Sleighbells ring, are you listenin’? Want to automate the things that glistenin’? A beautiful sight is smart Christmas lights that you don’t need to turn on all by hand. Parody songs aside, plugging in your Christmas lights, blowups, and other powered-decorations to turn them on is annoying. Here’s what you need to automate all your Christmas stuff this holiday season.
In this guide, I’m going to assume you don’t want to buy new Christmas decorations all over again. After all, Christmas decorations are expensive, and you may have years’ worth built up. So while you’ll see a few recommendations for new Christmas decorations to buy, the main goal is to take what you already have and make it smart—starting with all the things that plug into an outlet.
Smart Plugs, Both In and Out
The vast majority of your Christmas decorations that light up, blow up, or make noise probably rely on a power plug instead of batteries. And most (if not all) will have a physical switch to control power or turn on as soon as you plug them in. That’s good—because it means that they’re compatible with smart plugs.
A smart plug is just a device that goes between your device’s plug and the wall outlet. You plug something into it, then insert the smart plug into the outlet. Then you can use an app, voice controls, or automation to interrupt the circuit to whatever you connected to your smart plug.
For most Christmas decorations, that means as soon as the smart plug is “on,” so is the decoration. But you’re going to need two kinds of plugs: those meant for the outdoors, and those intended for the indoors.
Outdoor Plugs Are Weather-Resistant
Outdoor plugs have a weather-resistant covering built into them so that they can survive rain and snow. You’ll find them in one-outlet, two-outlet, Wi-Fi, Homekit, and Z-wave varieties. And we have plenty of recommendations for outdoor smart plugs.
But if you have never purchased a smart home device before, we recommend the Kasa Smart two-outlet plug. You can plug two different items (like Christmas lights or blowups) into the Kasa plug, and you can control each outlet individually. That means that if you have Christmas lights in one outlet and a lit candy cane in the other, you can make the candy cane turn on an hour or two before the Christmas lights.
Indoor Plugs for Your Tree… and Everything Else
But decorations aren’t just for the outdoors, right? Christmas trees, winter villages, and more all call out for power, and you can automate them too. All you need is a smart plug, and thankfully, indoor smart plugs are usually cheaper than outdoor smart plugs. Like outdoor smart plugs, you can buy indoor smart plugs in Wi-Fi, Homekit, and Z-Wave varieties. But for most people, we recommend Wyze smart plugs. They’re super cheap and work extremely well.
Smart LEDs Look Gorgeous but Cost a Lot
Rather than traditional Christmas lights, you can buy smart LED lights. But don’t buy the first strip you come across. Part of your decision making comes down to “where” you plan to put the light. You can’t use most smart LEDs outside, for instance. And like other smart devices, they come in Wi-Fi, Homekit, and Z-Wave options.
If you want something that won’t cost an arm and a leg, skip Philips Hue LightStrip and go for something more affordable. We recommend iLinktek LED Strip Lights for indoor use. They’re affordable, come in quite a few colors, work over Wi-Fi, and connect with Alexa and Google Assistant.
And if you want outdoor smart LEDS, try LE LED Strip Lights. LE’s lights are IP65 rated, which should allow them to stand up to most weather scenarios. But you may need to get creative to hang them, as the adhesive on cheaper LEDs is not very good.
A Hub to Automate It All
If you buy outdoor plugs from one company, indoor plugs from another, and smart LEDs from yet another, you’re going to find yourself managing many apps. That won’t be much fun at all, so don’t do that. Instead, install the apps solely to set up your devices, then forget about them. Don’t uninstall them—just put them away in a useless app folder, and get a hub to control your stuff in one place.
Traditionally, that would have meant a smart home hub like Hubitat, but you don’t actually need a traditional smart hub if you bought all Wi-Fi smart devices. No, you should get an Amazon Echo Dot. It’s compact and affordable, and it also won’t get in your way. Furthermore, an Echo Dot will give you voice command controls, automations for all your smart home devices, and the ability to control your stuff from a single app.
Normally, we would recommend a Nest Mini as an alternative to Amazon Echo Dot here, but that’s not the case for Christmas-light automation. Although Google Assistant finally added voice scheduling, it still lags in routines. And routines are the bread and butter of automations.
Automate It With Routines
Alexa gets you voice commands, which can be pretty handy for turning on your Christmas decorations whenever you feel like it. But the real superpower of smart homes is automations—making things turn on and off for you because of the time, for instance.
The first thing you want to do is connect all your smart stuff to Alexa. That means naming your smart home stuff for easy commands and then grouping it sensibly. You might make an outdoor group and a living room group to separate the inside from the outside. And you can throw everything into a second “Christmas” group for when you want to turn everything on or off.
After you have all that set up, it’s time to create some routines. For basic scheduling, you can use Alexa routines to turn the Christmas group on at sunset and off at midnight (or whatever time suits you). Our sister site, How-To Geek, has an extensive tutorial on Alexa routines, and you should check it out.
If you own sensors, like Wyze Sense, and went with Alexa, you can even add automations that react to your presence. But for most of your Christmas needs, you can just rely on schedules. Unfortunately, Amazon isn’t selling Alexa Buttons anymore, but if you manage to get ahold of one, you can also create a routine to turn on your lights at the push of the button.
Choose what makes the most sense for you, but in this household, we time the outdoor decorations to go on at sunset and off as we’re heading to bed. The indoor decorations come on sooner, starting with the Christmas tree and with extras added as the workday winds down.
Find whatever suits your family best, and enjoy not having to mess with plugs!
This post was written by Josh Hendrickson and was first posted to www.reviewgeek.com
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