Continuing our Smart Home Series, this week I will talk about smart lighting.
On the surface, smart lighting seems like a relatively simple and easy way to “smarten” your communities. Just screw in a smart light bulb or add a smart outlet! However, this is a category where there is more than one route to take, all with different pros and cons. Plus, I believe that you cannot provide an optimal experience for your residents if you just install smart lighting. Rather, smart lighting is a component of a larger system. As a standalone product, I do not believe it will provide large bang-for-your-buck, but it can certainly bolster a more comprehensive connected apartment that residents are showing more demand (and willingness to pay) for.
One of the complicating factors of smart lighting is that there are multiple routes to take to “smarten” the home. So let’s break down some of the pros and cons of each of the main options.
Smart bulbs are an easy way to “smarten” your community due to the ease of installation (insert light bulb installation joke here). If your existing bulbs are incandescent, upgrading your lighting is an easy choice since you will save on energy costs. However, if you already have LED lighting installed, then smart bulbs are a tougher pill to swallow with pricing ranging from $15 to $50 per bulb. Some options to look at include Phillips Hue White, GE Link Connected LED, and Eufy Lumos.
For your bulbs to be “smart”, the bulbs need to be connected to an app or a voice-controlled hub. To do this, your light bulbs either need to be connected to a hub (more cost!), Bluetooth, or Wi-Fi. I personally do not recommend Bluetooth, as this requires your phone to be near the smart bulbs to control them. This eliminates the ability of the user to control the lighting away from home (or for a leasing agent to turn on/off all lights remotely before or after a prospect tour). If you already have a hub for other smart home devices, then you can install the smart bulbs and then connect them to your existing hub (but make sure your bulbs are compatible with your hub!).
Even though smart bulbs have a long lifespan, they also have an easier ability to grow legs and follow a resident on their moveout. Additionally, every time a bulb breaks, it’s another $15 to $50.
Smart Light Switches
Since most smart light switches are connected to the wall via screws and wiring, they are less likely to grow legs on a move out than a smart light bulb. But this brings me to the biggest downfall of smart light switches: installation. Without getting too deep into the weeds, most light switches need a neutral wire in order to keep power to the light switch always on (this allows you to control the light switch from your pool chair in the Bahamas). Most buildings since the 70’s have a neutral wire, but older buildings may not have the neutral wire. Some light switches, such as the Phillips Hue Dimmer Switch, are battery powered, so they will allow you to install smart light switches in these older buildings.
If you can get through the installation, smart light switches are a good option. By controlling the switch, you control all the bulbs or lamps associate with that switch. So if the living area has four overhead bulbs, you can install one smart switch versus four smart bulbs. Smart light switches range in price from $25 to $200 per switch, depending on how many features you want to include.
On the low end of the price range (but still a quality product) is the Phillips Hue Dimmer Switch. It is simple to install as it installs over your existing switch with adhesive tape, but the switch does require you to install the Phillips Hue Bridge (central hub). The Leviton Decora Smart Switch retails for about $40, does not require a hub, and is compatible with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. While not cheap at $100, a really cool light switch is the Ecobee Switch+ with built-in Amazon Alexa and motion sensors. At the upper end of the spectrum is the Orro Light Switch. This switch utilizes sound, motion, proximity and light sensors to understand when a person is in a room, has a built-in voice assistant, and can automatically adjust the light in the room to mimic healthier light patterns.
Smart outlets allow you to turn nearly any device with a conventional plug into a smart device. By controlling the power at the outlet, you can have the peace of mind of being able to turn off your curling iron (is it still on?) or be able to turn on and off lamps while away from home. Also, you can set schedules for a device to turn on, such as your coffee maker turning on just after your alarm goes off in the morning. Further, some outlets, like the iDevices Wall Outlet, allow the user to track and monitor energy use from each outlet.
Like most smart light switches, smart outlets require hard-wired installation. Most outlets are not visibly different from a regular outlet, so leasing agents will need to point this out to residents or they may be missed entirely on a property tour. Not every outlet will need to be a smart outlet in apartments, but perhaps one outlet in the kitchen, living area, bathroom and bedroom could be a smart outlet. This eliminates the cost of replacing every outlet with a smart outlet (the room I’m sitting in right now has 6 outlets!). At around $50 each (check out the Leviton Decora Outlet or the Insteon On/Off Outlet for some options), that’s a cost that can add up if you are not strategic about the location of the outlets. Plus, if you put a smart outlet in a location that is not used that often, then that’s either money down the drain or you need to re-install the smart outlet in another location that residents will actually use (more cost/time!).
Smart plugs offer the ease of install like smart bulbs (just plug them into any ordinary outlet) and the functionality of turning on and off the power at the source like a smart outlet. Smart plugs also take the guessing game out of which outlets you want to turn into smart outlets, since you hand control of the plugs over to your residents to decide. Perhaps one resident decides that two smart outlets in their bedroom and no smart outlets in their kitchen works best for them. However, when they move out, the next resident might want two smart outlets in their kitchen and none in their bedroom.
By provide smart plugs, you hand over the decision making power to the resident, while minimizing installation costs (no hardwiring!). Also, smart plugs generally cost less than smart outlets or switches. Belkin’s Wemo Mini is a very popular choice at $35. Right now, you can buy a two pack of the Aukey Smart Plugs for about $25 (the main difference between the two is that Belkin pairs with Nest while Aukey does not). However, just like smart light bulbs, the main drawback with smart plugs is that since they are not secured to the building, they have an easier time of growing legs and walking off the property.
To Sum It Up
As you can see, there are multiple options to “smarten” your community with the lighting route. Smart plugs and light bulbs have the easiest installation and a relatively low cost, but making sure the plugs and bulbs stay with your property adds another management component. However, like garage door openers and mailbox keys, these are items that can be part of the move-in/out checklist process with a predetermined fee for unreturned items.
Smart outlets and switches are hardwired and secured to the property, but they offer less flexibility in their location as plugs and bulbs. However, they do allow residents to control which of their items are controlled by the smart devices.
At the end of the day, I believe that smart plugs, outlets, bulbs and switches are all components in a larger smart home system. You might be able to get away with providing a couple smart plugs to your residents today, but I think they’ll see through this and demand more smart devices. I think that in order to provide a resident with the optimal smart home experience (and hopefully lead to increased rent and/or increased occupancy), smart lighting needs to be complimented with smart locks and thermostats, all from one central hub with one central app for ease of use.