The Light At The End Of The Tunnel

Is your house dark when you arrive home?
If you have landscape lighting to make your home look more appealing and to light up the way to your front door in the evening, it doesn’t really work if the lights are off when you arrive.

Landscape lighting may look sexy, but making it part of your smart home plans is not.

You don’t have to live with old-school mechanical timers.  They can turn the lights on and off at preset times or cycles, but they are dumb.  Mechanical timers know nothing about the changing seasons or the exact times of sunrise and sunset.

Right now there aren’t a lot of good options for automated landscape lighting systems from existing brand name manufacturers.  The leaders in the low-voltage/outdoor lighting game have either completely ignored the smart home or are bolting-on poorly engineered, ugly, and hard-to-use proprietary systems as their answer.

What kind of control do you want?
The most basic control for outdoor lighting (and really anything) is to be able to remotely turn it on or off.  Nowadays, that means using a convenient app on your smartphone, a voice assistant (like Amazon Alexa or Google Home), or just an actual switch – but conveniently located in your home and not in the far corner of the garage.

That’s ok, but honestly if that is all you want, it’s probably not worth the effort.  The exciting thing for me is to move from convenient control to full automation.

With my own outdoor lighting, I want it to come on every day 15 minutes before sundown – whether that’s 4:45pm in the winter or 8:15pm in the summer. and turn off every night at 10:30pm – every day of the year.

But I’m lazy – I want the lighting system to figure that out and never need adjustment.  “Set it and forget it” fully automated operation is the only way to go – it works every day, every year and even if no one is at home.  (I don’t have to share the app, passwords, or train anyone else how to use the system.)

Yeah, but it’s complicated!
What I want (and do) cannot be done with a simple mechanical timer.  The control system has to consult daily sunrise or sunset times, so that means Internet access, and instructing the system with this kind of more complicated rule is next to impossible from a small character screen and tiny buttons or control knob on a traditional landscape switch or transformer. 

Although the programming may not be that sophisticated, being able to easily set it up from the convenience of a smartphone, tablet, or desktop computer is the difference between doable and usable.

An elegant and straightforward solution
All landscape lighting systems connect to an AC power outlet.  Either directly, or they have a transformer box driving the low-voltage lights, but that box still connects to a regular AC outlet.

Simply plug the lighting power supply into any smart switch device and you are done!  Setup the automation rules to turn the lights on or off when you desire and enjoy the results.

There are a few weatherproof, outdoor smart switches if you need them, but most lighting systems are installed with the transformer/controller mounted inside the garage or in a weatherproof box.

Be sure and check that there is enough space to physically place the smart switch inside where it needs to go before you buy it.

Bonus Tip – Go Crazy!
Turning the landscape lights on or off automatically is only the beginning.  Once you have your smart switch installed, you can get really creative by adding door sensors that detect when a door opens or closes or motion sensors.

You can link everything together to do really interesting things that solves your unique problems or needs.

For myself, I sometimes have to let our dog out into the backyard late at night for a bio break.  I’ve rigged up a door sensor so that when I open the back door, the outdoor lights turn on automatically only if it is dark and the lights are off.  Then a timer starts ticking and automatically turns the lights off again 10 minutes later – but only if the lights were already off.

Now my “Let the dogs out” automated routine means I don’t have to think about anything or manipulate any switches – just open the door, let the dog out, then close the door and everything happens automatically whether is is 11:00pm or 3:00am.

Are you considering automating your outdoor lighting? Let me know what you think.


Automation technologist and problem solver

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