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Light Bulbs

Want smarter outdoor lighting at home? Here are your options

Whether for convenience, security or decoration, you've got a growing number of ways to bring smart lighting to your home's exterior. Let's take a look.

There are all sorts of reasons why you might want to smarten up the lights inside of your home -- the convenience of automation, for instance, or the novelty appeal of color-changing lights. You have more options than ever, largely thanks to the fact that lights like those make a great complement to popular voice assistants like Alexa and Google Assistant. But what about outdoor lighting?

Turns out you've got plenty of options there, too. Whether you want motion-activated lights that sync with your security system, color-changing lights to help decorate your next backyard barbecue or just lights you can control remotely from your phone, there are plenty of products that'll get the job done. Here's a rundown of what's out there:

Smart bulbs

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Feit's Bluetooth Homebrite LED come in a variety of shapes and designs, including that weather-proofed floodlight on the right.

Ry Crist/CNET

Maybe the easiest way to smarten up your home's outdoor lighting is just to swap your old bulbs out for cloud-connected bulbs that sync with your home network. You'll find the greatest number of affordable options if you choose to go this route, including ones that can connect directly with your phone or router via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, eliminating the need to plug a hub into your router.

If the bulb you want to smarten up isn't directly exposed to the elements then you should be fine to pick whichever bulb you like, but if it's going to have to stand up to rain or snow, then you'll want to stick with weather-rated bulbs wherever possible. Feit makes one such smart bulb, a "HomeBrite"-branded Bluetooth floodlight that sells at Home Depot for about $25. Philips Hue has a weather-rated floodlight coming this summer, too.

Features will vary depending on which bulbs you go with. Some, like the Cree Connected LED and the Sylvania Smart Plus Zigbee LED will serve as generic lights that you can add to an existing smart home platform, then control remotely or automate to turn on at specific times. The cost for bulbs like those? Typically less than $15 each. Expect to pay more if you want bulbs that connect directly with your home network over Wi-Fi, or ones that change colors.

Smart switches

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If your outdoor lights have a switch inside the home, then you can swap it out for a smart switch like this one, the Ecobee Switch Plus.

Chris Monroe/CNET

Of course, another option is to ignore the lights themselves and just smarten things up at the light switch. You've got a nice variety of options here, too, including smart switches with full dimming capabilities, support for a variety of platforms and voice assistants, and even new models with voice assistants built right in.

Most basic models that just offer simple automations and remote on/off functionality can be had for less than $50 each. Of those, I like the Belkin WeMo Light Switch and the Kasa Wi-Fi Light Switch from TP-Link. Both work with a good variety of third-party platforms, including Amazon's Alexa and the Google Assistant for voice controls. Also: neither one requires a hub.

Spend a little more and you'll find options like the Ecobee Switch Plus, which features built-in sensors for motion, temperature and ambient light plus the addition of built-in Alexa voice controls. Make the swap, and you can automate your back porch light and add Alexa controls into the back room while you're at it.

One other thing to keep in mind if you're trying to decide between smart bulbs and smart switches is that smart bulbs only work if the power is on, which means you'll need to re-train yourself to leave the switch in the on position at all times. That's not a problem with smart switches -- even when they'er flipped off, they're still hard-wired, so your automations and remote controls will always work regardless of whether the light is physically on or off. That alone is enough of an advantage to nudge some users into the smart switch camp.

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Swap your home's exterior fixtures out for smart fixtures like the Ring Floodlight Cam for advanced features and a premium, built-in smart lighting aesthetic.

Chris Monroe/CNET

Smart fixtures

If you're willing to spend a bit more, you could also consider replacing the fixtures on your home's exterior with smart fixtures. Doing so will give your smart lighting setup more of a premium, built-in feel, and it can also bring some additional features into play.

For instance, say you've got a floodlight fixture wired above your garage. Swap it out for the $250 Ring Floodlight Cam, and you'll enjoy smart, motion-activated lights paired with an HD night vision camera you can monitor from your phone. I'm also a fan of the Haiku LED light fixture from Big Ass Solutions. At $150 each, they aren't cheap, but they can detect motion and ambient light, and they look terrific lighting up a porch.

Path lighting

Shop around, and you'll also find smart fixtures that aren't designed to be bolted onto the side of your house.

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This summer, Philips Hue will start selling a new lineup of outdoor lighting products, including these color-changing Calla path lights.

Philips

Specifically, I'm talking about path lighting. Smarts aside, there are plenty of good-looking decorative options out there, including solar-powered lights that don't require you to break out the extension cords. However, if you feel inclined to upgrade, you should know that you've got a growing number of smart alternatives.

For smart, multicolor lights that look good lighting up a path or a garden, check out Sylvania's Gardenspot starter kit, which sells for $70 or less on Amazon. They communicate using Zigbee, so you'll need a hub from Wink or SmartThings or an Amazon Echo Plus to control them, but they still make for a pretty easy outdoor aesthetics upgrade.

In a few months, you'll have another color-changing option coming from Philips Hue, which is set to release an entire lineup of new smart outdoor lighting products. That lineup will include Calla path lights that look like little lighthouses for your yard. A base kit with one light and the power supply will cost $130, with additional lights selling for $90, so they definitely won't come cheap, but it's an option worth considering, especially if you've already bought into Hue's well-established smart lighting ecosystem.

We'll be sure to test those lights out at the CNET Smart Home once they're available, along with any other new outdoor-friendly smart home gadgets that come along. Expect full reviews and buying advice for all of it in the months ahead.