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:

ItemPrice
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:

ItemPrice
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.

Read Next:

Sonos: The Ultimate Guide to the Ultimate Speaker System

What is Sonos?

Sonos is a wireless home sound system that lets you stream your music in CD quality to anywhere in your house.

Sonos lets you stream music to any room without running speaker wire through your house. Then, it uses the wireless network already in your home to connect up to 32 speakers to each other.

Sonos: Every Sonos Speaker

And since you don’t need to run speaker wires, it lets you move your speakers anywhere, easily. Grilling on the deck? Working in the basement or garage? Simply unplug your speaker, bring it to where you’re working, plug it in, wait a few seconds for it to connect to your wifi network and voila! Now you have great quality streaming music while you work, wherever you are.

Sonos is the easiest way to add music to your home, period.

So, what’s so special about it?

Sonos Play 1 on a Living Room Table

Sonos lets you play the same song, at the same time, to multiple rooms in your house.

So if you’re throwing a big party, you can have the same music playing in the kitchen and on the back deck at the same time.

It even lets you play different songs in different rooms in your house at the same time.

For example, you can play rock in the office to finish the day while jazz plays in the kitchen as dinner is being prepared.

Sonos Wireless Soundbar

You can play TV audio in every room of your house (or just a specific room).

With the Playbar soundbar, you can play TV audio from the Big Game in every room in your house so you never miss the action.

As a result, Sonos’s low price and simplicity make it easy to create a rich home theater experience without the wires.

How does Sonos work?

Sonos uses wifi, not bluetooth, to stream music to your speakers.

This gives you the ability to pump CD quality sound anywhere in your house with smooth playback.

And since it doesn’t use bluetooth, your phone never stops the party. The music continues playing even when you leave the room, receive a notification or make a call.

Adding Sonos to your house is as easy as:

  1. Plug any Sonos speaker into any electrical outlet in your house
  2. Start streaming music

Therefore, if you want to get Sonos set up immediately, grab the Play:1. But if you already have a speaker system you love, grab the CONNECT component, instead.

What’s the difference between Play, Playbar, SUB and CONNECT?

Sonos Play1 Speakers

Sonos Play is the series of wireless speakers that are perfect for any room.

The Play series has three options:

  • Play:1 is the smallest and most affordable wireless Sonos speaker (pictured above). Perfect for your kitchen counter, nightstand or bedside table.
  • Play:3 is the medium-sized wireless speaker with deeper bass than Play:1. You can position the Play:3 vertically or horizontally. This is perfect for a larger room where you need robust sound at a reasonable price.
  • Play:5 is the most powerful Sonos speaker on the market. Perfect for audiophiles, the company says the Play:5 offers “face-melting sound”. The Play:5 is a large speaker great for huge rooms.

Playbar is the Sonos soundbar and streaming speaker in one.

Sonos Playbar Soundbar

The Playbar gives you great sound for your TV, while also allowing you to stream music to that speaker. Additionally, when a Playbar is connected to a TV, you can stream the TV audio to any other Sonos speaker.

SUB is Sonos’s sub-woofer.

Sonos Sub Subwoofer

Pair the SUB with any Sonos speaker, or with the Playbar for the ultimate connected home theater experience.

Sonos CONNECT devices lets you instantly turn any speaker into a full-blown Sonos speaker.

Sonos Connect Amp

What’s the difference between CONNECT and CONNECT:AMP?

  • CONNECT allows you to connect powered speakers to your Sonos system. It includes a Line-In port, making it perfect for an existing stereo system.
  • CONNECT:AMP also allows you to connect speakers to your Sonos system, but also includes an amplifier. This makes it perfect for those who want a little more power with their music.

Sonos Music Streaming Services

Streaming Music

You can stream music directly from most online streaming services to any (or all!) of your Sonos speakers.

  • Does Sonos work with Apple Music? Yes. To play Apple Music:
    1. open the Controller app on your phone, tablet or computer
    2. add the Apple Music service
    3. sign in with the Apple ID that you use with Apple Music
  • Does Sonos work with Pandora? Yes. To play Pandora:
    1. open the Controller app on your phone, tablet or computer
    2. add the Pandora service
    3. sign in with your Pandora account
  • Does Sonos work with Spotify? Yes. To play Spotify, use Spotify Connect to let Spotify remotely control the music on your speakers.
  • Does Sonos work with Amazon Music? Yes. To play Amazon Music:
    1. open the Controller app on your phone, tablet or laptop
    2. add the Amazon Music service
    3. sign in with the Amazon account you use with Amazon Music
  • Does Sonos work with Google Play Music? Yes. To play Google Music:
    1. open the Google Play Music app on any Android device
    2. choose the speakers to cast your music to
  • Does Sonos work with SiriusXM? Yes. To play SiriusXM:
    1. open the Controller app on your phone, tablet or laptop
    2. add the SiriusXM service
    3. sign in with your SiriusXM account
  • Does Sonos work with SoundCloud? Yes. To play SoundCloud:
    1. open the Controller app on your phone, tablet or laptop
    2. add the SoundCloud service
    3. sign in with your SoundCloud account

Playing Your Own Music

Sonos makes it easy to stream your personal library from a computer.

To add your personal music to your Sonos music library, download the official Sonos Controller app to a computer with your music library.

  1. In the Controller app, click “Manage”, then “Music Library Settings”
  2. Click the “add” or “+” button
  3. Select the folder that your music is located in
  4. The music will be added to your Sonos music library and available to play

Note: You can only add 65,000 songs to your Sonos library. So, if you have more than 65,000 songs, you may want to be deliberate in the songs you import to your library.

Can I stream TV audio through Sonos?

Sonos TV Living Room

Yes! Adding the Playbar allows you to stream your TV sound to other Sonos speakers.

The Playbar works with just two cables: one for power and one for your TV. It works with your current TV remote. The Playbar uses a Line-In port to connect to your TV, and any audio playing through the Playbar can be streamed to any other Sonos speaker. This is especially handy if the game is on, but you can’t be near the TV.

Playbar gives you home-theater quality sound with just one speaker. But if you’re looking for a true 5.1 surround sound experience, simply pair it with an Amp and four Play:1 speakers.

Additionally, the Playbar can be used just like any other Sonos speaker to play non-TV audio.

Which speaker should I buy?

This chart makes it easy for you to build the perfect system for your house.

I’m brand new to Sonos and don’t already have speakers I love:The Play:1 is the most affordable way to step into the Sonos ecosystem.
I’m an audiophile that’s brand new to Sonos and don’t already have speakers I love:Grab the Play:3 for small rooms, or Play:5 for large rooms.
I already have speakers I love, but want to add Sonos to them:You want to connect the CONNECT to your existing system.
I want to stream TV audio to other rooms in my house:You'll need the Playbar to grab TV audio, and one ore more Play:1's in other rooms of your house.
I want 3.1 surround sound for my TV:Mount the Playbar and place a SUB in your living room.
I want 5.1 surround sound for my TV:Same as 3.1 above, but with more speakers! Grab the Playbar, SUB and two Play:1’s.

What is Sonos Trueplay?

Trueplay is Sonos’s automatic tuning software.

Sonos Trueplay

Trueplay analyzes everything in a room to create the best sounding music experience. Then, Trueplay will then tune each speaker, giving you the best sound possible.

Trueplay is available on the Play:1, Play:3, Play:5 and Playbar devices.

How do I control Sonos?

In a typical multi-room sound system, you would control the music from one central location: the receiver in your living room.

Sonos App on iPhoneHowever, Sonos lets you control the music and where it plays at from your phone, tablet or computer. Controlling the music is as simple as installing an app on your devices.

Control Sonos with an official app:

Control Sonos Directly From Spotify:

Sonos on Spotify

You can control the music from within Spotify, using Spotify Connect.

Integrating With Your Smart Home Devices

Control Sonos With Alexa

Sonos and Alexa

The company has announced plans to integrate with Alexa in 2017. This integration will allow you to play, pause, skip, or control the volume on any Sonos speaker using only your voice.

In October 2016, Sonos launched a private beta program to test Alexa functionality. The company used a similar program in 2016 to test the successful Spotify integration. That integration launched just a few months later, so we’re confident that Alexa integration is coming any day now.

You can sign up for an invite to the Alexa beta program here.

Control Sonos With SmartThings

SmartThings Hub

SmartThings is the most popular Smart Home Hub on the market. The SmartThings hub lets you control various connected devices within your house. SmartThings can control your lights, thermostat and thousands of other devices. Now, it can even control your music.

By installing Sonos from the SmartThings Marketplace, you can include your speakers as part of any automation in your house.

Control music playback manually from the Things menu in the SmartThings app:

  1. Tap My Home
  2. Tap Things
  3. Select the Speaker

You can also automate your speakers with the Speaker Control SmartApps:

  1. Tap Marketplace
  2. Choose SmartApps
  3. Tap Music & Sounds
  4. Choose the SmartApp and follow the instructions
  5. Control Sonos With Harmony Hub

Control Sonos With Harmony Hub

Harmony Hub lets you control all of your TV and stereo equipment using one remote. No more fumbling around with multiple remotes!

Sonos Works With Harmony Hub

The Harmony Hub handles all of the device interaction for you. This makes it possible to control your music from within the Harmony remote or mobile app.

To add a Sonos to your Harmony Hub:

  1. Press Add/Edit devices inside the Harmony Hub app on your phone
  2. Scan for wi-fi devices
  3. Harmony Hub will automatically connect to any Sonos devices on your wifi.

 

Sonos on iPhone With Siri

Control Sonos With Siri

It’s not currently possible to control Sonos with Siri. The company hasn’t made any announcements about future availability.

 

Google Home

Control Sonos With Google Home

It is not currently possible to control Sonos with Google Home. Nor is it possible to cast music to your Sonos speakers to or from Google Home.

 

WinkHub2

Control Sonos With WinkHub

It is not currently possible to control Sonos with WinkHub or WinkHub2.

Cheaper Alternatives to Sonos

Sonos is really, really powerful. But it won’t fit into every budget. Not surprisingly, there are some great alternative ways to add multi-room audio to your home.

Apple Airplay

Apple Airplay on iOS

Apple Airplay lets you pump music from your Mac or iOS device to your Sonos speakers. However, it requires an Apple TV or Airport Extreme, plus speakers.

Airplay isn’t usable for Android users since it requires a Mac or iOS device.

Google Chromecast Audio

Chromecast Audio

Google Chromecast Audio lets you turn any speaker into a wireless speaker for about $30. So long as the dongle is plugged in to power and connected to wifi, you’ll be able to use the Google Cast app on iOS or Android to set up your devices.

You can then stream audio from any Chromecast Audio-enabled app (and there are a ton of them).

Pure Jongo System

Pure Jongo S3 Wireless Speaker

At about half the price, the Pure Jongo S3 speaker gives you the ability to have wireless speakers that are battery powered. The Pure Jongo system works over wifi (like Sonos), or you can use Bluetooth – handy at the beach.

Bose SoundTouch

Bose SoundTouch 10 Wireless Speaker

Bose has entered the wireless speaker market with the Bose SoundTouch 10 product. At roughly the same price as the Sonos Play:1, you’ll get arguably better sound and the ability to control it with Alexa from day 1.

While there are a number of cheaper alternatives on the market, Sonos has been doing this longer than anyone else, and it shows.

Is Sonos Worth the Cost?

Sonos Play1 Explosion

Yes, definitely.

Sonos has some of the best speakers on the market, giving you the best sound anywhere you want it. The Play series gives you amazing bang for your buck, while the Playbar makes it unbelievably easy to stream TV audio anywhere else in your house.

Sonos has historically been slow to allow external integrations. However, they have been quick to integrate with popular streaming services. They were early supporters of Apple Music, and their Spotify Connect integration is world-class.

Their apps and services are some of the most stable and polished available. And once Sonos connects with Alexa, you’ll have the ultimate multi-room speaker system, powered by the ultimate virtual assistant.

Amazon Prime members can have a Sonos system at home in a couple of days. And if you can’t wait that long, you can pick one up at your local Apple Store.

Was this guide helpful? Please share it on Facebook or Reddit! (And if it wasn’t helpful, let us know how we could make it better.)

A Smart Hub is the Brain of Your Smart House

Smart home devices are insanely popular now: it seems like every tech company has their own sensor, thermostat or light switch. But with all of these different devices built by different companies, you need something to tie them all together. This is where a smart hub comes into play.

Being able to turn your lights on and off from your phone while sitting on the couch literally feels like the future because it is the future!

But turning your lights on and off isn’t even the best part. The best part is when your house turns your lights on, heats your house, starts playing music and unlocks your door for you as soon as you get home – all automatically. 

And for that, you need a smart hub.

What is a smart hub?

The smart hub is the brain of your smart home. The smart hub connects all of your individual devices and lets them talk to each other and talk to you.

Diagram of a smart hub
Diagram of a smart hub

A smart hub lets you control your connected thermostats, lights, switches, outlets, locks, security cameras and more from one central place – typically your phone.

One of the most common uses for a smart hub is automation: a smart hub makes it possible to automate multiple devices at the same time. 

Do I really need a smart hub? How can a smart hub automate my life?

If you want to have a smart home, you definitely need a smart hub – especially if you have multiple smart devices in your house. While every smart hub is a little different, they all can do the same things:

  • Smart hubs react to your location. Your smart hub makes it possible for your front door to unlock as soon as you pull into your driveway. Or it can automatically lock the doors behind you as you leave.
  • Smart hubs react to the environment. Your smart hub can turn your garden lights on automatically as the sun goes down. Or it can turn off your porch light as soon as the sun comes up.
  • Smart hubs react to you. Your smart hub can chain multiple actions together for commonly used actions, like turning on your TV, dimming the lights and lowering the shades – all with one button press.
  • Smart hubs react to your devices. Your smart hub can identify a water leak, shut off the water to your house, and send you an alert.

How do I pick the right smart hub?

Picking the wrong smart hub will be more annoying than anything! The smart hub itself doesn’t do anything directly, so it relies on you having expensive smart devices already installed in your house.

The smart hub exists to make your life easier, and it does this by connecting all of your smart devices together. So, picking a hub that works with all (or most) of your devices makes your smart home that much smarter.

What good is that smart thermostat, smart door lock or smart light if they’re actually a pain to use? You’ll want to choose a smart hub that works with all of your devices, as well as any planned devices down the road.

When choosing the smart hub to power your connected home, consider a few things:

  • What (if any) smart devices do you already have installed? Check that the smart hub works with any devices you already have installed. Some manufacturers have a list of supported devices or protocols on their website, but they’re difficult to understand. (We’re working on a device catalog that should make this easier – we’ll email you when it’s ready.)
  • What kind of phone do you have? One of the best features of a connected home is the ability to control it from anywhere. Smart hub manufacturers know this, so they designed the top selling smart hubs to be controlled via an app installed on your phone. Consider what kind of phone you have, and make sure that your smart hub has a well reviewed app for it. If you have an iPhone or a relatively new Android phone, you’re probably fine.
  • What hub will still be around next year? This is arguably the hardest since you can’t read the future (and if you can, please email me). Designing a smart home around a hub that’s no longer supported would be a huge bummer, not to mention a huge waste of money.

What is the best smart hub?

Buying the right hub for the smartest home is hard, and I know that you’re not reading this article for me to tell you that “it depends”.

However, it actually depends. (I’m sorry!)

I’m working on creating a wizard to help you choose the best hub for your home (sign up here and I’ll email you when it’s ready). But until that’s finished, it wouldn’t be fair to leave you without some suggestions.

Since I don’t know the specifics of your house and your setup, here are the three most promising smart hubs on the market today. I would buy any of these for my home without thinking twice:

Samsung SmartThings Hub – $75 (Read Reviews on Amazon)

Samsung SmartThings Hub
Samsung SmartThings Hub
  • Supported Devices: This is the most popular consumer hub on the market today, and for good reason. Lots of developers support the SmartThings ecosystem, and the ST hub supports most smart home protocols. Additionally, Amazon sells SmartThings-branded sensors for doors, water, and more.
  • Controlling it: The SmartThings hub works with every phone out there, and has apps for iOS, Android and even Windows Phone. Plus, it works with Amazon Alexa so you can control it with your voice.
  • Obscurity Score: Samsung SmartThings isn’t going anywhere. This is the hub dujour for connected home connoisseurs. The software is updated frequently, and the system is being actively developed for by Samsung. SmartThings also has an active developer community, so even if Samsung doesn’t directly support something, there is a huge community of developers who probably have a plugin built.

Wink Hub 2 – $99 (Read reviews on Amazon)

WinkHub 2
WinkHub 2
  • Supported Devices: The Wink Hub is another extremely popular hub, and it’s recently been updated with a version 2. The Wink Hub 2 can support up to 530 devices on one hub, so you’ll never need to worry about outgrowing this hub. The Wink Hub 2 supports bluetooth devices, as well as devices that work on z-wave, zigbee and Clear Connect. 
  • Controlling it: The Wink Hub 2 is compatible with HomeKit (with a plugin) and Amazon Alexa. The Wink Hub 2 has iOS and Android apps for managing your home from your phone.
  • Obscurity Score: This is a brand new version of one of the most popular smart hubs, so it’s unlikely going to disappear anytime soon. The previous generation even 1000+ great reviews on Amazon. People love the Wink Hub.

Amazon Echo – $180 (Read Reviews on Amazon)

Amazon Echo
Amazon Echo
  • Supported Devices: The smash hit of the 2016 holiday season was Amazon’s smart speaker, the Amazon Echo, Amazon Dot and Amazon Tap. Each smart speaker also includes Amazon’s digital assistant, called Alexa. In addition to telling you the weather or helping order a new Crock Pot, Alexa can act as a smart hub for your home. Alexa currently offers support for the most popular devices manufactured by WeMoPhilips HueSmartThingsWink, Insteon, and Nest.
  • Controlling it: Neither the Echo, Dot or Tap has a screen at all – you control it entirely with your voice. While this feels very futuristic, it means you can’t control it from outside or silently from your phone.
  • Obscurity Score: The Dot had a record-breaking holiday sales season and is getting great reviews. This will be around for a while.

How do I install my smart hub?

Now that you’ve picked the smart hub for your home, it’s time to set it up.

The smart hub is typically a small box that sits near your internet router. It usually requires an ethernet cable to connect to your network, and a power cable for electricity.

Installing your smart hub is typically as easy as:

  1. Plug the ethernet cable into the back of your hub and the back of your router
  2. Plug your hub into the electrical outlet in the wall
  3. Open the hub app on your phone

From that point, the app will walk you through the process of connecting all of your smart devices to your new hub network. 

It’s really that easy. If you’ve ever set up a wireless router, you can certainly set up a new smart hub. And even if you haven’t set up a router before, I suggest trying to install your smart hub yourself, anyways. Manufacturers these days are making it easier to get connected devices set up right from your phone or tablet.

So, what now?

If you haven’t already, get yourself a smart device for your house. You could start with something simple – like a Phillips Hue bulb for less than $30.

Then, grab yourself a smart hub using the guide above and let me know how you like it.