How to Automate All Your Christmas Lights

It’s that time of year when the fall directions come down and the festive Christmas decorations go up. If you’ll be hanging a bunch of Christmas lights around your house, here are several different methods for automating them, so that you never have to worry about turning them on and off manually.

Keep in mind that you don’t need to have the fanciest smarthome products to make this happen, but you’ll have a bit more flexibility as far as what you can do if you already have a smarthome hub. With that said, let’s get started.

The Cheapest, Simplest Option: Outlet Timers

If you just want your lights to turn on and off at a certain time every day, you can’t go wrong with some basic outlet timers. They’re cheap and you can buy them pretty much anywhere. This two-pack is just $11 and is great for low-power, two-pronged appliances like Christmas lights and lamps.

They’re the simplest solution for Christmas light automation, as you just set the times you want the lights to turn on and off, plug it in, and you’re off to the races.

For Advanced Automation: Smart Plugs

If you want to do anything more than what an outlet timer provides, you should get a smart plug instead. You can program your lights to turn on and off at specific times, but unlike some outlet timers, you can also choose certain days to control your lights at different times. For example, on the weekends, you may want your Christmas lights on for longer than during the week.

Furthermore, if you only want to have your Christmas lights on when you’re home, you could set up an automation task based on your location that will turn the lights on when you get home and turn them off when you leave. Something like this will require a smarthome hub and its accompanying app (like the Wink Hub for instance), that way the app can use your phone for the location portion of the task, and then it would tell your Christmas lights what to do based on that information.

Or if you just like the idea of using your voice to turn your Christmas lights on and off, a smart plug is a great way to do that. Most smart plugs work with Alexa and Google Assistant. Some smart plugs will also work with Siri if they support HomeKit. Here’s how to find out which plugs support which standards.

For Exterior Lights: Smart Receptacles

In the US, it’s required by code that exterior receptacles be protected by a weatherproof box of some kind. There are many styles to choose from, but the downside is that you usually can’t fit an outlet timer or a smart plug into one of these.

The next best solution is to install a smart receptacle that completely replaces the traditional one that’s currently in place. It’s like having a smart plug, but the smarts are integrated entirely into the receptacle itself, which saves a lot of physical space. With just a bit of know-how, you can install one of these yourself, and we have a guide that takes you through the process (it’s aimed at USB-equipped receptacles, but it will work with these smart receptacles as well)

Most (if not all) of these use ZigBee or Z-Wave as their wireless protocol, so you’ll need a smarthome hub like Wink to get them up and running. But once you do, they work pretty much just like a smart plug does, allowing you to set up all sorts of automation tasks, like turning your Christmas lights on when it gets dark out, and turning them off when the sun comes up in the morning.

Craig Lloyd writes about smarthome for How-To Geek, and is an aspiring handyman who loves tinkering with anything and everything around the house. He's also a mediocre gamer, aviation geek, baseball fan, motorcyclist, and proud introvert.