Article
Remember when you had to get up off the sofa to turn down the lights? Well, that necessity is quickly disappearing as more of us are turning to Alexa or Siri to handle the task. Over the past few years, smart switches and outlets have become prominent wish-list items for many electrical contractors’ customers.

Getting Smarter is Also Getting Cheaper

Chuck Ross
Remember when you had to get up off the sofa to turn down the lights? Well, that necessity is quickly disappearing as more of us are turning to Alexa or Siri to handle the task. Over the past few years, smart switches and outlets have become prominent wish-list items for many electrical contractors’ customers. And that trend has only grown stronger during the past year, when many of us turned to home improvement projects to fight the COVID-19 lockdown blues.

Home automation is nothing new among high-end homeowners – they’ve enjoyed centralized control of lighting, security and sound systems for at least a couple decades. These have mostly been designed using structured wiring approaches that are most easily installed in new construction. What’s changed over the last few years is the rapid growth in products with distributed intelligence – in other words, the “smarts” live in the device. So, instead of having to add a centralized panel, homeowners can simply swap out an existing dimmer switch, light bulb or receptacle with a new, smarter model to gain the advantages of app- or voice-based control at a much more affordable price.

A recent report from the Freedonia Group, an international market research group, predicts sales of smart lighting fixtures will grow to $600 million by 2024. And the National Kitchen and Bath Association’s 2021 Trends Report’s found that 44% of its surveyed residential designers see voice-activated lighting control as an important priority for their clients.

The varied approaches of switches, bulbs and receptacles each can have their sweet spot. Receptacles might be better for appliances that just turn on and off, rather than lighting that you want to dim. Window AC units can be a great use case for these devices, which often can also track energy use – so you can see how the kilowatt-hours slow down when you set the temperature back a degree or two.

I recently opted for smart light bulbs to update my living room and den lighting. My 1960s-era home doesn’t have overhead lighting – instead, I’ve got five different table and standing lamps in the living room and another three in the den. Now, all can be turned on and off and dimmed at the same time from my phone or voice assistant, and I can preset them to different levels to create same kind of “scenes” high-end, centralized systems enable. It’s also really handy to just reach for my phone from the bedroom to turn them all off at once before heading to sleep.

Smart switches, on the other hand, are a great option for rooms with multi-fixture overhead lighting. This is an application I wish I’d thought of during my recent kitchen renovation project. I generally want all the lights at full power while I’m fixing dinner but choose to dim the kitchen to nearly off and the dining area to candlelight levels when I sit down to eat. Now, I have to play with four different dimmer switches for the overhead and undercounter fixtures every single evening. With a connected smart system, dimming levels for each could be preset to “cooking” and “dining” settings, and recalled with a simple “Hey, Alexa” request.
Photo courtesy of Eaton
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