. As the cost comes down and the technology is refined, you’ll be seeing more and more of this as time goes on. The trick for consumers is to find the designs that meet an actual need for them, whether it’s lighting control, security or safety. Instead of buying the technology, evaluate if it solves the problem you have. If you do so, you’ll be happier with your purchase in the long run.