There was a time not so long ago when smart home technology was cost prohibitive and unrealistic for the average homeowner or apartment dweller. But as with any technological change, smart home gadgets have become increasingly affordable and practical as they move into the mainstream.
You don’t have to dive into the deep end to start making your home more convenient and safe, either: you can dip your toe in with a few inexpensive, easy-to-install devices. Here are our tips for easing into smart home technology. Fair warning, though: once you start incorporating a few of these devices into your house, you’re likely to quickly become addicted to the fun, function, and convenience of a smart home.
Stay Cool (or Warm) Wirelessly: Smart Thermostats
The Ecobee 4 ($250) is a voice-enabled smart thermostat that can detect hot and cold spots in rooms.
No one likes waking up sweaty in the middle of the night, but it’s even worse to get out of bed and stumble around to change the thermostat. Smart thermostats like the popular Nest or Honeywell devices allow you to control your home’s temperature from your smartphone. No need to call a friend or housesitter if you’ve forgotten to shut off the heat during your extended vacation, either—you can change your home’s temperature wherever you are. Some smart thermostats even learn your daily habits and set the temperature accordingly, sensing when you come home from work and creating an intelligent heating and cooling schedule.
No Need to Flip a Switch: Smart Light Bulbs
Philips Hue ($15) smart light bulbs change your light from warm white to cool daylight with the tap of an app.
There’s no special tutorial or 15-page installation guide attached to this smart home technology, and it’s one of the easiest ways to try out something convenient without breaking the bank. Installing smart lighting in your home is as simple as unscrewing a regular light bulb and putting in a smart one. Smart light bulbs often come with features like dimmable lighting or color options so you can set the mood however you want. You can control smart bulbs with a home assistant device such as the Amazon Echo or Google Home, or you can just as easily use an app on your phone if you’re not ready to dive into the world of smart home hubs.
Make Any Electronic Smarter: Smart Outlets
Control your devices from anywhere with this smart Wi-Fi plug from TP-Link ($30).
Smart outlets are another easy way to make your home smarter on a budget. For at low as $30, you can make any device more convenient. Smart outlets allow you to control anything plugged into them with your smartphone, meaning you’ll never have to wonder if your curling iron is still on or walk around your entire house turning off individuals lamps in the evening. You can even integrate many smart outlets with the automation app IFTTT, making your life even more seamless.
Home Security and Peace of Mind: Smart Cameras and Locks
This Lynx Indoor ($60) camera from Tend Secure features 1080p video, sharp night vision and automatically recognizes familiar faces.
Whether you want to be able to check in on your pets while at work or keep an eye on the baby while she’s with the nanny, a smart home camera is an investment in peace of mind. You can use a motion-activated outdoor camera to keep an eye on your home and property while you’re away or an indoor one to monitor kids and pets. Some higher-end smart home security systems automatically call authorities in the event of a break-in.
To enhance your home security even more, you can invest in smart locks. No more wondering whether you left the front door unlocked; you can monitor your home’s access points 24/7 and see a complete security log with many smart lock systems. For comprehensive smart home security, there are all-inclusive packages from industry leaders like ADT that provide full features and automation.
Fire Protection: Smart Smoke Alarm Batteries
No more 3 AM chirps with this smart battery from Roost.
Nothing’s more annoying than a faulty smoke alarm, but few things are more important than protecting your family and home from a fire. You don’t have to break the bank to invest in smart fire protection: just buy a smart smoke alarm battery from Roost. This $35 battery checks itself automatically, has a 3-5 year life and allows you to control your alarm from your smartphone. Win-win-win.
Smart Device Control and Assistance: Smart Home Hub
With a built-in smart home hub, the Amazon Echo ($250) is hands-free "speaker" powered by Alexa, Amazon's user-friendly voice assistant.
If you’re ready to ramp up your smart home automation, it’s time to get a “hub” device such as an Amazon Echo, Google Home, or Wink Hub. There is a whole slew of options available in the hub device category now, and many of them fit even a tight budget, coming in around $50. Before you purchase one, check to see whether it integrates with your existing smart home technology or supports IFTTT connection.
This list only scratches the surface of smart home technology—there are many more devices, from smart water sensors to grill thermometers and doorbells. Making your Boise home smarter is becoming more affordable, and there’s plenty of reason to believe smart homes will become the norm in the next several years.