Smart lighting - everything you need to know

Explore the possibilities of smart lighting - controlling your entire home’s lighting, both indoors and out, by a single swipe on your phone (or just by asking…)

You’ll have heard of the best smart lighting and possibly dismissed it as a fad, but it’s a remarkably convenient mode of home automation. Once installed, you may wonder how you got by without it. It gives you the ability to turn lights on in a futuristic fashion (that is, by ordering them on).

It also allows you to adjust your lighting’s brightness and colour to your liking. You can even control them when you’re out and about – the ideal deterrent for any would-be intruders and just the thing to bulk our your best home security system (opens in new tab).

What is smart lighting?

dining table with mid centuary chaird an low hung pendant over the table

(Image credit: Philips Hue)

At its core, the best smart lighting is just a special lightbulb with built-in software. This can connect to and control from a smartphone or voice assistant.

'Conventional light bulbs work by flipping a switch on and off,' explains Giuliano Ghidini, UK&I Consumer Commercial Leader at Signify (opens in new tab). 'Sometimes they are hardwired into a dimmer switch, allowing you to dim or brighten the lights. However, this is generally the extent of the functionality of traditional home lighting.'

'Smart lighting on the other hand,' continues Giuliano, 'gives you far more control over your lights. They are still connected to your home's mains power, but each smart bulb and LED-integrated fixture allows you to control it wirelessly with your phone, tablet or smart assistant, such as Google Assistant (opens in new tab), Amazon Alexa or Apple Home.'

close up of trio of black pendant lights

(Image credit: Innr)

Smart lighting is connected in a variety of ways. While some are connected directly via Bluetooth, other smart lighting systems require something called a bridge. This is basically a separate, central hub from which you link lots of lights or bulbs together via Wi-Fi. This in turn is connected to your smart home system.

'There are simply different ways of connecting your bulbs,' explains Giuliano. 'Philips Hue (opens in new tab) uses a protocol called Zigbee that connects with the Hue bridge. Zigbee bulbs work on a mesh network principle, with each product acting as a repeater. The more products you have connected, the stronger the signal will be.'

'With Hue specifically, all new products are both Bluetooth and Bridge compatible – the only differences are the amount of accessories you can have on your system (50 lights and no accessories for Bluetooth, 50 lights and up to 12 accessories for Hue per Bridge), the use of different rooms and the use of additional features such as automation and routines.'

'Meanwhile,' adds Giuliano, 'Philips Smart LED bulbs with WiZ Connected (opens in new tab) work over WiFi. They have a Bluetooth functionality to ensure a seamless pairing with the app at the time of installation. No bridge is required for our Philips Smart LED range, and the WiZ platform can support up to 200 smart light points in a home.'

What are the benefits of smart lighting?

landscaped garden at night with variety of garden lights brightening up the space

(Image credit: Innr)

A smart light can produce a vast amount of colours (literally, millions). But smart lighting doesn’t stop there. It gives you the option of instantly adjusting the brightness of your living room, bedroom or kitchen lighting, as well as choosing from the specific warmth of the light.

It’s super convenient too if you have a wide array of lights set up in a room. Instead of having to switch on every single light source in your home each evening, you can program all of your living room lighting ideas to turn on automatically in a single action.

There’s also the option of scheduling them with specific routines. For example, you can set them to dim gradually as you drift off to sleep and build up in brightness to wake you up gently each morning.

garden at night festoon lights in pergols with lit lanterns on table

(Image credit: Twinkly at Lights4Fun)

The majority of smart lights are LED, too, which uses a lot less energy and lasts a whole lot longer than traditional lightbulbs. 'Smart LED bulbs last much longer and generate less heat than incandescent or CFL light bulbs, thus using less energy,' explains Giuliano.

'LED lighting saves up to 90% energy compared to a traditional bulb,' he continues. 'When coupled with controls, lighting can be used as per need. For example, if there is no movement detected by the motion sensor, the lights can be programmed to switch off automatically. With this, users can save money on energy bills, depending on use.'

What types of smart lighting are there?

kitchen diner with dining table and variety of light sources

(Image credit: Philips Hue)

You can invest in a single lightbulb, or branch out into a whole load of smart lighting devices. Philips Hue, the first and arguably most established smart lighting brand in the world, has a wide range of smart lighting for the home. These range from from bulbs and pendants to lamps and outdoor lights. They can be paired with special wireless motion sensors so that the light switches on when any movement is detected.

'You can install smart accessories like dimmer switches to control your lights, suggest Giuliano. 'You can also link specific smart lights, like Philips Hue or Philips Smart LED with WiZ Connected, to partners like Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and Apple Home Kit through Bluetooth.'

Smart strip lighting (try Innr (opens in new tab) or WiZ) is great for lighting architectural details and backlighting shelving, or even zhushing up a teen’s bedroom. Nanoleaf (opens in new tab) goes the decorative route with its art-inspired smart lighting. Wall-hung panels join together to create a striking focal point that is completely controlled via your smartphone.

landscaped garden at night with a variety of garden lights brightening up the space

(Image credit: Philips Hue)

Gardens can be lit with a whole host of outdoor lighting ideas, weatherproof smart lights. Choose from uplights and lanterns to handsome exterior wall lights. Come Christmas time, Twinkly’s ingenious smart tree lights come in many shapes and sizes. They can even pulse to the beat of any music playing.

How difficult is it to set up smart lighting?

It's a pretty straightforward process provided you follow the instructions. As Giuliano explains: 'Smart lights replace your existing incandescent bulbs. They eliminate the need to rewire your home or hire an electrician to get things going. Simply screw the bulbs into your existing light fittings and connect to WiFi or Bluetooth. Next, install a Hub or Bridge by plugging it into your WiFi router (if required), download the smart app, and enjoy!'

Ginevra Benedetti
Ginevra Benedetti

Ginevra Benedetti has been the Deputy Editor of Ideal Home magazine since 2021. With a career in magazines spanning nearly twenty years, she has worked for the majority of the UK’s interiors magazines, both as staff and as a freelancer. She first joined the Ideal Home team in 2011, initially as the Deputy Decorating Editor and has never left. She currently oversees the publication of the brand’s magazine each month, from planning through to publication, editing, writing or commissioning the majority of the content.