So you want an awesome smart home with automation and remote control but you’re not sure where to start? Don’t want to spend a lot of money? I’ll highlight some considerations at multiple price points to get anyone started with some smart home automation.
The first thing you must consider is how you would like to control your home. I’ve seen people perfectly happy with using their smart phone to control everything but it really annoys me. I hate having to pull out my phone, or even worse if I’m lounging around, finding my phone, unlocking it, launching the app or finding the widget, finding the function I want. I much prefer voice commands or tactile switches and buttons.
Below are the devices to consider. If you’re going to use an app to control your devices instead of a smart device to integrate them be sure to get devices that use the same platform or you you will be keeping track of multiple apps to control different devices.
Controller (Free – $399)
If you want to use your phone to control everything you can skip this section. In my home we have 3 Google Home Minis ($50 regularly, on sale as low as $35) and 3 Insignia smart speakers with Google Assistant from Best Buy that I got on sale for $25 each but are regularly $99 each. Smart speakers go on sale very frequently so it’s good to check places like Best Buy, Google Store, Walmart, etc. around American holidays. These are usually used as doorbusters to get people in the store. You can also get the Google Home for $99 or Google Home Max for up to $399. A lot of people like Amazon’s Alexa offerings but there are a few quirks that I don’t like. See my post about Alexa vs Google Home coming soon.
Controlling existing devices ($14 – $75)
There has been a surge of inexpensive wifi smart plugs on Amazon lately ranging from $14 and up. I’ve tried several and have been very impressed. I use these for things like floor lamps, fans, etc. Really, just read the specifications and make sure you use them within their recommended range. I also purchased a few that were around $35 each that have power monitoring built in. I have a window air conditioner plugged into one and a towel warmer in my master bathroom plugged into another. With these I can keep an eye on how much electricity high drain appliances are using. With any electronic device you buy online make sure you read the reviews and look for UL or ETL listed devices. You run a fire risk without proper research or using devices in a manner they weren’t intended.
Smart lights ($10-$65)
You can buy proprietary mesh network devices like Philips Hue and pay $15-20 per bulb for white lights and over $40 for RGB multi color bulbs. The quality of these bulbs vary pretty widely. The Philips Hue RGB bulbs are bright but in my experience the greens are more yellow. I tried a $10 RGB LED WiFi bulb from Amazon and the color reproduction was impressive but it was very dim. My same advice applies to bulbs as the smart plugs. Read the reviews.
A smart thermostat can save a lot of money over a standard thermostat. Some smart home platforms will integrate with the thermostats so you can set the temperature from their app or have the occupancy sensor activate automations. I, personally, don’t consider this a requirement because you can use IFTTT to integrate with whatever platform you choose. Smart thermostats save you money because you can have them deactivate your heat/cooling or use them sparingly when no one is home. You can have the thermostat learn your schedules and program itself or you can set up your own schedule. I have personally used a Nest learning thermostat and a Honeywell WiFi thermostat. I really prefer the Honewell over the Nest. The Honewell has a touchscreen and could show more info on its square display vs the Nest where you have to turn and push the device to select options. That being said, both brands that I have used well and integrate with IFTTT and other smart home platforms.
I feel like now is the time to jump on board with smart home integrations. The prices are low and the functionality is useful and reliable. If you want a bare bones system just to dip your toe into the smart home waters you can start for as low as 14 dollars for a smart plug or 10 dollars for a smart bulb and build your system around that single piece if you desire.
We will update this post as we test more devices. If there’s a smart home device you would like us to test please leave a comment below.