Adding smarts to a home, like any renovation, takes time and money. If you were fortunate enough to get some cash back on your tax returns, now is a great time to put that money to good use. There are a bevy of smart home products widely available from brick-and-mortar establishments like Wal-Mart, Target, and Home Depot, as well as online mega-retailers like Amazon. Of course, you can always apply a portion of your return to pay a professional to choose, configure and install the technology for you. It’s a good idea to get a pro involved if you envision purchasing more than three or four devices so that they can all synch up and work together flawlessly.
Here are 10 great technologies that are well-suited for any home or lifestyle … and they are all less than $200.
Smart Lights & Echo Voice Assistant
The lights are always a great place to start when smartening up your home. Swapping existing switches and bulbs for new, smart versions is a piece of cake. When you can find smart lights bundled with a smart, voice-enabled speaker, the deal is even sweeter. This bundle includes a second-generation Amazon Echo device and a smart lighting starter kit from Sengled. You can use the Echo to launch voice commands to the lights, as well as cue music, make phone calls and set wake-up alarms. And as you add devices to your home, the Echo can be used to dispatch voice commands to those products as well—as long as those products have been designed to work with Amazon Alexa.
Smart Ceiling Fans
While smart ceiling fans exist—you can find them from Hunter Fans, Big Ass Fans, and others—installing them is no fun. You might be willing to put time and money into a completely new fan if you’re looking for a total refresh of a room, but if you’re ok with the fans you already have in your home, you can make them smart with the addition of a puck-size device called the Bond. In a nutshell, it learns the codes of the remotes you currently use to operate the ceiling fans, and consolidates those codes into a single app on your smartphone. From here you can control as many as six fans. The Bond also listens for voice commands through Amazon Alexa or Google Home, so you can turn multiple fans on and off, raise and lower the speed, etc. completely hands-free.
Smart Lawn Sprinkler
Setting the watering schedule on a standard sprinkler controller usually requires pulling out a manual to get it right. There’s also the inconvenience of having to visit the controller—which might be in the tucked into corner of your stuffed-to-the-gills garage. Thankfully, there is an easier and more efficient way. The Rain Bird ST81 Wi-Fi Smart Sprinkler Controller lets you set up watering schedules, launch temporary overrides, coordinate the irrigation schedule with changing seasons and weather conditions—all from a mobile app on your smartphone.
Smart Garage Door Opener
One of life’s greatest mysteries is the status of the garage door. We’ve all wondered half-way into our morning commute whether we actually closed the doors. Chamberlain provides peace of mind though its MyQ system by allowing you to open and close the garage doors from anywhere with your smartphone. Compatible with existing garage door openers, the MyQ also sends alerts to your smartphone whenever someone else accesses the garage door.
Smart Dimmer Switches
Swapping your “dumb” light bulbs for smart versions is one way to add intelligence to your home lighting. Exchanging a standard dimmer switch for a smart model is another. The switches that come with the Lutron Caseta system wire in just like a standard switch and each can control as many as 17 bulbs per circuit. That’s enough to cover several rooms. You can create all kinds of routines for the switches to follow—like turning on and off at a certain time of day or adjust automatically with the changing seasons—all from a smartphone app. Control of the switches can also be accomplished through a handheld remote or voice assistant.
Smart Window Blinds
How many times have you cursed the cords of your blinds? They are unsightly and awkward to operate. You can eliminate the mess by adding an Automation Kit from MySmartBlinds to your window hard-to-manage window treatments. This kit includes a motor that attaches directly to the headrail of a window blind. A companion mobile app lets you schedule on and close times for the blinds to follow; a sun-tracking mode can be enabled so that the blinds adjust automatically based on the positon of the sun. Of course, for many families it’s impossible to follow a rigid schedule, so you can add a SmartSwitch to the setup. Completely wireless, it sticks to any surface and provide on-the-spot pushbutton control of the blinds.
If there is any technology in your house that deserves an update, it’s the lock on your door. We’ve been using keys to lock and unlock doors since the 1800s. You can certainly replace the lock and deadbolt on a door with a modern, keyless version, but why bother when you can convert the lock you already have—and functions well—into a smart lock. The Kevo Convert from Kwikset upgrades an existing Kwikset, Weiser, Baldwin or Schlage deadbolt into a lock that you can control within Bluetooth range by using your smartphone. The Kevo app also lets you send digital eKeys to guests, track who has access your home and when, and synch up with other smart home devices.
Smart Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm
Chirp…. Chirp… chirp… that relentless chirping is the bane of smoke alarms everywhere. The Nest Protect smoke and carbon monoxide alarm precludes this annoyance by self-checking its batteries more than 400 times a day. You’ll know immediately via an alert sent from the alarm to your phone, if the batteries are running low. You can always glance at the alarm for a visual indication (a green light) that everything is in good working condition. Should the alarm sense smoke or CO, it will message your phone whether you’re home or away.
Speakers are always a good investment for a smart home. They hold their value better than most technologies and thanks to innovation from the audio industry, they are easier than ever to incorporate into any room of a home. A sound bar is a solid choice, thanks to its ability to add surround sound to a media room and stream music. The SB3821-C6 2.1 channel sound bar from Vizio complements your TV with Dolby Digital and DTS audio, and comes with a wireless subwoofer for better bass.
Smart Home Networking
With each new Wi-Fi device you add your home, the more important your home network becomes. It needs to be robust enough to handle a lot of Wi-Fi traffic and offer comprehensive protection from cyber hacking. The Deco M5 Whole-Home Wi-F System from TP-Link does all this and comes with enough power to spread a Wi-Fi signal up to 4,500 square feet.