Smart Outdoor Lighting: Options for Every Situation
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As our homes continue to get smarter, you may have begun to look outside the house at opportunities to smarten up your entertaining areas and security. The accelerating market for smart devices, being spurred on by marketing from the big tech players, has brought more device brands to the fore and an increasing focus on smart outdoor lighting.
Smart outdoor cameras and doorbells may have led the way here, but a range of smart outdoor lighting options are now available at various price points and levels of integration with other smart devices. We’ll take a look at the best smart lighting options in each category. But first we need to define what those categories are.
What is Smart Outdoor Lighting?
When anyone thinks of smart outdoor lighting, they’re probably going to zero on in one of several types. Everyone sees this differently, so I’ve gone ahead and broken this down into a few distinct categories to make sure we cover all the bases and perhaps give you some ideas you may have overlooked.
The most basic of smart lighting options is the smart bulb. While most of these are intended for indoor use, there are a few which are outdoor rated as well. These can be use in outdoor light sockets as normal, while being sure the smarts don’t get fried by dust and moisture.
These are the typical decorative, hard wired lighting fixtures attached to the outside of buildings and other structures. Typically using standard light bulbs internally, they offer an appealing enclosure that protects the light socket from the elements. While you can use any standard fixture and simply insert a smart bulb, there are also some bespoke outdoor options that integrate LED lighting to create form factors that bulbs can’t do.
This type of lighting is typically mains powered, although may still be low voltage. These lights are intended to provide wide angle, bright lighting over a large area and can be found in white or colored, wall mounted or garden varieties.
Also called pedestal or bollard lights, these freestanding devices are designed to be placed around paved areas and walkways to provide a minimum lighting level for moving around at night. Naturally some of these have gone a step further and offer color and brightness adjustment as well.
These lights are the opposite of floods, in that they put out a narrower light throw for highlighting garden features and adding ambiance to your outdoor space. They vary in brightness and may be battery powered or hard wired. While typically placed in the garden, some can be optionally wall mounted to act like down lights.
This one is a bit more open, as these decorative lighting options can come in various forms; rope lights, light strips, or strings of individual lights. These have been the last to gain some degree of smarts, but we’re starting to get a few options now.
Benefits of Smart Outdoor Lighting
As with indoor smart lighting, there are various benefits to be had by integrating your outdoor lighting with a smart home platform. Be it Apple’s HomeKit, Samsung’s Smart Things, or even just connecting a popular digital assistant like Alexa or Google Assistant for voice control, you can gain convenience, remote control, and automation capabilities that can enhance your home entertaining and your home security.
An nice benefit that most integration options will give you is some sort of scene control. This enables you to set up a range of smart lights and appliances to activate with a single command or button press. You could, for example, set a bunch of smart outdoor lights to various preset colors, turn on a water feature and start a playlist on your outdoor speakers.
At the other end of the spectrum you can tie security cameras, motion sensors, or contact sensors on gates or doors to trigger certain smart lights automatically, and then turn them off again when not needed. This can both act as a deterrent to intruders, and provide better lighting for capturing night time activity on security cameras.
Some of the options below will include motion sensors, which is a nice bonus, where others will require a separate device. Depending on your smart home platform you may be able to integrate third party motion sensors to control your lights, use security cameras as motion sensors, or you’ll need to stick with the same brand if they offer a sensor, such as Philips Hue or Ring.
Up Front Considerations
While many smart outdoor lighting products do use plain WiFi for remote control, there are some which use other wireless protocols like Zigbee. ZigBee in particular is the endorsed protocol of choice by major global lighting brands as it offers a number of benefits for whole home lighting installations. In order to connect a ZigBee system to your home network so it can be controlled, you’ll need a compatible hub of some kind.
Each smart lighting brand obviously has their own, which can offer some value added features, but as it’s a recognized standard you can use certified ZigBee devices together with other brands. Generic hubs like the Smart Things Hub, Wink Hub, and Amazon’s Echo Plus can handle this or you can choose the one that goes with the lights you are looking at.
Other proprietary systems, like Ring’s security platform, also need a hub specific to them which does the same job. In these cases you’d be looking at them if you had, or are planning to have, a greater investment in that system.
Finally, when looking at the smart outdoor lighting options below, keep in mind that the systems they can integrate with will greatly affect the functionality and benefits you can get from them.
Whether you just want to control them with your voice assistant of choice, or want to leverage the power of a more comprehensive smart home platform, I’ve taken care to note the available options for each product.
Smart Outdoor Lighting Bulbs
If you’re looking to smarten up existing outdoor light sockets and fixtures, simply swapping in a smart bulb is an obvious answer. Depending on the location of the socket, you may get away with any brand of smart bulbs, and I’ve certainly done this with Philips Hue bulbs where the socket is under cover without any issues, cobwebs and all.
The build quality of the bulb you select may impact how reliable this is, so your mileage may vary, but worst case you’ll have a dead bulb and can just replace it. Placement is not usually a huge issue as the sockets will be on the outside of the house and probably well within your WiFi range, unlike some of the other smart outdoor lighting categories. But, what if you need something a little more weather proof?
The best candidates here are from LiFX with their LiFX+ smart bulbs (there’s a BR30 down light version as well). Not only are these specifically outdoor rated but have the added bonus of being able to put out infrared light in the appropriate frequency for night vision security cameras.
This means you can set the lights up to switch to IR mode when not in use at night, providing much improved illumination for any outdoor security cameras you may have. They comes in 120 and 220V versions, and there’s pretty good integration included with support for Alexa, HomeKit, and Google Assistant.
For a more affordable option, you can look at the Cree Outdoor PAR38 bulb. It’s a full color 120V PAR38 dimmable flood light that supports Alexa and Google Assistant. You’ll get an impressive 1200 lumens of brightness out of it and it runs over WiFi, so you won’t need a hub. It’s simple, but gets the job done for a bargain price.
If you’re looking for something with a little inbuilt smarts, the Sengled Smart LED Light Blub is a good option. It’s relatively inexpensive and includes it’s own motion and ambient light sensors. It only comes in a 120V version, and doesn’t do color, but you can set it up to turn on automatically for 90 seconds when it’s dark enough outside.
That’s pretty much what you want in a security light, and you can still use it as an ordinary light by double flicking the switch to keep it on. It’s a ZigBee powered option so it’s compatible with a SmartThings hub, Amazon Echo Plus and Sengled’s own hub system, and also supports Alexa or Google Assistant for voice control.
Smart Outdoor Lighting Fixtures
While you can use a smart bulb with any standard light fixtures, there are some options with integrated lighting that offer some advantages in terms of weather resistance and different aesthetics. These options do tend to be more expensive, but it’s worth looking at what these devices offer over and above the standard bulb option.
Again I’m going to call out the Philips Hue range, simply because of the extensive platform integration options offered through the Hue Bridge or the certified ZigBee hub of your choice. If you want quality smart outdoor lighting that works with Siri/Homekit, Wink, Nest, Smart Things, Logitech or just about any other platform, then you can’t go wrong with Hue.
Philips have added a number of stylish fixture options to their smart outdoor lighting range, in both 120V and 220V versions. Styles can vary a bit between countries, but for me the best option is the Philips Hue Econic. This fixture offers a form factor that provide a uniform light across the entire surface rather than the more centralized glow of typical fixtures.
The Econic has a fairly low profile, and can be either wall or ceiling mounted which offers a good level of flixibility, and it’s a full color light source as well, configurable with the Hue app or through the impressive and industry leading range of smart home integraions via the Hue Bridge.
Unfortunately Philips Hue is opting for polycarbonate diffusers instead of glass, which will cause them to yellow somewhat if exposed to strong sunlight for prolonged periods. This will tint the color of the light a little, but as you’re not using these to work under it’s unlikely to be a major issue. Under cover, though, there won’t be any issue and you’ll get the benefit of the best automation and control possibilities on the market.
I’m keeping a eye on the market for other smart fixtures, but the competition that existed a year ago has dried up. As such I’ve picked another Hue fixture, the Philips Hue Lucca. The Lucca offers a classic wall sconce style with a tune-able white color temperature, but not full color options. This keep the cost down, and could well be fine if your only interested in illumination over flair.
With broad international availability, extensive smart home integration, and solid build quality, it’s a good deal for the price.
Another form of smart outdoor fixture is the security light. Novostella has a great smart option with their new 45W Smart Security Light which features 3 adjustable LED light panels with a whopping 4500 lumen output. The lights themselves, while not color, have a tune-able color temperature between 2700K and 6500K, and the built in motion sensor can turn the lights on for a configurable period between 5 seconds and 1 hour.
You can control the lights via the Novostella app, Alexa, or Google Assistant, and you won’t need a hub as the work over WiFi. They only support 120V at this stage, but do have an solid rating of IP65 for weather resistance. Use the code SECURITY to get 20% off from the Novostella store.
Smart Outdoor FloodLights
Flood lights have two key purposes, lighting an area for use, and lighting and area for security. There are options focused on each specifically, but there’s no reason you can’t use one for the other, depending on how you control them.
A good color smart outdoor floodlight can easily create a vibrant color wash across your yard or house, and you can configure them through your smart home platform to deliver different scenes for different purposes, all without having to set up individual light colors every time. Only one of these picks works on WiFi, with the others using more IoT focused protocols via a hub. For other WiFi options see our WiFi Flood Light buyers guide.
I’m going to be a bit unconventional here and name the Novostella Smart LED Floodlights as my top pick for this category. They come in a 2-pack offering good value, and deliver the goods when it comes to area lighting. With a wide throw at a huge 6000 lumens brightness and full RGB color they are a great outdoor floodlight. They’re made of die cast aluminium and IP66 rated so easily able to handle the elements and be placed in the garden or wall mounted as required.
Novostella has used WiFi and compensated for possible distance issues by including a built in external antenna for greater signal strength. While they have their own app for remote control, they also integrate with Alexa and Google Assistant, which opens up the automation capabilities nicely.
Another good option is the Ring Smart Lighting Floodlight. It pairs two 2000 lumen LED flood lights (for adjustable positioning) with a built-in motion sensor. These are just white lights with a purely security focus and great for lighting up the yard or driveway. They’re intended to be wall mounted and hardwired at both 110 and 240V (compatible with standard electrical junction boxes) and don’t have a garden placement option.
These integrate with Ring’s smart security platform, which requires a Ring bridge. While not a good option on it’s own, it does open up other Ring smart outdoor lighting options and enable Alexa control. With the bridge you can integrate the floodlight with Ring’s connected cameras and other lights if you are interested in building a more comprehensive security system.
Along a similar vein, you might want to integrate the security camera with your flood light, and Ring also offers this option with their Ring Floodlight Cam. It’s essentially the same deal as the standalone floodlight, but includes an HD WiFi security camera as well as the motion sensor. The lights are a little dimmer at 1800 lumens, but you get a siren included that can be manually activated from the app. The camera option can integrate with the Ring security system without needing the bridge.
Best HomeKit Option
If you’re looking for HomeKit support your only official outdoor floodlight option is Philips Hue’s Discover LED Floodlight. You can, however, integrate Ring’s products if you’re willing to have a look at setting up Homebridge which has an excellent Ring plugin available.
The Discover is at the pricier end of the spectrum and requires a recessed electrical box as it clamps to the wall itself. This has been a problem for some buyers where that’s not an option, so keep that in mind. Otherwise, you get the broad integration benefits of the Hue bridge, which is required, and a good amount of light with full color control. Philips claims the output is equivalent to two PAR38 halogen bulbs, but you’ll get a more even saturation due to the flat panel design.
Smart Outdoor Path Lighting
The smart light options in the path lights category are limited, but quite varied. While there are plenty of path lighting options, ones with smart home integration are harder to find.
Looking at the top tier path lights, we have the Philips Hue Calla. A full color, low voltage bollard design with easy, flexible, wired installation, and a wide light throw. Via the Hue Bridge the Hue range offers probably the best integration options of any smart light on the market, so whatever you want to connect it to, there’ll be a way. It’s ZigBee powered, so if you have another compatible bridge you’ll be good to go with that as well. The cost and need for a bridge is offset by this integration flexibility and a quality fit and finish.
This option is worth a look if you need integration with a platform other than Amazon or Google, or you are an existing Hue user. Notably you can run five of them off one power supply, which simplifies installation of multiple lights in the same area as you’d typically have with this type.
For something more targeted, the Ring Pathlight Solar is an interesting option. These small stalk lights are designed specifically for placement along paths for safety, and run on a 3.7V lithium ion battery charged by a solar panel on top of the each light. As with the floodlight above, you need the Ring Bridge to control them, but they also include a little motion sensor so they can turn themselves on.
With the bridge you get Alexa integration and the ability to tie your Ring security lights together with other Ring devices. In a pinch you can also charge the battery in these via a micro USB cable as well.
For something less obtrusive, you can look to deck lights. These little lights are designed to be recessed into a path, deck or wall in a 1 inch hole, and provide a soft illumination along that route. There are a few of these now on the market, but Sumaote has a 20 pack of color LED deck lights that run on 12V (via the included power pack) and made of stainless steel with an IP67 rating for good water resistance.
These can be placed 3ft (1m) apart with the included cables, or further with the extension cables sold separately. The system integrates with Alexa and Google Assistant for smart lighting control, along with their own smart phone app.
Smart Outdoor Feature Lighting
Similar to the path lights, smart light options in this category with integration capabilities are tougher to find, but we have a couple.
Again at the top tier, we have Hue’s entry with the Philips Hue Lily Spot. This is a feature light specifically focused on ambience and soft highlights. Like other spots, it’s not massively bright at 600 lumens, but is plenty bright enough for the role (just don’t expect it to be a flood light).
It’s a full color, low voltage device that benefits from Hue’s extensive integration options, again through the Hue bridge. This is a good option if you want the integration, a solid fit and finish, plus the ability to run up to five lights off one 24V power supply.
Novostella has again offered up the only real alternative to the Philips Hue Lily with their Novostella Blink spotlights. Taking a difference form factor more akin to a floodlight, they nonetheless provide a narrower coverage to fill the feature light category with full color wash lighting. The lights use a unique ‘Bluetooth mesh’ technology along with an external antenna allowing you to control them from the Novostella app up to 80 ft away.
Functions include the ability to sync with music on your phone, set up control groups, and up to 8 predefined scenes. Alexa and Google Home support is available for voice control, but only with the additional Smart Wireless BT Mesh Hub sold separately.
All the other garden spot options I’ve looked at don’t support any kind of integration, although there are some that claim to be ‘smart’ which just means they have smartphone apps to control them remotely. If that’s all you’re after, you could look at something like the Autai 24V spot light pack, or you could even consider a smaller floodlight/washer like the this one from MELPO which rates pretty well. This gives double the brightness, but could be used in the same way as a more focused spot for feature lighting.
Smart Outdoor Lighting Strips
Rope and fairy lights have been an outdoor entertaining staple for a long time, and now we’re starting to get some smart light options that can integrate with our scenes and triggers. Some of these are just app controlled via WiFi or Bluetooth, so we’ll focus on the more integrated smart outdoor options.
Philips Hue outdoor light strips feature a sealed flexible diffuser design which produces an even, glare-free light along the entire length. They are quite pricey but are backed by a 2 year warranty and offer the best integration options through the Hue Bridge, which is required. These come in two fixed lengths, at 7ft (2m) and 16ft (5m), and can’t be extended due to being water tight (They are rated at IP67).
The design is a bit controversial as it’s quite thick and may not be suitable for all installation scenarios where you would need a thinner profile or tighter curves. But where you can attach it under wall coping or along a path edge, it can be quite striking, providing a solid continuous strip of light (unlike indoor light strips which often have visible individual LEDs and need to be hidden away).
The Govee RGBIC Outdoor LED Strip has RGB Independent Control, which means each LED can be set to a different color. This allows for a range of cool effects such as moving colors and patterns, which can also by synchronized to your music. It’s cheaper than the Hue option, but is a more conventional looking light strip with individual LEDs visible. Like indoor light strips, this is suitable for mounting under railing or something similar to product a nice glow effect underneath.
This strip runs over WiFi so you won’t need a hub, and support voice control via Alexa or Google Assistant, although you will only be able to set a single color with those the same as normal light strips. It comes with mounting clips and adhesive pads to make for easy installation, and is a fixed length of 32 feet. The same as with the Philips Hue strip, you can’t cut or extend this one either due to the weatherproof sheath, with gives it an IP rating o f IP65.
Sylvania also have a set of extendable accent lights, also Zigbee powered. These tiny lights come in a string of 9 (14ft long) and can be extended with up to 2 more strings. They provide an easy way to run a string of colored lights along a garden edge or pathway, made of clear plastic and are certified for outdoor use. The lights themselves are about 1 inch across, and sit on a 3 inch mount that can be attached to a surface, buried in the ground, or attached to the included mini-stake mounts.
With all these smart outdoor lighting options to choose from, it can be easy to overlook an alternative way of smartening up your existing outdoor lights; smart switches. You can do this two ways depending on the light concerned, either replacing the light switch connected to that socket with a smart switch, or using a plug in smart outlet to control low voltage spots or fairy lights.
Smart switches aren’t always an easy option, though, as they will almost always require switch wiring that includes a neutral wire. Many homes don’t have this as a simple switch doesn’t need it to break the circuit to the light socket. If your switches have such a wire (usually white), or if you use one of my recommended no-neutral smart switches, then swapping out the old switch for a smart one is fairly easy and most can be done DIY.
Most of these smart switches are very similar, fit standard in-wall junction boxes, and will physically turn the power on and off to the light. An affordable and versatile choice is Aqara’s line of Wall Switches which come in single and double paddle configurations, and both neutral and no neutral options. All support Alexa, Google, and HomeKit, but do need Aqara’s Zigbee hub to connect them to your network.
If you’re looking for a no-hub smart switch option, the Treatlife Smart Switch offers a simple WiFi connection and supports Alexa and Google Assistant for voice control, so long as you have a neutral wire.
Smart outlets on the other hand will work fine with any plug in low voltage lights you have, just be sure to get a weather proof model. Using an indoor device, even under cover, will probably end in failure as humidity and temperature extremes will adversely affect the electronics. If you’re in a bind, you can try and fit them in a weatherproof enclosure, but heat may still prove an issue.
I have done this with an Eve Energy as I had no other options available for what I needed to do. It works, but tends to stop responding on hot days. Switching it off at the wall for a day always brings it back to life, so far at least. The point is, without using a correctly outdoor rated device your mileage will vary, and your warranty won’t cover it.
There are quite a few smart outdoor outlets on the market supporting various combinations of Alexa, Google, and IFTTT, but my pick would be the meross Outdoor Plug. It supports Alexa, Google Assistant and Homekit, and provides two 110V outlets. Simply plug it into an outdoor socket and get smart control of your existing plug-in garden or fairy lights.
Frequently asked Questions
How do you install smart outdoor lighting?
This depends on the type of light your working with. Many garden lighting options will be low voltage. This means they use a 12V or 24V line running from a power pack of some sort. These simply plug into an outdoor outlet and you run the low voltage cable to wherever you need.
More permanent fixtures will need hard wiring, either in the ground or on the wall, and will probably require some degree of additional work to install mounting brackets or run electrical cable.
Are there smart downlights?
Yes, absolutely. These come in a variety of sizes, and for outdoors you’ll typically be looking at a PAR38 or BR30 with an outdoor rating. For smaller smart LED down lights like GU10 or below, you’ll need to ensure they are well protected from the elements as they don’t have weather proofing.
Which smart outdoor lighting is best for a garden?
The two most common forms of smart outdoor lighting for garden use are the path light and the feature spot. These can both provide ambient illumination as well as highlighting features of interest, and are best used in combination.
Flood lights can certainly be used, and colored lighting with these can be very striking, but it’s a bit more of a brute force approach. The combinations you use would depend on your layout, objectives, and power outlet availability.
How do smart outdoor lights work?
Smart outdoor lighting generally requires permanent power in order to power the lights themselves and the communication radio they use to talk to your smart home and enable voice control. There are some exceptions that are battery powered, but these are much more limited in both brightness and capability.
Many smart outdoor lights use WiFi to communicate, but some rely on lower power mesh protocols like ZigBee or Z-Wave to provide fast reliable control.
When looking at smart outdoor lighting or smart landscape lighting there are quite a few sub-categories with different uses to consider. Some of these categories have little to offer the smart home enthusiast, but we are starting to see some movement in this space. Philips Hue, while at the top end of the price scale, has charged full speed ahead into this market with a diverse and rapidly growing array of options across all of these categories. For that reason it’s hard to ignore them in favor of lower cost alternatives when there are few of those on offer.
Sylvania is one such option trying to cover a similar range now, but of course they also use ZigBee and require a hub the same as Philips Hue. Using a ZigBee hub for lighting is not a bad thing, and there are distinct benefits to using this protocol for lighting in particular. LIFX is dipping their toe in as well, with a different take on outdoor bulbs with their plus range. These are a bit more limited as they only cover existing fixtures, but they have the unique feature of boosting infra-red to aid outdoor security cameras when they’re ‘turned off’.
Overall, we do have options in each of the smart outdoor lighting categories, but maybe not with the connectivity you were hoping for. Even so, considering the alternatives may be worth your while and open up more opportunities for other expansion as well.