It seems it was nine years ago that I was writing about sticking Philips Hue bulbs all over my flat. Well, it doesn’t actually seem like nine years ago, but arithmetic confirms that it was very nearly. A lot has happened since then. Most of the bulbs are still working (one conked out and another met with an accident) but I don’t know if I really ever got the most out of them. They’ve also switched from WiFi connectivity to the more reliable and less router-dependant Zigbee for their communications and they are still very popular despite a huge array of (usually cheaper) alternatives.

In the interim, we’ve also converted our loft, giving us another floor to play with – oh, and there’s been a bit of a flap on about some sort of bug that seems to be going round. Being stuck indoors the whole time with no house guests and very few visitors, I decided to take another look at the Hue situation. I made sure all the bulbs were correctly named in the now-upgraded Hue app. I thought of something sensible to do with the dimmer switch magnetised onto the fridge. I set up rules to slowly dim the lights in the evening and to turn them on in the morning. I made sure that Alexa knew where all the lights were and could turn them on and off as I commanded. And I replaced the existing candle-style bulbs in what I was now using as my study with Hue versions, complete with a little magnet-y Smart Button to control them, adhering to one corner of the existing metal switch.

Upstairs, with the low-ish ceilings which are part of the deal with loft conversions, there were no dangling pendants, only flush spotlight GU10 bulbs. We wanted them dimmable but the touch-sensitive panels which we had installed had always been unreliable and had steadily been failing. First the light at the top of the stairs wouldn’t turn on, then the set of six lights overhead in the TV room. Finally my reading light went. Enough was enough. We hadn’t asked for Philips Hue bulbs when we had the loft done – because the one thing I knew about Hue bulbs was they only came in E27 Edison Screw flavours.

Except – wait. After all this time, could Philips (actually it’s now a company called Signify which has taken over the brand) have come up with compatible GU10 bulbs? Actually, they had. And – in common with much of the rest of the line – you can push the boat out and have all the fancy colours, you can go the cheapskate route and have just white, or you can have what they call “white ambience” which is somewhere in the middle cost-wise and gives you a range of whitish tones from warm gold to icy bright.

Okay, so… Supposing we rip all of those bulbs out and replace them with Philips Hue? The white ambience ones wouldn’t be too expensive. The old switches would be able to give them power but not dim them. Could we replace the switches as well? Probably the easiest solution is to buy some more Philips Hue dimmer switches (oh, and they’ve just come out with a fancy new model) and mount them in covers designed to fit over existing switches. That way if the system throws a fit (or when we move out) we can take our fancy dimmers and leave ordinary switches behind.

And while I’m at it, why don’t we do the same thing downstairs? We have these fancy dimmable bulbs, but turning the dimmer knobs on the existing switches no longer dims them. Replace all of those switches with straight on-off affairs, put covers over them and have Philips Hue dimmers everywhere! I tried this out just inside the front door, where I have a regular ordinary white plastic switch and set up my existing Hue dimmer to turn the stairs lights and and off. It looks smart and works like a dream.

Before I put this plan into action (which would in any case require the services of an electrician) I did a bit of Googling, and I quickly found one possible flaw in the plan. The “bridge”, which plugs into the router and acts as a central hub for all things Hue, is only an itty-bitty little computer, and even if it wasn’t – at a certain point, the airwaves would get clogged with Zigbee signals. The recommended load is 50 bulbs and 12 switches. Downstairs I only had 12 bulbs, even with three in the study. But I would need something like 7-8 dimmers to control them all.

Upstairs, there were a couple of dozen little GU10 bulbs in the ceiling. With both floors, I’d certainly approach the 50 bulb limit and I’d go sailing past the 12 switch barrier. Should I just keep adding devices and hoping? Well, I really want this system to be reliable and pass the wife-compatibility test with ease (this is made more probable since the existing lights very often just don’t work at all) so I didn’t want to take any chances. So, having found some appropriate light switch covers, I decided to test out a second bridge.

Adding a second bridge can create problems. The official app only allows you to access one bridge at a time, although you can switch back and forth with no problem. And I’d heard mixed reports about adding a second bridge to Alexa. The official Hue position is that this can’t be done, but plenty of people on the Internet seemed to have managed it.

I’d got a couple of Philips GU10s at what I thought was a bargain price, until I realised they were white – not even white ambience, just white. But I decided to use them as a test case. I bought a second bridge, plugged it in upstairs, using the hardline from the router that also goes (via a switch) into my Apple TV. I replaced the two GU10 bulbs above our bedroom mirror with the white Hue ones and I set everything up in the app. Then, as the Internet told me I should, I made sure to press the button on the second bridge before inviting Alexa to find new devices. And it worked! Alexa found the two new bulbs and so with the Alexa app I can see all my Hue devices at once.

Then I tried to set up a light group in Alexa called “Mirror Lights” consisting of just these two bulbs – and Alexa kept adding one of my new bulbs and one of my kitchen bulbs from downstairs. I don’t seem to be the only one who has had this problem, and it almost defeated me. I must have tried to set that up half-a-dozen times. Eventually, I found the work-around. You verbally tell Alexa to move the errant light and to add the one you do want. That worked. Okay. I can install new lights and set up apps and switches myself. What I need now is an electrician who can get the recalcitrant loft lights working at all, and then to have that person replace all of the existing switches with ordinary on-off affairs which I can cover with smart dimmers.

To be continued…

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