With holiday celebrations imminent, neighborhoods the world over are lighting up with all manner of twinkling LEDs, laser projections and giant inflatable Minions. While you may not have the time (or insanity) to invest in Clark Griswold-class Christmas Vacation home illumination, here are a few tips to enhance your holiday lighting with smart solutions.
Create a Power Schedule for Your Christmas Tree Lights
The thing about Christmas Trees is that once you’ve put in the effort to position and dress them up, you often find you’ve blocked access to the outlet powering the lights. Every morning and evening, reaching down to toggle the lights involves a poke in the eye from a branch, or a shower of pine needles cascading to the floor.
Stop this madness, now. Spend $20 (or less) on a smart plug, like the TP-Link HS100 and you can power your lights from the comfort of your smartphone. Setup is simple. Insert the smart plug into a nearby outlet, then connect your Christmas lights to the passthrough socket. Download the TP-Link Kasa app (available for iOS and Android) and connect the smart plug to your Wi-Fi network.
Search for the smart plug in the app and, once found, give it a descriptive name, like “Christmas Tree” (TP-Link even provides a cute Christmas Tree icon to match). Once everything’s configured, you can simply hit the power button in the app to toggle your lights.
But wait, there’s more!
TP-Link Kasa app
Why go the effort of automating your Christmas lights if you can’t toggle them on a daily schedule? Apps like TP-Link Kasa allow you to easily create timers and scheduled events so your Christmas lights will automatically illuminate each morning before the kids rush downstairs and power down at bedtime. You can change the schedule for different times each day, or build scenes so your lights operate at the same time as other devices in the room.
Once you’ve installed a smart plug, your daily fights with the Christmas tree are over.
Use Google Assistant and Alexa to Activate Your Holiday Lights
Buy a good quality smart plug, and you might find support for Amazon Alexa and the Google Assistant available, opening a host of additional features for your holiday lights. Before you rush off to plan out those advanced smart home scenes to wow the carol singers, get started with basic voice commands.
Integrating smart plugs with Amazon Echo or other devices with Alexa support requires the installation of a skill. Open the Alexa app (or visit alexa.amazon.com in a web browser) and once you’re logged in, head to the Skills section.
Use the search bar to find your brand of smart plug, then enable the skill. You’ll need to link your Alexa and smart plug accounts to connect the devices.
Once connected, select the Settings button, then Manage Smart Home Devices to find your smart plug on the network. You may need to switch the plug to its pairing mode to help discovery.
Once discovered, say “Alexa, turn on the Christmas Tree” (or however you’ve named your plug) to control your lights. You’ll also find a toggle switch available in the Alexa app, if you’re feeling tappy.
Configuring Google Home to power your Christmas lights is even more simple. Head to the Home app and select Home Control from the hamburger menu. Hit the Add button at the bottom of the screen to search your network for eligible devices.
Once your smart plug is found, connect the accounts and you’ll see your devices listed. From there, you can assign the plug to a room and, of course, say “Hey Google, turn on the Christmas Tree” to amaze and occupy the kids for hours. Who needs Monopoly, anyway?
Warm Your Home with Christmas Colored Lighting Scenes
Moving on from smart plugs and speakers, with the right kit, it’s easy to create warm and welcoming holiday moods around the home with smart light bulbs from Philips Hue, LIFX and others.
Hue Christmas (Android/iOS) is the perfect app for creating magical Christmas lighting scenes around the home, combining color, music and sound effects for Philips Hue bulbs. You can even hook up the Philips Hue Motion Sensor to act as a trigger, launching a mini-holiday celebration as you approach the Christmas tree.
Alternatively, try out Hue Disco (Android/iOS) which intelligently changes your lighting based on sound detected from your mobile device’s microphone. Add your favorite holiday tunes, fire up the Christmas FX scene and you’re ready to get the holiday party started.
Entertain the Neighbors with Smart Outdoor Lighting
While smart LEDs lights like Philips Hue aren’t rated for outdoor use, that hasn’t stopped some from using the bulbs to spread a little holiday cheer around the neighborhood. Why spend time stapling light ribbons to your house, when you can simply use indoor bulbs to create a Christmas light show?
Connect your phone or tablet to a hidden outdoor speaker and, using those same Philips Hue apps, you can create fantastic effects that everyone can enjoy.
If you prefer your outdoor Christmas lighting to be a little more reserved, then you’ll find that most modern outdoor lights that you can buy from hardware stores come with remote controls, timers and even light sensors that power on the lights at sunset. These work really well, but if you’re looking for more comprehensive control, or you wish to combine outdoor lighting with other devices, you’ll need an outdoor smart switch.
Priced around $45, the GE Z-Wave Plug-in Outdoor Smart Switch is a great option. Outdoor-rated, it’s equipped with a weather resistant outlet cover to keep out the elements and can be controlled from smartphones, PCs and tablets. With integrated Z-Wave support, it also works with popular smart home hubs like Wink and SmartThings, allowing you to build multi-device scenes and triggers. Want to power on your lights to greet you when you enter the neighborhood? A few taps and you’re done.
If you’re on a budget, or don’t need smart hub support, the GE Bluetooth Outdoor Smart Switch, priced at $38, provides simpler controls, reserved to smartphones.
Whether you’re simply looking for convenience, or you’re hoping to create a major statement in the neighborhood this Christmas, it’s never been easier to smarten up your home for the holidays.