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.
Artful lighting can beautify almost any outdoor space. And these days it’s much easier to achieve, because you can buy solar-powered lights for almost any outdoor use, instead of having to install conventional hard-wired electric lights. Read on to learn the ins and outs.
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.
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.
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.
Wall Lights Above: Photograph via Royal Botania. See more at Hardscaping 101: Outdoor Wall Lights.
Solar Lights Above: See more in 10 Easy Pieces: Solar Lighting.
N.B.: Installing or upgrading outdoor lighting fixtures? See our recommendations:
Above: A Luci Lux Pro Inflatable Solar Lantern has a “two-way USB port fully charges it in just a few hours, or lets you top off your smartphone with the power of the sun.” It is $35 from REI. Because no wiring is necessary, solar lights are easy to set up. Path lights generally come mounted on spikes that you simply stick into the ground beside your garden path or sidewalk. (If the ground is hard or rocky and the stakes aren’t that sturdy, you might need to pre-drill the holes.) Some lanterns come with metal rods for hanging. Security lights designed to be mounted on brackets will require you to get out the ladder and some basic tools.
See more design tips (and our favorite outdoor lights) in our Garden Design 101 guide on lighting, and don’t miss:
Above: A collapsible solar lantern, the PackLite Max 2-in-1 Phone Charger charges mobile devices at the same speed as wall outlets; $49.99 from Luminaid. Luminaid also has a current Kickstarter campaign to raise money for Wi-fi-enabled solar lanterns that allow you to use your smartphone to change colors or control brightness.
From design ideas (place pathway fixtures from 10 to 15 feet apart to create pools of guiding light) to energy-saving tips (use low-watt bulbs for a soft uplighting effect), we cover the basics.
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?
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.
Above: Made in Italy, a Solar Bud designed by Ross Lovegrove for LucePlan has an aluminum stem and is $189 from Surrounding. The only expense is the purchase of the lights themselves. After they’re up and running, solar lights are self-powered, self-regulating, and won’t add to utility bills. And while prices vary depending on design, many lights are inexpensive: you can buy a four-pack of Alena-Style Moonrays at Home Depot for $23.58, or a six-pack of Hampton Bay Landscape Path Lights for $17.98.
Above: An 8-by-4-inch Solar Landscape Paver Brick Light comes with an embedded solar panel and rechargeable battery. It is $34.99 from Lamp Lust via Amazon. Solar lights operate without electricity, since they create their own power. Each light has a photovoltaic cell that soaks up the sun’s rays during the day and converts it into power. The battery stores the power, and the LED (light-emitting diode) bulb turns on when the internal sensor detects that darkness has fallen. Depending on the manufacturer, it takes anywhere from 8 to 12 hours of sunlight for the battery to fully charge, and a full charge will generally provide light for up to eight hours.
Above: A white Solar Rechargeable LED Tube Light is $24.51 from Gear Best. Very little. Many manufacturers claim that the long-lasting LED bulbs will never need replacing. You do need to keep the panels free of leaves, snow, bird droppings, or other debris that might affect their charging ability. If you expect an extended period of cloudy weather you could turn off your solar lights, since the battery life can be shortened if the lights are used without a full charge. And if winters are harsh where you live, you might want to put your lights away in storage for the season (being sure to turn them off)—while the panels are weather-resistant, they’re not indestructible.
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.
Above: See a similar set of two Pro Series Spotlights for $89.50 at Frontgate. A floodlight or lantern installed on an exterior wall of your house can make it easier to find your way to the door, or perhaps highlight an architectural feature on the façade. Motion-activated security lights will make your yard safer by lighting up when they detect activity in the area.
Uplights Above: Photograph by Francine Fleischer. For more of this New York City garden, see Robin Key Landscape Architecture, a member of our landscape architect and designer directory.
Tip: Place lighting at or near tripping hazards such as stair risers or low walls.
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 covered porch offers protection from the elements. Be sure to get a light rated for damp conditions but consider this an opportunity to add personality and curb appeal to your home. For more porch light ideas, see 11 Ways to Add Curb Appeal for Under $100 and 10 Easy Pieces: Flush Mount Porch Ceiling Lights.
Can I install the Kuna smart security light myself? 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..
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?
Object of Desire: A Gauzy Outdoor Floor Lamp from Barcelona. 10 Easy Pieces: Wharf Lights. Industrial Style Outdoor Lighting from a French Lantern Maker. Outdoors: Solig Solar-Powered Pendants from Ikea. 10 Easy Pieces: Well Lights.
Izabella has the low-down: “Solar lights are powered by light from the sun, and have three essential three parts: a photovoltaic solar panel, a rechargeable battery, and an LED lamp. The solar panel harnesses energy from the sun during the day time and stores this energy in a battery.
Above: A Solar Round Decking Light creates a halo effect; £22.99 from Exterior Lights UK. To be fully charged, most solar lights must be exposed to at least eight hours of sun daily. So you’ll need to place them in an area where they’ll get as much full sunlight as possible—which means not under trees, building overhangs, or other dark areas. However, some lights come with a separate solar panel that’s connected by a cord, a convenient feature when you want to install a light in a shaded area, such as under the eaves for a security lamp or tucked among tree branches for string lights. Portable solar lights are handy because you can set them out in a sunny spot during the day to charge, and then bring them to your porch, deck, or patio after dark.
Above: A 1-Light Step Light has “amorphous solar panels gather and store sunlight, even on overcast days” and can provide up to eight hours of light per night; $39.95 via Wayfair. Above: A collapsible solar lantern, the PackLite Max 2-in-1 Phone Charger charges mobile devices at the same speed as wall outlets; $49.99 from Luminaid. These are portable solar lanterns that you can set on a patio table for an al fresco dinner, or beside the pool for a midnight swim.
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.
Submit your personal or professional project to the Gardenista Considered Design Awards 2018 by June 22 for a chance to win $500 from Schoolhouse.
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.
Above: A Kuna Maximus Smart Security Light available in black or bronze is $179. Are there different kinds of smart outdoor lighting?
Above: Photograph by Allie Rowe. See more of this solar power setup at Tiny Homes: Living Large in 275 Square Feet, Baby Included.You won’t need to install solar panels on your house to power the lights in your garden. Each light comes with its own mini panel.
Most of the Wifi-enabled solar lights on the market are motion-activated security lamps that you mount on your house’s exterior, such as Novolink’s LED fFloodlight, $69.99 at Home Depot. The Bluetooth app lets you control it with your smartphone, adjusting such features as motion sensitivity and how long the light stays on after it’s activated.
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.
From dusk to dawn, outdoor lighting is your garden’s secret weapon. A well-placed uplight can focus attention on a specimen tree (and away from that problem area where you store the trash cans.) Strategically sited pathway lights will make a garden feel expansive. And the golden glow of a porch light will welcome you home.
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.
Stairway Lights Above: Concrete steps and discreet lighting courtesy of Growsgreen Landscape Design.
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.
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.
Mounted below or at ground level to focus attention upward, uplighting includes wash lights, floodlights, well lights, and spotlights. See more in Hardscaping 101: Landscape Uplighting.
Riser lights, under-tread lights, recessed wall fixtures, and pathway lights all can be used to illuminate outdoor stairways. “By day, the best stairway lighting is barely noticeable. After the sun goes down, well chosen lights can transform staircases to glowing jewel boxes,” writes Janet.
Above: A white LED Outdoor Solar Powered Panel Garden Switch Lamp is $20.17 from Gear Best. If you live in an area where it’s cloudy or rainy much of the time, the weather will affect the light’s performance. While solar lights can still generate some power under cloud cover, they’ll be weaker or may not go on at all. And using the lights if the batteries aren’t fully charged can shorten the battery life. Another disadvantage: Just as many solar lights are easy to install, they’re also easy to “uninstall,” i.e. steal. If that’s a concern, you may not want to invest too much.
Above: A Kuna Maximus Smart Security Light is available in black or bronze for $179. Outdoor lights for entryways, porches, and landscapes that you can control using an app installed on your mobile device give you more control over how you light a landscape. For more, see Hardscaping 101: Smart Outdoor Lights.
“Able to mount on virtually any vertical surface, outdoor wall lights are one of the most versatile types of landscape lighting, perfect for use on decks, patios, stairways, and pathways (with walls),” writes Janet.
Above: Expected to be available by summer 2018, Luminaid’s Kickstarter Smart Solar Garden Lanterns will come in two shapes—star or gem—and will sell for about $70 to $80 each.
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.
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.
Hardscaping 101: Smart Outdoor Lights. Don’t miss our design guide to Outdoor Lighting 101. 10 Easy Pieces: Solar Lighting. Hardscaping 101: Solar Panels Pros and Cons.
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.
Above: A solar-powered LED Sunstone No. 9 is a pavement light that recharges even when sunlight is minimal. For more information and prices, see Out-sider. Solar power is a boon to the environment in two ways. Much of the electricity we use is produced by burning fossil fuels, a non-renewable resource. Solar power is a renewable resource. Plus, the production of solar power doesn’t pollute the air (unlike those fossil fuels).
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.
Porch Lights Above: Photograph by Justine Hand. For ore of this garden, see Before & After: A New Cape Cod Garden for the Old Homestead in Provincetown.
Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll find our our Outdoor Lighting 101 guide:
“Usually, solar lamps come with sensors to automatically turn on the LED light when energy from the sun is no longer available. The stored energy in the battery lights up the lamp.”
Above: A Kuna Toucan Surveillance Kit is $149.99. What if I can’t change my porch light, or don’t want to?
Above: The Solar Landscape Paver Brick Light can be embedded at the edge of a patio, driveway, or path (as shown above). The brick needs several hours of direct sunlight a day to function properly; $34.99 from Amazon. Probably the most common solar lights are used to illuminate garden paths or sidewalks. Most path lights, usually sold in multi-packs, come mounted on spikes that you just insert into the ground alongside your walkway. You can also find solar spotlights, which will dramatically illuminate a specimen tree, flower-laden gazebo, or some other beauty spot.
Use our field guide, Outdoor Lighting 101, to learn everything you need to know to design a landscape lighting plan. We’ve done the sleuthing on the best designs (and well-priced styles) of solar lights, floodlights, wharf lights, stairway lights, bulkhead lights, wall lights, porch lights, underwater lights, uplights, and down lights (to name a few).
Some reviews cited poor-quality video images due to the Kuna’s 720p camera. (For more on that, see below.)
10 Easy Pieces: Solar Lighting. Hardscaping 101: Garden and Pathway Lighting. And see our Outdoor Lighting Design Guide for everything you need to know about landscape lighting, porch lights, outdoor wall lights, underwater fixtures, and stairway lights.