How a rusty floodlight got me hooked on outdoor smart lighting

Smart outdoor floodlight turns on
(Image credit: Future)

Outdoor smart lighting gives you a higher level of control and customization over your exterior living spaces. You can schedule your smart lights to come on at certain times or control them while you're away from home. And you can pick from a surprisingly wide variety of smart lights that range from mounted downlights to string lights across a deck. Some models even allow you to change their colors on the fly, adding some curb appeal to go with that extra layer of security to your home when it gets dark. 

Admittedly, this wasn't enough to get me to invest in expanding my smart lights outside my home — at least not until a rusty floodlight finally got under my skin enough to upgrade. Now I use smart outdoor lights in most of my main exterior living spaces. 

Here are the models I own, where I place them (from my front to backyard), and what I've learned after adding them to my smart home.

A floodlight to illuminate a path and detect motion

Let's take a step back to three years ago. I was power washing our home's vinyl siding when I'd noticed how seriously corroded and rusty the floodlight on my parent's house had gotten. This ancient fixture was older than me but served its purpose of lighting up the entrance to the home's mother-in-law apartment. Sure, its motion detection was spotty, but I come from a family with the "if it ain't broke don't fix it" mentality. 

Ring Floodlight Cam Wired Plus: $199 @ Amazon

Ring Floodlight Cam Wired Plus: $199 @ Amazon
Upgrade your old floodlight with a brighter light to cover more space while adding a 1080p HD security camera to your yard to record motion events or view a live video feed. 

That said, an unsightly orange blemish noticeably popped from the beige vinyl siding like a stain, and it slowly but surely began to drive me to a Macbeth "Out, damned spot!" level of insanity. Once I saw it, I couldn't unsee it. 

Since my parents' place is a Ring camera household, I replaced the light with the Ring Wired Flood Cam Plus ($199, Amazon). Little did I know that this would open the floodgates for adding other types of outdoor smart lights down the line. 

I'd been using smart light bulbs inside my house for years, so I was sure it'd be a natural extension to have outdoor lights that we could control remotely. On top of that, the Ring Floodlight killed two birds with one stone. Its 1080p camera would allow us to view the yard live and receive motion detection announcements on the smart speakers placed throughout our home.  

Ring Floodlight Wired Plus on apartment roof eave

(Image credit: Future)

Not only do its smart features and camera functionality work smoothly, but its bright dual 2000 Lumen LED lights has been a phenomenal addition to the yard. These LEDs automatically cast a wide net of light when they detect motion. 

At night, this fully illuminates the 15-foot path from my driveway to the front door. This keeps the light off until I pull up with my truck. As soon as I step out I'm greeted by a blast of light. Now we no longer need actual path lighting that sticks out of the ground, which can also become a total PITA while mowing the lawn.

Ring Floodlight Wired Plus lights up path

(Image credit: Future)

The camera functionality has become indispensable over time, too. We can see the street and driveway from our Echo Shows. That's useful for keeping an eye on Amazon package deliveries or for when my little sisters' bus arrives in the mornings. I ended up hooked and purchased some Ring Spotlight Cam Plus ($169, Amazon) cameras to mount on each side of our home for added lights and surveillance. That way we could monitor the kids in the backyard or see the deck on the side of our house live at all times. 

Color-changing down lights to decorate and deter trespassers

With our home covered in cameras, my next project was to add always-on security downlights on the front of my house. However I wanted them to be customizable with a variety of fun colors. That's how I expanded from Ring into Govee's ecosystem.

Govee Permanent Outdoor Light Kit (100 feet): was $299 now $239 @ Amazon

Govee Permanent Outdoor Light Kit (100 feet): was $299 now $239 @ Amazon
Add some flair and security lighting to your home's exterior with these weatherproof LED lights. Switch between white light or thousands of color combinations using the Govee app on your smartphone or control them with a smart speaker.

Govee's Permanent Outdoor Light Kit consists of 72 LED cubes along a string. You just wire them around your roof's eaves as you would holiday lighting. They're great because they display a bright white light to act as security downlighting in addition to thousands of color combinations. For most of the year, they provide my home with a warm glow that illuminates our driveway for guests and helps our house stand out on the street.

Govee outdoor lights at night

(Image credit: Hunter Fenollol)

You can control the lights easily from the Govee Home mobile app or smart home hub, which makes it possible to refresh the way your home looks on the fly. If you don't want to play with the effects and have red and green lights for the holiday, you can pick from hundreds of other colors or patterns and apply them to each individual light.

You can schedule the lights or tie them into automations using your smart home platform's app since they play nice with both Alexa and Google Home. This is a great option to run along your house. But if you have a separate deck or patio space you're going to want to hang up string lights. That's where my most recent addition of the LIFX smart string lights came into play.

Outdoor string lights to brighten up my backyard

My family's backyard is a mish-mosh of crap from children's playsets for my elementary school-aged sisters to lounge chairs to take in some sun. The primary hangout spot after dark is the deck which has primarily been lit by two dim sconces attached to the house. I'm going to sound like a caveman here, but we truly relied on our firepit to keep the place lit up during summer and fall nights.

LIFX Outdoor String Lights: $129 @ Home Depot

LIFX Outdoor String Lights: $129 @ Home Depot
Give your deck or patio some festive lighting for a chill atmosphere and improved visibility. These vivid bulbs produce some of the most vibrant colors to throw hues all over the yard.

Adding LIFX's smart outdoor string lights to our yard has been a complete game-changer. I went with the 24-foot string which consists of 12 LED bulbs. At $129, they're bright but pricey because of their 3-zone blending technology for richer colors. You can think of the quality jump as that from an LED TV to an OLED TV. LIFX's Polychrome color technology gets exceptionally bright and vibrant so you can tell the difference between hues like neon and hot pink.

LIFX Outdor string lights in backyard

(Image credit: Future)

Those 12 tiny LED bulbs light up not only my deck but the yard beyond it. This covers a huge amount of area and provides enough room to play some wiffle or bocce ball after the sun goes down. Even on the nights we don't use the colors and opt for a basic white light mode, the LIFX bulbs make our ordinarily pitch black yard visible. As the weather warms up I've found myself hanging out and eating outside more at night just because of the vibe.

LIFX Outdoor String lights in backyard at night

(Image credit: Future)

For the longest time, I'd viewed smart outdoor lighting as an aesthetic choice rather than a way to meet my needs. But these devices have helped me use my outdoor space more, better protect my home, and improved the overall style of my property. All it took was a rusty old floodlight for me to realize that outdoor smart lights are one of the most underrated additions to your smart home.

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Hunter Fenollol
Senior Editor, Smart Home

Hunter Fenollol is a Senior Editor for Tom’s Guide. He specializes in smart home gadgets and appliances. Prior to joining the team, Hunter reviewed computers, wearables, and mixed reality gear for publications that include CNN Underscored, Popular Mechanics, and Laptop Magazine. When he’s not testing out the latest cooking gadgets, you can likely find him playing a round of golf or out with friends feeding his paycheck to a QuickHit slot machine. Hunter started his career as an intern at Tom’s Guide back in 2019 while in college. He graduated from Long Island University Post with a degree in Communications and minor in Advertising. He has been vlogging ever since the iPhone 4 took front-facing cameras mainstream.