I need help envisioning how automating lights practically work

Probably is a pretty basic/dumb question, but I’m having a hard time thinking about how day to day with “Smart” lights would work in a house. Let’s take a “normal” house with a living room, kitchen, a bathroom, 2 bedrooms, and a hallway. Nothing too complicated. Overhead LED lighting. Each room now basically has one switch controlling the group of lights in that room. If I were to replace each of those switches with smart switches, do people just name them and use Alexa/Google to turn them on/off. And maybe group some/all of them so you can turn them on/off by a group name (“Alexa, turn on all the bedrooms…”) Reading tidbits of threads here, it seems like people do more complicated stuff than that…what am I missing on how to design/configure/think about this? Thank you!

I use smart switches for switched fixtures and either smart bulbs or smart plugs for plug-in fixtures. The biggest win for me is the ability to automate (and easily change/set) lighting scenes… A brighter “cooking” scene for active kitchen work vs a more subdued “chill” scene for otherwise. A couple/few different living room scenes, bedroom scenes, etc etc etc.

My scenes are primarily set via automation (time of day or weather [lux]), but are also easily changed via remotes/buttons – those may be a wall switch programmed to control scenes too or a Pico remote for scene control.

We can also control most of the go-to scenes via voice too (Google Home for us), but we hardly ever do that – the automations carry the water for the most part, and for us, a conveniently positioned remote tends to be easier than talking to a voice assistant (especially at night when one of us is already asleep).

Possibilities are endless. Here are a few of mine:

  1. Walk into a bedroom and the lights turn on via motion, with a 10 minute timeout from no motion detected. Then they turn off.
  2. Walk into Family Room and lights turn on for reading. Turn on the TV, and the lights dim to 1% for 1 minute, then if the TV starts “playing” then turn off all visible lights entirely (unless there is motion in the kitchen, then I leave those at 1%).
  3. Circadian Lighting: Throughout the day, my color temp lights change from 2700K to 6000K then back to 2700K, at around sunset the dimming begins and they dim from 100% down to ~20% near bedtime. When I say "Alexa, it’s bedtime OR my wife and I’s cellphones are both plugged in for the night (after 9PM) then my Bedtime script runs which puts all lights at 1% (Sleep mode for Circadian App). At that point we can get ready for bed and get into bed, then we say “Alexa, goodnight” and security system arms, all lights go off, thermostats are set back, etc. etc. Then when an alarm goes off in the morning the entire thing starts again (slowly fading back to 100% over a few hours).

“Smart” lighting is only as smart as the sensors in the room, such as motion (Aquara has popular zigbee ones, also Ikea) or presence (room-assistant via BLE for phone/watch tracking, ESPresence, etc.).

This is actually why Inovelli is improving on the blue series by adding motion (PIR) plus presence (mmWave) detection. It will vastly improve the automation possibilities!

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I forgot about “Away” when all devices are gone I turn off lights and fans and set back thermostats (if sufficiently far away), then do the opposite based on radius setpoints from my home based on the “closest” tracked person.

Along with what the others have said, one automation I set up that I’m quite fond of is a lighting response to a smoke or CO alarm. I have Nest Protect smoke and CO detectors, so when one alarms they all alarm. And then I have a Zwave alarm sensor that listens for an alarm and then triggers all of the controllable lights in the house to turn on, including porch and driveway lights. I figure that’ll be super handy if we ever have a fire at night.

I do this and for color I do red when in “sleep” mode so it’s not too harsh but is also “intense” if you will. No chance we sleep through.

Also do purple for tornado alerts. Kids know what is up and run to basement, so it works really well. We actually had one less than 5 miles away and it worked great!

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The severe weather thing is a good idea!

I’ve been trying to figure out a good way to do it. I’m leaning towards getting a weather radio with an accessory port and trying to use the accessory port to get alarms. I have a z-uno that’s not doing anything, so maybe I can rig something up.

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This is interesting and I thank everyone so far for replies. My takeaways so far:

  • It seems like the switches are the tip of the iceberg in terms of how to set up “true automation.”
  • Because I think a lot of these things don’t really align to my own preferences (I don’t dim lights while watching TV, for example) or there are more people spread out throughout the house, so far I still don’t see a lot of use cases other than the ones I originally mentioned. (Please don’t take this negatively – I think it’s awesome what everyone is doing…just doesn’t fit with my routine)
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I really wish that the Halo Smoke Alarms had caught on. they had a built-in light ring and weather radio, so they would automatically change color based on the severe weather. Sadly they only lasted about a year.

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where people go wrong with smart devices is when they replace their normal operations. A real smart home would never take away the ability to walk into a room and use a light switch. That is why smart switches are so much better than smart bulbs.

With a smart bulb, you have may have to teach people to never turn off the light switch and use Alexa or Google or even worse - an app to turn them on and off.

Another great thing with smart devices is the ability to have the lights turn on or off at times of the day and / or when you are home / away.

Automations are the best part of smart homes. When the home reacts to you, where you are, or other events its wonderful!

Simplest quality of life use cases:

  1. Outdoor lights come on at dusk and off before dawn…never touch those outdoor light switches ever again. The outdoor switches are all on a multigang box with inside switches but are LED green for “outside” and are brighter when active.

  2. Double tap the light switch at the stairs to turn off everything downstairs as you head up to bed.

  3. Garage lights come on when a garage door goes up or you open the interior door. Pantry light goes on and off when you open/ close the pantry door. inovelli led strip on the inside switch nearest the garage entry is colored red when a garage door is open, blue when closed.

Good tips, Tom. #2 is what sold my wife on the idea of smart lighting. Just days ago I suggested the idea of double-tapping the switch closest to the bottom of the stairs to trigger all downstairs lighting to “night mode”. Her eyes widened and she didn’t say anything. I knew I was on to something.

You other suggestions are also good. In the past I’ve used Kasa wifi plugs for foyer light timers and outdoor light timers. I can only build on the actual functionality. We actually once set one lamp to turn off at 10pm, and the other to turn off at 10:10. The first was out 10-minute-warming to get to bed, in case we were lost in a movie or tv show.

Lastly, I agree that all switches must work in dumb mode. I don’t want to confuse my wife, kids, guests, etc. I want everything to work with switches like they always have, even if the system is down. I just want to be sure everything I add is an improvement and is intuitive. For one final example, we are considering doing lighting up the stairs (low on the wall). We will have switches for it, but I’d also like to set it to a timer so it turns on a dusk, off at 10pm, and then from 10pm to 6am it’s set to a motion sensor. Once triggered, the light turns on dimly and remains on for ten minutes, until triggered again. If I have to go downstairs in the middle of the night, I don’t have to reach for switches, get blinded, etc.

If switches are appropriately placed, this is a fantastic use for a dimmer switch with motion sensing.

Cheers.

To be fair, my zigbee groups and zwave associations work with no internet/hub of any kind so with smart bulb mode I have local control that mimics load control. It’s possible!