Here's a brief explainer of some common terms and things to keep in mind when you're looking for smart lighting. We also share some advice from lighting designer Jack, who designs lighting for buildings in New York and beyond. As an early adopter, Jack has been using smart lighting in her home for several years now.
Placement: Light strips can bring a futuristic feel or add accent lighting to lots of spaces around your home, but you must consider placement very carefully as they can be difficult to remove. Because light strips tend to look quite ugly, Jack says they should not be directly visible. You can stick them under shelves and cabinets, in recessed areas, or behind furniture. Consider how the light will be reflected; the closer the light strip is to a surface the more intense the light will appear there. Always measure to see what length you require and remember that you need an accessible power outlet to plug the strip into. Some light strips can be cut, and some can be extended, but follow the manufacturer's instructions to the letter to avoid problems. Bear in mind that the portion you cut off usually can't be reused. It's easy enough to place a light strip in a straight line, but corners and right angles can prove tricky. Be careful not to bend too tightly, or you may damage the strip.
Installation: Smart light strips usually have adhesive that runs their length. You simply peel the backing off and stick them onto the desired surface. Be very careful when you peel the backing off, as it's easy to accidentally peel the adhesive off with it. If you want the light strip to stay in place, take the time to clean the surface thoroughly first. If you're fitting a long light strip, it's also a good idea to get help from someone. In our experience, the adhesive sticks better to some surfaces than others and you may need additional clips or brackets. Bear in mind that the adhesive may leave a mark if you remove the light strip.
Controls: While smart light strips can be controlled from your smartphone, that's not always convenient. Some smart light strips have simple power switches attached, and even a button that cycles through scenes or colors. A few come with their own remote controls. This is very useful if you're installing them in a common area or a kid's bedroom, for example.
White or color: If you just want the ability to dim lights and schedule or remotely control them, then white light strips will give you everything you need. Color light strips are always more expensive, though they obviously give you much greater versatility. For most people, a mix will work best. Jack recommends sticking with white in certain rooms, like the kitchen or bathroom, but using color in the living room or bedroom to help you relax. She also suggests using more blue in your lights during the day and switching to warmer, yellow tones at night to stay in tune with natural circadian rhythms. When buying color light strips, it's important to note that some strips can only display one color at a time. Others can display multiple colors along their length.
Brightness: This is measured in lumens. A standard 60W light bulb, for example, gives out around 800 lumens. Most smart light strips state a lumen count for brightness, but in some cases, you may need to ask the manufacturer. The brightness you need from your light strip will depend on the room and its existing lighting. You can find guides online, such as this one at Home Depot, offering advice on how many lumens different rooms require and a formula for calculating based on the size of a room.
Color temperature: Measured in Kelvins (K), the color temperature of a light dictates how warm or cool it will appear. A range should be given for each light. For example, the Lumary Light Strip Color Ambiance goes from 2,000 K up to 6,500 K. Light appears more yellow at 2,000 K and a bluish white at 6,000 K. Jack' top tip is to aim for a color temperature of 2,700 K for use in most of the home, as this gives a nice, relaxing, warm light. You may want a higher temperature in areas like the kitchen.
Scenes: These are specific brightness, color temperature, and color settings that come as presets or that you create and save for future use. Sometimes scenes can include animations that cycle through different colors. Settings like Daylight or Relax are a quick way to change your lights for a particular mood or activity.
Connectivity: Smart light strips can connect directly to your control device (usually your phone) through Bluetooth or Wi-Fi or indirectly through a hub (which mostly use the Zigbee standard). There are various trade-offs here. Bluetooth uses less power and doesn't require a hub, but the control range is limited to around 33 feet and it's slower to react than Wi-Fi. With a hub or Wi-Fi, you can potentially control your lights from anywhere, provided you have an internet connection. They tend to connect more reliably and respond faster, as well. While a separate hub means plugging a device into your router and a power outlet, it can also help reduce congestion on your home Wi-Fi network, which can prove helpful if your Wi-Fi bandwidth is limited. While hubs are a higher up-front cost, they are easier to swap out than replacing a ton of bulbs around the house if you want to upgrade to a new technology.
Smart-home integration: There are lots of different services and standards related to smart-home setups, so make sure your chosen lights work with your preferred services. If you want to use Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant to control your smart light strips, for example, then look for the relevant logo on the box or in the product details online. If you aren't sure what you might want to add later, go for a product with more connectivity options.
Longevity: Smart light strips should last for years. You'll often see their lifetime listed in tens of thousands of hours. As smart light strips contain many small LEDs, sometimes a single LED or section of LEDs will fail or refuse to display a specific color. This can happen if you physically damage the strip by bending or twisting, so be careful when installing your strip. Unfortunately, there's no easy fix if this happens and you may need to replace the entire light strip.