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Smart Home

How to automatically turn on your lights when you get home

Want all of your lights to turn as soon as you pull in the driveway? Here's how to do it.

Chris Monroe/CNET

Few things have a bigger impact on the way our homes look and feel than our lights. If you don't believe me, try coming home to a totally dark house at the end of a long day at work. 

Wouldn't it be better if your house could welcome you home by turning some lights on for you before you even made it in the front door or turned down your block?

Well, it can! 

At least, it can if you're using smart lights. With the right upgrades to your bulbs, plugs or switches, you'll be able to program your home to turn things on as soon as it detects that you're arriving. Here are a couple of ways to get it done.

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Philips

Philips Hue

Let's start with the smart lights that can do location-based lighting triggers all on their own. The most obvious example is Philips Hue, which remains the most popular and well-developed smart lighting system on the market.

There are all sorts of different smart lights in the Hue catalog. The cheapest are the standard Hue White bulbs, which cost just $15 each, but you can automate any Hue bulb or fixture provided it's connected to the Hue Bridge, which plugs into your router and translates the lights' Zigbee signals into something your home network can understand. 

For my money, the four-bulb Hue White starter kit, which comes packaged with the Hue Bridge for about $90, is your best way in.

So, step one: Get some Hue lights and set them up according to the app's instructions. From there?

  • Open the Hue app and tap the Routines button at the bottom of the screen, then tap Home & Away.
  • Tap Coming home, then tell the app which lights you want on when you arrive and your desired brightness or color settings.
  • Toggle the Location aware slider to the on position, and make sure that the Hue app has permission to access your phone's location data.

Voila! Lights that turn on as soon as you get home (provided you've got your phone with you, of course). And yep, you can tap Leaving home to program your lights to turn off automatically when you leave, too.

IFTTT

If you're using smart lights that don't offer location-aware automation as a built-in feature, then check to see if they work with IFTTT, the free, online automation service. 

If so, you're in luck, because IFTTT lets you trigger automation recipes called "applets" using your phone's location. Tell it to trigger your IFTTT-compatible smart lights as you come and go, and you'll be all set.

Along with Hue, smart lights that work with IFTTT include bulbs, fixtures and switches from Lifx, Lutron, iLumi, Nanoleaf, Sengled, Wiz, TP-Link and more (click here and scroll down to "Lighting" to see the full list). You can also automate lamps by plugging them into an IFTTT-compatible smart plug like the Belkin WeMo Mini.

Once you've got the right smart lighting hardware, download the IFTTT app to your iOS or Android device, create a free account, then follow these steps:

  • From the home screen, tap the plus sign icon in the upper right corner to create a new applet, then tap This to choose your trigger.
  • Search for the Location trigger and select it.
  • Enter your address into the search field, or just drag your finger on the map to center the geofenced activation zone around your house. You can zoom in or out as needed -- I like to zoom out just a bit to give my GPS some wiggle room.
  • Select That to choose your action, then search for your smart bulb brand and select it.
  • Select whatever action turns your lights on, and specify any extra settings like brightness level, light color and fade duration.
  • Tap Finish to create the applet, and toggle the slider if you want to receive a notification on your phone whenever the applet runs.

There you go! Lights that come on as soon as you enter the geofenced area around your home.

Apple's Home app can trigger light as you come and go, and it comes with a couple of nice extra features to help you tweak the experience.

Screenshots by Ry Crist/CNET

Apple HomeKit

Setting up location-based lighting changes is really easy if you're an Apple HomeKit user. The rub is that you'll need an Apple TV, an Apple HomePod or a dedicated, always-on iPad under your roof in order for them to work. 

If that describes you (and if you've got some Apple HomeKit-compatible smart lights ready to go), then follow these steps to get started:

  • Open Apple's Home app on your iOS device.
  • Tap the Automation icon in the bottom right corner.
  • Tap the plus sign icon to create a new automation.
  • Tap People Arrive to make that your trigger. By the way, one nice extra here if you live with roommates or family members with iPhones of their own -- Apple lets you specify whether the automation works when anyone arrives home, or if it only works when the first person arrives home. If someone's already home and watching a scary movie in the living room when you get home, they might not want the lights to come on as soon as you park. You can also specify a location other than home, or limit the times of day at which the automation will run.
  • Select the scenes or lights that you want to trigger upon arrival, and set their desired settings.
  • Tap Done to finish.

Apple also lets you set the lights to turn off automatically after a set time from when they're triggered to come on. That might be a nice touch for something like a porch light that you'd like turned on as you unlock your door, but would rather not leave on all night.

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Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Amazon Echo Auto

One soon-to-be-released option worth keeping an eye out for: Amazon's new Echo Auto. About the size of a cassette tape, it's a microphone array for your vehicle that offers in-car access to Alexa, Amazon's popular voice assistant. 

Along with asking it to play music or give you directions to the nearest gas station, it can borrow your phone's GPS data to track your location. Pull up in front of your house, and Alexa will trigger your smart lights to turn on.

We won't have hands-on tests with the Echo Auto for another couple of weeks or so, but we already know that Alexa's new location-based triggers will be a new option within the Routines feature, which already lets you set timed automations or craft custom Alexa voice commands that trigger whatever you like. That means that Echo Auto users will need to head to the Routines section of the Alexa app on their Android or iOS device in order to set everything up.

I suspect it'll work just like IFTTT and Hue -- use a map to set a geofenced area around your home, then tell Alexa which lights to turn on whenever you enter it. Stay tuned!

nest-thermostat-redo-4

The Nest Learning Thermostat can track your phone's location, then use that data to trigger your lights as you come and go.

CNET

Honorable mentions

There are plenty of other smart home gadgets that can use your phone's location to trigger automated lighting changes in your home. Here are some notable ones worth mentioning:

Nest Learning Thermostat: The Nest keeps tabs on the temperature in your home -- and it can keep tabs on your phone's GPS data, too. To sync that up with your Nest-compatible smart lights, open up the Nest app and turn on Nest's Home/Away Assist feature. Most of the automations are aimed at reducing energy use by dimming things down when you're away, or warding off intruders by automatically cycling lights on and off when you're gone to make it look like you're home. Click here for more info on Home/Away Assist.

SmartThings: The Samsung-owned SmartThings home automation hub opens up all sorts of smart home possibilities, including location-based triggers for all of your connected lights and gadgets. Click here for more info on how to put those features to use.

Wink Hub: Like SmartThings, the Wink Hub lets you automate a variety of different smart home gadgets, including lights. Wink calls these automations "Robots," and you can trigger them using your phone's location to turn lights on and soon as you get home. Click here for more info on how to do it.