App-controlled lighting can be the best first step to making your home smarter. These systems are easy to install and set up, can be easily moved to a different room or a new property, and have a certain wow-factor that devices like smart thermostats lack.
They are also the ideal device for people living in rented property, as they can be installed without making permanent changes to the property, and taken with you when you move.
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Although you may only have heard of smart lights from Philips and Ikea, the market is already surprisingly large. All systems offer a very similar promise — millions of colors and temperatures of light, adjustable to however you like — but there are differences to be aware of before you make your first purchase.-
You should also plan where you'd like the lights to go. Of course the ceiling is the obvious place to begin, but LED light strips and lamps mean you can get more creative than with regular bulbs — and all without upsetting your landlord.
Here is your complete guide to installing smart lighting in a rented property:
Companies producing smart lights
The following mainstream brands all produce smart lights, while a browse on Amazon will reveal many more lesser-known companies selling their own bulbs and light strips, often at lower prices but with fewer features and connectivity options.
Adding lights to your network
Some smart bulbs — like those by LIFX and TP-Link — connect directly to your Wi-Fi network, ready to be controlled by their smartphone app from a phone connected to the same router. Others, like Philips Hue and Ikea Tradfri, connect to their own dedicated hub, which plugs into your router with an Ethernet cable.
Some require you to provide your own Z-Wave or Zigbee smart home hub, like an Amazon Echo Plus, or one produced by Samsung SmartThings. These hubs act as middlemen between your smartphone and the bulbs (and other smart home devices).
Renters are unlikely to have any issues no matter what system they buy, unless the landlord has imposed some restrictions on the property's router. In our experience, you are free to plug in your own router and control the home's network however you like.
Check your fittings
The first thing you should do is check what fittings your current lights use, and what size and shape the bulbs are. Do they have a screw or bayonet connection, and what size is it? Are they regular bulbs or spotlights?
This can be rather complicated, and varies slightly between the US and Europe. Screw-in bulbs use the Edison Screw (ES) base; this base is used by four groups of bulb, known as the candelabra, intermediate, medium (or standard), and mogul. But, more often than not, these names are replaced by a letter and a number – and it is this number that differs by region. Here are your common options:
- Candelabra: E12 in the US, E11 in Europe
- Intermediate: E17 in the US, E14 in Europe
- Medium or standard: E26 in the US, E27 in Europe
- Mogul: E39 in the US, E40 in Europe
The most common ES bulb mount, as found in a huge range of lamps, is the E26/E27. While these are almost exactly the same shape, and an E26 bulb from the US will often fit in the E27 socket of a European lamp, this is best avoided, as each bulb base has been designed to comply with different safety standards for each region.
Next we need to quickly address the shape of the bulb – in other words, the glass part. The most common shape is A, which is followed by a number that represents the diameter, although the number is not an actual measurement in inches or millimeters. The most common bulb size is the A19. Thus, the most common household bulb has an E26 or E27 screw-in base, and an A19 bulb shape/size.
You will want to replace your non-smart bulbs with smart options like-for-like, so that they fit correctly and are aesthetically correct.
WiZ IZ0026023 60 Watt EQ A19 Smart WiFi Connected LED Light Bulbs/Compatible with Alexa and Google Home, no Hub Required, Dimmable Soft White, 3 Piece
Once you have worked all this out, you can start researching which smart light company offers the right bulbs for your connections. Property owners could replace their connections (often a fairly simple job for those comfortable with basic wiring), but for renters this likely isn't an option.
It could be worth checking with your landlord — you never know, they might agree to changes because they like the idea of the property being smart bulb-friendly — but you will likely be stuck with the current fittings, and have to shop accordingly.
As for controlling smart lights, this is most commonly done with a phone app or by talking to a voice assistant like Siri, Alexa or the Google Assistant. Many systems also offer their own wireless, physical switches for controlling smart lighting, and it is also possible to wire more intelligent switches in place of your property's originals. But of course, wiring in a rented home is unlikely be permitted by the landlord, so apps and wireless switches are the way to go.
Some systems (like Philips Hue and Ikea Tradfri) include switches, dimmers and motion sensors, but these are wireless so can be placed anywhere and don't need fitting to the walls.
Philips Hue lights can be controlled by a wireless switch and dimmerPhilips
Standalone lamps are a landlord-friendly option
It is highly likely that you will be able to fit at least some smart bulbs to your current fittings. But it can still be disappointing to discover widespread incompatibility across your home — as I found when learning Philips Hue does not offer GU5.3 spotlights, which my home uses almost exclusively. If you find yourself in this situation, then companies like Singify (owner of Philips Hue), LIFX and Nanoleaf sell smart lamps and light strips, which can be placed almost anywhere and plugged into a wall outlet.
Another way to get some smart lights into your rented property is to buy some lamps. Either pick something like the Philips Hue Go or Bloom, or buy any budget lamp with a common bulb fitting, like the E27 mentioned earlier. Now you can place smart lights wherever you like and with zero modification to the property itself.
LED light strips
As well as lamps, LED light strips are a great way to bring new lighting into your rented property. A wide range of companies sell such strips, from the likes of Philips and LIFX, but also lesser-known firms like Nexlux, YiHong and Lampwin. Many work with their own app and offer control via Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and Siri through Apple's Home app and the HomeKit platform.
We recommend going for a better-known brand, but their prices can seem high compared to the alternatives. For example, a kit including one 80-inch Hue light strip with a 40-inch extender costs $115, while this 192-inch light strip by Govee, and with Alexa and Google Assistant control, is just $32.
LED strip lighting can be used to add featuring lighting to your kitchenPhilips
Popular places for light strips include behind the television, above and below kitchen cupboards, and under or behind items of furniture like wardrobes, beds and sofas. The trick is to completely hide the light strip from sight, so instead of seeing the individual LEDs, you see the pool of light they create. Strips with LEDs places closer together (a downside of Hue strips) helps here.
These strips are powered by a wall outlet, can often be daisy-chained together to make them longer, and come with an adhesive strip to stick them in place, or you can use your own tape or adhesive. Renters will want to be careful here, as sticking them to your walls could cause damage when you remove them months or years down the line.
We recommend only sticking them to your own possessions, like the back of your television. Alternatively, placing a lamp behind the TV with a smart bulb fitted can create the same soft backlighting effect, but on a much smaller budget.
Smart feature lighting
An example of how feature lighting can also be smartNanoleaf
Smart lighting gives you the chance to get creative with how your property is lit, even if you don't own it. For decoration instead of room-filling lighting, try the Nanoleaf Aurora, a modular system that starts at $200 and is comprised of light-up triangles which clip together into many different shapes.
The starter kit comes with nine triangles and a power adapter, but up to 30 can be added and you can make each a different color. The picture above is 15 panels — which costs about $320 and includes the $65 rhythm module, which allows lights to flash in time to music you play nearby. Alexa, Google Assistant and Apple HomeKit support comes as standard.
Nanoleaf recently added the Unified Hexagons to its range, which react to touch, ambient light and movement. An alternative for smart feature lighting is the Beam and Tile by LIFX.
If you're fortunate enough to have some outside space with your rented property, then a growing number of smart lighting options are available to you. Obviously, digging up the garden to install cables for extensive lighting isn't something most renters can do, but replacing existing bulbs is easily done.
For example, at my previous rented property I had a small roof terrace with a light fitting in one corner. On discovering it is a regular E27 bulb, I swapped it for a Philips Hue bulb, added it to my Hue app, resulting in a terrace smart light that could be made any color.
If you can't guarantee the light will be protected from rain by its cover (mine was in a glass case), then the BR30 and +BR30 bulbs by LIFX are water resistant and designed for outdoor use.
Hue sells a wide range of outdoor smart lightingSingify
This will be your simplest option for making your outside lights smart, but if there aren't any fittings to start with you could purchase a Philips Hue Go, which is a portable and battery-powered smart lamp compatible with Alexa, Google Assistant and Siri via Apple HomeKit. It also works via Bluetooth, making it easy to set up and control – and it doesn't require the additional expense of the Hue Bridge.
It's an expensive lamp, at around $80, but gives out between 2.5 and 24 hours of light per charge depending on brightness, which should be enough for most summer evenings in the garden. It can be used while plugged in and made to shine any color via the Hue app.
Another option is something like the Sylvania Lightify outdoor lighting kit, which includes nine lights spread across a single power cable. Each light sits on a small spike which can be pushed into the ground. These would look good illuminating a pathway and can be removed without causing any permanent damage to the ground.
One of my favorite uses for smart lights is to fit a bulb or LED strip behind a television. This emits a warm, soft glow all around the display, making the bright screen easier on your eyes. I also have two LED strips which run around the edge of my bed and a chest of drawers, located in the corner of my room. Like with the TV, this casts a nice soft pool of light across the walls; with the Routines feature of the Hue app, I have these lights brighten gradually to wake me up each morning.
But it's down to personal preference, and with almost limitless options available — even for renters — smart lights can really be anything you want them to be. And when it's time to move out, you can easily take everything with you to your next smart home.
Check out The GearBrain, our smart home compatibility checker to see the other compatible products that work with Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa enabled devices.