Connected homes: what smart lighting and bulbs mean for your home, plus the best upgrades

In the third part of our connected homes series, Michael Moran explains why switching to LED bulbs is economically and environmentally more efficient and why smart lighting systems are here to stay

Depending on which of the dozen or so contenders for the title of ‘inventor of the incandescent bulb’ you fancy, the lightbulb is between 150 and 200 years old. For most of that period it has hardly changed at all. It’s a glass vessel that contains a thin filament of conductive metal with a high melting point and as little air as the manufacturing process will allow.

Because the vacuums in incandescent bulbs are never quite perfect, the filaments will burn out eventually. You’ll get around 1,000 hours for traditional light bulbs versus typically 10,000 hours for fluorescent bulbs and 30,000 hours for the fancy new LED type.

Old-style lightbulbs are considered quite a wasteful technology now, even if those of us whose eyes are showing signs of wear have a bit of trouble reading newsprint in the gloomy ambit of the newer ‘vegetarian’ bulbs.

The best lightbulb to buy

Consequently, the best choice of bulb right now is something LED based. And once you’ve arrived in the world of 21st-century lighting, there’s no excuse for stopping halfway in.

Smart lightbulbs are here and not just for the sheer novelty of dimming the lighting from your mobile phone. Although that doesn’t stop being fun for quite some time.

There are also economic benefits. While the unit cost of smart bulbs is high enough to make the most prosperous gadget enthusiast wince, the bulbs tend to last for a lot longer than their ‘dumb’ cousins because they’re less likely to be left on unnecessarily (at least once you’re through that first week when you’re playing with them non-stop).

The best smart lighting system to buy

There are already nine or ten different and of course subtly incompatible smart lighting systems on the market right now. There are Bluetooth-controlled ones such as Samsung or LG’s offerings, and Wi-Fi ones like Philips Hue and LIFX.

So which one should you go for? Wi-Fi looks more futureproof than Bluetooth. And for all the virtues of the innovative LIFX system it is – like a lot of hardware made by small start-ups – a touch unreliable for everyday users. The Philips system looks like the current front runner.

Especially if you’re a fan of dystopian drama 12 Monkeys, currently airing on the SyFy channel: Syfy has teamed up with Phillips to give each episode of 12 Monkeys a dedicated ‘light track’. Daft and gimmicky it may be, but as a preview of a new immersive age of entertainment, it’s a big improvement on the flickering experiments of Edison and his rivals.