The classic incandescent light bulb might be familiar and cheap, but the little buggers are insanely inefficient. When you upgrade to the energy-efficient LED bulbs, they are a pricier option upfront, but they save you energy and money in the long run. Then we come to smart bulbs, the next era in home lighting. While these babies bear a hefty price tag (we’re talking $30 to $40 per bulb), they can be controlled with your voice. Welcome to the future! 

Yes, these smart light bulbs can really be turned on and operated by your voice through Google Assistant, Siri or Alexa. You can even change their color, play music and gradually dim them to help you sleep better — all via your voice or smartphone app. However, because of that advanced technology, they do leech electricity even when the lights are off but only in small amounts. Because, while smart bulbs don’t use much electricity, they’re in a class of electronics called vampire appliances — devices that use power even when they’re not in use. 

In this article, we’ll discuss smart bulbs, why they waste energy, and exactly how much they waste (in dollars). We’ll also talk about typical energy suckers you might already have in your house and just how much in electricity they could be costing you. 

What is a Smart Bulb?

A smart bulb is an LED light bulb that has technology built-in so it can connect to a common network such as Wi-Fi or Bluetooth that can be remotely controlled. They’re an important part of the greater home automation or “smart home” trend, in which an increasing number of everyday household appliances can be connected via a single network. 

While the New York Times picked the Phillips Hue bulb starter kit as the best smart lighting ecosystem, you have several brands available. Both Samsung and GE provide excellent smart bulb options, and they’re slightly more affordable. 

Whichever brand you choose, it’s important to be aware of which devices they pair with best and how. For example, GE lighting is specifically designed to work with Google Home and connects to your home Wi-Fi. The Philips Hue light, on the other hand, runs on either Bluetooth or a special hub you have to buy.

Why Smart Bulbs Waste Energy When They’re ‘Off’

As we mentioned above, smart bulbs are in a class of appliances that use electricity in standby mode: vampire devices. This means that smart bulbs use electricity even when they’re off. “How does that happen if the bulb is turned off?” you might ask. Well, in order to be turned on with your phone or another device, the bulb still needs to be connected to the internet or Bluetooth. That meager, yet constant, connection requires that a small amount of power always be ready when you need the lights on. However, it doesn’t use much. 

According to How-To-Geek, the average smart bulb only uses a few cents a month when in standby mode. If you only had one or a few smart bulbs, you probably would even notice it on your electric bill. But if you had a bunch, say 20 pr 30 bulbs throughout your home, those charges would start adding up into dollars. 

More About Vampire Appliances

Vampire appliances, also called standby power and phantom load, are various appliances and electronics that consume power even when they’re seemingly off. In reality, they’re in standby mode, so that whenever you want to turn them on, they do so in an instant. The most common example is your TV. 

These appliances trade cost-effectiveness for ease-of-use and comfort. You spend a little extra money on your electricity usage each month for the convenience of your TV turning on when you press the power button on the remote. Individually, vampire appliances cost you only a few cents more on your electricity bill. However, when you realize how many of them you have in your home, these devices can cost an average of $200 a year in electricity.

Common vampire appliances include: 

  • Smart bulbs
  • TVs
  • Computers
  • Printers
  • Microwaves
  • Water heaters
  • Security systems

Do Smart Bulbs Save Money?

Yes and no. Confusing, right? Let’s clarify: Because smart bulbs are LEDs, they are highly efficient and use much less energy than incandescent bulbs. So, if you compare smart bulbs to incandescents, then yes. They do save considerable energy and — thus — money! 

However, when you compare smart bulbs to regular LEDs, the cost outweighs the money savings you get from switching to LEDs. Smart bulbs cost considerably more than regular LED bulbs. Plus, they’re a vampire appliance, meaning they suck energy when the lights are off. 

Should You Worry? 

If you have only a few smart bulbs, you most likely won’t even notice it on your bill. However, if you’ve installed several smart bulbs because you enjoy on-demand mood lighting or many of your appliances are on standby mode throughout your home, their combined energy usage can prevent you from saving money — which no one ever wants to hear.

To learn more about vampire appliances and how to reduce their energy usage, visit our article on slaying vampire electricity in tour home. You can also learn how to introduce smart home technology to your home with our 2020 smart home devices guide.