How to Randomize Your Hue Lights for Extra Vacation Security

If you want to give the illusion that you’re home when you’re really on vacation, your Phillips Hue smart bulbs now have a “presence mimicking” feature that makes crafting the illusion dead simple.

Historically, it was a wee bit of a pain to configure your Hue lights to mimic a whole house presence. Early on you had to either rely on third party workarounds or laboriously create your own list of timers for all your different lights. Now, however, the presence mimicking Labs feature is out of beta and built right into the Hue experience. It’s so simple to use that you can set up your whole pseudo-randomized light system in a matter of minutes.

To follow along, you’ll need a Hue lighting system with at least 1 bulb, a bridge running updated firmware, and the newest version of the Hue app for either Android or iOS. To save on frustration, take a moment to check your respective app store to ensure you’re running the most current software, and check if the app has any time-to-update-your-bridge alerts waiting for you.

With everything updated and ready, setting a randomized vacation timer is a snap. Simply open up the Hue application on your mobile device. Using the bottom navigation bar, select the entry for “Routines”.

Within the Routines menu, select “Other routines”.

Within the “Other routines” menu, tap on the circle with the + symbol in the lower right corner to create a new routine.

Once you enter into the routine creation screen, you’re in the thick of it, and all the settings are packed together pretty closely. Give you routine a name, like “Vacation Lights”. Select the time you wish the anchor the routine to. We recommend picking a time that’s about 45-60 minutes before sunset, that way your house isn’t dark for an hour before there’s any light activity.

You also need to check off which days you want the light routine to trigger. In most cases, the best solution is to check all the days of the week and then simply turn the routine on and off when you go on vacation and when you get back. If you have a more fixed schedule though, like if your work takes you away from home every Friday-through-Monday, then it probably makes more sense for you to leave the routine on all the time and simply check off the days you’re away from home—then you won’t forget to turn it on.

Finally, and this is key to the whole “presence mimicking” routine, you need to check toggle “Random times” on.

By default, the lights are set to turn on instantly (the “Fade: Instant” default), and we recommend you leave them that way as instant on mimics real human  use. You can also, optionally, toggle the “Adjustment amount” setting. The adjustment amount is the amount of time before or after the set start time the lights will turn on. The smaller the amount, the closer to the set time the lights will activate, the larger the amount the higher degree of variability between the set time and the time the lights activate.

At this point, scroll down in the settings to the “What should happen?” entry. Select “Where?” to select which lights will activate.

Here, you can select your lights one of two ways. You can select the entire house by checking off “Home”, or you can select (up to 4) individual rooms. What your select is a personal preference, but in our case, because the most realistic mimicry of our usual light usage would be to have the lights off downstairs and the lights on upstairs, we opted to pick the four most frequently used rooms on the upper floor. We recommend you pick the rooms that match how you normally use your home to give it the most realistic appearance.

Once you select the lights you want, tap the small arrow in the upper left corner to return to the previous menu. There you have one last round of decisions to make. Scroll down beneath the “Where?” selection you just made and you’ll find the option to toggle what lighting “scene” plays in each room or throughout the home as the lighting is triggered. The default is “Bright”, and we recommend sticking with it—you can save the disco effect for another project.

The real important setting here is “Turn room(s) off at”, however, as it doesn’t look very realistic if your lights turn on and stay on for a week. Select a time you wish the lights to turn off and, just like the turn on time, this turn off time will be randomly selected for each area with a +/- variable based on the “Adjustment” amount you selected in the previous section. Again, mimicking your regular routine is best—so we set the lights to randomly turn off within thirty minutes before or after 11:30, matching our regular late-evening behavior.

Once you’ve made this final selection, simply select “Save” in the upper right corner. You’ll see your new routine in the routine list.

By default the routine will be on, so simply toggle it off if you’re not quite on vacation yet or leave it on if you’re headed out the door. Anytime you need realistic and pseudo-randomized home lighting to create the illusion that someone is home, just open up the Hue app and flip the switch.

Jason Fitzpatrick is a warranty-voiding DIYer who spends his days cracking opening cases and wrestling with code so you don't have to. If it can be modded, optimized, repurposed, or torn apart for fun he's interested (and probably already at the workbench taking it apart). You can follow him on if you'd like.