Adding a Porch Light Timer That Actually WorksBy - 11/12/2018
For the past five years, we’ve helped millions of people protect their homes, and today, nearing our five year anniversary, we’re going back to the basics. While smart home security systems will protect your home, it’s also important to remember to protect your home in layers. One layer I recommend is the addition of automated porch lights.
Why Automate Your Porch Lights?
It’s common knowledge that it’s highly unlikely for well-lit homes to be attacked by burglars or intruders. However, some reports prove that just leaving your lights on all day and all night doesn’t cut it. In fact, leaving your lights on all night could actually help the cause of burglars, according to a report by National Public Radio (NPR). In the same report, NPR also mentions that one of the best ways to utilize lights for home security is to use them to mimic human activity. That’s exactly what automating your porch lights can help you achieve.
The question now is: What’s the best way to automate your porch lights?
Analog Timer Switches vs. Smart Switches vs. Smart Lights
Timer switches (both mechanical & programmable), smart switches, and smart lights are three of the most common devices people use to automate their porch lights. Each device has its own advantages and disadvantages.
Mechanical Timer Switch
Mechanical timer switches are old-school. They are in-wall switches with a mechanical 24-hour clock attached. Using a dial, you simply need to set a turn on and turn off time. The cycle will then repeat daily.
Mechanical timer switches are for those who are looking for a reliable device that is cheap and easy to install. They sell for around $10 on Amazon, and you can install them like a regular in-wall switch. Once you’ve set a schedule, it will turn your porch lights on and off on time every single day.
The biggest disadvantage of mechanical timer switches, however, is the fact that they can only accommodate one cycle per day. Setting your porch lights to turn on and turn off at the same hour every day isn’t mimicking human activity, and it’s probably only a matter of time before a determined crook catches on.
Programmable Timer Switches
Programmable timer switches are more modern than mechanical timer switches. Instead of a mechanical clock, programmable timer switches have a tiny digital screen and buttons where you can program your schedules. Yes, plural, because programmable timer switches support more than one cycle. Many of them can accommodate seven on/off schedules per day, which means you can set your lights to turn on at different times each day.
Programmable timer switches are more expensive than the mechanical kind, but they are still pretty cheap. You can get one for $20 to $30. As for installation, you can install programmable timer switches like a regular switch. And because they have a digital display, they are easier to program when compared to mechanical timer switches.
Perhaps the biggest downside of programmable timer switches is the fact they rely on a battery backup to retain your schedules during power outages. If you live in an area where power outages are common, I don’t recommend using programmable timer switches. Their batteries will wear out quickly, and when that happens, they won’t be able to remember your schedules.
Smart switches are even more modern than programmable timer switches. For one, smart switches connect to the internet via Wi-Fi or they can connect to a smart home hub using Z-Wave or Zigbee, giving you the ability to program and control them using a browser or smartphone. As part of the IoT movement, smart switches also often integrate with other brands and IoT devices. For example, using a single smartphone app, you can control all of your lights and your home security system.
Scheduling is a basic smart switch feature. Most smart switches can accommodate more than one schedule per day. For example, you can set your porch lights to turn on at 6 PM and turn off at 9 PM and then to turn on again at 3 AM and off at 5 AM.
Smart switches can do more than just remember your on/off schedules. Some can be configured to automatically turn on right after sunset based on your geographical location. If today’s sunset happens at 6:03 PM, for example, your porch lights will turn on at 6:03 PM.
Smart switches are more expensive. A single switch sells for $30+ depending on the brand. Smart switches with more features can cost you up to $60 each.
The biggest downside of Wi-Fi smart switches is their dependency on the internet; however, if you have a Z-Wave or Zigbee switch, it might continue to work without internet.
Smart bulbs are the easiest to install among the four options because the process doesn’t involve wiring a switch to your switch terminals. Installing a smart bulb is literally as easy as screwing it into your porch light bulb socket. That said, I recommend using smart bulbs to those who prefer not to tinker with their home’s electrical wires.
When it comes to features, smart bulbs are similar to smart switches. You can create multiple on/off schedules, control your lights using your smartphone or computer, and integrate your lights with other IoT devices. Also, there are smart bulbs that can change hues or color.
As for the price, you can get a simple smart bulb for as low as $20. Those with smarter and more features can cost up to $60. If you want to use a smart bulb that connects directly via Wi-Fi, we recommend LIFX. If you don’t mind using a hub, we recommend Hue.
Bonus Option: Camera/Light Combo
All four options we’ve discussed are single-purpose. They can automate your porch lights to make your home more secure. However, there’s one final option that not only automates your porch lights but also adds a camera to watch over your porch and front door: light-based security cameras.
Maximus Smart Security Light
The Maximus Smart Security Light is an automated porch light fixture equipped with a camera. It comes in four designs (Craftsman, Traditional, Contemporary, Coach) and in a black and bronze finish (except for Contemporary and Coach).
The equipped smart light can be controlled using a smartphone app. It can also follow schedules, be programmed to turn on at dusk and turn off at dawn, and turn on when it the included camera detects motion.
On the other hand, the integrated camera captures 720p images with a 116-degree viewing angle. It can also record motion event videos to the cloud provided that you subscribe to their cloud recording plan.
Because Maximus Smart Security Light is a light fixture, you’ll need to replace your existing light fixtures with it. Considering that each Maximus light fixture costs $179 to $199, replacing all of your porch lights can get pretty expensive. The good news is you don’t have to replace all of your light fixtures with the camera-enabled Maximus light fixture. You can opt to get the less expensive Companion Light ($99) which comes in designs similar to the camera-enabled fixture.
If you’d rather not replace your existing porch light fixtures, then Toucan is for you. Toucan uses the same camera as Maximus, but it’s connected to a bulb socket, making it simpler to install. Just remove the bulb from your porch light, screw in Toucan’s bulb socket, and then re-attach the bulb to the fixture; this time, screw it into Toucan’s socket. To power the camera, simply turn on the light.
Toucan’s features are identical to that of Maximus. You can create schedules, synchronize your bulbs with the sunset and sunrise, and monitor your home using the Kuna app.
Aside from being simpler to install than Maximus, Toucan is also less expensive. You can purchase it for $149, plus you won’t have to change out your decor.
Ring Spotlight Cam
Finally, Ring Spotlight Cam works similarly to Maximus in that it’s both a light and a security camera, but it isn’t as smart. The light is motion activated but cannot be scheduled like a smart light.
You can read our hands-on review of Ring Spotlight here.