The Great Debate: How to Automate?

Kerry Clendinning, one of the co-founders of the Smarter Home club, covers different methods to start in automation.

There are three common approaches to automating your lighting: smart bulbs, smart switches, or inline products like Shelly and Sonoff switches, which let you keep your existing hardware.

Four defining questions that might quickly lead you down the right path. (1) Do you want to be able to change the color of the light? (2) Will it be a problem if putting your existing light switch in the “off” position disables automatic control? (3) Do you want to keep the existing feel of your switches? (4) Do you need to dim the light?

If you answered yes to question 1, you’ve obviously got to use tint-able smart bulbs as a start. These come in two varieties, some that can change to any color in the spectrum, and others that just have choices for warm or cool light, slightly redder vs. slightly bluer. Think incandescent vs. florescent sorts of shades. Smart bulbs are also the easiest approach. Converting your home to use smart lighting is as easy as… screwing in a light bulb. There’s no need for an electrician and little chance of doing any harm.

If you install smart bulbs, you’ll next have to ask about question 2. Smart bulbs obviously need power to work, and if they are supplied by power on a switched circuit, the switch has to stay “on” even when the light is off. If you turn them off by voice or a phone app you can turn them back on, but should someone throw the “dumb” switch on the wall, that’s another story.

So let’s assume that’s an issue and move on to question 3. There’s an option, whether you have smart bulbs (for dimming and color) or regular old bulbs, to keep your existing switches but add remote on/off control. There are small devices that can go in the wall with the switch and provide automation by connecting in between the switch and the circuit powering the bulb. We’re not here to plug a particular product, so I’ll name the two I know of. There’s the aeon nano switch, for $55 at the time of writing, which requires z-wave (something we’ve covered in another article), or the Shelly 1 & 2 products for $10 and $20 respectively, which work with regular wi-fi. There are Sonoff products that come close, but they won’t easily fit in the electrical box behind your switch plate. Sonoff products are probably best if you want to automate a lamp where you’ll modify the cord or plug it into a modified extension cord.

Each of these devices provide on/off capabilities but not dimming. If you go the combination route with smart bulbs and in-wall switch technology, you’ve got all bases covered.

Finally, for question 4, if you didn’t opt for color and you have regular dimmable light bulbs (some LED and florescent bulbs don’t work with dimmers) you would opt for a product that puts dimming control on the wall in place of your old switch and adds smart functionality.

Of course, each of these decisions can be made for the lights in your kitchen independent of the lights, say, on your porch. Different needs could call for different methods. Plus as you move through your house automating different things, it’s likely we’ll see new products come along. is the website for our Facebook community, The Smarter Home Club – which is an umbrella for all kinds of smart home technologies – home automation, security, custom electronics, weather stations, alternative energy, you name it. DIY focused.

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The Smarter Home Club on Facebook