Gadget Girl Writer: Wireless Lights

A while back, I heard about people who had their household lights connected to timers etc….  The times I’d investigated in the past it was way too expensive and complicated for me to want to set up. I only have so much spare time. I started hearing, though, about easier ways to do this sort of thing and after some time spent researching I found there were indeed several systems that looked simple-ish.

The Phillips Hue system was what I settled on after checking specs and consumer reviews. Also, Hue allows you to change the color of your lights. This sounded too fun to pass up. So I decided to pony up for the starter pack set up. ($200.00) I fully expected that I would just be playing with these three lights.

About the Hue system

You need the Phillips Hue lightbulbs. They are wireless enabled. The starter pack comes with the three lightbulbs and the IP bridge you need to connect the lights to your wireless network. Lights plus the bridge = a mesh network. (ohh!)

One bridge can control up to 50 lights. The lightbulbs are $60 each if bought singly, so the starter pack pricing means the IP-bridge is only $20 of the total cost. I don’t see that the bridge is sold separately, so if you have more than 50 lights to hook up, you’d have to buy another starter set.

There are three kinds of lights: What you’d consider a regular light bulb, a bulb suitable for recessed cans, and a strip of lights (the strip is $80.) There are not, for now, lights that would replace tube lights, unless you count the strip, but for various reasons that won’t work except in limited circumstances. Any light fixtures you have that wouldn’t accommodate a normal light bulb would not be compatible with this system. It appears you CAN use these lights in places where there are physical dimmers, you’d just not use the dimmer function.

The Phillips Hue website is pretty, and also pretty useless. Somebody over there forgot they need to do more than show off. There was NOWHERE that succinctly described what the system does and why I would want to make that kind of investment. Because $60 per bulb?? If you have 50 lights in your house, you’d spend $3020 getting this set up.

Note: I counted the lights in our house where we could use Hue lights. There are 42. That’s 39 single bulbs needed, plus the starter pack, for a total investment of $2540.

The lights are LEDs, last approximately 7 years, are 80% more efficient, and come with a 2 year warranty. The lights would have to save me $362 a year ($30 a month) to recoup my investment over those 7 years. I found a calculator that let me do a ballpark estimation of time to recoup the investment. Conservatively, it’s about three years.

Phillips does not currently recommend using their lights outside or in bathrooms, so I excluded those lights from my count.

Setting it up

My starter pack came. I set it up, downloaded the app and it worked. Took about 15 minutes from opening the box to controlling my first light via the app. Literally, it was that fast and easy.

I played with the lights and after I finished turning the lights all different colors (wheee!!!!) it became immediately and deeply apparent that this was more than just fun. It was efficient and useful. For me, it’s almost, but not quite, as transformative as the GPS. Keep in mind that I am directionally deprived so GPS in my car saves me HOURS of time being lost as well as reducing a major source of stress.

My lighting Future is Now

I have replaced the lights in most of the bedrooms and in the living room and TV room. (total of 17 bulbs, plus one light strip for the dark hallway for a total current investment of $1,120.) The lights are now on various timers. I have not used my bedside lamp since I put the lights in my room.

Here’s what I can do: On the days I work from home, my room lights fade on when it’s time to get up. The living room fan lights come on at the same time. Over the next ten minutes, the additional lights I need for my day job from home time fade on to a light level and brightness that is easy on my eyes. Twenty minutes later, my bedroom lights turn off.

I have the living room and TV room lights set to turn off at 11:00 PM nightly.

The hallway strip comes on at 4:45PM and turns off at 7:30 AM. (This replaces the nightlight, for better lighting and LESS money since it draws the same power as the nightlight but is on only when we need it instead of being on 24/7.)

Monday-Wed, my room lights come on at 4:20PM — which is about the time I get home.

There’s more, but that’s the basic set up for now.

Here’s what I no longer have to do: navigate a dark bedroom when I go to bed or get out of bed. Navigate a dark living room. Endure lights that are too bright when I’ve just gotten up. Get up to turn on or off additional lights.

Fun with Lighting

In addition to practical things like timers and alarms, I can change the color and intensity of the lights. For example, I use a picture I took of some macaroons for one of the settings in my room. At 9:30 PM my macaroon lights come on and remind me that I need to wind up my day. Here’s the picture:

Macarons

In the Hue app, I say which lights I want associated with my “macaroon scene.” Those lights appear as draggable icons over the picture. You drag the icon to the color you want and as you do, the associated light bulb changes color. When you’re happy with the effect, you save the scene and voila! You can set timers and alarms for the scene or just manually turn it on or off via the app.

For this scene, I have selected shades of pink, yellow, and cream with what is, for me, a pleasing intensity, for the three lights in my room’s ceiling fixture. It’s really pretty, actually. I then set it on a timer when I’m in bed so it fades out after three minutes. At which point, I am in bed with the iPad in the dark, doing whatever. Or not.

My lighting Future is Now

Here’s a few things I wish it could do/didn’t do.
1. Operate from my desktop. There is a 3rd party app that does that, but mostly it doesn’t work and it looks to have been abandoned. Bummer.

2. I wish there was a dedicated panel display where everyone in the house could access the lights. Alternatively, I wish I had an extra iPad or tablet to devote to this.

3. I wish the light strips had a smaller footprint for plugging in.

4. I wish there were tube lights so I could replace the under-counter fluorescent lighting and some other such tube lights.

5. Be used outside and in bathrooms.

6. I wish there were motion sensors. I think.

7. When you’re setting up a light scene, all the lights are associated. You have to deselect the ones you don’t want. It’s a PITA. The default should be no light with a toggle for ALL. The user then selects which lights to connect to the scene. Because really, if you can have 50 lights, who thought it was a good idea to have all lights associated by default? The common scenario is have different lighting per room or functional area. It’s more user-friendly to have to select the few lights you want than the deselect the majority of lights you don’t want.

9. Although you can rename your lights (thank goodness!) they list in the app in the order in which they were found by the bridge. So, in our case, the lights for the starter pack are 1, 2, and 3. Two of them are in one room, and one is in another. Because. Other lights I added as money was available. I wish they could sort alphabetically. If I were smarter (and I will be in future) I would strategically obtain and install lights so they are sensed in a group.

Sum Up

Total win. I love the lights. They’re fun. They’re useful. They’re going to save me money over time.

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