This story is part of, CNET's collection of practical advice for getting the most out of your home, inside and out.
Light bulbs that change colors on command are, but there aren't a lot of obvious ways to make them a practical part of your day-to-day. Sure, they're , and or when you're throwing a party, but how often have those colors actually come in handy?
The truth about color-changing smart bulbs is that it's all about how -- and where -- you use them. If you've been looking for new ways to put them to work, there's one spot at home you might not have considered, and I'm confident that it's a place where you'll get plenty of practical use out of those automated color changes.
Stick a multicolor smart bulb on your front porch
Or your stoop. Or your front window. Or the light in the yard -- wherever, just so long as you've got a color-changing bulb that people can see from the street. That last bit's important, because we're going to use this thing as a signal that helps people find your house -- specifically, the rideshare and delivery drivers trying to earn a living by bringing, and to your doorstep.
With Americans staying home more than ever during the past two years, delivery services like those have seen. If you're anything like me, you've come to appreciate the occasional (OK, more than occasional) convenience of a well-timed burrito delivery in the middle of your remote workday. With a color-changing smart bulb outside your home, it's easy to help those drivers find your address -- just change the color to something distinctive when you order and make a note to your driver to look for the colored light. You'll be doing your driver a solid, and helping ensure that your food gets to the right place, too.
Along with deliveries and pickups, it's also a useful trick when you're having people over for a social visit. And, even when you aren't using it to help people find your place, a bulb on your porch that you can set to turn on automatically whenever the sun goes down is great to have on hand, not to mention the fact that you'll have a nice head start on the Halloween decorations. Here's how to get it set up.
Step 1: Pick out a bulb
You've got no shortage of options here. Big names likeand will get the job done, but less expensive bulbs from , , , , and others will work, too, so in most cases you won't need to spend more than $15 per bulb or so. If you need a floodlight instead of a standard, A-shaped bulb, you'll find lots of options, as well: , , , , , and others all sell them, and most cost less than $20.
Any color-changing bulb will do, but you'll want to put some thought into how you plan to control the thing. All of them should let you change the color from your phone, using an app, but if you already use voice assistants or home automation platforms in your house -- Alexa, Google Assistant, Apple HomeKit, SmartThings -- you'll want to make sure to pick a bulb that works with your setup., smart bulbs that support , a new universal smart home standard that works with all of those other platforms, should start hitting the market, too.
And, if you aren't interested in smart bulbs that you can control with your voice or with an app, that's fine: Just look for nonsmart color-changing bulbs that come with a remote, like. Again, .
Step 2: Pair with your bulb
This part's easy -- just screw the bulb in where it needs to go, turn it on, download the app to your Android or iOS device, and follow the instructions to pair it with your phone.
Keep in mind that different bulbs connect in different ways. If it's a Wi-Fi bulb, it'll pair directly with your home network via your router. If it's a Bluetooth bulb, it'll pair directly with your phone whenever it's within Bluetooth range. Zigbee bulbs need a Zigbee hub on your network that's capable of receiving the signal and translating it into something your router can work with.
Once you've connected, you can use the bulb's app to change the color yourself whenever you're expecting a delivery. If your bulb supports voice commands via Alexa, Google Assistant or Siri -- and just about all of them do at this point -- the app should offer instructions on how to set that up, as well.
Step 3: Give your driver a heads up
Don't forget to loop your driver in on the plan. Before you place your order or request a ride pickup, look for a field where you can leave special instructions for your driver -- tell them to "look for the blue light," and you'll be all set. Same goes for pizza delivery if you're ordering online, or via the brand's app.
And that should do it -- a color-changing bulb on the porch that'll help delivery drivers find your front door each and every time you order. It's novelty meets practicality, all without costing very much, and a great way to put those colors to work.
For more tips, check out, and .