Don’t Overthink It: How to Install an Automatic Light for Under $20

I almost wasted $175 installing an automatic light in my closet. Here’s how you can avoid making the same mistake, and get better results for less than $20.

Since buying my house, all I’ve wanted to do was find ways to make it “smarter”. I like being able to control the upstairs thermostat without going upstairs. Or telling Alexa to turn the lights off.

Home automation is sexy. I wanted to continue this trend by adding an automatic light to my closet that turned on and off when I needed it.

However, making your home more convenient doesn’t necessarily mean that everything needs to be connected to the Internet.

The Problem: My Closet Was Dark

I needed light in my closet.

The closet in my master bedroom was dark. There was a light fixture in there, but it had never worked.

Closet With Hanging Clothes

Some testing with a non-contact voltage tester proved that there wasn’t electricity powering the fixture. So the first thing I would need to do is get power to the closet.

There’s an outlet near the closet that I could extend to this light fixture to restore power. This would require cutting fewer holes in the wall. And most of them would be in the closet anyways, so I wouldn’t need to do a great job patching them up.

Making the Light Come On In the Closet When I Open the Door

The closet light fixture didn’t have a switch, so I’d need to add a switch. That meant another hole, more wiring and another patch. Not ideal.

But what if I could make it so that the light came on when I opened the door?

I could hook up some SmartThings sensors to the door so that when it was opened, it sent a signal to the SmartThings hub, which would tell a Hue light to turn on. An automatic light with no wires!

SmartThings Sensor

Medium effort, permanent solution, maximum awesome factor. The hardest part would be patching the holes in the wall.

Solution: Adding SmartThings to Automate My Closet Light

I started making a list of all the things I would need to be able add an automatic light to my closet.

Shopping list for automating a closet with SmartThings:

New Light Fixture$6.00
Additional Romex$8.00
Hue LED Light Bulb$30.00
SmartThings Motion Sensor$30.00
SmartThings Hub$98.00
Total Cost$172.00
Estimated Time5-6 Hours

I actually cut the first hole when I realized:

Wait. This is Ridiculous.

I just need light in the closet.

And I want the light to come on when I open the door.

People had solved this problem years ago. Miraculously, the idea of an automated light existed before SmartThings did.

Actual Solution: Automating Your Closet in 19 Seconds for $19

A quick Amazon search led me here: Mr. Beams Battery Operated Motion Sensing LED Ceiling Light

It does two things:

  1. When it senses motion, it turns the light on
  2. After 30 seconds, it automatically turns the light off

My new shopping list:

Mr. Beams LED Light$19.97
Total Cost$19.97
Estimated TimeAbout 19 seconds

Bottom Line: Resist the Urge to Immediately Jump to a Wifi-Connected Solution

A motion-sensing LED light is not fancy. I’m not going to bring my friends upstairs to check out my closet lighting. I can’t turn the light on and off while laying in bed. There’s no way to tell it to automatically turn on at 5:17 when I’m most likely to be ready to use my closet.

Closet With Light

But it got the job done in under a minute for less than $20.

Now I have light in my closet that turns on and off exactly when I need it to.

And that was the point.

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