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How to create spooky Halloween effects with smart home lighting and sound

With indoor and outdoor smart home tech readily available and increasingly affordable, it’s easy to transform your home for festive occasions and holidays. With a little help from mobile apps and some handy smart home gadgets, you can produce spooky Halloween effects using light and sound. You’ll be the talk of the town if you prepare your home accordingly come Halloween time when trick-or-treaters come around.

There are a range of fabulous lighting systems currently available, with Philips Hue, LIFX, and others available from big-box electrical and home improvement stores. But keep in mind that few systems are suitable for outdoor use. If you want to transform your home’s exterior, you’ll need to do some initial research. Not to worry — we point out systems to help get you started.

Light it up

Spooky halloween lighting haunted house.

One system to check out is the Sylvania Smart+ range (branded as Osram Lightify in some countries), which comprises indoor and outdoor lighting options including standard A19 bulbs, LED flood and spotlights, and flexible lighting strips, as well as outdoor garden lights. There are white and color options available, and the choice of hues stretch into the thousands — perfect for holiday lighting.

Alongside its own apps (for Android and iOS devices), you can also control Sylvania Smart+ bulbs via partner systems such as SmartThings, Belkin WeMo, and the Wink Hub. Voice control options include Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, while some indoor bulbs benefit from using Apple HomeKit/Siri support. So, if you’ve already invested in a smart home system, you may find you can simply add Smart+/Lightify bulbs to your setup without the need for additional controllers.

The $70 Sylvania Smart+ Gardenspot Mini RGB Lighting Set includes a 14-foot run of nine external RGB lights and an outdoor, wet-rated power supply. It doesn’t come with a controller, so if you don’t already own a compatible smart home hub, you’ll also need to add the $30 Sylvania Lightify Zigbee controller to your shopping list.

The lights are mounted on short, plastic spikes which can be easily fixed into a lawn or flower bed. The cables are flexible too, making it easy to angle the LEDs toward the house, trees, or ornaments. If you’re fixing the lights to a deck, steps, or another flat surface, you can use a screwdriver to unclip the LEDs from the spike and surface mount.

Need more lights? There’s a GardenSpot Expansion kit (about $15) that adds another 3 feet of cable and three more lights. If you’re using the spikes to put your lights in place, you’ll find that they slide easily into a flower bed or the lawn. Plug in, power on, and they’ll glow purple to let you know they’re working well.

For eerie garden lighting, installing Lily Outdoor spotlights ($280 for a three-pack) to illuminate walls or create spooky uplighting for trees is a simple job, while Calla Outdoor Pathway Lights ($130) can help trick-or-treaters find their way to the front door. A 16-foot flexible Lightstrip ($160) can bend around decks, curved flower beds, and paths for additional accents. These new outdoor additions to the range are both water and weatherproof, with operating temperatures down to minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit, and they conveniently plug into an outdoor power outlet and support interconnection, so they can be hooked together with ease.

For the porch, greet trick or treaters with the portable Philips Hue Go ($80), a rechargeable battery-powered RGB lamp supporting 16 million colors or tunable white light. The three-hour battery life is reasonably short but will get you through the peak candy hours of the evening.

Sync ’em up for spooky ambiance

Spooky halloween effects light a garden blue.
Now it’s time to sync the lights with your smart home controller. Sylvania’s Lightify app isn’t the slickest smart home software but supports basic power controls, dimming, and an RGB color picker. Start the connecting process by opening the Sylvania Lightify app. Go to Devices and click the Add button to launch a device search. The app should detect the lights quickly (if not, power them off and on again to reset connectivity). Now you’re ready to pair the lights with your app.

As these are RGB LEDs, you can now adjust the lighting palette to find the spookiest hue. Sadly, you can only select a single color for all of the LEDs in the run at any given time, but the lighting is bright and the color rendition is reasonably good, too.

Inside the house, you can synchronize your outdoor lighting with additional Sylvania smart bulbs, but there are other options, too. Philips Hue is a popular smart lighting range with a wide assortment of bulbs, lamps, and lighting fixtures, plus a dedicated developer community. A leader in indoor smart LED lighting solutions for over six years, the company has recently extended its range with a slew of outdoor lights.

While Hue works with a variety of smart home kits and controllers from other manufacturers (including Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit, and Google Assistant), you will need a Starter Kit with the Philips Hue Bridge that connects to your router. The $70 Philips Hue White Starter Kit offers the cheapest entry point, bundling the bridge with two tunable white bulbs — but the resulting effects won’t be particularly spine-chilling.

Alternatively, a new $200 White and Color Ambiance Starter Kit packs the Zigbee-powered Hue bridge and four E26 RGB bulbs. It’s certainly not the cheapest smart lighting system available but includes everything you need to create fantastic effects around the home.

Add spooky sound effects

Spooky halloween lighting with Philips Hue Go.

To raise the hair just a little higher, try combining your lights with audio effects using Hue Labs’ Halloween Living Scenes or the third-party Hue Halloween (iOS/Android) and Hue Haunted House (iOS/Android) apps. Pair your smartphone or tablet with a hidden Bluetooth speaker, then fire up the app.

It triggers an assortment of dramatic lighting scenes on your Hue bulbs with accompanying, gruesome sound effects. Creaking doors, sinister footsteps, thunder and lighting, ghoulish groans, cackling witches, and more. You can instruct the apps to automatically play a continuous “scarescape” of themes and effects or put your mixing skills to the test with freestyle freak-outs.

It’s great fun for the kids (but definitely too scary for little ones), and when paired with a Philips Hue Motion Sensor ($40), the combo offers real potential for spooking out the neighbors. Check out the video below, which combines a Philips Hue Go lamp and Bose Soundlink Mini Bluetooth speaker — both small enough to hide in a bush near the front porch or behind the front door.

Let the doorbell bring the fear

Your lights can make your front yard feel like Silent Hill, but you can up the ante by using a smart doorbell to play a truly spooky sound the moment an unsuspecting trick-or-treater rings the doorbell. As an added bonus, you can replace your doorbell with a different faceplate that better fits the theme of the season.

When someone presses your Ring doorbell, you can have Alexa answer them. This works fine if you aren’t there, but a better way is to answer the doorbell yourself. You can respond to doorbell rings with a creepy cackle, or you can let Ring do the work for you with one of their built-in responses. Ring recently added preset responses for users to pick from.

Ring isn’t the only company branching out for the most macabre time of year. Google Nest doorbells have also added in several new sound effects, including that of a ghost, a witch, a monster, and more. These Halloween-inspired sounds can play whenever someone rings the doorbell.

When the excitement has died down and the front doorbell has finally stopped ringing, settle down in front of your favorite scary movie, with chills amplified by the new Philips Hue Play Light Bar ($170 for two). Designed to sit behind a TV or computer monitor, Hue Play cleverly syncs colored lighting with the action shown on screen, boosting in-room ambiance for movies, music, and video games.

Once you’ve made that initial investment in smart home tech, you’re set for any holiday or special occasion. Experiment with different lighting schemes or preset themes from third-party apps to create a welcoming, festive, or indeed spooky atmosphere around the home.

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Terry Walsh
Terry Walsh is a British-born technology writer living in Canada, whose first computer was a cherished 48k ZX Spectrum…
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