There’s nothing quite like tapping a button on your smartphone or using your voice to immediately turn on the lights, especially for those of us who grew up flicking light switches on and off.
While I’m an aficionado of all things tech from desktop PCs to ultrawide monitors and smart home gadgets, the best smart lights have always held a place in my heart. From the minute I plugged in and set up my first set of Philips Hue Lights, I knew that nothing would make me happier than outfitting my entire home with smart lights.
Although I started small in my old apartment, moving into my first home a few years ago gave me the chance to swap out all of the traditional light bulbs with smart light bulbs. However, I had to stop there as my new home didn’t have a backyard.
Earlier this summer, we finally got a fence and turned what was once a side yard into a backyard as you may remember from when I tested out The Foldable Gaming Chair. Besides being a great place for my son and my dog to play, having an actual backyard opened up a ton of possibilities and adding outdoor smart lights to it was the one I was most excited about.
If you’re looking to give your own backyard a makeover, here’s how I completely transformed mine using some smart outdoor string lights and an outdoor rope light.
Taking my smart home outside
Even though I didn’t have a fence at the time, last October I decided to completely redo the string lights on my side patio. My reasoning at the time was that if I did it the right way and used smart lights instead, I wouldn’t have to decorate for the holidays ever again.
Philips Hue lights have been my go-to smart lights for years now due to how simple they are to set up and use. However, if you’re looking to build a DIY smart home on a budget, you’re going to want to look elsewhere as they can get expensive quickly.
As there aren’t any Philips Hue string lights available, I decided to pick up some from Govee instead. Not only are they a lot cheaper but the Govee app has some unique preset scenes and a few tricks up its sleeve like being able to sync your smart lights with music by using your smartphone’s microphone.
Although I initially picked up a 100 foot set of Govee Outdoor String Lights ($99, Amazon), I ended up needing two sets in order to completely cover my porch’s awning from one side to the other. The lights have been set up outside on my porch secured in place with screw-in hooks ever since. With an IP65 rating and a 20,000 hour lifespace, I won’t need to replace them anytime soon.
Govee recently released an updated version of its outdoor string lights and after seeing the difference they made to my porch, I got two sets of its new Govee Outdoor String Lights H1 ($119, Amazon) to help me light up my new backyard in style. The company also sent one of their Govee Neon Outdoor Rope Lights ($199, Amazon) for me to test out.
Expanding from the porch to the backyard
Now that I had all the smart lights I needed for my new backyard, it was time to get to work. While I’ve seen string lights just draped over the top of fences, I wanted a more permanent installation that could hold up during inclement weather without having too much light bleed out of my backyard.
Govee’s H1 string lights also have an IP65 rating which means they can withstand low pressure jets of water from all directions. However, unlike their predecessor, they have a double-layer design where the top of the bulb can be set to one color and the bottom can show a different color.
Due to this, I decided to hang them from the underside of the two-by-four at the top of my fence. This way, not only would they have some additional protection from the weather but you can also clearly see the different colored light from the top and bottom of the bulbs. Once again, I used screw-in hooks to hold them in place while preventing sag but this time, I used all-metal ones so that I could screw them in with a pair of pliers instead of doing it by hand.
The bulbs themselves may have an IP65 rating but the power adapter on Govee’s H1 string lights has an IP44 rating, which means it can’t be immersed in water. During a heavy rain storm, you might end up with enough water to short out the adapter so I picked up a pair of waterproof electrical boxes ($25, Amazon) to install on either side of the fence.
I ran some outdoor extension cables (which I plan to replace with outdoor outlets soon) and secured them along with the power adapters for Govee’s H1 string lights inside the waterproof electrical boxes. I wasn’t done there though as I still had the Outdoor Neon Rope Light to install. Thankfully, I already had the perfect place in mind.
Making my porch even safer
Like many other porches, mine has a small drop-off when you step onto the grass. While this isn’t a problem for most people, it certainly is for my toddler. Likewise, the front end of my porch drops down rather low at just over five feet and plenty of people have bonked their heads on it.
To make things safer for my son and for my guests, I decided to install the outdoor rope light on the edge of my porch. Govee includes loads of different mounting hardware in the box but I used the plastic stakes as I wanted to put it right in the ground. Hammering in the stakes took no time at all and while my porch is straight, I appreciated the fact that there are also curved stakes for wrapping the rope light around your backyard.
Once installed, I was equally impressed by the sheer amount of light Govee’s outdoor rope light puts off. Now that I’ve got both it and the two different sets of outdoor string lights set up, sometimes I actually just turn on the rope light while relaxing in the evenings on my porch.
The outdoor string lights are great for ambiance and lighting up my fence but the rope light is perfect for parties or get-togethers which can always use a little RGB. The rope light is set to Govee’s rainbow scene by default but there are a lot of other fun scenes included as well. I really like the stacking one where a beam of light shoots across the rope light and is stacked at one end like Tetris blocks. I’m now ready for the holidays too and there are also built-in scenes for New Year’s, Halloween, Valentine’s Day and more. Of course though, you can always make your own scenes with both the rope light and the string lights.
Outdoor smart lights really do make a difference
Now that I have smart string lights hanging from my fence and my patio’s awning with the rope light running along the edge of the porch, my backyard really shines. I can’t wait to have friends and family over to see what a difference these outdoor smart lights make and I’m especially looking forward to seeing how they look with the Christmas scene going and all of my decorations up.
If you want to set up something similar in your own backyard without spending a lot, Govee’s outdoor string lights (H7021) are the more affordable option since they’re a lot longer at 96 feet as opposed to the newer ones (H1) that are only available in a 50 foot option. They don’t have multi-colored bulbs and the clips Govee includes with its new string lights make it easier to have them all hang at the same length. Still though, they look great hanging from my porch’s awning.
If RGB lights aren’t your thing or you’re working with an even smaller budget, you can also use one of the best outdoor smart plugs and a set of ordinary string lights to light up your backyard. I personally prefer Govee’s smart ones though as they give you 16 million color options and 47 different built-in scenes so that you can quickly change them to set the mood for any occasion.
Now that I have the lighting covered in my backyard, it may be time to invest in a smart bird feeder like the Bird Buddy or even one of the best outdoor pizza ovens. All in all though, I’m really pleased with the glow-up I gave my backyard and how everything turned out.
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Anthony Spadafora is the security and networking editor at Tom’s Guide where he covers everything from data breaches and ransomware gangs to password managers and the best way to cover your whole home or business with Wi-Fi. Before joining the team, he wrote for ITProPortal while living in Korea and later for TechRadar Pro after moving back to the US. Based in Houston, Texas, when he’s not writing Anthony can be found tinkering with PCs and game consoles, managing cables and upgrading his smart home.