Forget Unreliable Timers! Put Your Smart Home to Work This Holiday Season

Christmas lights on the exterior of a two-story home.
Jediworks/Shutterstock

One of the best parts of the holiday season is decorating. Whether it’s lights, music, mistletoe, or holiday family pictures, everything just seems more cheerful this time of year. However, getting everything to work together can be difficult. That’s where smart home tech can help.

Why You Might Want to Use Smart Home Tech

People have been automating Christmas for almost as long as they’ve been decorating for it. You’ll find plenty of timers (both indoor and out), Radio Frequency (RF) controllers, and more that work without Wi-Fi, Z-Wave, or other wireless protocols.

So, why bother with smart home tech instead? Because it gives you consistency. With classic timers and remotes, you might need to relearn how each device works when you buy new units to replace one that failed or supplement what you have. Even after you learn how they work, syncing them is difficult, at best.

Outdoor timers are a great example; you usually plug in the unit, set the time, and then program on and off sequences. However, you have to repeat the process for every timer, and, sooner or later, you’ll have them set for slightly different times, and they’ll drift further apart.

I’m speaking from experience. I abandoned timers in frustration when I realized those outside were as much as two hours apart, thanks to drift and other imperfections. RF remotes aren’t much better.

Unless you’re careful, you can end up with multiple remotes that send different signals and aren’t compatible with each other. Smart Home tech bypasses all these problems because it uses a common interface and shares one clock.

You’ll see this right away when you automate your Christmas lights.

Automate Your Lights

An iClever smart plug plugged into the wall beside a lit up Christmas tree.
iClever

Do you hang Christmas lights on your home or a Christmas tree? Do you go the extra mile and add them to other places, too, like the mantle? Then you should consider automating them.

For outdoor lights, you need an outdoor plug, like the iClever. It’s Wi-Fi-capable and has two smart outlets (an improvement over GE’s Z-Wave option, as it has only one smart outlet).

Whether you go with the iClever or Z-Wave plug, you can use routines to automate your lights. Both plugs are also compatible with Alexa, which allows you to create morning and evening routines to turn the lights off and on.

Best Outdoor Smart Plug

iClever Outdoor Smart Plug IC-BS06 Wi-Fi Smart Switch, Wireless Remote Control Garden/Patio Lights, Timer Outlet, Works with Alexa/Google Assistant, Only Support 2.4GHz Wi-Fi [CNET/Wirecutter's Pick]

The iClever plug boasts two smart outlets so you can control two light strips for the price of one! You get individual control, and it's also compatible with Google Assistant and Alexa for voice control.

For your indoor lights, you have plenty of options, but Wyze makes the perfect smart plug—it’s incredibly cheap and works well. You can even pair them with the Wyze Sensor Kit to control lights based on your presence. That way, you can enjoy the lights when you’re around, and they’ll turn themselves off when you leave.

Best Indoor Smart Plug

Wyze Labs WLPP1 Wyze Smart Home Plug, Two-Pack, White

Considering they come as a two-pack, you can't ask for a better price on Wyze's plug set. They work great, are compatible with Alexa, and even pair with sensors for more capabilities.

Add Speakers

The Ultimate Ears Megablast speaker with charging cord and block.
Ultimate Ears

What’s Christmas without music? Now that your lights are automated, why not sync them with music, as well? Voice Assistant speakers, like Nest Home and Echo devices, can play music from nearly all your favorite sources, like Spotify. For smart home purposes, though, Echo has the edge.

Not only can you find outdoor Bluetooth, Alexa-enabled speakers, but Alexa’s routines are better than Google’s. Currently, Google’s routines are limited to voice triggers—you have to say a phrase to start a routine. Alexa’s, on the other hand, has a time-based option. You can program the lights and music to come on at 7 p.m., go through a specific playlist, and then leave the lights on until 3 a.m. before shutting everything down.

You can also sprinkle other Echo devices, like the Echo or Echo Studio, if you want the music to play throughout your home.

Outdoor Speaker

Ultimate Ears MEGABLAST Portable Waterproof Wi-Fi and Bluetooth Speaker with Hands-Free Amazon Alexa Voice Control - Graphite

The Ultimate Ears MEGABLAST is portable and, most importantly, waterproof. So, you can easily set it up outside for a quick light show, and then take it inside for the rest of the night.

Turn It All on with One Button

An Amazon Echo and a glowing green Echo button in front of their boxes.
Josh Hendrickson

Timers are helpful to automate things, but if you want a real Wow factor, it’s time to add a button. You can push a smart home button to turn on all the Christmas lights and start playing music. For extra fun, gather your family and neighbors to do a quick countdown the first night you turn on everything.

Echo Buttons are perfect for this! Pair one to the Echo device closest to the area in which you want to stand. As long as your Echo is on the closest side of your home, you should have enough range to reach the end of a driveway. You can also create an Echo button routine to turn on the lights, plays music, and more.

You can also take the button inside when you’re finished with your lighting party because it’s battery-powered.

Unfortunately, at this writing, Google Assistant doesn’t have a smart home button.

A Can-Do button

Echo Buttons (2 buttons per pack) - A fun companion for your Echo

Echo buttons are a curious product. Originally intended for games, Amazon eventually added more capabilities, the best of which are button routines you can use to control your smart home.

The Little Extras

A Eufy Video Doorbell installed next to a door.
Josh Hendrickson

Lights, music, and fancy button control are nice, but it’s the little extras that really bring Christmas together. If you have a Nest Hello video doorbell, for example, Google recently introduced themed doorbell noises. For Halloween, you get witch cackles and ominous voices, and the company promises more sounds to come. Consider turning on the seasonal greetings when they’re available again.

If you have the Eufy video doorbell, you can record a custom greeting for your visitors. That means you can get creative and answer with Santa’s voice, or little elves rushing to answer the door.

For Custom Sounds

eufy Security, Wi-Fi Video Doorbell with 2K HD, 2-way audio, No Monthly Fees (Requires Existing Doorbell Wires, 16-24 VAC, 30 VA or above)

If cloud dependency and subscription pricing are too much for you, the Eufy Doorbell is the perfect holiday add-on. You'll know when packages arrive, and you can record your own season's greeting to play when someone rings the bell.

If you have Nest Hub devices (formerly Google Home Hubs), it’s time to set up a new photo library. Open the Google Photos app (available for iOS or Android) and create a Holiday album. You have to select photos manually, but you can go back to last December and choose your favorite images.

Then, change out the ambient screen on your Nest Hub to use your new album. Happy faces over freshly unwrapped presents will cheer up your household.

Adding smart home tech doesn’t have to be complicated, and it can also be gratifying. If you get home after dark, there’s nothing sweeter than pulling up in your driveway and seeing the twinkling lights turn on as you arrive. The best tech ultimately lets you sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labor and the beauty of the season.

Josh Hendrickson Josh Hendrickson
Josh Hendrickson has worked in IT for nearly a decade, including four years spent repairing and servicing computers for Microsoft. He’s also a smarthome enthusiast who built his own smart mirror with just a frame, some electronics, a Raspberry Pi, and open-source code. Read Full Bio »

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