by Eric Ravenscraft on
If you rent your home, you could feel left out of the current smart home renaissance. Fear not, though. There are still quite a few gadgets you can get to smarten up your rental.
Smart light bulbs are here to stay with the likes of Philips Hue, LIFX, Koogeek, and more all vying for your dollars and attention. There’s more to them smart apps and the novelty of voice control. We’ve rounded up several things you should be using your smart bulbs for (but probably aren’t) to help you get the most from your bulbs.
While there are many different smart bulbs on the market, we’ve built our roundup around the Philips Hue platform. Since its initial release in 2012, Philips Hue has firmly established itself as the leading smart bulb platform with easy to configure and use hardware, good software, and loads of excellent support.
Hue also happily integrates with services like Apple HomeKit, Alexa, and IFTTT. It’s the most versatile option on the market with a fairly reasonable price. With that in mind we’re focusing on what can be accomplished with a Philips Hue starter pack—that doesn’t mean you can’t do all of these things with other platforms but it’s certainly easier with Hue.
Hue bulbs in hand, here’s a roundup of 7 simple but useful ways in which you can use your smart light bulbs to make your setup even better than before.
“Guys” you might say “Duh. That’s why I bought the Hue kit… ’cause they change colors.” Not so fast. Most people get the Hue bulbs, play with the colors a bit, and then fall into a rut of just using their super awesome and super premium bulbs like remote control regular bulbs.
Dig into your Hue app and play around again. Create scenes for different moons. One great use is to change the color in a room to set off a particular piece of furniture, or simply express your feelings on the time of year. Just because Valentine’s day has come and gone doesn’t mean you can’t set the mood with your smart bulbs—with the bulbs you can go for pure red light district or warm candle light. Come Christmas, you could turn your bulbs into Christmas decorations, lighting up red and green at key times. A more autumnal orange is always a possibility too. Think outside the box and remember these are more than just regular light bulbs. Whatever you decide to do with them, just don’t fall into the trap of buying cool bulbs, playing with the color wheel app for a few minutes, and returning to a life of mundane cool white lighting.
If you’re a heavy sleeper or find it’s tough to get out of bed in the dead of winter when every day seems dark and gloomy, you should absolutely start using your Hue bulbs as a sunrise simulating alarm clock. Through a Philips Hue routine formula, you can set up your lights so that they automatically fade in every morning to help you rise and shine (even if the actual rise and shining won’t happen for another hour). On the tail end of the day you can use a similar routine to fade out at night, bathing your room in a soothing dim light that eventually winks out as you drift off to sleep.
If you’re away on vacation, you don’t want to advertise that fact with a dark house (but leaving lights on all night is also just as much a dead giveaway that nobody is home). That’s where randomized vacation lights will help you out. Over at How-To Geek, we took a look at how to set things up correctly—in our extended testing of the Hue vacation mode, even our closest neighbors were under the impression that we were home. It takes hardly any time thanks to a quick-to-implement routine option within the app. Think of it as your Home Alone moment, only a little more modern than using strings and cardboard cutouts to make it look like people are home.
Struggling to get your kids to go to sleep when they should? Encourage them via a lighting scheme. Set your lighting routine so that the lights gradually dim the nearer to their bedtime. It gives them a little heads up that they should be getting ready to go to bed, while saving you from having to nag all the time. You could even change the color to let them know they’ve got 10 minutes left before it’s lights out. It gives them a little independence over you reminding them, while still ensuring they actually go to (or at least try to) sleep when you want them to. For younger children, smart light bulbs are ideal for using as a night light too.
You don’t have to limit the lights to night-light-fade-out mode either. You can use the lights to signal changes in the house like turning the lights red to indicate there’s only 10 more minutes left to get ready for school or set the lights to blink when a scheduled chore time is complete.
If you own a Ring smart video doorbell, you can connect it to your Philips Hue bridge and reap some considerable benefits. Live in a big house and don’t always hear the doorbell chime? Hard of hearing? Your doorbell just became practical again. Through a simple setup process incorporating IFTTT, you can arrange things so that your lights blink whenever the doorbell is rung, ensuring there’s no way you can miss out on an important delivery or guest visiting. At How-To Geek, we run you through exactly how to get things set up.
The Philips Hue Hub works in conjunction with Nest products, including Nest Cam, Nest Learning Thermostat, and Nest Protect. Besides practical day-to-day benefits like the Nest system turning off your lights when it detects you’re no longer home, it can potentially save your life. If Nest Protect detects smoke or carbon monoxide, it can give you a heads up via your lighting system, regardless of where you are in the house. It’ll flash your lights yellow alongside an audible warning so there’s no way that you could miss it. In the case of an alarm, it switches to red, remaining that color so that you can better navigate through smoky environments.
The Hue Motion Sensor is a really useful piece of tech. Place it anywhere in your home, and it’ll spot when you walk past it, instantly triggering whichever event you have arranged for it. It’s at its strongest when you place it at the bottom of the stairs or near your basement door — those locations where you don’t want the lights on all the time but it’d be convenient if they just automatically switch on as and when needed. With an integrated daylight sensor, they’ll never come on in the middle of the day either so you’ll be saving energy too.
The joy of the Philips Hue ecosystem is there’s simply so much you can do with it and your lighting system. One of the best ways of doing this is by embracing something like IFTTT or Stringify. Both services allow you to create scenarios of events where multiple devices around your home complete various tasks at once. It’s a form of basic programming so complete novices might be initially wary, but it’s worth trying out. Simply download the respective apps and give it a whirl. There are plenty of ready made examples so you don’t have to get programming yourself if you don’t want to.
One useful example of IFTTT is something like ‘Turn on your Hue light when Ring detects motion at your door‘ which does exactly what it says, lighting up your home if someone comes near your Ring doorbell.
Elsewhere, you can have a set up where if it begins to rain then your light colors change to blue, or you can have a flickering light the moment you receive a text on your Android phone.
Stringify works in a very similar way, using terms like Things or Flows to keep things simple sounding. Besides offering similar options to IFTTT, it also has some fun additions like having your lights change color when you hit your steps goal with your Fitbit wearable.
The best thing to do with IFTTT and Stringify is to experiment and see what works best for you. For now though, this selection of ideas should be the ideal springboard for making your smart home a little more intelligent than before.
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