Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Using Alexa, Hue, and Nest to Decorate a Spooky Smart Home This Halloween

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Smart home gadgets are excellent tools for creating a spooky scene at your front door this Halloween. Here I show you how I use smart lighting, smart speakers, motion sensors, and video doorbells to “ghost” my smart home every October.

Set your smart speakers to spooky

Say: “Alexa, start” Creepy Halloween Sounds”, and your Echo smart speaker plays a continuous loop of screams, horrifying wind noises, witches’ cackles, ghostly bells, creaking footsteps, and a cacophony of other eerie sounds. This is a fun and easy way to get some spooky sound effects rolling into your home on the big night.

I put two Echo Dot smart speakers in a stereo pair and placed them in plastic kettles on my porch. (It hides them and amplifies the sound.) Next, I perform the Spooky Halloween Sounds skill all night on October 31. It gets a lot of startled looks from trick-or-treaters. Here’s how to set up a stereo pair with your Echo speakers so you can be sure the whole neighborhood can hear the screams:

  • Open the Alexa app on your smartphone.
  • Select the Devices tab. (Here is a list of Echo speakers that are compatible with stereo coupling.)
  • Tap the plus button in the top right corner.
  • To elect Combine speakers.
  • To elect Stereo Pair / Subwoofer.
  • Select the two speakers you want to combine.
  • Tap Next one.
  • Choose either channel for your first speaker. (The app automatically assigns the other one.)

For some spooky fun inside the house, Amazon launched a Skill Halloween Theme this week will add some Halloween spirit to your everyday interactions with Alexa. Once enabled, when you ask for things like the weather, timers, alarms, and pranks, Alexa will add some spooky sounds like witch-crackling and owl sounds to the comments. To set this up, just say, “Alexa, turn on the Halloween theme,” and when you’ve had enough, you can say, “Alexa, turn off the Halloween theme.”

Haunt your home with smart lighting

A house with multicolored ghostly lights

My house lit up with colorful smart lights for Halloween.

From flickering lights to glowing blood-red bulbs, smart lighting can be put to good use to brighten up your space for the spooky season. For my setup I have two Philips Hue color smart bulbs in some table lamps and two Hue Play light bars under my large windshield, combined with a Hue outdoor light strip at my front door to create a ghostly scene that will grab everyone’s attention.

Using Hue’s smartphone app, I place them all in a “zone” I call “Spooky,” then trigger one of Hue’s six Halloween scenes with dynamic lighting. Now I can just tell my smart speaker to turn on ‘Spooky’. This is how you set it up:

How do you create a Hue Halloween scene?

  • Open the Hue app.
  • Tap the three dots in the top right corner.
  • Select Add new room or zone.
  • To elect Zone.
  • Select an icon for your Zone.
  • You name it. (I used “Spooky.”)
  • Select which lamps you want to place in it.
  • Now tap on the Zone to add a scene.
  • Tap on Hue Scene Gallery.
  • Scroll to Halloween and choose from six preset scenes: Trick or Treat, Spellbound, Glowing Grins, Witching Hour, Phantom or Pandemonium.
  • Tap Add to my scenes.
A plastic skull for fake graves in a front yard

A motion sensor at the front door turns the smart lights to a fiery red when someone approaches the house.

You can add multiple scenes to your zone and easily activate them from the zone page in the app. Each Hue Halloween scene is dynamic, meaning the lights change color to enhance the effect. To activate it, tap the Play button that appears on the scene in the app. You can also set the scene to play dynamically automatically and adjust the colors in the scene settings.

Another fun way to use Hue lights on Halloween is to combine them with a Philips Hue outdoor motion sensor using the Hue app and have the lights turn red when someone approaches the door.

If you don’t have smart bulbs, you can use standard colored string lights connected to a smart outdoor plug. i used a Lutron Caséta smart outdoor plug and GE Cync smart outdoor plug, both of which work with Alexa. Using their apps, I set the plugs to turn on the lights at night and in the morning. (I also hooked up the Echo Dots to this so I can easily deactivate them so passersby can’t control my smart home!)

Both smart plugs can be linked to the Hue motion via the Alexa app, so that the lights come on when someone is at the door.

A plastic skeleton in a fake spider web on the side of a house

This skeleton is illuminated by a Tapo smart light strip.

Outdoor lighting can be expensive, so just for Halloween night – when it’s expected to be dry – I make a few indoor light strips to add some extra effects to the house. This year I draped a TP-Link Tapo light strip on the outside wall around a spider web and skeleton. The Tapo LED strip has an IP44 rating and is therefore resistant to light sprinkles. But the plug isn’t weatherproof, so I made sure to plug it into an indoor outlet.

I like Tapo because it has some nice dynamic lighting effects in its app. I’m using Haunted Mansion and Lightning this year and the effects are customizable. The Tapo also syncs to music, so it blinks and flickers in time with the ghostly sounds emanating from the Echo Dots. Tapo also works with Alexa, so I can pair it with the motion sensor to turn on when people arrive.

Let your smart doorbell scare off your visitors

A plastic skeleton hanging from a doorbell

A Google Nest Doorbell can be set to play ghostly sounds when a visitor presses it.

In some neighborhoods, October 31 is the busiest day of the year for a doorbell. That is certainly the case with mine. My favorite Halloween smart doorbell is Google’s Nest Doorbell (wired or battery powered) because it’s the only one that plays spooky ringtones when you press it.

Ghostly sounds with the Google Nest doorbell

To set up your Google Nest doorbell to play spooky sounds, follow these steps:

  • Open the Google Home app.
  • Select your doorbell from the Cameras tab.
  • Press Settings icon.
  • Tap doorbell.
  • Tap doorbell theme.
  • Select Halloween below Seasonal Themes.

Now when someone presses the doorbell, it will play with a selection of spooky sounds. The doorbell will automatically return to the classic Ding Dong theme on November 1.

Spooky sounds with the Ring doorbell

Ring’s video doorbells also have Halloween themed ringtones, but they only play from Rings plug-in gong, which is sold separately. On Halloween, you can try plugging it very close to the doorbell so visitors can hear it, but it’s not the same as letting the sounds come from the doorbell itself. Still, it’s a good option if you’re using a Ring doorbell. Follow these steps to set it up:

  • Open the Ring app.
  • Tap the menu button.
  • Select Devices.
  • Choose the bell you want to enable.
  • Select Sound settings.
  • Select Ringtones.
  • Choose from the Dracula-themed list, witches’ cackles, creepy laughter, and screeching cats.
  • Tap Saving Changes.
  • Tap OK.
Ring doorbells can play spooky sounds and greet visitors with Halloween-themed snappy quick replies.  Ring also sells holiday-themed faceplates to scare your front door.

Ring doorbells can play spooky sounds and greet visitors with Halloween-themed snappy quick replies. Ring also sells holiday-themed faceplates to scare your front door.
Image: Ring

Quick Replies is a way for the Ring doorbell to greet visitors with spooky responses. The feature is available on all Ring doorbells (except the first-generation model) and is free to use.

Once enabled, visitors are greeted by a ghostly themed recorded message. Options include:

  • “I’m about to eat…I mean greet you!” (in Dracula’s voice)
  • “Tell us what brings you here… or we’ll enchant you!” (with a witch’s voice)
  • ‘Oh dear, it’s not a full moon tonight, is it? I’m afraid I’m in a bit of a… hairy situation here. Please leave a message!” (in a werewolf voice)
  • ‘You have just awakened the ghosts that haunt this house! Hurry up and leave a message… before it’s too late.” (In the tones of an English butler)

Enable Quick Replies on your doorbell settings page in the Ring app under smart responses.

Creepy sounds with Echo smart speakers

Echo smart speakers can also ring a Ring doorbell, and you can change the sound the Echo makes when someone presses the doorbell to one of four Halloween-themed sounds: bats, doors creaking, howls, and organ music.

  • Open the Alexa app.
  • Tap Devices.
  • Select Cameras.
  • Scroll to your doorbell.
  • Tap the settings icon.
  • below Announcementsturn on the Doorbell Press Notifications switch.
  • Tap Doorbell sounds and choose from the list.
This motion-activated trick-or-treat bowl is a great way to surprise greedy costumed visitors.

This motion-activated trick-or-treat bowl is a great way to surprise greedy costumed visitors.
Photo by Jennifer Pattison Tuohy / The Verge

These are just a few of the fun things you can do with a smart home to entertain the trick-or-treaters or have some holiday-themed fun in October. And while I used Philips Hue lighting and TP-Link Tapo here, other smart lighting ecosystems can be set up in similar ways (such as Govee, GE Cync, and TP-Link Kasa). Just make sure you have colored bulbs. (See, there is a good reason to buy colored smart bulbs!). Don’t forget, these can also be customized for Christmas, Hanukkah, Easter, birthdays, and whenever you just feel like brightening up your home.

And remember, come October 31st, if you just want to chill out and see all the action at your front door, leave a big bowl of candy (or use this motion-activated trick-or-treat bowlthat prevents kids from stealing everything at once!), sit back and watch a live stream of your video doorbell on your Fire TV or Google Chromecast.

Photos and Videos by Jennifer Pattison Tuohy / The Verge


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