Smart Home Hacks For When You’re Away

Tod Caflisch
5 min readFeb 14


February 14, 2023

Smart home gear isn’t just for automating your life. It’s also really handy for making your home look occupied when you’re away. But does mimicking your presence in a home actually deter criminal activity? The answer is a resounding ‘Yes!’

For the run-of-the-mill crime of opportunity, the illusion that somebody is home is an excellent deterrent. The vast majority of thieves just want to want a fast and easy way to get stuff from your house to flip for cash. An occupied home throws a wrench in the ‘fast and easy’ part. You don’t have to fortify your home, you just have to make your home unappealing enough to send the bad guys elsewhere.

Combine presence mimicking with a good home security system, and you’ll be in good shape.

Maybe you’re planning a spring break trip with your family. Maybe you work evenings and want your home to look occupied, especially during the winter when it gets dark so early. Whatever your motivation, the key to the illusion is managing your smart home gear to do the things you’d do if you were home. Empty homes are eerily quiet and still. Occupied homes are bustling with light and sound. You can use many of the features included with your particular smart home platform or device to accomplish this.

But if a particular feature isn’t included in your device’s control app, consider using a smart home routine with your greater smart home platform like Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa or Apple Home Kit.

Switching lights on and off to create the appearance of someone at home isn’t a new trick by any means. People have been doing it with basic light timers for decades. And while you can do the same thing with mechanical timers or even smart plugs, actual smart bulbs take it to a whole new level.

The Philips Hue platform, has a ‘vacation mode’ that doesn’t just turn lights on and off in a pre-determined sequence but actually mimics the presence of someone in the home.

Tell it to mimic you between, say, 5PM and your usual bedtime, and during that window, it will turn lights on and off throughout your home as if you were moving from room to room. With one or more Hue bulbs in different rooms, it can be very convincing from outside. The goal would be for your neighbors to comment that they had no idea you were gone because the house looked occupied.

Even without Hue bulbs, you can create the effect by using a similar vacation mode in your smart light platform of choice — even inexpensive Wyze smart bulbs have a vacation mode — by setting random timers or by using an away mode if your smart home platform supports it. As part of the Alexa Guard functionality, Alexa supports vacation mode lighting.

Turning lights on and off can make it look like somebody is home, but that may not be enough for you. Nothing says ‘people are home’ like the familiar flicker of a television set. It used to be simple to put an appliance timer on your TV to turn the TV on and off because TVs had mechanical switches. But timers don’t work on modern TVs because plugging and unplugging them doesn’t turn them on.

While you can buy devices specifically designed to mimic TV light, if you have smart bulbs or LED strips, you can use those just as easily and without investing in specialty hardware. If you turn the brightness up all the way and pick one of the colorful and active scenes, it looks pretty much like you’re watching TV. The Halloween and storm themes that include rapid flashes do a great job capturing the feeling of an action movie.

You can recreate the effect with any color-changing smart bulbs or light strips with similar ‘party’ or random mode, though. Experiment with them until you find a combination with that familiar TV-flickering-in-the-night color scheme.

Sound is a strong indicator that somebody is home as well. Combine it with scheduled lighting and the TV illusion above, and it’ll look like a full house. You can also set up alerts using dog barking audio that are triggered by motion around your home or with your video doorbell.

If you want to automate things but keep it, relatively, simple one of the easiest ways to do so is to plug a radio into a smart plug, tune the radio to a station that features primarily talking and set a smart schedule to turn the radio on while you’re away.

If you already have smart speakers sprinkled throughout your home, then it’s trivial to incorporate audio playback into routines. You can instruct a Google Home routine to start a podcast, Spotify playlist, or other music sources.

Combine all or any combination of these tips and you should be in good shape. Nobody — burglars, included — will be able to tell when you’re home, at work or on vacation.

What are your thoughts on smart home technology to give the illusion your home is occupied? Crazy good or just plain crazy? I’d be interested in feedback on your experience if you’re already something like this at home — especially if you’re using smart home tech. If you aren’t, are you considering it?

Let Debbie and I know in the comments, DMs and emails what you think about leveraging your smart home for better security and peace of mind. Thanks again to all those following Debbie and I through our home building journey. It’s great to hear your success stories and suggestions as we move through the process. And if you like the content I’m posting each week, don’t forget to ‘Like’ and ‘Follow.’

In full disclosure, I’m not an affiliate marketer with links to any online retailer on my website. When people read what I’ve written about a particular product and then click on those links and buy something from the retailer, I earn nothing from the retailer. The links are strictly a convenience for my readers.



Tod Caflisch

Smart Home technology visionary with passion for out of the box solutions for home technology integrations, focusing on efficiency, safety and sustainability.