Lights won’t turn on? Check the Wi-Fi.

It used to be easier to figure out the problem yourself when the lights stopped working. Things were simpler, and fewer things could go wrong

The advent of automated buildings and smart houses has added a few layers of difficulty and complexity. Did the bulb burn out? Is it an electrical issue? Or, did somebody say the wrong thing to Alexa?

Better, longer, fewer problems

You may recall at the beginning of this decade a bit of a to-do about traditional incandescent light bulbs. Some people thought that the government actually banned them. That turns out to be somewhat of an urban myth, perhaps even perpetuated by a major news source publishing an obituary for the light bulb.

Thankfully, it wasn’t completely true – and that’s a relief when you consider that, as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) notes “there are 4 billion light bulb sockets in the U.S. and more than 3 billion of them still use the standard incandescent technology that hasn’t changed much in 125 years.”

There was a ban, but it wasn’t the incandescent light bulb. Instead, enforcement of the standards set in place by a phaseout put in place by the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA). It restricted materials and processes used in the manufacture of light bulbs, requiring a common household light bulb using between 40 and 100 watts to use 27% less energy.

There’s another wave coming. In 2020, incandescent light bulbs must become up to 70% more efficient than they were before EISA was passed in 2007. There’s no need to rush out and stockpile. Today’s LED bulbs and compact fluorescent lamps (CFL) are already more efficient than the requirements. The additional benefits are that these better bulbs using newer technologies have much longer lifespans.

There are a few trade-offs. CFL bulbs contain mercury, so they must be recycled properly, so this toxic metal stays out of the landfills. Many CFL bulbs also are not dimmable. LEDs use a fraction of the power of a traditional incandescent bulb and can be rated to last up to 25,000 hours.

More than a flip of the switch

Our old friend the incandescent light bulb is still around, but only as a more efficient version. It’s joined by a few different flavors – mainly CFL and LED. But the bigger transformation has more to do with what’s controlling those lights. It’s often more today than just a matter of walking over to a nearby light switch and flipping it on or off.

In fact, a growing number of office buildings and public spaces don’t even have light switches anymore. You’ll still see those light switches back at home, but it’s possible that they don’t do much of anything. Home and office automation has become commonplace and affordable. It makes buildings run more efficiently, and who’s going to complain when your smart house turns on the lights for you at sunset?

This automation goes beyond convenience. Systems in offices can measure ambient light and compensate lamp usage to maintain a specific level. At home, lights can be automatically activated when you return home or turned on for safety reasons if a security or fire alarm is activated.

And yes, digital assistants like Siri and Alexa (as well as Google Assistant, who doesn’t have a catchy name) can be taught to turn lights off and on for us, too.

More technology means more sources for problems

In a perfect world, maybe in the near future, we might be able to just say, “Hey, Alexa. Why aren’t the lights on?” Meanwhile, figuring out what’s wrong by yourself has gotten more complicated. What are you supposed to do when you’re at the office – which now doesn’t have any light switches – and the lights aren’t on?

It used to be the bulb, the fixture, or the electrical wiring. Now it could be the hub, the automation system software, the Wi-Fi, a sensor, or even Alexa. When you have a moment, go ahead and ask her how many digital assistants it takes to reset a smart light bulb. She’ll probably give you one of her favorite answers: “Sorry. I’m not sure about that.”

Today’s sophisticated home or office lighting systems can require the intervention of professionals when they malfunction. Learn how we can help.