Energy Source Builder

Smart Lights

Much of the excitement in the lighting industry focuses on compact fluorescents, E-lamps, controls and other exotic technologies. The lowly incandescent lamp is mentioned only to show how good the alternatives are. However, incandescents dominate the residential sector, and even energy-conscious people may forget that they have good uses. Here are two:

  • Applications where the light stays on for only a few minutes at a time, such as closets and hallways, are appropriate.
  • Dimming also favors incandescents. Dimming a fluorescent lamp--linear "tubes" and the compact fluorescent lamps--still requires expensive ballasts.

These two applications save energy only if people operate the lights properly.

Smart Switching

Unfortunately, people have trouble remembering to turn lights off or dim them to minimum levels. So, Beacon Lighting has put brains into light bulbs. They make a tiny disk, called Bulb Boss, that slips into a standard light socket underneath the bulb. A tiny microprocessor inside the disk controls the light. They offer five Bulb Bosses, each with a different control:


  • bulb bossNightlight starts at full brightness but gradually dims over 20 minutes to about 3-7 watts.
  • Dimmer reduces light to four preset levels. It lowers light level and energy use.
  • Ten-Minute Off turns off automatically, but warns you one minute in advance by blinking twice.
  • Thirty-Minute Off shuts off after one-half hour.
  • Emergency Flasher usually goes in porch lights and flashes to attract attention.

All Bulb Bosses allow the bulbs to operate normally. Usually, the features are engaged by flipping the light switch from one to four times. To reset, just turn the switch off for at least 20 seconds. All products have a soft start feature that protects the bulb's filament from the initial surge of current. This extends life of bulbs two to four times according to Beacon. All Bulb Bosses have a ten-year warranty.

Smart Lamp

iq lighting

Philips Lighting has applied Beacon's technology to their IQ Lighting Series. They build the smart circuits into two futuristically shaped bulbs. The Dimmer is a 100-watt lamp that operates at full level or dims to the equivalent of 70, 40 and 20 watts. The Auto-Off is a 60-watt lamp that shuts off automatically after 30 minutes. Users can engage an override to make the light stay on indefinitely. The products are sold through retail outlets, including Sears.

Beacon also plans to develop a lamp, called Smart Bulb, for sale through grocery stores. Angelo Brothers (ABCO) recently announced their own product under the Smart Bulb name. ABCO markets through many home center chains.

Smart Uses

Some people find creative uses for these devices that have more to do with communication than energy conservation. Installed in the bathroom, the auto-off version has been used to signal teens that it's time to leave the shower. One enterprising parent put a series of Bulb Bosses in a bathroom light bar to help keep the teenager on schedule. Another parent installed the Nightlight on the front porch. When the youngster comes home from a date, the parent turn on the light, which dims gradually over 20 minutes. When the light reaches its dimmest, the parent goes out. Fair warning given! The Emergency Flasher helps people find the house: police, fire fighters, ambulance crews, children, visitors and the pizza driver.

Update December, 2007:

Niether Philips nor ABCO use this smart lamp technology. The Bulb Boss is no longer available from Beacon.

This article appeared in Energy Source Builder #35 October 1994
©Copyright 1994 Iris Communications, Inc.