Smart lights are one of the best ways to make your home smart. But if your smart usage only extends as far as turning the lights on and off remotely, then you’re only scratching the surface of their potential.
We’ll get on to some smart light ideas in a moment, but first a quick summary of what you need to get your setup off the ground and the basics of how you control the lights in the first place.
While you may think that you need one or more smart bulbs, that’s not strictly speaking true. While the best smart light bulbs offer more flexibility and millions of possible colors changeable at the touch of a button, you can make any dumb bulb smart if you want. Here's how.
Alan is one of Livingetc's tech experts, with endless experience testing and writing about the latest smart tech. Here, he tells us the cleverest ways to use smart lighting in your home, other than just turning bulbs on and off.
5 ways to make your home’s lighting smart
The trick of smart lighting is that something has to be internet connected. Usually that’s the bulb, but you could make the connected component the light switch or the power outlet via a smart plug, if you like.
Once you have some kind of smart lighting element installed, there are actually a number of ways to control the lights.
Yes, you can continue to use the light switch, but it kind of defeats the purpose of smart lights. Most come with their own dedicated app, which is handy if (say) your bed is far from the light switch and you don’t want to risk tripping on things in the dark.
Better still, almost all can be connected to a smart assistant — Alexa, Google Assistant, Siri, etc. — meaning that if you have a smart speaker, you’ll be able to control the lights by saying something like “Alexa, turn off the light” or “Hey, Google make [light name] turn green.” See our piece on how to control your smart lighting with Alexa for more details.
Finally, there’s automation, and this is where things get really smart. By connecting your smart lights to IFTTT (If This Then That) or by setting up some pre-planned virtual assistant routines, your smart lights can pre-empt your moves, alert you to things or set the mood for the perfect night in.
Here are five ideas to make your home’s lighting even smarter.
1. Set the mood for movie night
Let’s start with something simple. You probably already know that smart lights can change colors and brightness at will, but you can go further than this with a smart assistant and other bits of connected tech.
For example, you can set up an Alexa skill to kickstart the perfect movie night with the sound of your voice.
You could trigger your routine to set your lighting to the perfect brightness (light enough to see popcorn, but dark enough to make movies immersive), start up your home theater and close the smart curtains or blinds. You could even set it to make other smart speakers in the house announce the film is starting for straggling family members…
2. Have the lights turn on at sunset
As the sun sets, it gradually becomes darker until you find yourself sitting in near darkness. With your smart lights, you could just bring them on with your voice or smartphone, but with a clever bit of automated lighting you can sync this process to the changing seasons with a bit of help from IFTTT.
IFTTT has a number of integrations with Weather Underground (opens in new tab) which will figure out exactly when sunset hits your area on a given date, and switch on the lights at the right moment, saving you ever thinking about it again.
3. Automatically turn on and off the lights when you leave
What about something that’s not at a set time every day? IFTTT allows such things with a little lateral thinking too.
For example, if you want the lights to turn off when you leave and switch on when you return, that’s pretty simple to figure out. You could set it so that when your phone connects to Wi-Fi, the lights come off, and when it disconnects (i.e. by getting out of range) the lights go off again.
4. Connect it to your other smart devices
It gets really clever when you have multiple devices as part of your smart home, and various manufacturers have thought ahead with this.
For example, if someone activates your Ring Doorbell, you can make the lights flash (opens in new tab), or you can make your lighting change if your Nest smart alarm detects smoke (opens in new tab). You can even blink the lights when your washing machine has finished its cycle (opens in new tab).
5. Use your lights as notifications
These kinds of notifications don’t just need to come via other smart home tech. People on IFTTT have built integrations that’ll flash your lights if someone mentions you on Facebook (opens in new tab), blink when you get a text message (opens in new tab) or even change color to let you know it’s started to rain (opens in new tab).
Want something even more unusual? You can make your lights change color when the International Space Station is over a specific location (opens in new tab). A bit pointless, but quite neat and certainly a conversation starter.