The smart home is supposed to make things easier, providing time-saving automation and reducing the scope for things to go wrong as a result of user error.
Sadly, it doesn’t always work out like that – in practice, something as simple as automating a lamp can cause unforeseen headaches that’ll leave you wishing for the return of good old candles.
Here are some of the more unexpected ways in which a smart lamp could cause you problems, potentially even putting you in more serious danger. We’ve also included a few useful ways to work around those issues.
Things That Go Bump in the Night
Setting up smart lighting is often one of the first steps taken by people who want to create a smart home. In the world of home automation, creating a system which simply allows you to turn lights on and off from your phone or tablet is at the cheaper and simpler end of the scale.
There are lots of reasons why you might want to set up such a system – perhaps the ability to turn on a light in your hallway when you pull into your driveway when you get home from work, or a way to turn on a soft bathroom light from your bed when you need to stumble to the bathroom in the middle of the night.
Done properly, these setups clearly have a many benefits. Done badly, there are all sorts of pitfalls.
The Possible Damage
A light that turns off when you least expect it can cause many issues – both financial and health-related.
For example, accidentally kicking the cat in a darkened hallway could set you back $100 in vet fees, falling down the stairs as you come out of the bathroom in the middle of the night could send you to the ER, while being plunged into darkness whilst actually using the toilet could lead to untold embarrassments that we won’t delve into here.
Let it 'glow': Man hoping for 'royal flush' with glow-in-the-dark toilet seat invention http://t.co/3J4doXc725
— KPLC (@KPLC7News) May 24, 2015
Wink can connect your whole home – but one of its strongest areas is lighting (though be warned, it does lack some advanced features). It’ll work with several leading smart home brands (such as Quirky, Nest and Philips) and it’ll let you control them all from one single app.
If you want to get a bit smarter, you could try out the Occupancy Sensor Switch by Lutron.
Once you’ve installed the sensor, it will automatically detect whether or not someone is in the room and turn the lights on accordingly. It’ll even turn the lights off again when you leave the room or if someone accidentally leaves the light on, and it won’t turn the lights on in daylight if it judges the room to be light enough already.
With energy prices increasing relentlessly, electricity bills can shock us at the best of times (pun intended).
Keeping your toaster plugged in at all times can add $15-$20 to your monthly electric bill.
— True Facts (@amusingfactts) June 8, 2015
Thankfully, with a carefully planned household budget these steady increases can be taken into consideration. What can be more problematic is if you get a one-off high bill that you were not expecting – yet that’s exactly what could end up happening if you incorrectly set timers on your smart lights.
Let’s say, for example, that you are luckily enough to have a small vacation apartment somewhere in the Caribbean. When you lock it up for the year you want to set a light to turn on in your hallway, lounge, kitchen, and above the front door between 7pm and 11pm every night (4 hours), but instead, you accidentally set the lights to come on between 11pm and 7pm (20 hours).
This would have profound consequences on your bill.
The Possible Damage
A 60 watt light bulb costs approximately 0.875 cents to run per hour. That means that four lights running for 20 hours per day for a whole year would add an extra $255.50 to your electricity bill.
How many cost accountants does it take to change a light bulb? Hmmm. . . . . . . . Ill just do a few numbers and get back to you :)
— Kerri (@Janie_2640) June 17, 2015
Even if your don’t have a second home, something as simple as having a single light incorrectly turned on for six hours per day while you were at work would add almost $20 per year to your bill. The worst part of that is that it could run for years before you realize, possibly costing you hundreds of dollars.
Okay, this one isn’t such a high tech solution. The best and most effective way of making sure your lights turn on and off when you want is by using a simple analogue light timer – available from DIY shops like Home Depot and larger supermarkets that have a “home” section.
An Unintentional Party
Mood lighting is all the rage these days – it immeasurably improves the “feel” of your home.
For example, the ability to change from a cool light to a warm light when you finish working and settle down for the evening can help give the room a dual purpose, while effective use of color lights can create the perfect ambiance for a sports game, a party, or a film.
But what happens when mood lighting gets out of control? What happens when colors start changing when you don’t want them to?
If it happens during the day you’ll probably get away with it. If it happens during the night, the consequences could be much more profound than simply spoiling your movie.
The Possible Damage
It only takes a few teenagers to incorrectly interpret the flashing lights behind your drawn curtains as the party of the year for you to have a big problem on your hands.
Everyone is invited to my beach house party. EVERYONE. Even Fox News. It gonna go viral. — Valdo (@Find_Valdo) May 5, 2015
News spreads like wildfire on Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram, and before you know it you’ve got half of the neighborhood’s under 30s dancing on your Persian carpet. The police turn up to find underage drinkers passed out in your bathtub, your dog doing tequila shots with the hamster, and your garden shed on fire.
Your insurance company will refuse to pay out – instead blaming you for gross incompetence, and you’ve now got a criminal record. It’s a disaster.
The market leader for mood lighting is Philips Hue system. It makes use of Internet-connected lightbulbs that can be controlled from an app on your phone, and can supposedly support up to 16 million colors (if your eyesight is sharp enough to determine the difference between light green and ever-so-fractionally-lighter-green).
You can add up to 50 bulbs to your system, and the whole thing links together using a Wi-Fi connected bridge. Once this bridge is connected to your wireless router you can control your lights from anywhere in the world.
Unfortunately, the entry costs of the Philips Hue system are not cheap – the basic entry package (two lightbulbs and a bridge) will set you back $80 on Amazon.
If you can’t afford to spend that much on the Philips offering, you can create a DIY lighting system in your home, or you could follow James Bruce’s guide to controlling a lighting system with the iPhone‘s personal assistant Siri and an inexpensive Arduino.
Have either you, your family, or your friends had any horror experiences with a smart lighting system? Perhaps you already have an effective smart lighting system in your home? Have you found it useful or are they a here-today-gone-tomorrow fad?
Maybe you have a favorite or least favorite smart lighting system?
Whatever your situation we’d love to hear from you. You can let us know your thoughts and feedback in the comments section below.
Image Credits: man with candle via Shutterstock