Whether they hang on your Christmas tree or decorate your home, Christmas lights are beautiful and a timeless tradition. The problem is to control them. With smart plugs, you can schedule them to turn on and off automatically. Here̵
Start with smart plugs
Here’s the good news: Making your Christmas lights smart doesn’t mean throwing out the perfectly good lights you’ve been using for years. You better use what you have, because smart outdoor lighting is often expensive.
Buy smart plugs instead. These can make any “dumb” gadget smart. Smart plugs work on a simple principle. When you turn off a smart plug, it shuts off power to whatever you have it plugged into, just like a light switch. Turn it on to restore power. That’s perfect for holiday lights because you usually control them by turning off their power (either by unplugging them or flipping a switch). Smart plugs are also easy to set up: just plug one in and plug your lights into it.
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The type of smart plug you need depends on where you place it and what smart home tech you already have. But if you are new to smart homes, we recommend Wyze plugs or iClever plugs for your indoor plugs and iClever for your outdoor plugs. If you only plan on scheduling indoor lighting, we recommend Wyze as the best option. It’s less expensive than iClever’s indoor import, and the app is better. But if you want to plan indoors and out, we recommend using iClever for both. That way you only have to learn one app.
Both are affordable, work well, and are Alexa and Google compatible. That’s essential if you’re considering moving to smart homes and don’t have a smart home hub. Smart home hubs act as the “brains” of advanced smart homes, but thanks to Google Assistant and Alexa, they are no longer so necessary. You don’t need one for basic planning,
Planning with an app
For easy planning, the easiest way is to use your smart plug manufacturer’s app. Assuming you have Wyze or iClever smart plugs, your first step is to download the Wyze (for iOS and Android) or, if you are using iClever, the Smart Life app (for iOS and Android). Plug a smart plug into your socket and connect it to the app. You have to do this plug by plug.
We usually recommend that you choose the names for the smart plugs carefully. But in this case you add them to a Christmas group. You can name them “Christmas 1”, “Christmas 2” and so on. You may want to rename your tree lights. If you ever want to call them “Christmas Tree” you can turn the plug on separately from the rest of your lights. Once you’ve linked and set everything up, connect your lights. Both apps have a grouping feature, and it’s worth grouping all of your Christmas lights together so you can create one schedule to control them all.
Your next step is to create a schedule. Wyze calls scheduling options “rules,” while Smart Life calls them “automations.” In either case, you open rules or automations, choose your plug group, choose whether to enable or disable the plugs, and choose a time for the rule to run. This could look like “turn on the power plugs at 6.30 pm”. You want to create two schedules, one to turn your lights on and one to turn them off again.
You can even create a third or fourth line to control specific lights. For example, you want to switch on the tree lighting earlier than the outdoor lighting. You are all set with automated Christmas lights. But if you want to go beyond basic planning, consider adding an Echo Dot or Google Nest Mini to your home for extra options.
Add an Echo Dot or Google Nest Mini
In addition to adding voice control to your home, smart speakers work with smart devices from more than one company and link them all together. An Echo Dot (with Alexa) or Nest Mini (with Google Assistant) can give you a single app to control indoor plugs from Wyze, outdoor plugs from iClever, and even smart lights from another company. They essentially act as the brain of your smart home. Instead of creating a schedule in the Wyze app and another schedule in the Smart Life app, you can use Alexa or Google Assistant to create a single schedule that controls both sets of devices.
If you haven’t invested in either ecosystem yet, we recommend the Echo Dot over the Nest Mini. That’s mainly because Alexa’s routines are more intuitive and powerful than Google Assistant’s.
But both will work. If you already have a smart speaker, don’t feel the need to buy another unless you want to extend your voice control to other rooms.
Use Alexa or Google Assistant to create a schedule
The Alexa and Google Assistant version of scheduling is called “routines.” Routines are essentially very simple if / then programs. You set a trigger, the ‘if’ that your Echo or Nest Mini can monitor. Then you create actions to take place (“then”). A basic routine could be, “When it’s 7:00 pm, turn on the Christmas group.”
Creating routines for both Alexa and Google Assistant isn’t complicated, but the apps change often, as do the steps for routines. For the most up-to-date information, see the official Amazon and Google documentation. For Google Assistant, keep in mind that when setting a schedule, you also need to create a voice command. We recommend something related like ‘Turn on Christmas’ so that the routine can also be used as an easy voice command.
Have fun with Alexa’s extra powers
If you’ve chosen an Echo device, you have a few useful options that Google doesn’t offer. The first is the ability to throw a wait command into a routine. This is useful if you want to combine an “on” and “off” routine in one. You can create a routine that turns on the lights just before you go to work, wait ten minutes, and then turn them off again. You get a nice view when you leave the house. Likewise, you can create a routine that turns the lights on at 6:00 pm, waits four hours, and turns them off again.
The second involves a neat trick with Echo buttons. You can pair ultrasound buttons with an ultrasound device and include them in your routines. That includes turning on or off (but not both) smart devices when you press the button, which is useful for something like a lock button. Or, at Christmas this close, you can turn the Echo button into the “on” button for your Christmas lights. It’s a fun yet simple trick that anyone can enjoy.
Don’t forget the music
Whether you use Google or Alexa to power your smart home, you can end a routine with music. You may not want to do that with your regularly scheduled routine – it can make you sick after a while – but it’s worth considering a special routine that you trigger with voice commands or echo.
And you have choices. You can of course play music on your smart indoor speaker. But if you have an outdoor speaker, you can send the music there. Combined with an echo button to turn on your lights, you have a simple Christmas show that everyone can enjoy.
If you think, “well, that’s pretty simple,” then you’re absolutely right and that’s the point. With smart hubs or a Raspberry Pi you can go much further and create dazzling light shows, but not everyone wants or needs that. Alexa and Google Assistant are perfect for cheap, simple automations that don’t take days to put together.
Once you have the plugs and speakers, you can assemble your smart Christmas lights in an hour or two. And that is a good starting place during the busy holidays. You can always add more in the future.