Home Automation: To hub or not to hub? Part 1 – Lights

When I first started playing with the modern iteration of home automation, not talking about X10 back in the day, I had to purchase a hub, or bridge, to communicate between the different products. I bought a very expensive light bulb kit with its hub that used the Zigbee mesh network, a couple of switched outlets that communicated with the hub via Z-Wave, and a  Z-Wave door lock. Recently, I noticed WiFi bulbs, outlets, etc. on Amazon and decided to give them a try.

I was very apprehensive to try the various brands of WiFi enabled products without a common hub to control all of them. So, I ordered an RGB LED strip to go under my kitchen cabinets. I had to download an app called Smart Life to control the light strip. It did not interface with the hub I had purchased. The Smart Life app was easy to use and let me integrate with my Google Home speakers. I noticed in the app that a variety of products were supported so I headed over to the Amazon site to see if I could find any more. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that a lot of the cheaper WiFi products advertised being compatible with the Smart Life platform.

I took the plunge. I ordered several smart plugs, light switches, a power strip, and an RGB LED bulb. The items ranged in price between 10 and 30 USD. I’ve been pleasantly impressed with converting from proprietary mesh network light bulbs to WiFi enabled switches, smart plugs, etc. The mesh networked devices do have some security advantages since they’re not technically “online”. Each device sits behind the hub which is the gateway to the internet where the WiFi devices connect directly to your router and have “cloud” control. I will write a post later with the pros and cons of the different wireless technologies.

When buying these cheap devices you have to make sure you do your research. Make sure it has been UL or ETL listed, read reviews, etc. There are certain risks of using cheaply made electronics, so make sure you do your research before buying.

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