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Can You Put Outdoor Lights on a Timer?

After you get all of your outdoor lights arranged outside of your house or your business, you may find it a hassle to remember to turn them on or off. Perhaps you only want them on when it’s dark outside, or to only stay on for a set period of time, like a few hours. Whatever your specific needs are, if you’re hoping there are some ways to use a timer on your outdoor lights, this is the right article for you.

You can put outdoor lights on a timer a few different ways, depending on the type of light you use. For lights wired to a switch, a timer will need to be installed at the switch. With smart bulbs and lights, the setup is much simpler, typically using an app or with a smart home hub. For lights that are plugged in, a simple outlet timer can be used.

Outdoor lights can provide an ambiance and welcoming feeling to outdoor areas and also provide better security. If you want your outdoor lights to operate efficiently and stay on for a set amount of time, you need to use a timer. To learn about the types of outdoor timers and how to install them, first let’s cover the various types of outdoor lighting timers.

Types of Outdoor Lighting Timers

If you want to put a timer on your outdoor lights, there are many options for you to do this, so don’t worry. One thing that’s important to pay attention to is that the timer hardware is outdoor rated. Outdoor-rated timers are weatherproof and are designed to be more robust than indoor light timers, which means they’ll be able to endure much harsher conditions.

Outdoor timers can withstand harsh, repetitive changes in temperature, humidity, and sunlight intensity that are very normal in day-to-day life outside. Any type of outdoor timer can get the job done, here is some information on a few different outdoor timers that are great options. 

Mechanical Outdoor Outlet Timer

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If you have existing lights that plug into an outdoor electrical outlet, likely the easiest solution for you is to add a plug-in outdoor mechanical timer. Mechanical timers, like this outdoor Christmas light timer (on Amazon) with 2 plugs are an easy dial-type timer setup. You can set it to be on for 14 hours and off for 10 hours for example, automating the use of the lights.

Mechanical outdoor timers are easy to use. However, you may have to check them every week or so to make sure they have not drifted by an hour or two. This can be a hassle but still saves you from remembering to turn the lights on or off. Most units don’t have any problem with this, but keep an eye out…if this is going to happen it’ll happen immediately, on the first day or so. If you’re using these type of plug timers for year-round use, then you’ll have to adjust the timers during daylight savings shifts, and whenever the power goes out.

Photoelectric Outdoor Outlet Timer

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Photoelectric outdoor timers are similar to mechanical timers, however, they have a light sensor instead of a mechanical dial. The light sensor detects sunlight and can be set to turn off (or on) however many hours after sunset you’d like to set them for. The advantage of this is obvious, but a common problem is that the light sensors can sometimes wear out.

Devices like this 24-hour outdoor photoelectric countdown timer (on Amazon) with 3 outlets are easy to set up too. They can also be set to various on/off intervals, and it comes with a remote to change the timer settings so you do not even have to go outdoors if you don’t want to. Like the mechanical outdoor timer, photoelectric timers are also a great option if you have existing lights that plug into an outlet that you want to add a timer control. 

Switch Timers & Smart Switch Timers

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If you have outdoor lights that are controlled by a light switch, you can purchase a light switch that has a built-in timer. Timers like this programmable light switch timer (on Amazon) with automatic shutoff make turning off your outdoor lights easy. With a touch of one button, you can program it to turn off after, 5, 10, 20, or even thirty minutes. You can even extend it from up to 1 to 4 hours.

Besides a traditional switch timer, you can also use this smart switch timer (on Amazon) and control your lights from anywhere with an internet connection and you can check out more on smart bulbs and how to use them in our separate guide. Smart switches can still be turned on/off with the physical switch, but can also be operated with voice commands, mobile apps, and automatic triggers based on the time of day set in the smartphone apps.

Smart switch and traditional timer switches do require you to remove your existing switch from the wall electrical junction box. If you do this, make sure your main power is off first! If you are just not comfortable messing with electrical wiring, you can hire an electrician for help. If you like the idea of a smart switch that doesn’t require any electrical work, rest assured there are some wireless options for smart switches in the next section. 

Smart Outdoor Lights 

If you would like to take an even easier route to get timer control on your outdoor lights, you can purchase smart bulbs and lights. Smart bulbs have built-in connectivity to your router, typically through a hub. For example, Philips Hue has great smart bulbs that can be controlled through their app and with smart hubs, like Google Assistant, Apple Home, and Amazon Alexa, all of which you can use to set timers for the outdoor smart lights.  

Some Philips Hue smart lights require the Hue Smart Hub (on Amazon), and some do not. However, if you are using multiple smart devices in your home it is best to use the Hub to prevent your router from getting clogged up and slowed down.  

For ultimate simplicity and ease of use, you can even incorporate a Phillips Hue Smart Switch (on Amazon) or a Smart Dimmer Switch (on Amazon). Unlike the traditional wall switches, these smart switches are battery-powered and work by connecting to your network and smart home system. As such, they do not get connected to your electric system and you do not have to worry about wiring into a wall socket. 

The smart switches are actually stand-alone switches that you can mount anywhere in your home by using the included adhesive backing. Another great thing is that you can control more than one smart light with a single switch. With these smart switches, you can create a routine that will turn the lights off after they’ve been on after a certain amount of time.

How to Install a Timer on Outdoor Lights

Depending on the type of timer you plan to utilize to control your outdoor lights, your installation will differ. If you are doing any type of installation where you have to work with exposed electrical wires, please be safe and make sure your power is off.  Here is a brief overview of how to install each option, including the first which is the outdoor outlet timers installation.

Outdoor outlet timers, both mechanical and photoelectric are very simple to install. All you do is plug them into the wall outlet, then you plug your lights into the timer. You can easily change the settings of these types of timers with mechanical knobs and/or push buttons. 

Installation of Switch Timers & Smart Switch Timers 

Out of all the timer control options, smart timers and smart switch timers are the most physically difficult ones to install. Before installing/uninstalling any wall switches, turn off your power first. To install wall timers, you first have to remove your existing electrical switch. Here are the basic installation steps: 

  • Turn the main power off and double-check that it is off! Otherwise, you will be in for a shock or worse. 
  • Unscrew the wall plate on your existing switch.
  • Remove the wall switch and disconnect the wires on the back. 
  • Make sure you have enough bare wire to connect to the new switch. You may need to use a wire stripper if they are not long enough. 
  • Wire in the new timer switch. Make sure you connect the wires correctly (green is always for ground, white and black are power)
  • Use wire nuts and/or electrical tape to secure the wire connections. 
  • Put the switch into the wall junction box, screw it in, and install the wall plate. 
  • Turn on the power and let there be light!
  • Note:  If you are not comfortable with electrical wiring, consider hiring an electrician or getting a friend with more experience to help you. 

Smart Light Bulb Installation

Installation of smart light bulbs is the simplest of all options. All you have to do is screw in the smart bulbs, pair them to the app and you are good to start controlling the lights and setting timers from anywhere. If you are using more advanced setups, like using the Philips Hue Hub – you’ll have to install and pair that device too. Even with the extra devices, the setup is simple. All smart bulbs and lights walk you through the initial setup and installation process, so you’ll be sure to have a streamlined setup for smart lights, faster than any other method.