Smart Light for the Outdoor – Everything You Need to Know!

Smart lights add convenience and longevity to your household, but can you use these smart devices outside? If you have a large outdoor space or do a lot of entertaining outdoors, you may have already asked this question. Fortunately, you are not alone. Not only have manufacturers answered the call to produce smart outdoor lights there are other clever solutions you can try.

You can use smart lights outside. But, it would be best if you were mindful of protection. Not all smart lights are rated for outdoor use. They may need an enclosed lighting fixture for proper operation. Also, your lights need to be in the range of your network to work.

Smart lights have revolutionized the lighting world. Within the last decade, they have become cheaper, more popular, and come in all kinds of shapes and sizes. This has led to smart home systems coming packed with lighting options, as we explained in our guide. You can even install them into certain ceiling fans. But with all those extra electronic components, how do they work in outdoor conditions?

Can You Use Smart Lights Outside?

You may already have some smart lights in your home and wonder if you can stick them outside. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Since there are many electronic components within a smart bulb, you need to protect them. You might not be aware, but within a smart bulb, you have several different components: the LED, the LED Driver, the Smart system protocol processor, and a few other things.

You’d know that all of these components don’t mix well with water. This is why when you see a smart light outdoors, weatherproof housing encases it. Keep in mind that it’s not just water but also the extreme weather conditions the lighting might experience outside. 

Additionally, outdoor lights working with a smart home system need to be close enough for a connection. This means you need to be mindful of how far away your first light is. Fortunately, there are plenty of smart light manufacturers that have tackled the problem of outdoor lights.

Can You Use Phillips Smart Hue Bulbs Outdoors?

Philips Hue Smart Bulbs (on Amazon) is probably the most popular smart lighting option. If you have some in your home, it may be tempting to use them outdoors. While Phillips may not recommend this kind of use without a fixture, they are relatively robust devices. 

Smart Hue bulbs can maintain operating temperatures as low as -4°F and as high as 104°F. There are even anecdotal cases, like here, where these bulbs can handle even more frigid temperatures. This means they can stand up to a lot. But, before you go using them outside, keep in mind that Phillips makes smart lighting for outdoor use. We will explore those options a little later in this article.

First Step for Outdoor Smart Lighting: Consider the Fixture

The first thing you want to consider when placing a smart light outside is how it will be protected. Keeping the smart light away from the elements can help it function properly for years. This is why you need to consider what will be housing the bulb.

While there are smart lights meant for outdoor use, you won’t need to source a weatherproof bulb if you have proper protection. Make sure you have an enclosure that will help regulate heat and protect against water damage. This is an excellent strategy to keep your bulbs safe. A suitable fixture should do a couple of things, including keeping the rain and snow out of the enclosure, help deflect some heat and have the capacity to stand up to the elements.

If you are starting from scratch, making sure your fixtures and hardware are weatherproof is very important. While there are smart lights that come with fixtures, like this Philips Hue Inara Outdoor Light (on Amazon), you can do the same thing yourself. This will mean buying both the smart lights and the fixtures separately.

If you choose to go this route, you need to source quality hardware. Additionally, this route will give you loads of customization options. This way, you can match the fixtures to the outdoor decor of your home. Below are a few different options from various styles, and each link takes you to Amazon.

Using Philips Hue and Other Smart Bulbs Outside

Most smart bulbs, by design, are meant for indoor use. But, that doesn’t mean that you can’t use them outdoors. It would be best if you had the proper protection, as previously mentioned. While they may not be rated for outdoor use, you can use smart bulbs like the Phillips Hue (also on Amazon). It would be best if you were careful what fixture you are putting them in.

This goes for other smart bulbs, like these Sylvania Smart + Bulbs (see on Amazon). You may be skirting the manufacturer’s recommendations, but for the most part, you should be fine. If you look at products from Hue, like the Inara Outdoor light, you get a smart bulb housed in a fixture. As long as the fixture that houses the light is weatherproof, you should be good to go. 

Outdoor Smart Bulbs and Signal Strength

One thing you do need to keep in mind when it comes to smart outdoor bulbs is range. Since these devices need to communicate with your smart hub, they need to be close. How close they need to be will depend on which smart system you are using. 

There are several popular protocols used for smart home systems. Each one has slightly different range qualities. Keep in mind how these devices communicate. For example, your average smart bulb will use electromagnetic frequencies to transfer data.

These frequencies can’t easily pass through solid materials. This means that you will be dealing with weaker signal strength unless you have your hub set up outside. It is worth mentioning that manufacturers will usually list two range distances. One is the line of sight, and the other is obstructed – more on that now:

  • Line of sight – this means that nothing is obstructing the path between the hub and the first device.
  • Obstructed – how far the signal can travel with an obstructed path (a more realistic way to measure range for our purposes.

Some of the most popular smart home systems and their ranges are the Zigbee, which has an obstructed range of 246-328 feet; the Z-Wave has an obstructed range of 30 ft, and then finally, Wi-Fi, which has an obstructed range of 100ft. If the view from your smart hub/router to your first device is unobstructed, you’ll get a much more extensive range.

If you are using a smart home system like Z-Wave or Zigbee, the connection resets once you get to the first device. This helps in outdoor situations as a regular Wi-Fi signal can be limiting. The way devices communicate with each other in a smart home system is also important to understand. They use what is called a mesh network. 

What is a Mesh Network?

If you have done some research on smart home systems, then you may have already run into this term. This way of inter-device communication is the foundation of both the Z-Wave and Zigbee protocols. Understanding how a mesh network can be beneficial when you start to set up your outdoor lights too. 

A mesh network operates by creating nodes out of connected devices. These nodes can repeat the signal. This relay allows for the range to reset. Additionally, the more devices you have connected to your network, the better it works. 

How can this help you with your outdoor lights? Well, imagine you want to set up a dozen or so smart lights outside. As long as just one of your smart lights is close enough to your hub to get a stable connection, it can relay that signal. This means that you can connect the next light to the network even if it is too far away from the smart hub. 

There are limitations to this, though. Depending on which system you choose, there are a limited number of “hops” you can use. The Zigbee, for example, features unlimited hops, whereas the Z-Wave only can take around four at a time. For most applications, either protocol will function to your everyday needs. But, if you are looking for a more expandable system, Zigbee does have an advantage.

Will the Fixture Itself Obstruct the Signal?

You may have reservations about putting a smart device in a metal box. Since these devices communicate through electromagnetic energy, they can be affected. This is why you should inspect the fixture before purchasing to make sure there isn’t too much interference. Keep in mind that lots of materials can affect these signals, including concrete, metal, and natural materials like wood.

It would be best if you avoided fixtures made of copper as it blocks signals the most. Other materials, like steel and aluminum, will also affect the signal. Glass, on the other hand, can let the EMF pass through. There are glass types that will block these signals, but they are more expensive and used in special situations. For the most part, the glass panels on your fixture will not affect your signal strength. 

Outdoor Smart Lanterns, Floodlights, and Other Full Bulb Fixture Arrangements

If you want to make sure everything is working out of the box, there are many options to choose from. These products are designed to work outside and can easily connect to your smart home system for easy setup. Keep in mind; you need to purchase products that will work with your smart home system.

So, if you decide on either a Wi-Fi, Z-Wave, or Zigbee system, stick with products you know will work with them. That being said, here are some popular products that can work outside. To help you make your decisions, we have grouped smart lights into categories.

Smart Flood Lights

These lights can add some brightness to your home. Not only are they great for security purposes, but they also add some great curb appeal to your home. Additionally, they can be programmed to light when your alarm goes off for enhanced security. Popular smart floodlights include:

Smart Lanterns/Wall Fixtures and Spotlights

If you are looking to replace your wall fixtures or sconces, there are some great options. Also, spotlights can add some accent to your home. Set them on the side of your home, on a tree, or add some emphasis in your garden. Here are some options to explore:

String Lights and Others

Smart lights come in all shapes and sizes. These lights will add some small accent to your yard or home. Some can light your path, and others look good when installed. Here are four different models to choose from:

Other Options for Adding Smart Features to Outdoor Lighting

If adding smart lighting seems too daunting, too expensive, or too time-consuming, there are other options to consider. They add smart features to your home lighting without the need to replace each bulb. You may have already found the best lights for your outdoor space.

These options can be a great way to keep the look of your current setup while adding smart functions. Keep in mind that some of these options will require a bit more electrical know-how. Others will need some planning. 

Smart Plugs

Unlike surge protectors or outlet timers, smart plugs connect to your network. They add smart functions to whatever you plug into them. Keep in mind that some of these functions will be limited, mostly on/off or on schedule. 

Otherwise, smart plugs are pretty straightforward. From product to product, there is not too much variation or variety. Mostly, you are looking for high-quality devices that pair well with your smart home system. Here are a few popular smart plugs:

Smart Switches

Smart switches are becoming more common as people start to outfit their homes with smart features. They allow for more devices to be put on a smart network by working into your existing electrical system. Not only are they great for lights, but they can also handle power-hungry devices like pool pumps and fans. 

Keep in mind that these devices are not plug-and-play. They require some electrical wiring and can be challenging to install. But, once you get everything working, you have a much more reliable and resilient system. For most people, getting a professional involved is your best option for installing a smart switch. Popular outdoor smart switches include the following:

Conclusion

Outdoor smart lighting is on the rise. Not only do you have options when it comes to style, but also plenty of devices to choose from. If you want even more customization, you can always purchase smart bulbs to place in your fixtures.

Additionally, you can always opt to use a smart switch or plug. These will add the smart functions you desire without the need to change all your bulbs. Whichever method you choose, you can easily get a smart light system installed in your outdoor spaces.

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