Smart lighting: Part 1 (getting started with Philips Hue/Zigbee)

Earlier today, I spotted a tweet from Karan Chadda (@kchadda) that reminded me of an unfinished blog post from 2017…

So, here’s part one of the story that never got posted…

A new Hue

Around four years ago, I began an experiment. Hot on the heels of success with a Wi-Fi activated smart socket (a TP Link HS-110), I thought I’d expand on my home’s Internet of Things (IoT) credentials with some smart lighting.

I should explain that my house is a fairly typical UK house: a 1990s-built, detached property, with some pretty uninspiring pendant lights in most rooms. The kitchen/dining room is a little different, as it has low-voltage MR16 spotlights. These were recommended by the electrician who worked on our extension in 2009.

I did some research, and decided that I wouldn’t go down the Wi-Fi route. Not only were the bulbs expensive but it’s not a great use for Wi-Fi (and at the time my home Wi-Fi performance was pretty flaky). Instead, I went for a Zigbee-based solution, with Philips Hue at its heart.

The Hue gateway is pretty easy to set up – it just needs a wired connection to the network. Most home routers have a few of these; my setup is a little more extensive, with PowerEthernet running to my office and other locations that are away from the Internet connection but have a need for wired network connections. With a gateway in place, it was just a case of strategic lightbulb swap-outs, taking out traditional bayonet-fit (B22) bulbs and replacing them with smart equivalents.

Smart lighting, not so smart users…

At this point I should explain, all the smart technology is useless if the circuits aren’t left powered on. And this has been the major flaw in my plan. Our family is divided between the geeks (myself and my eldest son), and the “normal” tech users (my wife and my youngest son). If I was being less charitable, I might put my wife into the laggards category but, to be fair, she’s happy to adopt technology when she can see its value.

For me, part of that value was the ability to set up routines so that lights turn on/off when we’re away from the home. I also have one that turns all the lights off after everyone has gone to work/school (because physical switches appear to only work in one direction for my family – they can all turn lights on, but seemingly not off – I believe this is a common complaint for Fathers up and down the land, walking around houses turning lights off in empty rooms, even during daylight hours).

The biggest drawback I found was that I’ve yet to identify suitable Zigbee switches for the UK market. That means that, when the circuit is switched off (usually when leaving the house or going to bed), the lights are no longer controllable in software. On the flip side, the less-technically-inclined family members can operate the lights as normal, with the only minor inconvenience being, if the light has been turned off in software, they need to flick the switch off and on again to turn on the light “manually”.

Those in other parts of the world may have more luck – have a listen to these podcast episodes or watch some of the videos on this channel:

Form factors and accessories

Over time, I’ve expanded the system and I now have smart bulbs in the communal areas (hall, stairs, landing, etc.) as well as in the home offices and some of the bedrooms.

Unfortunately, there are no suitable MR16 Hue-compatible bulbs, so the rooms with those lights still have traditional halogen (for dimmer-controlled rooms) or LED spotlights. I’ve also stuck with “normal” bulbs in the bathrooms.

I’ve added a Hue sensor in the garage storeroom (so the light comes on when we open the door) and a couple of Hue dimmers, one of which has moved between various rooms over the last couple of years but is currently in our loft room. For the dimmer, I bought a Samotech adapter that covers the original light switch (left switched on), whilst still allowing the Hue dimmer to attach magnetically.

Samotech adapter in use with a Philips Hue dimmer and a standard UK light switch

The verdict?

All in all, things are working well. After nearly four years I’ve only had one failed bulb (replaced under warranty after about a year). The Philips Hue system seems to be a widely supported platform, with plenty of integrations (e.g. to smart home assistants) and the use of third-party bulbs in places has helped me to keep costs down to a reasonable level (I’ll write about these in my next post).

Acknowledgements

Featured image by HeikoAL from Pixabay.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.