Ceiling fans are a great invention: they make a room’s temperature feel around 5-8 degrees cooler than it otherwise might. The light is often adjustable too, allowing for the light to be dimmed to provide ‘mood lighting’ as required. But sometimes you’ll want more control over the lighting than the current fixture provides – which is where smart lights can help.
Smart lights can be successfully used in most ceiling fans (assuming you can find bulbs that fit the smaller socket type), but if the ceiling fan acts as a dimmer then smart light bulbs probably might not work because the supplied power can vary up to 30%.
When you can/can’t use smart light bulbs in ceiling fans
Firstly check the bulb size
The first thing to check is the bulb size: whilst there are plenty A17 smart bulbs available, many ceiling fans use A15 bulbs – and historically there haven’t been as many A15 smart bulbs available.
Heck, at the time of writing, Philips Hue still doesn’t produce an A15 smart bulb variant. So what are your choices?
- Buy a ceiling fan that supports a more common bulb size, such as A19s. Philips Hue (and many other smart bulb providers) make A19s.
- Go on Amazon (or similar) and buy an alternate brand A15 smart bulb, of which there are now some choices as the ‘AL A15 smart bulb‘ for $13.99. This supports Alexa, so apart from having to download a new phone app to set it up, you won’t have any major inconvenience with these alternate brand bulbs.
Check dimmer options
Many ceiling fans have dimmer light options, sometimes via a pull cord but often through the remote control. Dimmer lighting works by giving less electrical power (voltage) to the light fitting, which then produces less light.
It’s the same thing that happens when there’s a storm (or power interruption) and all the lights flicker and go a bit dimmer, before going back to full power and brightness.
Dimmer lighting is nice, however most smart bulbs do not work well with it: since they are an electrical device with a control board, WiFi (or Bluetooth) chip and more, smart bulbs need a fairly consistent level of input voltage.
What this all means is that a ceiling fan which acts as a dimmer can deprive smart bulbs of their required power, potentially damaging them. You therefore have two options here:
- Buy a ceiling fan which doesn’t have any dimming functionality. These are usually cheaper, and work better with smart bulbs: a win-win!
- Disable the dimming functionality on your ceiling fan if possible, or alternatively leave it at 100% brightness (i.e. 0% dimming) so that the power supplied to your smart bulbs should be consistent.
One caveat here is to keep a close eye on temperatures. Some bulbs can get hot in dimming ceiling fans when left at 100% brightness, so be sure that the temperatures are within the acceptable temperature range (both of the fan and the smart bulbs).
Leave the fan light ‘on’
Seasoned smart bulb owners will already know this, but in order to control the smart bulb, you need constant power going to it. In other words, it needs to be turned on and left on – either on the switch, or via the remote control.
Then you can turn the bulb on/off via Alexa/Google Home or the smart bulb’s phone app.
The same is naturally true for ceiling fans – you will have to get used to avoiding the ‘lights off’ part of the remote (or switch), and instead always leave it on.
Check for voltage limiting
Some people have reported their ceiling lights provide reduced voltage to the bulbs, either as part of hidden ‘dimming’ features (despite their ceiling fan saying they have no dimming features) or energy saving features due to the Energy Policy Act.
If you plug in your smart bulb and see it flash/flicker constantly, this issue might be affecting you. The solution here is to either see if you can turn off any dimming features (possibly by holding down certain buttons), or potentially removing the limiting circuit.
This would very much be dependent on the individual ceiling light model so I won’t go into it more, but needless to say that limited voltage supply will probably be bad for your smart bulbs so it’s worth sorting this out if it affects you.
Can you use Philips Hue bulbs in a ceiling fan?
A frequently asked question is whether you can use Hue smart bulbs in your ceiling fan. As touched on earlier, the answer depends on what bulb size your ceiling fan uses.
If your fan only supports A15 bulbs, Philips Hue don’t currently manufacture for this size so you are probably out of luck.
I say ‘probably’ because you might be able to buy light bulb socket adapters/converters. These can convert between sizes – so if your ceiling fan only supports A15, an A19 to A15 converter would allow you to buy the Philips Hue A19 smart bulb, and then the converter will fit into the fan’s bulb socket.
The downside of this approach is that the converters stick out a bit, and sometimes you won’t have the vertical clearance for a smart bulb plus a bulb converter. Be sure to check this first – if space is tight, this option probably won’t work.
Smart switches for ceiling fans
In addition to smart light bulbs, smart light switches can enhance things further and provide awesome features like automatically turning lights on when you walk in a room.
If your ceiling fan only comes with a remote or pull cord, you probably can’t easily convert to use smart light switches (the Insteon Ceiling Fan and Light Controller could work, but isn’t simple to install), but if you have wall-mounted switches for your fan, you should be fine.
The usual approach here is to swap out the wall-mounted ceiling light switch for a smart light switch, and this should work well to smartly control your ceiling fan like any other smart switch/bulb. However if you’re in any doubt, be sure to consult an electrician.
However you could also swap the other (fan speed) switch with something like the GE Enbrighten Z-Wave Plus Smart Fan Control – assuming you have a Z-Wave controller. This then means that both functions of your ceiling fan can be controlled in a smart way via voice and app control.
Controlling the fan speed is more effort than just the lighting aspects (due to the need for a Z-Wave controller and separate switch), but it’s probably worth swapping to a smart light switch if you have a wall-mounted ceiling fan light switch.
Best smart bulbs for ceiling fans
There’s quite a few different options for smart bulbs you can use – and I’d suggest that you read the first section if you haven’t already. But assuming you understand that not all bulbs fit into all ceiling fans, the top 3 smart bulbs I’d recommend (across different bulb sizes) are:
Philips Hue White and Color Ambiance A19
The A19 Hue bulbs won’t fit into traditional A15 ceiling fans without an adapter, but if they do fit it’s worth considering because Hue smart bulbs are one of the best on the market.
They aren’t cheap at $75 for two bulbs, although they do get cheaper during Amazon sales. These are the most popular smart bulbs fitted in ceiling fans and even people with dimming fans haven’t noticed any long term issues (once the dimming is disabled).
Cree BA19 Connected 60W Equivalent Soft White
This cheaper option from Cree works out at under $10 per bulb and they produce a nice soft light assuming you’re happy with just white light (and that BA19s fit your ceiling fan, of course).
They support Alexa, ZigBee and the Wink app, meaning that this budget option has a good amount of integration support with your smart home controller.
Ikea TRÅDFRI bulb range
A final shout-out goes to Ikea’s TRÅDFRI smart bulb range, which work out at a similar price to the Cree range but they also support dimming.
In other words, you can use the phone app’s wireless dimming support or buy a TRÅDFRI remote control to control the dimming, whilst also extending things further with the TRÅDFRI motion sensor kit to easily turn your ceiling fan’s lights on as you walk into the room.
The downside is that Ikea’s smart home features are not too open, i.e. they don’t naturally support Alexa or Google Home, but we’ve heard that they work well with SmartThings. Plus there is a third party Alexa skill to control Ikea smart devices through your Alexa… but the reviews aren’t the best.
Can Alexa control a ceiling fan?
The short answer is: yes! As this article has covered, there are quite a few different smart bulb and smart switch options, and nearly all these work with Alexa.
Philips Hue and Cree – mentioned earlier – support Alexa (and other smart speakers) out of the box, whilst Ikea’s TRÅDFRI range requires an Alexa skill which isn’t the best reviewed but should work for general on/off purposes.
In terms of switches, nearly all smart light switches will also work just fine with Alexa, and the GE enbrighten fan speed controller also supports Alexa.