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How to create a spooky smart home for Halloween

Want the spookiest smart home on the block? Here’s how to get a creepy yet cool setup using smart speakers, smart lights, and video doorbells.

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Illustration by Samar Haddad / The Verge

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

Set your smart speakers to spooky

Say, “Alexa, start Spooky Halloween Sounds,” and your Echo smart speaker will play a continuous loop of screams, chilling wind noises, witch cackles, haunted bells, creaky footsteps, and a cacophony of other creepy sounds. This is a fun and easy way to get some spooky sound effects rolling at your house on the big night.

I set up two Echo Dot smart speakers in a stereo pair and put them in plastic cauldrons on my front porch. (It hides them and amplifies the sound.) I then run the Spooky Halloween Sounds skill all night on October 31st. It gets lots 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’s a list of Echo speakers that are compatible with stereo pairing.)
  • Tap the plus button in the top right-hand corner.
  • Choose Combine speakers.
  • Choose Stereo pair / subwoofer.
  • Select the two speakers you want to combine.
  • Tap Next.
  • Choose either channel for your first speaker. (The app will automatically assign the other.)

For some spooky fun inside the home, Amazon launched a Halloween Theme skill this week that adds some Halloween atmosphere to your daily interactions with Alexa. Once enabled, when you ask for things like the weather, timers, alarms, and jokes, Alexa will add some spooky sounds like witch cackles and owl hoots to the responses. To set this up, just say, “Alexa, enable the Halloween theme,” and when you’ve had enough, you can say, “Alexa, turn off the Halloween theme.”

Haunt your house with smart lighting

A house with multi-colored, spooky lighting
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 spruce up your space for the spooky season. For my setup, I put two Philips Hue color smart bulbs in some table lamps and two Hue Play light bars under my large front window, paired with a Hue outdoor light strip by my front door to create a spooky scene that will catch everyone’s eye. 

Using Hue’s smartphone app, I place them all in a “zone” that I call “Spooky,” and then I activate one of Hue’s six dynamic lighting Halloween scenes. Now, I can just tell my smart speaker to turn on “Spooky.” Here’s how to set that up:

How to create a Hue Halloween scene

  • Open the Hue app.
  • Tap the three dots in the upper-right corner.
  • Select Add new Room or Zone.
  • Choose Zone.
  • Select an icon for your Zone.
  • Name it. (I used “Spooky.”)
  • Select which lights 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 in front of fake graves in a front yard
A motion sensor by the front door turns the smart lights to a fiery red whenever anyone approaches the house.

You can add multiple scenes to your zone and easily activate them from the zone’s page in the app. Each Hue Halloween scene is dynamic, which means the lights will change color to add to the effect. To activate this, tap the Play button that appears on the scene in the app. You can also set the scene to auto-play dynamically and customize the colors in the scene settings. 

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

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

Both smart plugs can be linked to the Hue motion using the Alexa app so the lights will turn on when someone comes to the door.

A plastic skeleton in a fake spider web on the side of a house
This skeleton is lit up by a Tapo smart light strip.

Outdoor lights can be expensive, so for Halloween night only — if it’s forecast to be dry out — I rig up a couple of indoor light strips to add some extra effects to the house. This year, I have a TP-Link Tapo light strip on the outside wall draped around a spider web and skeleton. The Tapo LED strip has a rating of IP44, so it will handle light sprinkles. But the plug isn’t weatherproof, so I made sure to plug it into an interior outlet.

I like Tapo as it has some fun 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 will flash and flicker in time with the spooky sounds coming from the Echo Dots. Tapo also works with Alexa, so I can pair it with the motion sensor to turn on when people arrive.

Have your smart doorbell scare your visitors

A plastic skeleton hanging by a doorbell
A Google Nest Doorbell can be set to play spooky sounds when a visitor presses it.

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

Spooky sounds with the Google Nest doorbell

Here’s how to set up your Google Nest doorbell to play spooky sounds:

  • Open the Google Home app.
  • Select your doorbell from the Cameras tab.
  • Tap the Settings icon.
  • Tap Doorbell.
  • Tap Doorbell theme.
  • Select Halloween under Seasonal themes.

Now, when anyone presses the doorbell, it will play from a selection of spooky sounds. The doorbell automatically reverts to the classic Ding Dong theme on November 1st.

A sampling of the random spooky sounds from the Google Nest Doorbell (wired).

Spooky sounds with the Ring doorbell

Ring’s video doorbells also have Halloween-themed ringtones, but these only play from Ring’s plug-in chime, which is sold separately. On Halloween, you can try and plug it in really close to the doorbell so visitors will hear it, but it’s not the same as having the sounds come out of the doorbell itself. Still, it’s a good option if you’re running a Ring doorbell. To set it up, follow these steps:

  • Open the Ring app.
  • Tap the menu button.
  • Select Devices.
  • Choose the Chime you want to enable.
  • Select Audio Settings.
  • Select Chime Tones.
  • Choose from the list, which includes a Dracula theme, witch cackles, a creepy laugh, and screeching cats.
  • Tap Save Changes.
  • Tap Ok.
Ring doorbells can play spooky sounds and greet visitors with pithy Halloween-themed Quick Replies. Ring also sells holiday-themed faceplates to scare up your front door.
Ring doorbells can play spooky sounds and greet visitors with pithy Halloween-themed Quick Replies. Ring also sells holiday-themed faceplates to scare up your front door.
Image: Ring

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

Once enabled, visitors are greeted by a recorded message with a spooky theme. Options include:

  • “I’ll be right there to eat… I mean greet you!” (in the voice of Dracula)
  • “Tell us what brings you here... or we’ll put a spell on you!” (with a witchy 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!” (using a werewolf voice)
  • “You’ve just awoken the spirits that haunt this house! Hurry and leave a message… before it’s too late.” (In the tones of an English butler)

Turn on Quick Replies on the settings page for your doorbell in the Ring app under Smart Responses

Spooky sounds with Echo smart speakers

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

  • Open the Alexa app.
  • Tap Devices.
  • Select Cameras.
  • Scroll to your doorbell.
  • Tap the settings icon.
  • Under Announcements, turn on the Doorbell Press Notifications toggle.
  • Tap Doorbell Sounds and choose from the list.
This motion-activated trick-or-treat bowl is a great way to surprise any greedy costumed visitors.
This motion-activated trick-or-treat bowl is a great way to surprise any greedy costumed visitors.
Photo by Jennifer Pattison Tuohy / The Verge

This is just a sampling of the fun stuff you can do with a smart home to entertain the trick-or-treaters or have some holiday-themed fun this 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. (You see, there is a good reason to buy colored smart bulbs!). Don’t forget, these can also be adapted for Christmas, Hanukkah, Easter, birthdays, and any time you just feel like jazzing up your home.

And remember, come October 31st, if you just want to chill out and watch all the action at your front door, leave out a big bowl of candy (or use this motion-activated trick-or-treat bowl, which helps stop kids from stealing it all in one go!), 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