Howto make your Outdoor Landscape Lighting Smart

If you have read my blog before you probably know that I have a decent amount of smart products in and around my house. Pretty much all the indoor lights are Smart, but one thing still on my todo list was Smart Outdoor Landscape Lighting. The “problem” with outdoor landscape lighting is that, with the most light armatures, you can’t just replace the lightbulb. So how can we automate the landscape lighting then?

Also, there are different types of outdoor lighting, each with there own purpose. You might have a light triggered by motion on your drive-way, some porch lights around the house and some path or outdoor landscape lighting. Each of those lights can be automated with the right smart products.

Smart Outdoor Landscape Lighting

Outdoor Smart Relay Z-WaveSo let’s start with the most difficult one, the Outdoor Landscape Lighting. Typically these lights are placed along a path or between the plants in your garden. Most of these lights are daisy chained (all connected to one long wire) or go back to a central hub. To make these lights smart we will have to place a relay at the beginning of the wire (if you are using a 120/240v light system) or just before the transformer if you are using a low voltage lighting.

In my case, I had a 240v wire that connected some garden lights and the led stair lights. To make these lights smart, I used a weatherproof junction box and placed a Qubino Flush 1 Relay in it. The Qubino is connected with my Smart Hub through Z-Wave.

Using a Smart Relay

There are different types of Smart Relays available on the market. I have chosen for the Qubino because they are really small and have a lot of functions. The Flush 1 Relay can just be used on its own, but also behind one or two lights switches. So if you have a light switch for you Outdoor Landscape Lighting, you can just place the Smart Relay behind it and turn the lights on/off with the light switch or the relay.

Now connecting the relay behind the switch seems a bit difficult if you look at the documentation, but it really isn’t that hard. What I recommend is that you first draw your self a wiring diagram before you starting installing the relay. This will help you sorting out all the wires and connecting the smart relay.  So the basic setup is placing the Smart Relay without a light switch:

Smart Relay for outdoor landscape lighting

The colours of the wires may be different in your county. Here in the Netherlands, we have a blue Neutral line, Brown power line and for the load line, we use black. (I made the load line yellow just to clarify the wiring diagram). As you can see, this setup is pretty easy, N and L go into the Qubino, and the load goes out of the Q.

But if you have a light switch already in place to turn the outdoor lights on and off, you need to wire the Smart Relay as you see here below. The I1 stands for input 1. This way you can still use the lights switch to turn the lights on or off. N

Smart Relay for Outdoor Garden Lighting

Tips connecting the Z-Wave Smart Relay

Connect and test the Qubino inside first. Pairing the Qubino may require to hold the relay close to your Smart Hub. While the range of the Smart Relay is up to 30 meters, I noticed that you need to hold it close to get paired properly. So I just made a simple setup with a hanging lantern cord cable to test and pair the Qubino before I placed it outside.

Make sure you read the manual, there are a lot of wiring examples in it. Also, the pairing button (S) can only be used when you connected the Qubino to a 12volt system. If you are using 120v or 240v the Qubino will go into pairing mode for 5 seconds when you turn the power on.

For connecting all the wires, I really recommend to use some Wago lever nuts, they make installing and testing the wires really simple.

The 30m signal range can be a problem when the Smart Relay is placed far from your house into the garden. One way to extend the Z-wave signal is to use a Z-wave door sensor on one of your garden doors. This way you can check if your doors are open or closed and you extended the z-wave signal.

Alternatives to make you Outdoor Garding Lighting Smart

Philips Hue Calla Smart Path Lights

smart outdoor lightsIf you want to go for an easier to implement option you can take a look at the Philips Hue Calla path lights. Just like other Hue lights from Philips these path lights can be changed in different colours, are dimmable and can be controlled with a Smart Hub or Alexa for example. They are a bit expansive, they cost around the $ 90,- each and you need the Philip Hue Hub to connect them. But if you don’t have any Outdoor Landscape lighting yet, then they can be a really good choice.

The Philips Hue Calla can be combined with other outdoor Hue lights. There are ground spots, lights strips and outdoor lanterns on the market. The first Hue light needs to be placed within 30 feet from the hub or an indoor Hue light. From there on you can place the other outdoor Hue lights within 60 feet from each other.

Sylvania Smart Outdoor Garden Spots

Not really path lights, but these tiny ground spots can be placed throughout your garden. With 16 million colours (like any other RGB led), you can create a really nice lighting scene in your garden. The outdoor spots are connected on a low voltage wire and can extend up to 28 feet when you use extension cords.

The Sylvania can be bought with a hub, but if you already have a Smart Hub that supports Zigbee, then you should be able to connect the lights directly to your hub. You can buy the starter kit for less than $ 50,- on Amazon which is a really good price.

Smart Outdoor Lights

Besides the outdoor landscape lighting you probably also have some porch lights around the house. These lights are typically placed near the entrances of the house or on the side of the house. Because these lights are hanging on your house you can make them smart really easy. It just depends on the type of light armature you have.

A good thing to keep in mind is the protocol you are using for the smart outdoor lights. If you have smart garden lights based on the Z-Wave protocol, I really recommend to also use the Z-Wave protocol on the porch lights. This way you will get a better signal in your garden to connect those landscape lights.

Replacing the light bulb

Let’s start with the easiest option. If your porch light uses a normal light bulb you can make it smart by just replacing the light bulb. There a plenty of Z-Wave of Zigbee lights bulbs on the market. I don’t need to explain this any further I think 😉

Using a smart switch

If you can turn your outdoor lights on and off with a light switch then you have two options. You could replace the light switch for a smart light switch. The Wemo light switch is a really popular one. It works with Google Home and Alexa and allows you to control the lights from your phone or with your voice. Wemo is connected over WiFi and this makes it really easy to set up, but it doesn’t help to make your Z-wave or Zigbee network bigger and more powerful. Still for only $ 40,- they are a really affordable choice to make your lights smart.

I really prefer to keep my home automation products on the z-wave or ZigBee network. The more device you add to it the more robust the network gets. So an alternative for the Wemo light switch is the smart light switch from GE. They are a bit more expensive but well worth it in my opinion.

If you don’t want to replace the light switch you can place the z-wave relay behind it. The Qubino relay that I mentioned earlier for the garden lights is really small and can be placed behind an existing light switch.

Smart Porch Lights

There are also some Smart Porch Lights on the market. Of course, there is a Philips Hue Outdoor Lantern, the Hue Lucca. This wall lantern looks great and is (compared to other Hue products) not really expensive. The Philips Hue Lucca is really just an outdoor lantern with a Philips Hue A19 Smart bulb in it. But there is nothing wrong with it, Philips did a great job with the Outdoor Hue line.

If you don’t have any other smart hub system in the house then the Hue can be a really great option. The Hue system supports geofencing, so the lights are turned on when you come home. You can use schedules or use the sunset/sunrise to turn the lights on and they can be connected with a virtual assistant. So the Hue ecosystem got everything you need to turn on its own.

Another option would be the Kuna Smart Security Light from Kuna. This is a smart outdoor light and video security system in one. The Kuna can’t be connected to other Smart System and can only be controlled with the Kuna app. It’s a great product, you get a notification when someone stands for your door, it will start recording based on motion, contains a siren and a two-way intercom system. But it’s also a bit expensive, you can get them on Amazon for around the $ 180,-.

Light up your driveway with Smart lights

Another part of your garden that you want to have well lid is the driveway. Now a normal flood light can be motion triggered, but it will only turn the connected light on. The advantage of making it smart is that you can not only turn the driveway lights on but also the other smart outdoor lights or even send a notification that somebody is on your driveway.

If you use a normal outdoor lantern with a Philips Hue Smart bulb you could turn the lights on based on geofencing. So when you come home the driveway is light up. But that doesn’t cover all our needs, we also want the lights to turn on when we detect motion. The problem is, at the moment there are no smart outdoor motion sensors on the market that you can use on its own.

Smart outdoor lightsThe only thing that comes close to it is the Arlo Smart Home Security Light. You can buy a kit with one or two lights and the required hub, for around $ 150,- on Amazon. (at the moment of writing, the 1 light kit is on sale with a 50% discount at Amazon) You can extend the Arlo system with a security camera that will start recording if one of the lights detect motion.

I have researched a lot of smart driveway lights and at the moment the Arlo system seems to be the best one you can get. It has all the features you need, you can connect multiple lights and even a camera system if you want. The integration with smart hubs is limited, it talks with Alexa and IFTT (only arm or disarm) but there is hope. For Smartthings is an app available, called the ArloPilot

Conclusion

I have been keep track of smart outdoor lights for the past year, but still, I find the number of products that are available really limited. That is why I used a smart z-wave relay and normal outdoor light fixtures. If you want to combine your outdoor lights with a security system then you have some good options. The Arlo system or the Ring Floodlight but I don’t really like the look of the last one.

If you are looking for more Smart Home ideas make sure you check this article. I listed some original ideas to help you make your house even smarter.