How to use your smart home apps to up the scare factor

Emilee Geist

Jennifer Jolly  |  Special to USA TODAY Halloween: How to decorate your yard Bring your yard to life with these spooky Halloween decorations. ProblemSolved, USA TODAY The scariest part of Halloween this year could be how much we’re spending on it. American’s are shelling out more than $10 billion – […]


The scariest part of Halloween this year could be how much we’re spending on it. American’s are shelling out more than $10 billion – a whopping two billion dollars more than in 2020. We’re buying up everything from “Squid Game” costumes and candy corn – both top Halloween searches via Google – to TikTok-trendy must-haves like vintage decorations, scary movies and even good old fashioned snail-mail greeting cards. 

If the high cost of it all is more trick than treat for you, here are several ways to turn your already smart home into a spook-tacularly genius haunted house.

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Is there an Echo in here? 

An estimated one in every four people in America own a smart speaker and 70% of those are Amazon Echo devices, according to analytics site eMarketer. 

If you already have an Alexa-enabled smart speaker – or want to pick up an inexpensive one – a 3rd Gen Echo Dot is about $25 right now – you can use it to play spooky sounds, creepy stories or  fire up a petrifying playlist. 

Just say, “Alexa, let’s get spooky” and it gives you a bunch of options like Spooky Halloween Sounds, Scary Story or  Ghost Detector. 

Spooky Halloween Sounds plays a continuous loop of straight-outta-the-torture-chamber noises until you tell Alexa to stop. To add it, open the Alexa app, tap “More” > “Skills and Games.” Next, tap the search and type in the name of the skill, then click the blue “enable to use” bar. After that, just say, “Alexa, start Spooky Halloween Sounds,” and away it goes until you tell it to stop. 

If you’re rolling a TikTok video, be sure to try out Spooky Scream. You can ask Alexa to play a random, bloodcurdling screech at a set time, like “in 30 seconds” or “in 10 minutes.” That’s always a fun one for unsuspecting visitors.  

Most of these skills are also available in toned-down kids versions and on other smart speakers too. 

For any Google devices, just say, “Hey Google, get spooky,” and you’ll get some scary music and sound effects on any Google speakers or smart displays that you already have. All of the smart assistants, including Siri, can tell you a scary (or funny) story or help you with costume ideas too. 

The best part? All of these features and skills are free. 

Since we’re talking speakers, check out Spotify’s 2021 Halloween playlist All the greats are here, from “Monster Mash” to the “Ghostbusters” theme – OMG, check out the Pentatonix version from this list! – and even the theme from “The Addams Family.” So good. 

Fright-night lights

Why let smart speakers have all the fun? It’s easier than ever to add some color-changing smart bulbs to the techy-home frightfest. 

If you have any Philips Hue lights, the company has free Halloween scenes on the app that can create all kinds of different effects indoors and outside. Interesting presents include Blood Moon, Fright Lights and Haunted Glow. 

But if you’re in the “bigger is better” camp with your Halloween decorations, consider the OnSwitch app (iOS and Android) which is free for three days, then charges a subscription fee of about $3 a month, according to the developer, to unlock all of the features. The HueDynamic app (iOS and Android) also has animated experiences that are super creepy, like the “passing ghost effect” or even “undead pulsing.”  

Another inexpensive way to add awesome ambiance to any lights or decor you already have is to use smart plugs – I use this $20 two-pack from Wyze – to schedule lights to turn on and off or  create responses to specific triggers, like when trick-or-treaters walk nearby. 

I also have a GED LED+ Speaker light bulb (around $35 on Amazon) that plays music and scary sounds and the GED LED+ Motion sensor outdoor bulb (around $11) that I use together to trigger lights and loud noises. (Again, perfect for TikTok videos.) 

One of the easiest ways to integrate this into your already smart home though, is to use a smart doorbell or security camera. 

Ding-Dong, boo’s there? 

Ring and Nest doorbells offer Halloween sounds and chimes, along with other pretty great new features to (a) scare anyone who dares touch the device and (b) keep you a safer distance from people, since we’re still in a pandemic and all. 

You can change the Nest Doorbell ringtone to a “Halloween” theme to greet your guests with ghoulish ringtones. These include an evil laugh, skeleton dance, ghost, howling werewolf, cackling witch and more. Go to the Google Home app for Nest Doorbell (battery) or the Nest app for the Nest Doorbell (wired). Make sure you have the latest version of the app. Select your doorbell, then tap Settings. From there, you should see the option to change your ringtone. It should automatically change back to the normal ringtone on Nov. 1. 

For Ring you can change the normal “ding dong” tone to the sound of bats, ghosts, howl, scream, spooky organ tones, creepy laugh, screeching cat and creaky door. To do it, open the Ring app > tap the three lines on the top left of the Dashboard > select the Chime you want to adjust (like upstairs or kitchen) > tap Audio Settings. There, you can choose Chime Tones and you’ll see a list of tones, including the Halloween inspired sounds. 

Ring also added a Quick Replies feature earlier this year for anyone who can’t – or doesn’t want to – answer the door. They have six Halloween preset responses at the ready including: 

“Tell us what brings you here … or we’ll put a spell on you!”

“Boo! Leave us a message if you dare [evil laugh].”

“Just a minute! Feel free to park your broom.”

To add a Quick Reply, go back into the Ring app: 

Tap the three lines on the top left > Devices > Select the doorbell that you want to set up > tap the Smart Assistant tile below the doorbell image > Quick Replies > Tap the blue Enable Autoreply button on the bottom of the screen. Then, select your preferred default message from the list > Set your message delay time from “Right away” to “20 seconds.” Finish up by tapping “Got It!” to complete the setup.

Real (Haunted) Housewife of New York

“The Real Housewives of New York” alum Dorinda Medley is showing off her trick-or-tech prowess at her Berkshires’ Blue Stone Manor estate. 

Medley shared her entire Halloween Alexa routine, which you can get without doing any of the dirty work yourself by pointing your smartphone camera at this QR code. 

It’s complete with color-changing smart bulbs, Halloween spooky sounds, a fall-themed Ring doorbell faceplate, Halloween music that she plays through her Echo Show 10 and more.

Tik or treat!

Okay, this is all about your spooky smart home, but if you’re a fan of TikTok, be sure to see all the Halloween hijinks happening there this year. 

My favorite thing so far is the new Ghostface Text-to-Speech feature. If you like #ScaryStories – and we all do, amiright? – TikTok dropped a text-to-speech option featuring the iconically creepy voice of masked killer Ghostface from the “Scream” movie franchise, which turns 25 this year and has a new film coming  in 2022. 

You can also head to TikTok’s Halloween tab and choose ephemeral effects like  “Ecto Pumpkin,” “Spooky Eyes,” “Paranormal Cam,” ” Cursed TikTok” and many more. Hashtag it with #HorrorTok and you might even go viral this year. 

How do you plan to spend your smart, safe and still super spooky Halloween this year? Be sure to let us know on our social channels!

Jennifer Jolly is an Emmy Award-winning consumer tech columnist. Email her at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter: @JenniferJolly. The views and opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of USA TODAY.

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