If you have an Amazon Echo, you can use Alexa for a lot more than simply asking what the weather's going to be like, setting timers and listening to music.
With the right additional hardware, you can get Alexa to turn individual bulbs or whole groups of lights on and off. Plus, by using Routines you can make them turn on and off automatically at set times.
Here we'll explain what you need in terms of required hardware as well as how to make it work with Alexa and how to set up routines via the Alexa app for iOS and Android.
What is needed to control lights with Alexa?
- Smart plug, or
- Smart light bulb, or
- Smart wall switch
- A device with Alexa built-in or the Alexa app
You need at least one piece of hardware from this list that is compatible with Alexa before you can control a light, along with the latest version of the Alexa app and/or an Amazon Echo or another device that has Alexa built-in.
Alexa works with many smart bulbs including Philips Hue and LIFX bulbs. We're big fans of these because they're high quality, reliable and offer lots of features. They come in white and colour versions, with the latter costing more, but still able to produce good whites as well as bright colours.
However, even the cheapest Wi-Fi bulbs can be expensive, so if you don't want to splash out on new lights, you can instead buy smart switches that are compatible with Alexa.
You can also get Alexa-compatible wall switches from third-party manufacturers including Lightwave RF and Energenie MiHome. Note that - like Philips Hue - these both require a 'hub' which plugs into your router: they don't talk directly to it using Wi-Fi. If you don't want to mess around with a hub for a single smart plug, we'd recommend the budget-friendly, Alexa-compatible TP-Link Tapo Smart Plug.
Obviously this is no good for ceiling lights as it will only turn on and off lamps which plug into a mains socket, but there's a solution to that, too. Shelly makes tiny Wi-Fi switches which should fit into the back boxes of a wall switch (or even a ceiling rose).
The Shelly 1 is about the size of a couple of Oreos. The best part is that it costs only €11 from Shelly's website, and will control all ceiling lights attached to that switch.
Whichever method you use, the way to control compatible lights, plugs and switches with Alexa is the same. Here's how to do it.
How do you turn lights on with Alexa?
Before you can turn a light on, you must install and set up your light bulb, plug or switch. In some cases you'll need to install the manufacturer's app, create an account and set up the device there first.
Once that's done, open the Alexa app and follow these steps:
- Tap on Devices at the bottom
- Now tap on the + icon at the top right
- Tap 'Add Device'
- Select the type of device you are setting up (Light, Plug or Switch)
- Choose the brand from the list
- Follow the instructions on screen
You will have to link the account for the device (such as a Philips or TP-Link account) with your Amazon account and authorise the Alexa app to use that account.
Once your plug, switch or light is set up you should be able to see it when you tap on Lights, Plugs or Switches on the Devices screen in the Alexa app.
You will want to rename it with a friendly name that's both easy to remember and simple enough that Alexa can understand. Do this by tapping on the device in the list, then tapping on the cog icon (top right) and then tapping Edit Name. Just like this:
It's best to use short, single-word names, but you can experiment and change the name if it isn't understood by Alexa.
To turn on a light with Alexa, the simplest command is:
- "Alexa, turn on [name of light]"
If your light or switch supports dimming or changing colours, you can also say:
- "Alexa, make the front light purple"
- "Alexa, dim the living room"
- "Alexa, make the kitchen brighter"
How do I control groups of lights with Alexa?
- Go to Devices in the Alexa app
- Tap the + icon, top right
- Tap Create a room or device group
- Tap Next
- Pick from the pre-defined room names or add a customised name for the group
- Tap on the devices you want to be in the group
- Tap Next
- Add any Alexa devices or skip the step
- Save your room
Once Alexa knows which devices are in which room it's easier to control them. Adding an Amazon Echo to the group is very useful if you have more than one Echo as it allow you to - for example - walk into the living room and say "Alexa, turn on the lights" and she will understand what you mean because you have grouped the Echo in that room with the smart bulbs in that same room.
Once this is done, you can say, "Alexa, turn on Dining Room" and all devices in that group will be switched on.
Can Alexa turn lights on and off on a schedule?
Yes she can. You simply need to create a Routine to make that work. You can create as many Routines as you want, and they can control individual lights, or groups of lights.
To make a new Routine, tap the three lines at the top-left of the app, or swipe in from the left to open the main menu.
Tap Routines and then the + icon (shown below, second left). Now tap the + to the right of 'When this happens' and choose Schedule from the five triggers.
Tap Select next to 'At Time' and pick when you want the light(s) to turn on. If you want this to repeat on certain days, tap Select next to Repeat and choose which days. Then tap Next at the top.
You'll be taken back to the NEW ROUTINE screen where you need to tap the + next to Add action. From the list, choose Smart Home, then either pick Control device or Control group depending upon whether you want just one light to turn on, or multiple lights at the same time.
Here we've chosen to control the Dining Room group, and the only option available (below, middle) is power. The slider is already set to 'On' which is what we want, so just tap Next. Finally, tap Save at the top and your Routine will be stored and run at the specified time.
If you want the same lights to turn off at a later time, create another Routine with a schedule set to a time that's later than the time the lights are set to turn on, but this time tap the slider to 'off' on the screen which says Power. Once that new Routine is saved, your lights will turn on and off at the times you have set.
Oh, and just on the off-chance that you need to, here's how to update your Echo's software.