Ever since the dawn of mankind light has been used to protect us from threats. There is no better security to man in the wild than a good shelter and a good fire. Your home should be a place of refuge, and the one place you can go for peace of mind. Incorporating light, properly in your home security plan will do this for you.
One of the biggest issues people have with incorporating lighting as a security tool is that we don’t want to have to manage it. Remembering to turn off the front porch lights at night when you’re tired and dragging yourself to bed is not always the top thing on your mind. Not to mention those frustrating times when you do remember, but somebody comes along behind you and turn them on again, only to forget to turn them off. I didn’t even mention the almost invisible, never thought of garage and basement lights. I cannot tell you how many times I have opened a basement door only to wonder how many days that light was left on! With the costs of electricity these days, this adds up to frustrating holes in our wallets. The solution here is automation.
It might be surprising to learn that there is no real evidence that lights, themselves, deter crime. We have street lights, but we still have crime. We have store lights, and parking lot lights and so on, but the lights themselves aren’t functioning as a deterrent. They are functioning as a part of a system.
After over 15 years of security work in the Corporate and Government world, I have come to understand the value of a system, rather than a component, and lighting is always used in these sectors as a part of a security system. They are used to help cameras pick up details, for example. Or guards to see over the area they are assigned, as another. So, to effectively use lighting as a security tool at your home or apartment, it needs to be a part of a system.
Smart Home Automation makes this system-based approach very easy, and pretty much a set it and forget it kind of thing for you. To start with, you need to have a decent smart home hub to manage all of your automation. This device will be used to tell your lights what to do, and when. That way you don’t have to worry about them anymore. Please note that I may receive proceeds from clicking the links.
There are two hubs that I highly recommend for the new smart home user and they would be either Samsung’s SmartThings Hub or the Hubitat Elevation Hub. If you are not very technically savvy, I would highly suggest that you consider the SmartThings hub as it is incredibly intuitive in its user experience. The Hubitat takes a little more tinkering with, and understanding of how things work but if that’s your skill set, then I cannot recommend the Hubitat enough. Its ability to manage things locally without cloud support is a whole other security feature in and of itself.
Once you have a hub, it’s time to plan out how you want to use your lights. This is actually a lot more fun than it sounds. If you can think it, you can almost do it with your lights. Allow me to give you an example of how this can look.
My eldest son worked a fast-food job after school and on the weekends and this would often have him coming home very late at night, more often than not, after his mom and I retired to bed. So, I thought to myself, “It would be great if the porch lights would stay on until he got home, then shut off.” That wasn’t enough though, because I wanted the porch lights to provide security all night long too, so I thought “I wish there was some way that the lights could come on all by themselves at night if somebody came onto my property.” But, my wife, who pays the bills, said she would prefer if the lights weren’t on all night long.
It’s a complex issue, but automation made it simple. We now have things set so that on the front porch, the lights come on all by themselves 30 minutes after the sun goes down (yes, your hub knows the times for sunset and sunrise!!!), and the lights stay on until 30 mins after my son is due home. At that point, they shut off automatically, and then the real fun with automation happens.
This is how a system works. Our security cameras have the ability to detect motion. Motion detection is a separate function within a camera to something like recording or playing video. Because it’s a separate thing, that it also does, that separate thing can be used all by itself to trigger an action on my lights.
For example, if my cameras pick up motion after my son gets home, and the porch lights are off, then my camera will tell my hub that it spotted motion. The hub will then tell the lights to come on. The hub then checks back with the camera in five minutes to see if the camera still sees motion or not. If the camera does see it, the hub tells the lights to stay on. If the camera does not see motion, the hub tells the lights that it’s safe for them to turn off now, so we don’t waste electricity all night long.
It’s a crazy complex coordination of events all made easy with the hub and simple automation. But there you see how the lights worked as part of a system. We’re not done yet…
The effectiveness of lights in deterring crime is a psychological one. A light turning on triggers the fight or flight system. It tells you that you’ve been spotted. We all experience this even when we’re not doing anything wrong. If a light turns on near you unexpectedly, you experience a moment of anxiety until you can figure out what happened. The same thing happens on a grander scale when you’re actually doing something you’re not supposed to be doing. So, with home security, you want an action to happen. You want the lights to turn on, unexpectedly!
The unexpectedness of this causes confusion. The criminal doesn’t know if they came on automatically, or if somebody physically turned them on. They don’t know if they came on because they were seen on camera, or if they were seen by a person. They don’t know….anything…. and that is a mentally challenging position to be in for them. The result is to take the safest, easiest route and leave. Having lights come on, all by themselves, is a powerful tool for home security.
The other way that lights can be a deterrent via confusion is to have them randomly power on and off inside your house. If a criminal is considering breaking into your home, they usually take a moment to figure out if anyone is home or not. Having lights come on and off, by themselves, in different rooms of the house, makes it very difficult for them to make that determination. A pro tip is to incorporate your tv into this. One thing they look for is if a TV is on or not. So, set your hub to turn on your TV for 15 or 20 minutes randomly through the night and you have a powerful deterent.
Some light products that I have found useful in running this system are things like the Wyze Bulb, which has a vacation mode setting that automatically handles the random on and off in different rooms setting that I mentioned above. It does this without even needing a hub! These are very inexpensive at under $40 for a pack of 4 of them. Place them in a few lamps around the house and the Wyze app will take good care of you with that vacation mode.
There are powerful set it and forget it solar powered lights that you can put up around your house that have their own motion detectors. The Lemontec 62 LED light is a great choice for those dark areas along the side and back of your home, or even along your fence. They also can work independently of a hub. When they detect motion they come on and stay on until motion detection is off. They also have a cool little sensor that detects the level of ambient light around it, so that it only turns on when it’s actually somewhat dark out. It’s not coming on during the day. Another very similar light with different aesthetics is the Luposwiten 100LED Solar Light. With 2000 Lumens of light, it’s a powerful one, so be mindful of your neighbors with that.
For over your garage, or on the corners of your home, the Mr. Beams Netbright is a solid choice. These lights also do not need a hub, but they can communicate with each other. So, if one picks up motion, it has the ability to trigger the others to come on as well. Nothing says “BACK OFF!” quite like having the whole block light up at once!
All of those are great lights that work on their own without any automation or the need for a hub. But as I have stated already, a good smart home light system really needs automation. The Wyze bulb I mentioned above integrates with Google Home and Alexa as well as IFTTT so you have a lot of ways to create automations there. IFTTT will connect that light to SmartThings for you, as an example.
The tricky thing with light bulbs though is you really have to consider their philosophy of use. Not all LED’s are created the same. For example, the Wyze bulb should not be used in an enclosed casing. They’re best for open lamps. They are also not to be used outdoors in the elements. For outdoor lights that can integrate, you need to look elsewhere.
Enter the Lotton Smart Light bulb. Very inexpensive wi-fi lights that can be used in outdoor or enclosed casings. As a part of the Smart Life family of products, it has a proven quality app to install it with, and can then work with IFTTT to connect it to your SmartThings or Hubitat hubs.
So, to sum up, all of the above I’ll steal a line from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that.”
Lights by themselves are not good deterrents. They need to be a part of a system. Use them to aid your cameras. When your cameras spot motion at night, have them queue a light to help them get the details right. Use lights actively. They need to come on, to trigger the fight or flight reflex and confuse trespassers. Finally, use your indoor lighting automations to give the appearance that somebody is home.
I hope that this article has helped shine some light on the whole topic of how to use lights to secure your home, and give you peace of mind.
Mark has worked on the cutting edge of the CyberSecurity World for about 15 years. Having engineered security solutions for the likes of the US Army, IBM, and NASA, he now has become a full-fledged tech junkie and aims to bring proven security best practices to the average homeowner through smart home automation. You can see more of Mark on YouTube on the ioT Lockdown channel or https://scotsmanautomations.com/