By Dan Moren
October 15, 2021 12:47 PM PT
Rebuilding my smart home: Let there be light
One of the most interesting aspects of moving from an apartment you rent to a house you own is the freedom it gives you in terms of what smart home tech you can adopt. There are some things that just don’t fly in many rental units, like devices that require hardwiring, or anything that requires you to make lots of holes in walls.
And so you make do with alternatives, imperfect as they sometimes are. Take lighting, for example. Smart bulbs and smart outlets go a long way, but they also come with their share of frustrations—cue the numerous stories about people who’ve had to put tape or sticky notes on wall switches so that they don’t get turned off, thus rendering a smart bulb useless.
In my apartment, I had an assortment of Philips Hue bulbs around the place, letting me remotely control lights in my living room, kitchen, bedroom, and office. But in making the jump to a house that I own, I got the chance to revisit and, yes, upgrade my smart lighting setup.
I opted for Caseta Lutron dimmer switches to control the recessed lighting in my kitchen and living room (which are basically one large space), as well as a pair of pendant lights over our kitchen peninsula. The main advantage of the Caseta switches is that they are still, ultimately, switches, meaning that regardless of whether you turn them on or off from the wall or via an app or automation, they always reflect the correct power state and can still be controlled via all those other methods. No more tape or sticky notes here!
If there’s a downside to the Caseta switches, it’s that I find them only okay as far as physical switches go. They are, unavoidably, push button switches, lacking some of the tactile satisfaction of flipping a switch on or off. (They always feel a little bit cheap to me.) They support dimming, which is nice, though it’s possible that my recessed lighting only gets so dim, because the lowest level is, honestly, not very low.
And while they come with a remote switch to let you control lights from multiple locations, the remote design is a little different from the main switch, which ends up feeling inconsistent.
They also, perhaps most frustratingly from a technical standpoint, require the use of a wired hub. This has increased the proliferation of these wired dongles in my home, and certainly made me wish that there were a central device that could handle all of them. (Maybe the Thread radio in the HomePod mini and new Apple TV, combined with the forthcoming Matter standard will make a difference here some day, but it’s likely to be a while.)
That said, I’ve still found a home for many of my existing Hue bulbs elsewhere in my house. Three now live in the overhead light fixture in my office, grouped into one accessory and controlled by a Hue Dimmer Switch, which is currently magneted to the file cabinet next to my desk. That doesn’t exactly make them easy to turn on when going into a dark room, but perhaps I’ll affix it next to the real overhead switch one of these moments.
Likewise, a couple of my floor lamps, one in my office and one in the living room, are also using Hue bulbs. The one in my office is controlled by the same dimmer switch for the moment, though long term I may change that up (perhaps to my Stream Deck?). The one in the living room, however, is controlled almost exclusively by time-based automation.
With my smart lighting situation more or less stable, my next big foray is to finally get into creating more scenes. This is something I only ended up dabbling with in my apartment; with a space so small, it often seemed like spending the time creating them didn’t make a lot of sense. But now, with two floors to deal with, being able to control a variety of devices around the house seems like it could have some measurable benefits.
[Dan Moren is the East Coast Bureau Chief of Six Colors. You can find him on Mastodon at @email@example.com or reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. His latest novel, the supernatural detective story All Souls Lost, is now available for pre-order.]