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Hardscaping 101: Smart Outdoor Lights

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Hardscaping 101: Smart Outdoor Lights

March 8, 2017

A number of our posts cover outdoor lighting (see our Hardscape 101: Outdoor Lighting Design Guide), including solar lamps for illuminating garden paths and string lights to loop through the trees for magical evenings.  Today we’re taking a look at new smart home technology: outdoor lights for entryways, porches, and landscapes that you can control using an app installed on your mobile device.

A Kuna Maximus Smart Security Light available in black or bronze is \$\179.
Above: A Kuna Maximus Smart Security Light available in black or bronze is $179.

Are there different kinds of smart outdoor lighting?

Yes, and new inventions hit the market every month. Here we look at fixtures with high-tech security features that you can install on your porch or beside the front door, and solar lights that brighten your garden (and then some!) after dark.

What’s new in smart entryway lighting?

That light fixture on your front porch isn’t just there to cast a welcoming glow. It’s important to home security—a well-lit entrance helps prevent break-ins. If you feel you need more than lighting alone, consider Kuna’s Maximus Smart Security Light. It replaces your existing exterior light fixture and provides much more, since it comes with a video camera, motion detector, microphone, and speaker. To operate it, you simply install the Kuna app on your smartphone or tablet.

Let’s say someone’s approaching your front door. The Kuna’s motion detector triggers the light and/or the video camera, and sends an alert to your phone.
Above: Let’s say someone’s approaching your front door. The Kuna’s motion detector triggers the light and/or the video camera, and sends an alert to your phone.

You can view the visitor via live full-color video feed and send a voice message over the intercom—even if you’re not home. (It can be a live message or a recorded one.) If it’s an unwelcome visitor, you can trigger a loud siren to alert the neighbors and likely send the intruder scrambling away.

The Kuna ($179) comes in four designs—Craftsman, Traditional, Contemporary, or Coach—and two finishes, black or bronze, so there’s probably one to match your décor. And if you have twin sconces flanking your front door and don’t want to ruin the symmetry, you can buy a second Kuna light without the bells and whistles for an additional $79.

You might also want to install a Kuna security light at your home’s side entrance, especially if that’s where you have parcels dropped off.

Can I install the Kuna smart security light myself?

You only need to be moderately handy to install a Kuna smart security light; for most people it takes about \15 minutes to swap out the wiring from the old fixture to the new one..
Above: You only need to be moderately handy to install a Kuna smart security light; for most people it takes about 15 minutes to swap out the wiring from the old fixture to the new one..

You then install the Kuna app on your mobile device (iOS or Android) and use it to connect to the light via Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.  You can integrate your Kuna light with Amazon Alexa, so you can control it with voice commands.

What are the drawbacks to this device?

You’ll likely need to pay video storage fees. While you can view any video within two hours of when it’s captured, if you want to store the videos—so you can review past incidents, say, or let the police see who dropped by—you must sign up for a monthly cloud storage fee that starts at $5.

Sometimes a squirrel jumping onto the porch is enough to set off the motion detector, but it’s possible to adjust the sensitivity to get fewer false alerts.

Some reviews cited poor-quality video images due to the Kuna’s 720p camera. (For more on that, see below.)

A Kuna Toucan Surveillance Kit is \$\149.99.
Above: A Kuna Toucan Surveillance Kit is $149.99.

What if I can’t change my porch light, or don’t want to?

You have several other options. You can buy the Kuna Toucan Surveillance Kit to retrofit your existing light by adding a security camera. There’s no rewiring required, and you’ll score most of the benefits of the Kuna Maximus Smart Security Light.

Another way to get smart lighting outside your house is to replace the bulb in your existing fixture. Simply screw in an Illumi BR30 Outdoor Flood LED Smart Light Bulb (\$69.99), a 75-watt-equivalent bulb that you operate with the Ilumi companion app.
Above: Another way to get smart lighting outside your house is to replace the bulb in your existing fixture. Simply screw in an Illumi BR30 Outdoor Flood LED Smart Light Bulb ($69.99), a 75-watt-equivalent bulb that you operate with the Ilumi companion app.

You’ll be able to turn the light on and off remotely, which comes in handy when, say, you’re away on vacation and want to give your house a “lived-in” look. Another plus: It’s “color-tunable,” right down to shades of white.

A third option is to swap out your porch light’s indoor wall switch for one that you control with a mobile device. The Belkin WeMo Light Switch (\$49.99) comes with built-in Wi-Fi to effectively retrofit your light fixture.
Above: A third option is to swap out your porch light’s indoor wall switch for one that you control with a mobile device. The Belkin WeMo Light Switch ($49.99) comes with built-in Wi-Fi to effectively retrofit your light fixture.

Use the WeMo app to schedule your porch light to automatically turn on at sunset and off at sunrise. You can also integrate the light with SmartThings, Google Home, or Amazon Alexa to operate it with voice commands.

The Playbulb Garden (\$39.99 each) is a disc about 5½ inches in diameter that you can set on a table or push into the ground with a plastic spike.
Above: The Playbulb Garden ($39.99 each) is a disc about 5½ inches in diameter that you can set on a table or push into the ground with a plastic spike.

What kind of smart lights can I get for my garden?

While solar lights are nothing new, now there are smart solar lights—and you can use the app to make them change into a host of different colors. When fully charged, a Playbulb Garden LED solar bulb stays lit for 20 hours; a sensor turns it on and off according to the available light. But the fun part is that the Playbulb app (for iOS & Android) lets you adjust the light into “millions” of different colors. The latest feature adds five special effects: Pulsing, Flashing, Candlelight, Rainbow, and Rainbow Fading. For that you’ll clearly want a bunch of these crazy lights.

When it comes to outdoor security devices, watch for the Maximus Smart Motion Security Light, due out in mid-\20\17 (\$\250).
Above: When it comes to outdoor security devices, watch for the Maximus Smart Motion Security Light, due out in mid-2017 ($250).

What’s in the works for outdoor smart lights?

New smart products are being released all the time.  As with the Kuna Maximus above, this will replace an existing outdoor light. The contemporary-style fixture (available in white or black) has a 2400-lumen floodlight that you can control with your mobile device (and Amazon Alexa), as well as a 1080p video feed (that is, more high-res than the Kuna above), a two-way speaker, and a 270-degree motion detector with a 70-foot range. Smart security is getting smarter every day.

N.B.: Installing or upgrading outdoor lighting fixtures? See our recommendations:

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