Whether on your Christmas tree or adorning your home, Christmas lights are beautiful and a timeless tradition. The problem is to control them. With smart plugs, you can program their activation and deactivation automatically. Here’s how.
Start with smart plugs
Here’s the good news: Making your Christmas lights smart doesn’t mean you have to throw away the perfectly good lights you’ve been using for years. You’d better use what you have because smart outdoor lighting tends to be expensive.
Instead, buy smart plugs. These can make any “stupid” gadget smart. Smart plugs work on a simple principle. When you turn off a smart plug, it cuts power to whatever you’ve connected it to, much like a light switch. Turn it on to restore power. This is perfect for Christmas lights, as you typically control them by cutting off their power (either unplugging them or flipping a switch). Smart plugs are also easy to install – just plug one into a wall outlet and plug in your lights.
The type of smart plug you need depends on where you place it and what smart home technology you already have. But if you are new to smart homes, we recommend either Wyze caps or IClever sockets for your indoor sockets and iClever for your outdoor sockets. If you only plan to program interior lights, we recommend Wyze as the best option. It’s cheaper than iClever interior entry and the app is better. But if you plan to plan indoors and outdoors, we recommend using iClever for both. This way you only need to learn one app.
Both are affordable, work well, and are compatible with Alexa and Google. This is essential if you plan to move into 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 all that is needed. You won’t need it for basic planning,
Planning with an app
For easy planning, it’s easiest to use your smart plug manufacturer’s app. For example, 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 the iClever Smart Life app (for ios and Android) app. Insert a smart plug into your outlet and pair it with the app. You should do this one take at a time.
As a general rule, we recommend that you choose names for smart sockets with care. But, in this case, you will add them to a Christmas group. You can name them “Christmas 1”, “Christmas 2”, etc. You may want to name your tree lights differently. Naming them “Christmas tree” will help you if you ever want to light a single branch separately from the rest of your lights. Once everything is associated and configured, you connect your lights. Both apps have a grouping feature, and it’s worth grouping all of your Christmas lights together so you can create a schedule to control them all.
Your next step is to create a calendar. Wyze call scheduling options “rules“While Smart Life calls them” automations “. In either case, you’ll open rules or automations, choose your plug-in group, choose to enable or disable plug-ins, and choose a time to run the rule. It might sound like “turn on the sockets at 6.30 p.m.”, for example. You will want to create two schedules, one to turn your lights on and one to turn them off.
You can even create a third or fourth rule to control specific lights. For example, you might want to turn on tree lights earlier than outdoor lights. You are ready with automated Christmas lights. However, if you want to go beyond basic planning, you may consider adding an Echo Dot or Google Nest Mini to your home for additional options.
Add an Echo Dot or Google Nest Mini
Besides adding voice control to your home, smart speakers work with smart devices from multiple companies and tie them all together. A Echo point (with Alexa) or Nest Mini (with Google Assistant) can give you a only application to control indoor sockets from Wyze, outdoor sockets from iClever, and even smart bulbs from another company. They basically act as the brain of your smart home. Rather than creating one calendar in the Wyze app and another calendar in the Smart Life app, you can use Alexa or Google Assistant to create a single calendar that controls both sets of devices.
If you haven’t invested in either of these ecosystems yet, we recommend the Echo Dot over the Nest Mini. This is mainly because the routines in Alexa are more intuitive and more powerful than those in the Google Assistant.
But either will work. If you already have a smart speaker, don’t feel the need to buy another one unless you want to extend your voice control to other rooms.
Using Alexa or Google Assitant to Create a Calendar
The planning version of Alexa and the Google Assistant is called “routines”. Routines are, in essence, very basic if / then programs. You set a trigger, the “if” that your Echo or Nest Mini should monitor. Then you create actions that occur (“then”). A basic routine might say, “If it’s 7pm, turn on the Christmas band.”
Create routines for both Alexa and Google Assistant is not complicated, but applications change often, as do the steps of routines. Consult the official documentation of Amazon and Google for the most recent information. For the Google Assistant, keep in mind that when you set a calendar, you also need to create a voice command. We suggest something like “turn on Christmas” so that the routine can serve as a convenient 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 for the command in a routine. This is useful if you want to combine an “on” and “off” routine into one. You can create a routine that turns the lights on right before you leave for work, waits ten minutes, and then turns them off. You will have a beautiful view when you leave the house. Likewise, you can create a routine that turns the lights on at 6 p.m., waits for four hours, and turns them off again.
The second involves a fun trick with the Echo buttons. You can pair the Echo buttons with an Echo device and integrate them into your routines. This includes turning smart devices on or off (but not both) when you press the button, which is useful for something like a lock button. Or, with Christmas so close, you can make the Echo button 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 might not want to do this with your regular routine – after all, you might get bored of it after a while – but it’s worth considering a dedicated routine that you activate by voice command or echo button.
And you have choices. You can of course listen to music on your indoor smart speaker. But if you have an external speaker, you can send music to it. Paired with an echo button to turn on your lights, you’ve got a simple Christmas spectacle anyone can enjoy.
If you think, “Well, that’s pretty straightforward,” you are 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 it. Alexa and Google Assistant are great for simple, inexpensive automations that won’t take days to assemble.
Once you have the outlets and speakers, you can put your smart Christmas lights together in an hour or two. And it’s a great place to start during the peak holiday season. You can always add more in the future.