The first 5 things to do with new smart lights

Your home now has smart lights, here's what to do with them first .

Brian Bennett Former Senior writer
Brian Bennett is a former senior writer for the home and outdoor section at CNET.
Brian Bennett
4 min read
Josh Miller/CNET

So you've given your home the gift of smart lighting. Depending on your particular setup, that meant screwing in bulbs, swapping light switches in walls, or connecting smart switches to dumb appliances . You've also downloaded all the required apps to match your hardware. Now the fun really begins.

Here are the first things you should try with your lights. I'll cover simple tasks like daily automation, and grouping lights together and into scenes, plus more advanced pointers, such as enlisting your lights to increase your home's security.

If you're intrigued by intelligent lamps and fixtures, but have no clue where to start, or what they can do, this guide's for you.

Read more: Want a smart home? Start with your lights

Watch this: Smart lightbulb tips and tricks

Schedule your lights

Any lighting system labeled as smart should be able to operate on a schedule

To schedule your lights, first look to the official app for your specific hardware -- whether that's a wall switch, smart plugs, or individual light bulbs . Lutron, Leviton, or Belkin light switches are examples of hardware with companion applications.

Within the app, look for scheduling options for your device. There you can choose to have lights turn on (and off) at specific times.

If there's a choice for sunrise and sunset timing, I suggest you use that. It's a lot easier than choosing specific hours of the day, or confirming exact times for dusk or dawn. And don't forget to select options for your exact location, along with daylight saving data. It'll save you from having to manually adjust the schedule as daylight hours shorten and lengthen throughout the year.

If the app for your smart lights does not offer this amount of control, you can use a third-party solution as a workaround. IFTTT is good place to start. The service enjoys a vast library of smart home integrations, connected lighting among them. Among the major players you'll find there are Philips Hue, Lifx and Belkin Wemo .

Come home to the lights on

No one enjoys coming home to a dark house or pitch-black driveway. At the same time, leaving fixtures and bulbs burning around the clock is a surefire way to waste energy and money.

First check your lighting app to see if there's a way to make your lights turn on as you arrive home or shut off when you leave. For instance, you can set this up in the Philips Hue app, if you have those lights.

Not available in the app? You can again turn to  IFTTT .

With an IFTTT applet (or bit of code), your phone's GPS data can tell your lights where you are. IFTTT can then trigger your lights to turn on or off, based on where you and your phone go.

How to turn your lights on automatically when you get home with IFTTT

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Group lights for greater control

An effective way to use smart lights is to group them together by room or zone. For instance, you can schedule all of the lights in your basement go dark after midnight. Or, after 1 a.m. make every light on the main level to dim to 20 percent brightness. You get the idea.

You can do this two ways; using the app for your bulbs or switches, or using a smart speaker, such as Google Home or Amazon Echo. In either case, you can create rooms (or groups) and assign your lights to them so they act as a single unit.

Then, you can schedule the entire room or group to turn on or off at a specific time.

Set the scene

Scenes are another slick hack I recommend. Use them for specific conditions and tasks like watching movies, daytime or nighttime reading, dinner parties, etc.

Within a scene -- which is programmable in your smart bulb's app -- you can manipulate brightness, color temperature and even different hues. Once you've tweaked a room's lights just right, save those settings as a scene with a unique label. Once your scene is set up, you're only an app tap away from your favorite mood lighting.

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Doorbell cameras like the Nest Hello also have motion sensors that can trigger your smart lights.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Home security with lights

Smart lighting can also serve as home security. Link switches, bulbs, and smart plugs to any motion detectors you have around the house -- that could be a smart thermostat, camera, or stand alone motion sensor. 

Set the lights to activate with motion or sound as the trigger. Hopefully if someone is sneaking around outside (or worse, breaks in) and the lights turn on, it's enough to make opportunistic thieves think twice.  

The IFTTT platform comes in handy here yet again. The service can connect plenty of home gadgets that detect motion and sound with your lighting system. The Ring and Nest Hello doorbells, a range of webcams such as Nest cam , D-Link , Arlo, and Wyze are just a few examples.

Vacation mode is another way to use smart lights as a theft deterrent. When enabled, your lights will turn and off randomly, mimicking the behavior that someone's home. Both Philips Hue and Lifx smart bulbs can to this, and Belkin Wemo light switches offer a similar function as well. You can activate vacation mode (aka Away mode) through these product's official apps.  

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The BloomSky Storm smart weather station can also make connected lights react to outdoor conditions.


Adapt to the weather

All you weather nuts out there, this lighting tip is for you. If you own an internet-connected personal weather station (PWS), chances are it can talk to your smart lights. That comes in handy when unexpected weather strikes, and you'd like to keep light levels constant in otherwise sunny rooms.  

Thanks to UV light sensors, many PWS units can detect the moment skies darken and sunlight fades. Moisture sensors also alert a PWS when it's raining.

Weather stations from BloomSky, Netatmo and Ambient Weather support IFTTT as well, which lets you create IFTTT applets to switch on lights when a storm rolls through. As the clouds part, and the sun returns (or rain stops), they can instruct lighting to dim or shut off.

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