Is my porch light a genius? Or just an alien?
August 8, 2017 8:10 AM   Subscribe

My new house has this porch light. Instead of a regular bulb though, it has this weird flat bulb, with the light coming out in a ring around the edge of the bulb, and electronics in the middle (pic inside). Help me figure out what it is!

Here's the view looking up its skirt. The bulb doesn't appear to unscrew like a normal lightbulb, and I have not tried to unscrew the screws visible on the electronics as I don't know what alien lifeforms they might unleash, although that's probably the next step. It is controlled by a normal looking light switch inside the front door. If it is a dusk to dawn bulb, the sensor doesn't work. It only turns on and off from the switch, and it doesn't seem to be tied to the Ring doorbell).

I'm hoping it's a smartbulb of some sort - does anybody recognize it? Or is it just some weirdo alien bulb/fixture? The family who lived here before seems to be into simple automation (exterior lights on timers, motion activated lights, Ring doorbell) so I would expect it to be a dusk to dawn or other independent simple automation type thing, but as far as I can tell they weren't into full on home automation (no Nest, other appliances not smarthome compatible).
posted by bluesky78987 to Home & Garden (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The four yellow squares are 4 LED "bulbs". It is likely that there are no user replacable bulbs in the light. I recently was buying lights for a kitchen and bathroom and had a lot of difficulty finding lights with user replacable bulbs rather than integrated LEDs. In theory they shouldn't burn out for about 10k hours of use, but I wasn't quite comfortable with that yet so we just got ones with replacable blubs, but instead put LED bulbs in them. That way if the bulb burns out I can just replace the bulb rather than the entire light fixture.
posted by koolkat at 8:14 AM on August 8, 2017 [4 favorites]

Thank you koolkat! That makes sense, it's just the Borg trying to assimilate me!

Now the question becomes, "Which replacement fixture shall I get?" I really need this thing to turn on by the time I arrive home at night - driving up at 9:30pm to a dark house and fiddling with keys in the dark is no fun. Isn't that what a porch light is FOR, to eliminate that?

When I thought I had a normal fixture, I was wanting to use a dusk to dawn bulb, since it's simple. But if I have to buy a new fixture, I'd like one that I can program to go on and off at specific times, and control remotely.

If anybody is into home automation (on the simple side), feel free to chime in. I have an Abode system, but not yet an actual smarthub, although I intend to get one sometime.
posted by bluesky78987 at 8:22 AM on August 8, 2017

The LED's are integral to the circuit board. This luminaire has the sources integral to it, no separite lamp. If they die, you could try to source a replacement board, but more likely, you would just throw it out and buy a new luminaire.
posted by nickggully at 8:37 AM on August 8, 2017

I'm a huge fan of the Lutron Caseta system, and use one of the dimmers to control my porch light. The switches are super simple to install, mainly because they don't need a neutral wire like most home automation replacement switches. If you want to set a dusk-to-dawn timer on it, you need to get the smart hub. However, if you just want to be able to turn on the light from your car you could keep one of the remotes paired with it in the car (they make a visor clip). I started out with my porch light, but now have most of my house on this system and love it.
posted by noneuclidean at 9:22 AM on August 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

I have a similar LED porch fixture, and retrofitted a simple photoelectric switch similar to this one into it. I needed to take down the fixture, drill a hole in it for the photodiode and add a couple of wire nuts to hook everything together, but it was pretty straightforward and inexpensive. Not as much fun as real automation though...
It doesn't look like the fixture you have has a replaceable bulb so the smart bulbs will require a new fixture as well.
posted by dttocs at 10:21 AM on August 8, 2017

Thanks everybody!
It seems like the options are:

1. New light fixture for regular bulb with my choice of smart fixture or smart bulb.
2. New smart in-wall switch (WeMo, Lutron Caseta, something that works with Alexa/ST/Abode/etc).
3. Install photodiode.

It seems like #2 will probably be the cheapest and easiest, once I sort out what type of smart switch I want. Annoyingly, it is on a double switchplate, so that complicates the switchbuying process, and I don't know if I have a neutral wire but can check it. But still leaning that direction. So complicated!! Why couldn't they have just installed a regular light fixture??? Whyyyyyyy? :)
posted by bluesky78987 at 12:07 PM on August 8, 2017

bluesky78987: "Why couldn't they have just installed a regular light fixture??? Whyyyyyyy? :)"

LED fixtures like yours are superior to old style fixtures in essentially every way (with the edge case exception you are having of wanting to install an IoTs bulb). They use less energy; function much longer without maintenance; are in my experience less prone to environmental damage (rusting etc.), probably because the higher initial cost encourages better materials; give off brighter, whiter light, and are more vandal resistant. Payback on the increased capital cost for a light that is left on for a few hours a day is often less than 5 years and can be as little as a year for a fixture that is lit for 10 hours day.

bluesky78987: " Annoyingly, it is on a double switchplate, so that complicates the switchbuying process"

You can buy combination switch plates that will allow you to use your old style switch with a new decora switch but it will be easier to change out the other switch to a decora and get the ball rolling on switching out your devices. It is starting to get difficult to get old style devices and wall plates. Already many colours are special order if they are available at all.
posted by Mitheral at 4:15 PM on August 8, 2017

Why couldn't they have just installed a regular light fixture??? Whyyyyyyy? :)

You'll see if you try and go out and buy one with a bulb. The selection is very limited and none work as well as the LED ones.
posted by koolkat at 1:14 AM on August 9, 2017

There are reasonably cheap (~$20) dusk/dawn timer switches you can use in place of the existing light switch. No need for fancy wifi/Bluetooth/IoT madness, just a reasonably simple programmable switch and wall plate.
posted by wierdo at 1:34 AM on August 9, 2017

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