Dumb-Smart or Smart-Dumb?

Now that you’ve gotten all excited about smart homes and have decided on the extent of your automation, here’s the next step – understand the 2 main ways you can automate your home. This post will explain to you the differences between a “smart-dumb” set up and a “dumb-smart” set up.

Remember our previous post on basic circuitry? In order to control your light wirelessly, you will need to have a device within the circuit that does the switching on your behalf (significant other or kids not valid examples, even though some have reported they also react to voice commands).

As you might have guessed, the simplest way is to install a SMART SWITCH. A smart switch is a device that allows you to open or close the circuit wirelessly, like with your phone.

Alternatively, you may choose to not use a Smart Switch, but a SMART BULB instead. A smart bulb in this case has built-in circuitry to open and close the circuit within the bulb itself. The switch that is within the bulb shall result in an open circuit when triggered.

A smart switch with an in-built switch to break the circuit

Did you notice that are now 2 switches within the circuit? Well done! Yes! There is now the main switch, and a 2nd switch within the bulb itself. Make a mental note of that and we will come back to that later. Let’s move on to the 2 main solutions we can employ to understand how all these work.

1. Dumb switch with Smart Bulbs

This solution allows you to “smartify” your home without having to re-wire or tear anything down. Smart bulbs and smart devices are pretty much “plug and play” that you can use any where without having to make any changes to your home, as long as they fit into your current fixtures (i.e. bulbs).

Typical scenario:

Let’s assume you’ve changed a light bulb at last once in your life. There are a few types of fittings, and one of the most common ones are Edison screw types. Below is an E27 and it screws into the bulb holder.

An E27 bulb (left) and a GU10 bulb (right).

Say you have a lamp that uses an E27 bulb. It is plugged into a wall socket and has a switch on the lap itself. If you took the “dumb” bulb out and replaced it with a smart bulb, you turn the lamp into a smart lamp, allowing you to control it from your phone. Some examples of these bulbs include Philips Hue (quite expensive @ S$289 for a starter kit with 3 bulbs) and the Xiaomi Yeelight (~S$50 each).

A “dumb” lamp. Replacing the bulb in this lamp with a smart bulb, such as the Yeelight, will make this a Smart Lamp.

The main draw backs of this solution is that you are limited by the types of devices you can use (as above), and you will see that they are quite expensive. A normal E27 bulb will cost you less than $10. What’s the alternative solution then?

2. Dumb Bulb with Smart switches

If you’re going all out for a Smart Home, this is the best way to do it. This gives you the best control over your lights and gives you the freedom to use any lights, fans and other powered devices to your desire.

By replacing every single switch in your home with a smart switch, you gain control to anything that is connected to those switches. In the earlier examples, everything was connected to a smart switch. It also makes the whole process more unified, since they are all controlled with the same interface.

Some examples of Smart Switches include Aqara (also known as Xiaomi), RM Broadlink, Wemo, just to name a few.

3. Conclusion

There are obviously pro-s and con-s with each system. Below is a summary of them:

DUMB Switch SMART BulbDUMB BulbSMART Switch
PROS
Uses existing equipment and wiring in your home, hence no major renovation, if anyAllows you to use any types of lights (or accessories)
Lower overall set up cost if scale is smallMuch more options in terms of systems available to choose from
Easy and quick to set upAbility to scale up at much lower costs in the future
CONS
Smart lights will stop working if the wall switch is accidentally switched offMay require extensive rewiring
Less selection in terms of available devicesHigher upfront cost if automation is extensive
Potentially more expensive solution if you are looking for extensive integration due to #2
Expensive to scale up in future

Our preferred route of smart home, in case you haven’t noticed, is the “Dumb Bulb – Smart Switch” way. This is because it allows more options, and while initial up front cost may be higher, we believe long term cost wise is lower. We also have extensive automation, hence the up front cost breaks even quite quickly.

In our next post, we shall talk about the different types of communication these smart devices use. What is Z-Wave, zig-bee, Tuya and so on.

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