How do I make a magic "turn out the lights" button?
November 4, 2019 11:01 AM   Subscribe

All Mrs. True wants for Christmas is for everyone in the family to TURN OUT THE BATHROOM LIGHTS when they aren't using them. I'd like to come up with a magic button to make this happen, from anywhere in the house. Help me make her dreams come true!

There are several rooms in the house that tend to get their lights left on (passive voice); some of them have an odd collection of switches that makes it hard to remember to turn all the lights off, but some of it is just behavioral laziness. While we're all trying to change that, can you help me make a magic "turn out the lights" button"?

My ideal vision is a giant button that - when pressed - makes sure that a set of lights are out. Ideally lights anywhere in the house. I'm fine replacing lightbulbs or light switches, and I'm comfortable coding to any API in any language. I have a few things already running on AWS 24-7, so if you tell me to spin up a server process and have it accept calls and call another API that's good too. We don't currently have any home automation allegiance, but I'm willing to make a slightly bigger up front investment to solve this problem if it provides a platform for further automation. I haven't worked much with Raspberry Pi based systems but if that's what it's going to take I'll figure it out.

I would prefer to not have to ask alexa or siri or use an app; all of that has its place but I think a physical button is my preferred solution for this one. Plus I can just give it to her and not tell her what it does, which is a present for everyone. I'm fine with any amount of up-front work, but once that's done I'd like it to be pretty bulletproof reliable.
posted by true to Home & Garden (25 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
It would make more sense to have bathroom lights be on motion sensor switches, and automatically turn on and off.
posted by w0mbat at 11:08 AM on November 4 [31 favorites]

I think a very quick way to do this would be with a Hue Tap switch, a bunch of Hue bulbs, and a Hue bridge.
posted by mskyle at 11:08 AM on November 4 [7 favorites]

Just chiming in to agree with mskyle above. It could be a bit costly depending on your budget, but the ease of use and quick setup can't be beat with the Hue bulbs and the Tap switch.

The Tap can be programmed to turn on/off any set of lights you want . You can even have multiple Taps to do the same thing (personally, I have one in my bedroom and one in my office to control the lights throughout the house).

The Hue api is pretty accessible (or it was in the past few years), so if you can do a bit of scripting you could even do some very customized use cases.
posted by owls at 11:20 AM on November 4 [1 favorite]

Question, should the thing be able to tell if someone is using said bathroom when you hit the "all off" button?
posted by advicepig at 11:20 AM on November 4 [5 favorites]

How is the bathroom lit? Depending on the answer, your technology may need to be different -- for example, my bathroom uses a combo of fluorescent lights and tube vanity lights, and Philips Hue doesn't have bulbs compatible with either of those sockets. +1 the motion sensor switch suggestion.
posted by phoenixy at 11:22 AM on November 4 [2 favorites]

Note that a motion sensor will turn things off if the person is behind a shower curtain or the toilet is placed behind a privacy wall or they just sit too quietly (maybe doing a little reading while taking care of business).
posted by metahawk at 11:26 AM on November 4 [2 favorites]

One of the workplace bathrooms has a timer switch like this to keep the lights from being on all the time.
posted by bunji at 11:29 AM on November 4

Orthogonallly, when I hit the loo at night, I don't have to turn on the lights as there is a street light that shines in through the window blinds. So maybe a night light or (my favorite) a Himalayan salt lamp will illuminate the room enough for the usual purpose and that will cut down on the number of instances that the light is turned on.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 11:44 AM on November 4 [1 favorite]

I do not have a primary solution to suggest, but as a backup system for people who might be in the bathroom when lights go out, I just got and love these ikea nightlights. They are extremely warm white (my priority when I got them), and very bright. Like, too bright for a bedroom. I put them in our bathrooms and the only thing you can't do by their light is detailed cosmetic work - I can clearly see all my shower product labels even behind frosted glass doors. It's a great bathroom nightlight.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:53 AM on November 4 [1 favorite]

One thing that's annoying about Hue is it requires the existing light switches to be always on in order to power the bulb controller. So you either need to leave all your existing switches perma-on and then get a 2nd set of smart switches, or else to be OK only controlling your bathroom lights via an app.

In my house, I instead replaced a bunch of my in-wall light switches with Lutron Caseta dimmer switches. I'm not sure I'd recommend this for your use case, but I'll tell you about it so you know it's an option. The Caseta switches themselves are smart and can be controlled programmatically, so you can use them with whatever normal light bulbs you want. You can define and trigger "scenes" like "all bathroom lights off" in their app, which works well.

There are a couple options for triggering Caseta scenes with a physical button, although I don't think they're as user-friendly as the Hue buttons. They make multi scene "Pico" remotes that do it but are weirdly inflexible - like, I think they all have multiple buttons like this, so you'd have to, like, program all of the buttons to do the same thing and cross off the labels. You can also do it via a rPi home automation system - I use Home Assistant - if you don't mind this turning into a Project. If you're gonna do that, make sure you get the Caseta Pro bridge so the home automation system can talk to the switches.

You also have to be comfortable rewiring your wall switches (or paying someone to do it) in order to use Caseta.

In conclusion, I recommend motion sensors. :)
posted by introcosm at 12:35 PM on November 4 [2 favorites]

Personally, I changed all the bulbs I cared about with LIFX bulbs and simply shout at Google to make them turn on and off. The lack of a physical switch like the Hue system has probably makes it less useful for you, though. (It's worth it to me because I really hate the Zigbee protocol Hue uses and a Google Home Hub or a disused tablet sitting on a table work well enough as switches to take care of the few times asking Google/Alexa/Siri verbally would be overly disruptive.
posted by wierdo at 12:42 PM on November 4 [1 favorite]

It suddenly occurs to me that you probably don't actually care if someone uses the switch to turn off the lights, since the lights would then be off and could be turned back on with the switch, so Hue or LIFX would actually work fine since you only care about remotely turning them off, not on.

I point this out because it's an easy distinction to miss that is different enough from the normal use case to make the usual advice less useful than it would be if you were using smart bulbs in the more usual way.
posted by wierdo at 12:50 PM on November 4 [1 favorite]

One thing that's annoying about Hue is it requires the existing light switches to be always on in order to power the bulb controller. So you either need to leave all your existing switches perma-on and then get a 2nd set of smart switches, or else to be OK only controlling your bathroom lights via an app.

Yeah, we added a couple dimmer switches when we went the Hue route. It's an awesome addition.
posted by bowmaniac at 12:57 PM on November 4

motion sensor switch or timer switch
posted by kookywon at 1:00 PM on November 4

My household is now strong for motion sensor lights. We got a stick-up, AA-powered, LED light strip to deal with metahawk's case (reader does occasionally have to shake a leg, we consider that a good reminder) and loved it so much that we now have them under some kitchen cabinets, in closets, in garage and barn staircases...
posted by clew at 1:10 PM on November 4 [2 favorites]

These little stick on Flic buttons are handy for things like this. They're bluetooth so they link to a phone app and will let you put them all over the house. You can make them do different things based on if you tap them, double tap them, hold them, etc. Naturally you'd need lights you could control with them, but they are an open ended solution if you need them to do multiple things.
posted by msbutah at 2:49 PM on November 4 [1 favorite]

Thanks to all the good answers here, really helpful. I'm going to start with the Hue stuff and move from there; it will also help solve the problem of so many odd and non-obvious lightswitches in these areas. Hue bulbs, single switch for all of them, hue tap for the out of the room control.
posted by true at 4:33 PM on November 4

I did this exact thing with Hue. 6 bulbs, multiple “scenes” attached to the switch.

Loved it. My lighting at home pleases me to no end, now.
posted by chuntered inelegantly from a sedentary position at 5:07 PM on November 4

Keep an eye out for sales on the Hue bulbs/starter kits - I’ve bought some very inexpensively through my electric utility provider, for instance!
posted by mskyle at 5:10 PM on November 4

A good dual tech occupancy sensor (like the WSX switch from Acuity) will over come most of the drawbacks of the more familiar motion sensor. They use sound and motion to activate, the motion required to trigger them/keep them on is much less than older tech (and it's adjustable). And you can adjust the sound sensitivity and turn on and stay on times. They are quite a bit more expensive than a consumer level motion sensors. Unless you are doing your reading statue still and quiet they can be adjusted to stay on during reading sessions.

Obviously that is only going to work if your switch location has a view of the reading location (or shower).
posted by Mitheral at 9:43 PM on November 4

I put a light switch in a studio bathroom which has 4 buttons on it. 5 min., 10 min. 15 min. 30 min. You press one and the light comes on for that time period, then goes off. Standard hardware store stuff.
posted by diode at 11:48 AM on November 5

Select a timer switch with care. Some require a neutral which isn't available in all switch locations and some that don't won't work with CFLs and/or LEDs.
posted by Mitheral at 12:38 PM on November 5

If you think you might ever want to do any home automation with those lights besides off then you should install smart switches rather than light bulbs. With smart bulbs the switch needs to be on at all times to control the light for anything other than off. I recommend smart switches.
Smart switches require a neutral be available but most modern homes that is code so you should be good there. You will need to decide on a protocol for your switches to communicate through. WiFi is easiest but comes with some data and security issues, Z wave and Zigbee are the most common RF protocols in home automation.
Next you need to consider what will actuate the switches. If you are concerned about your data then consider Home Assistant running on a raspberry pi. Home Assistant has an excellent community with tons of support I use it at my home and recommend it highly. It can be a bit fiddly to learn but from what you told us about your skills I think it should be no problem for you to pick up. If you go this route you will need a radio dongle for the pi to communicate through. The other route to look at is a commercial hub. At this time I would probably recommend SmartThings it isn't great but it will do what you need without YAMML.
Lastly you will need an input device for your button. You can go a number of routes here. If you went Home Assistant and pi this could be as simple as a momentary button on the GPIO pins. Or as complicated as a wireless Easy Button converted to z wave.

So the answer is it can absolutely be done.
posted by The Violet Cypher at 2:26 PM on November 5

From the information you gave us, your spouse really wants for the lights to be turned out and for it not to be her job. You really want to give her a way to keep doing that job, but to have it be easier. Please do consider things like motion sensors as a way of having this not be your wife's job at all.
posted by Margalo Epps at 9:15 AM on November 16

Final Update - Motion Sensors are a fine idea, but not applicable in this case for REASONS that aren't interesting to go into. In the end I went with the Lutron Caseta switches and a Hubitat, which ticks all of my programability buttons and works with the Lutron stuff, assuming you get the right hub. I'm assuming it's basically a local raspberry pi hub that someone else has done all the hard work of building a product out of, so more power to them and I'm happy to support it. The Casetas are great on their own, but because of the specific controls I want the hubitat provides more flexibility.

(And yes, to the last comment I'm trying to make it not her job and also easier to do for everyone, so with this setup on your way out of the room there's going to be one button to push to turn off all the lights. Because of the crazy way it's wired right now there are 5 switches (2 of which are 3-way switches) and two table lamps to turn off when you leave the master bedroom / bathroom / closet; having one button means it's going to be easier for the rest of us to train ourselves to LEAVE ROOM PUSH BUTTON). But she also gets a button as a physical manifestation of it.)
posted by true at 1:22 PM on December 2

« Older Why were people running the NYC Marathon with...   |   Materials: Term Used to Describe a Characteristic... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments