There’s been a lot of buzz lately about “Smart Homes”, especially after the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show (CES). Smart homes are really just houses with fixtures, appliances and electronics that can be operated remotely, usually through a smartphone, and now even with your voice. While this technology sounds futuristic and expensive, there are quite a few affordable devices that make it easy to start making your house “smart”. Here are a few examples of products that can be used by renters and homeowners alike to add convenience and security to any home. They're easy to set up, they all work together, and each one costs less than $200.
The WeMo is a great entry-level device that lets you use your smartphone to control whatever’s plugged into it. Belkin’s home automation system is easy to set up: Simply plug the WeMo into an electrical outlet, download the app, and connect the device to your home’s Wi-Fi. Then, plug in a coffeemaker, lamp, or any other appliance with an electrical cord, and you’ll be able to turn it on and off right from your phone. The switch itself retails for about $40, but you can add a motion sensor for about $30 more, and set up IFTTT (If This, Then That) rules to have the WeMo send you a text alert when your kids get home from school, or turn on a lamp when you walk through a room.
If you want to control more than just a couple of devices, the Insteon Hub is an inexpensive way to get started with home automation. At just $80, the Hub lets you control a wide variety of connected devices and fixtures from your tablet or smartphone, from anywhere. There are sensors and connectors for light switches and bulbs, electrical outlets, thermostats, cameras, motion detectors, as well as smoke and leak sensors. The easy-to-use app lets you set up schedules for your devices, and it’s compatible with many other 3rd party services and tech, including Amazon Echo, the Apple Watch, and Nest products. Best of all, you don’t have to pay a monthly fee.
The Amazon Echo allows you to add voice command access to many other smart home devices, including those plugged into a WeMo Switch. Amazon Echo’s “Alexa” can do many of the same functions as Siri does on the iPhone. You can ask her to play your favorite music, tell you the forecast or sports scores, add items to a grocery list, and turn your reading lamp on. The integrated 360° speaker will even play your newest audio book. Amazon Echo is compatible with a large number of other smart tech devices, including Belkin’s WeMo Switch, the Insteon Hub, August Smart Lock, and Chamberlain MyQ Garage, so you can control almost your entire house with the sound of your voice.
Now you can unlock your front door with a smart deadbolt. August is the most well-known, but other brands like Kwikset, Schlage and Goji have introduced their own versions of smart deadbolts. The August system works with your smartphone or a fob to detect when you’re near, then automatically unlocks the door for you. You can also create virtual keys for visiting family, repairmen, housekeepers and dog walkers. The lock itself retails for about $190, and you can find it at major retailers like Home Depot and WalMart. Available add-ons include a doorbell cam, keypad, and remote access receiver.
The MyQ lets you convert nearly any major brand’s garage door opener made since 1993 into a smart device. You can use your smartphone to open and close the garage door remotely from anywhere. In the near future, geofencing capabilities will allow the device to sense your car and open the garage door automatically when you’re pulling into the driveway, then shut it once you’re parked inside. The Chamberlain MyQ Garage also works with the Amazon Echo system.
Whether you choose all of these products or just one, it's easy and affordable to get started making your house a Smart Home.