9 clever ways to make more of your smart lighting

There’s a world of clever things that you smart lighting can do

How to get more from your smart lights
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If you’ve packed your house out with smart lighting, but are struggling to do more than just turn your bulbs on and off with the app, you’ve come to the right place. Far from just adding remote control, smart lighting can do so much more for you with the right ideas.

Before we get started, remember that you don’t have to be tied to the app that came with your smart lighting, and alternative control systems may give you the features that you need.

Read this: The best smart lights for your home

For example, you may find that using an Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant routine may do the job, or switching to use Apple HomeKit or Samsung SmartThings may give you the level of control that you crave.

8 clever ways to make more of your smart lighting

1. Control lights on a timer

If you’ve got lights that you want to come on at a certain time of day, it's time to throw away your old mechanical timers, as smart lights can do a far better job. Most smart lighting apps will let you create routines where you can turn lights on or off at specific times, such as turning on at sunset or off at sunrise.

If your app can’t do this easily, then look to another system to provide the same level of control. For example, Amazon Alexa routines can be triggered to operate at a specific time, and Apple HomeKit Automations have similar functionality.

Read this: More creative ways to use your smart plugs

Light routines can also be used for security, fooling people into thinking that you’re at home when you’re out. With the Philips Hue app, you can create a custom Automation that will turn your lights on at a specific time plus or minus an offset that you set. For example, you could have your bedroom lights turn on at between 8:00pm and 10:30pm and off between 11:30pm and 12:30am.

how to use smart lights

2. Control lights based on your location

Geofencing is a smart way to turn on your lights automatically when you go out and to turn on selective lights when you return home. For example, you may want to shut down all lights when you leave your home but have the hallway light turn on when you get back home.

How you do this depends on the bulbs that you’re using. With Philips Hue, there’s a new Labs feature for multi-use geofencing that will only turn off lights when everyone goes out (the old system would only work with a single user/phone).

If your chosen lighting system doesn’t have geofencing built-in, there are a few options. HomeKit lets you create Automations based on locations, so you can use this with any compatible bulbs.

Alternatively, you can use IFTTT. The excellent Life360 app and IFTTT channel can monitor multiple people’s locations to trigger rules. Alternatively, if you have an alternative smart home device that provides geolocation you can use this. For example, with a Nest Learning Thermostat, you can use Home/Away Assist to trigger IFTTT rules to control your lights based on locations.

8 clever ways to make more of your smart lighting

3. Group multiple lights together

Smart lighting isn’t confined to working on the same electrical circuit, so you’re free to group multiple lights together regardless of location. For example, in our garden, we’ve got Hue lights connected to outdoor sockets on both the kitchen (one circuit), the office (a different lighting circuit) and outdoor lights (connected via an external power socket).

The one thing that they have in common is that they’re all grouped into a room called 'Garden', and can be controlled together.

Don’t forget, the most recent Hue app update adds Zones, which lets you create sub-groups of lights outside of rooms. For example, we have one called Cooking in our kitchen, so we can adjust just the lights focussed on the cooking area without affecting the rest of the room.

8 clever ways to make more of your smart lighting

4. Link smart lights to dumb lights

If you’ve got smart plugs around your home that are connected to lamps, you can tie these into your smart light control via a third-party system, such as SmartThings or Apple HomeKit. The trick is to create a custom automation that looks out for a smart bulb being turned on, then to trigger the smart plug connected to the lamp.

In this way, turning on the smart light by any means (voice, app or switch) will trigger the lamp to turn on. Don’t forget to create an automation that will turn the plug off when the smart light is also turned off.

8 clever ways to make more of your smart lighting

5. Create wake-up or sleep timers

Waking up to slowly-brightening light is far nicer than the harsh sound of an alarm, so why not get your smart lights to do the job for you? Philips Hue bulbs have a special 'Wake up; routine that lets you set a wake-up time and the fade-in time (how long before you wake up that the lights will start to wake up). Lifx has similar controls for its bulbs.

Similarly, if you want to get to sleep, having your lights slowly fade out can be nice, particularly for children that find it hard to get to sleep in complete darkness. Again, Hue and Lifx have similar controls for this, letting you set when lights should start to fade and how long this should take.

If you don’t have the options to do either of these with the systems that you’re using, then you can take the long way around with an alternative scheduling system, such as Samsung SmartThings or Amazon Alexa Routines. Just create multiple routines, each adjusting the brightness of your selected lights. For example, you could have your lights at 5% at 7:30, 15% at 7:40, 40% at 7:50, 70% at 8:00 and 100% at 8:10 when you want to get up. More scheduling gives you more control, but these options are slightly less flexible if you want to adjust your wake-up time.

8 clever ways to make more of your smart lighting

6. Make your own light switch

As useful as it is to turn on smart bulbs with the app or your voice, the truth is that it’s often more convenient to use a physical button to do the job. Yet, not all smart light systems provide such controls. For example, Philips Hue as a range of battery-powered smart light switches and motion sensors that connect using the low-power Zigbee protocol; Lifx bulbs, which use Wi-Fi, don’t have anything similar.

That doesn’t mean that you’re stuck, though, as you can use smart buttons, such as the Logitech Pop or Flic, to provide the control that you need. Even better, you can put these buttons where you need them, such as stuck to the underside of the desk so that you can quickly turn the lights on without having to get up to work.

8 clever ways to make more of your smart lighting

7. Create emergency lighting

If you’ve got a smart smoke alarm, such as a Nest Protect or Netatmo Smart Smoke Alarm, you can tie their detection into your smart lighting and turn on lights in an emergency. There are multiple options for doing this, depending on the devices that you have.

With Nest Protect, the Works with Nest programme will let you automatically turn on your Hue or Lifx bulbs when an alert is detected. This functionality should move over to the new Works with Google Assistant system instead, although timings haven’t been announced.

Read this: The best smart smoke detectors

You can build similar functionality yourself using IFTTT for most devices. The Netatmo Smart Smoke Alarm also works with Apple HomeKit, so you can create a custom automation in this way, too.

8. Make your lights dynamic

Why be stuck with static lights when dynamic lighting is far more engaging? Lifx provides some funky lighting modes in its app, but you can turn to an alternative app, such as OnSwitch (this also works with Hue), to provide even more dynamic lights. From the warm glow of a fireplace to the spookiness of a haunted house, OnSwitch makes your lighting more fun and engaging.

Look out for other options, too. With the Nanoleaf Canvas light panels, you can have them change color in time to any music you’re playing, or just gently cycle through a color pattern creating a moving wall of art.

8 clever ways to make more of your smart lighting

9. Use cheaper bulbs within the Hue app

Hue is the undisputed king of the smart light bulb brigade, but did you know that you can use cheaper, non-Hue, bulbs within your Hue system, and control them with the excellent Hue app?

Philips Hue supports Zigbee 3.0 and is compatible with the Zigbee Light Link standard protocol and, as such, Zigbee Light Link compliant products and devices work with the Hue Bridge, such as Ikea's Trådfri and Innr.

Check out our guides to getting Ikea bulbs on Hue, and also Innr smart lights in the Hue system too.

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