If necessity is the mother of invention, then frugality and ingenuity must at least be first cousins.
This story begins in 2018 when yours truly finally moved to the suburbs after spending 14 years in Boston.
My three favorite things in my house are the driveway, the garage and the patio. The bridge needed tunes, however, and my desire for an expensive wireless speaker was diametrically opposed to my desire not to spend the money.
I got by streaming music from my phone to a bluetooth speaker for the first summer, but the problem with bluetooth is that once you walk away the music dies and dies leaving your guests sucking to the soft sounds of yacht rock.
There’s also the problem of constantly having to make sure the speaker is charged, and paying more for a waterproof speaker or having to move the speaker indoors every time it starts to rain. or snow.
I then turned my attention to Sonos, which doesn’t need a constant connection. But, its speakers start at $200, and there remains the problem of how to leave one outside without it being damaged by the elements. There had to be a better and cheaper way.
Spoiler: There are. Here’s how I did it.
Measure twice, order once
The heart of the system here is an Amazon Echo Dot or similarly sized smart speaker. The current-gen Echo Dot is way too big, so we need a $30 third-gen Echo Dot (which measures 3.9 inches in diameter) or a $20 second-gen Echo Dot ( which measures 3.3 inches in diameter). Yes, the Google Nest Mini is also 3.9 inches in diameter. but also more expensive.
Why the size restrictions? Well, we’re going to house the speaker in an outdoor light fixture, designed to shield a light bulb from rain, sleet, snow, and wind. If a third-gen Echo Dot fits, great. Either way, they sound better than the second-gen version and only cost about $10 more.
So, yes, you’re going to lose a light bulb in exchange for hands-free, voice-controlled streaming music.
provide the power
Of course, we will need to power the speaker. To do this, you need a socket-socket adapter. I got a two pack for $5.
Remove the bulb, then screw the adapter in place. Congratulations, you now have a two-prong outlet inside your wall light.
Now there are two additional optional items you can use to tidy up this setup a bit. If you want to use the Echo Dot’s bulky power adapter and bundle its long power cable, fine.
But I opted to use a small iPhone-like power cube – this one costs $5 – and a 6-inch micro USB cable, which also costs $5.
Connect everything together
So the bulb-to-power adapter screws into the light socket, the small USB power cube then plugs into the power adapter, the 6-inch USB cable then plugs into the cube, and finally, the Echo Dot plugs into the USB cable.
A quick puff of ozone later, and you’ve got a fully powered, hands-free outdoor smart speaker.
Although I live in the northeast, I keep mine plugged in year round. It has survived hurricanes, blizzards, 100 degree days and freezing winters. The only downside is that the audio quality is poor. If you’re an audiophile, this probably won’t work for you. If you just want chunks, though, you’ll probably be happy, and the whole setup process takes about five minutes.
Total bill: $20 to $30 for the Echo Dot, depending on the version, then about $15 for the adapter, plug and cord. Enjoy!