Here are a bunch of home automation ideas for your inspiration. These are examples of automation rules that have worked well for my family. They might work well for yours too.

The ideas are technology agnostic and describe the concept rather than the exact implementation. They should work with just about any home automation system and they all adhere to the home automation best practices.

Let’s dig in.


Most home automation systems have the notion of modes. Typically, the names of these modes are Home, Away and Night, but there can be variations and some system let you add additional modes. You can use these modes as conditions for the home automation rules. For example, when the mode is set to Night, turn on lights on low dim in the kitchen when motion is detected.

When set properly, modes are useful in many automations.


  • Manually set house in Night mode
  • Automatic detection

Set the mode to Night when clicking a physical button or switch. A voice assistant could also trigger it when you say “goodnight”. Physical buttons are often easier to use than a voice assistant and works when offline.

Setting Night mode could trigger the following events:

  • Turn off lights in the kitchen, living room and elsewhere
  • Turn off media – music, TV etc.
  • Lock the exterior doors if unlocked
  • Close the garage door if open
  • Arm the alarm system


There are two scenarios for when you want to trigger Home mode. The first is when you get out of bed in the morning and the second is when you come home to an empty house after having been away.

In the morning, press a physical button or switch or say “good morning” to your voice assistant. The button/switch could be the same one that put the house into Night mode.

After being away, unlocking the front door, opening the garage door or simply the detection of motion can put the house back in Home mode automatically.

Setting Home mode could trigger the following events:

  • Turn on lights if dark inside
  • Play music
  • Turn on thermostat to cool or heat the house
  • Turn on indoor holiday decorations
  • Dock the robot vacuum


This mode should be set when everybody leaves the house, and nobody is home. Saying “goodbye” to the voice assistant is one way to set it, but it should really happen automatically instead. That way you never forget it and don’t have to worry about it.

Automatic detection could happen this way:

  • House is in Home mode
  • No motion detected in the house for 10 minutes
  • All phones or presence sensors report they are not home
  • No one is taking a nap in the house

Detecting someone napping during the daytime can be hard. We use white noise machines in the kids’ room for when they nap, so we use a power meter to detect when it’s on. When on, the house doesn’t go into Away mode. If you don’t use a white noise machine, a night/salt/lava lamp or similar will work just as well.

If you wish to know when the mode changes between Home and Away, send a push notification to your phone if your system supports it.

Setting Away mode could trigger the following events:

  • Lock all exterior doors if unlocked
  • Close garage door if left open
  • Turn off all lights, fans, and appliances in the house
  • Start the robot vacuum
  • Put the thermostat in “eco” mode
  • Between sunset and midnight, turn on away-lights
  • Arm the alarm system


This is for bathrooms that have both a tub or shower and a toilet.


  • Turn on lights when someone enters
  • Turn off lights when everyone leaves


  • Turn on fan when door closes
  • Turn off fan after 15 minutes

Use a motion sensor to turn on the lights when someone enters the bathroom. Use a door sensor to detect when the door is closed. When closed, the lights must not turn off automatically. That ensures that the lights don’t turn off while you’re in the shower or taking your time on the toilet.

The fan turns on automatically when the door closes and turns off again after 15 minutes.

When in Night mode, the lights should only come on at a low dim.

Shower door

This is if you have a dedicated light just for the shower.

  • Turn on shower lights and bathroom fan when shower door opens
  • When shower lights are on, don’t turn off any other bathroom lights

If you have a glass shower door, add a door sensor too it. When the door opens, turn on the shower lights and fan. Turn off lights and fan after 15 minutes.


Whether you park your car in the garage or use it for storage or workspace, here are some automations that apply to all scenarios.


  • Turn on when someone enters
  • Turn off after the last person leaves

Add one or more motion sensors to cover the whole garage. When motion is detected, turn on the lights. When no motion was detected for 1 minute, turn off the lights. Depending on the location and speed of the motion sensors, consider adding a door sensor to the internal door that triggers the lights upon opening.


  • When going to bed, close garage door if open
  • When leaving the house, close garage door if open

When the home automation system goes into Night or Away mode, check if the garage door is open and then close it.

Hallway closet

Some closets don’t have any lights or power outlets on the inside. The closest light source could be a ceiling light on the outside. Then we’ll use that in our automation.


  • When in Home mode
  • Turn lights on when door opens
  • Turn lights off when door closes

Add a door sensor that triggers the light to turn on and off when the door opens and closes, respectively. If the light is located outside the closet, you may want to check if it was on before opening the door, so the automation doesn’t turn it off when the door closes.

“Dumb” battery powered LED lights with basic motion sensing capabilities are also useful. We use them in some closets that have no other light source or power outlet.

Walk-in closet

Typically, a small room full of clothes and a ceiling light. The door is probably left open all the time.


  • Turn on when someone enters
  • Turn off after the last person leaves

Add a motion sensor above the door pointing slightly downwards so it covers the whole closet as well as the door entrance. When motion is detected, turn on the lights. When no motion was detected for 1 minute, turn off the lights.

When in Night mode, turn on the lights at a lower dim setting to not be blinded by the bright light.

Kids rooms

Our kids can’t reach the light switch in their rooms, so automated lighting was very important for us. Otherwise they would keep asking us to come turn on the lights for them.


  • When in Home mode
  • Turn on when someone enters
  • Turn off after the last person leaves
  • Turn off lights when white noise machine starts (nap/bedtime begins)
  • Turn on lights at low dim setting when white noise machine is off
    • Then slowly brighten lights over a 5-minute period


  • Close blinds when white noise machine starts (nap/bedtime begins)
  • Open blinds 10 minutes after white noise machine is off

Motion sensor triggers lights on/off when someone enters and leaves the room. A power meter connected to the white noise machine triggers the lights off when turned on. Turning off the white noise machine should very slowly start to brighten the ceiling lights from the lowest dim setting.

Use an illumination (light) sensor to detect how light it is in the room before turning on the light. There is no reason to turn on lights in a room full of sunlight.

Master bedroom

This room is notorious for being hard to automate. The reason is that there are so many usage scenarios that it is hard to identify patterns automatically. We tried automating the lights, but there would be times when that would be annoying. We made modifications and kept iterating until we came up with a simple rule that works:

  • When in Home mode
  • And it is dark outside (no light coming in)
  • Turn on master bathroom lights when someone enters bedroom

Most of the time we enter the bedroom, it is to pass through into the master bathroom, which is also where the walk-in closet is. So, turning on the bathroom lights does light up the bedroom a bit, so we don’t have to walk in the dark.


Landscape lights are pretty, and they help you see the driveway when coming home at night.


  • Turn on at sunset
  • Turn off at sunrise
  • Turn on additional driveway lights when car pulling in
  • Turn on holiday lights at 30-60 minutes before sunset

You can buy “dumb” light switches with sunset/sunrise capability, but they are no fun and if you have multiple lights, then you can’t fully coordinate them.

Hook up a motion sensor to trigger the driveway lights to guide the car in. Turn back off after 5 minutes of no motion detected.


These days, the smart home includes the car.

Door lock

  • Unlock front door when coming home
  • Lock front door when leaving

Place a presence sensor somewhere in your car(s) and automatically unlock the front door when you arrive home. Unless the garage door is open/opening. If the garage door is open/opening then you are probably going to enter the house through the garage, so no need to unlock the door.


Here are some additional automations that could apply to multiple rooms or the whole house.


  • When a window has been open for more than 1 minute, turn thermostat off
  • When closing all windows, turn thermostat back on

Add window sensors (same as door sensor) to all windows.

Night lights

  • Turn on lights when motion is detected

In the kitchen, living room and elsewhere, turn on lights at a very low dim setting when motion is detected in Night mode. Make sure it’s dim enough that it won’t wake up anyone sleeping in their rooms with the door open.

Door lock notifications

  • Send notification when non-members of the household come and go

Get a push notification when anyone that has their own code to your smart lock uses it. That helps you keep track of how long the house cleaners spent cleaning or if your parents came to drop that thing of you asked them to while you were at work.

After having spent a lot of time and effort installing smart devices throughout my entire house and automating them, I’ve learned a lot of do’s and don’ts. It’s been a long process of trial and error to come up with the right automations that work for all scenarios. Along the way, certain patterns and practices emerged that made it easier for me to setup automations correctly the first time and sparked joy for everybody in my household.

I’ve also come to believe that most of these practices are not specific to my household but are universal in nature and can be used by other home automation enthusiasts. Since I couldn’t find anything similar online, I thought I’d share these practices here in case you find them useful.

Here we go:

Works for everybody

Every member of the household and guests must have a neutral to positive experience with the automations. Few things are more annoying than having lights turn off in the bathroom while you are in there or accidently triggering the alarm system’s siren while the baby is sleeping.

Especially guests that are less familiar with any automations can be annoyed if not done correctly.

An example would be our spare room which turns the lights on when you enter and turns it off after a minute of no motion. It works flawlessly for everyday use, but we also use it as an occasional guest room. My mom came to visit for 2 weeks and experienced having the lights go on and off at inconvenient times – when taking a nap for instance. The automation wasn’t designed for that use pattern. The fix was to install a door sensor and disable all automations in the room when the door was closed.

Another example is our guest bathroom lights which automatically turn on when people enter. In the beginning, the placement of the motion sensor and the logic of the automation resulted in a short delay from entering until the lights came on. The consequence was that people’s muscle memory had them reaching for the light switch. But once clicked, the automatic lights had just been activated so the result was the lights turned off instead of on. The fix was to place the motion sensor in a better location and to optimize the automation logic for speedy execution. Now the lights come on without delay and people’s muscle memory to turn on the switch isn’t triggered.

This rule can be hard to adhere to when you first create the individual automations. Sometimes only real-life usage will reveal cracks in the logic that need fixing.

Adapts to natural behavior

Home automation systems should improve people’s lives. As such, the automations must work in ways that follow the natural behavior of the people it serves. It’s an easy pitfall to build automations that works perfectly when people use it in the “correct” way, but if that is not how people behave in real life, then the automation needs adjustment.

An example are my linen closet lights. The automation would turn on the lights when the door opened and turn it back off when it closed. Sounds simple enough and it worked great. Except for the fact that to close the door, we would often just push it ajar leaving it not fully closed. In those situations, the light wouldn’t turn off and the automation seemed broken to us. The fix was to move the door sensor from the corner of the door to a location where almost closed was understood by the automation as closed.

No further explanation needed

When the smart home works for everybody and adapts to the natural behavior of people in it, it shouldn’t be necessary to explain how it all works. However, some automations work beyond people’s natural behavior and are not discoverable unless taught. Once learned, using the automations should become a natural behavior for people.

An example could be a smart light switch that supports double tapping as a trigger to control multiple lights in the room. You cannot tell that the light switch has this feature, so unless you are told about it, you don’t know. One way people can take advantage of these hidden features is to make them into a pattern throughout the house. The pattern could be that double tapping any light switch will turn on/off all lights in the same room. You could even mark the switches with this capability for easy visual identification. Once taught, people can apply that same logic to any room and no further explanation is needed.

Resiliency built in

When your internet is down or the smart home hub fails, the smart home must still be functional. All lights must be operational from switches, the door locks still able to let you in etc. It’s ok that the automations don’t all work. In other words, the smart home must fail gracefully.

An example of when it doesn’t fail gracefully is when the internet in our house went down for a few days after a major snow storm. The smart home hub was still working, but it could only execute the automations that didn’t require an internet connection and I couldn’t use the app to control it either for the same reason. So, I couldn’t stop some automations from happening such as lights going on in bedrooms at the middle of the night, because the house wasn’t able to put itself into night mode without internet. I had to unplug the hub.

After we regained our internet connection and plugged the hub back in, I made a bunch of changes to ensure that all essential automations would run locally (meaning no internet required), and that the non-essentials would fail gracefully. I also made sure to be able to control various states and variables through physical switches and buttons so I can disable some automations in case internet connection is lost again.

A way of thinking about this is to approach home automation as steps of a pyramid. Each step in the pyramid requires the existence of the one below it and should be completely independent of any steps above it.

Home automation pyramid

Core functionality

Start at the bottom where the core functionality must always be operational. Only a power outage can disable the core functionality. In practice, this means that when the smart home hub and/or internet is down, the smart home gracefully degrades back into a fully functioning dumb home.

Examples are all lights, fans, door locks, and thermostats which should be operational from their physical controls such as a wall switch.

Basic automations

If something happened that only allows some automations to work, make sure they are the basic automations. It would most likely be lighting, door locks and such that is to be considered basic, but it is up to each smart home to determine which automations are of a more essential nature. Make sure this step can be executed fully locally and doesn’t have any dependencies on the Extras step above it.

Examples are door- and motion sensor-based lighting automations, as well as bathroom fan and thermostat operations.


The Extras are non-essential automations and ones that require an internet connection. We want to keep this step as small as possible since these automations are the ones that are likely to break down first.

Examples would be automations/controls initiated through voice assistants such as Amazon Echo or Google Home. It is also anything that require an internet connection such as certain types of Wi-Fi switches, plugs and light bulbs.

I really enjoy automating our home and I look forward to sharing more learnings, tips, tricks and other stories in the future.