The purpose of your landscape lighting investment is to provide light, but only when it is needed. My first installation, many years ago, was a simple time-based timer where I would set the lights to come “on” at a specific time and then turn off when no longer necessary. This approach worked fine for several months, but as time went on and the length of the daylight hours changed I found my lights were either on when it was still bright out or off when dusk had already arrived.
Timers for your landscape lighting can provide a solution, but the timer option you choose has an impact on how well it will function.
The next thing I experimented with after my frustrations with a time-based timer system was a sensor. The sensor’s purpose is to detect the amount of available light and activate the landscape lighting system when it is dark.
Sensors can work great but they have several drawbacks:
They must be located in an area with clear access to the sun, i.e. if your timer is under your deck or obscured by a tree your lights will turn on before the desired time.
The sensor is an imperfect device, it is going to activate when it senses that it is dark enough to warrant the lights and you have little control over these adjustments.
On most devices your lights will stay on until the sun rises again the next morning which may waste electricity. In my own installations it is often unnecessary to illuminate an outdoor space at 2am when most people are asleep.
Smart-Home Solutions Provide the Answer
The era of “smart home” devices is upon us and we have a myriad of choices to connect common home devices to the Internet. Everything from cameras to doorbells can be controlled from your phone, but what about landscape lights?
The solution I have found works the best is to leverage wifi enabled plugs to control your landscape lighting system. This setup allows you to turn the plug (and in turn your landscape lights) on and off using an app on your phone. The real power comes when you setup a schedule to toggle the lights on and off based on variable times like “sunset” or “dusk”.
The variable scheduling feature solves the original problem I mentioned of the lights coming on at the wrong time based on the time of year. These smart home apps know your location and then know precisely when the sun will set in your part of the world on any given day. As an example, I have one of my landscape lighting transformers set to turn on 30 minutes after sunset and then to turn off precisely at midnight.
I have used the Lutron Casetta Smart-Home Plug in conjunction with several landscape lighting installations.
The photo above is a transformer from Volt. You place the Casetta plug-in control where the plug goes in the top left of the transformer. This allos the Casetta device to control when the transformer is on and off just like a time or photocell device would.
The Casetta-based solution also requires a hub (see above). This is how the device is able to access the Internet and be controlled through your phone. You only need one hub to control multiple Casetta devices. You may start with just the plug to control your landscape lights and then find that you enjoy the ability to control lights with your phone so much that you start replacing your traditional switches in your house with Casetta Lutron switches (like I did).