If you’re interested in jumping into the world of smart home technology, it can be a little overwhelming to figure out where to start and what to buy first. To help with that, I’ve come up with a short list of trusted product recommendations to bring your home into the 21st century. Welcome to the Smart Home Starter Kit!
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When I first got into smart home tech, I started with a single Amazon Echo Dot. I wanted to see if I was interested in the technology without making a huge investment in money or time. In my case it ended up being something I really enjoy, and I’ve spent more money on it since then, but I would still recommend starting small. You don’t have to spend thousands of dollars to get started.
In the rest of this guide, you’ll see products that make your home smart in different ways. If you see something that resonates with you and sounds like it would be really cool to have in your house, start with that! The great thing about this market is that it’s easy to add more devices later when you want to expand your system.
One more note: I’ve generally only chosen my favorite product for each section because it can be overwhelming to have too many choices. There is a lot of competition and a lot of products to choose from in the smart home market right now, so if you have questions about a specific product that isn’t mentioned here, don’t hesitate to send me a tweet or leave a comment.
Recommendation: Amazon Echo Dot
If you’ve never used a voice assistant like Amazon’s Alexa or the Google Assistant, this is a great time to start. The voice assistant is a key piece of the basic smart home setup because you can use it to control all of your other devices from one place. You don’t have to have one to use the other things in this guide, but it definitely improves the experience.
The tech isn’t at the level of what we see in sci-fi movies, but a voice assistant will also be able to play music, tell you the weather, set timers and alarms, and more. And trust me, the dedicated voice assistant devices are much, much better at understanding your voice than the voice assistant built into your phone.
Amazon and Google are the two big players here. I’ve compared them in a previous post, but if you don’t know what to get, I’d start with an Amazon Echo Dot. It’ll only cost you $50 and it’s a great way to try out a voice assistant.
Recommendation: Philips Hue White and Color Ambiance Starter Kit and Philips Hue Motion Sensor
Smart lights are pretty cool. My lights automatically come on when I get home after sunset. I have a motion sensor in my bedroom, so if I get up in the middle of the night the lamp in the corner turns on to a very dim reddish light that lets me see where I’m going without ruining my night vision. In the morning, my lights slowly fade on for 30 minutes with an orange glow that simulates the sunrise and helps me wake up more naturally.
You have several options for lights, but I’d recommend the Philips Hue White and Color Ambiance Starter Kit. These are smart bulbs which will screw into your existing fixtures and allow you to control the color and brightness of the lights either with the Philips app or through your voice assistant. You can get a white-only starter kit for less, but the color kit is probably worth the added expense for the sunrise simulation or just setting the bulbs to other colors for fun.
While you’re at it, pick up a Hue motion sensor. It’s great to be able to control your lights with your voice, but sometimes you just want the light to turn on automatically when you walk into a room. The motion sensor is great for that.
Recommendation: Belkin WeMo Mini Smart Plug
If you aren’t ready to invest in something like the Philips Hue, you might be interested in getting a smart outlet that can turn a lamp on or off. The outlet can only turn on and off, so you can’t do the dimming functions of the Hue lights, but it’s significantly cheaper. You can also use a smart outlet to control other plug-in devices, such as a coffee maker or oscillating fan.
Belkin has a great set of easy-to-use smart home devices in its WeMo line. The WeMo Mini Smart Plug is a great choice if you’re looking for a device to control a power outlet.
Recommendation: Ecobee (Gen 3)
One of my favorite parts of my personal smart home setup is my Nest thermostat. I love that I can ask Alexa to turn the temperature down in the rare times when my pre-programmed schedule isn’t keeping the house comfortable. If I’m at a friend’s house and about to head home, I can use an app to tell the AC to turn on. And I can look at historical usage data to figure out how my air conditioning usage is affecting my electric bill. I never want to go back to using a non-smart thermostat.
I’m actually going to recommend the Ecobee thermostat over the Nest for this guide. Both thermostats are great, but the Ecobee has the added benefit of letting you set up remote sensors in other rooms of the house. These sensors allow the Ecobee to cool or heat the house until the room you are in is at the right temperature. If you can find an Ecobee 3 for cheaper than the 4, feel free to get that–the only thing the 4 adds is an Alexa microphone built-in, and you would be better off putting the extra money toward another Echo Dot.
Home Entertainment Control
Recommendation: Logitech Harmony Hub
Interested in controlling your TV with your voice? You can turn on all of your home entertainment devices and configure everything when you want to watch a movie or listen to music. You can even tie in other smart home devices, so if you have Hue lights you can make the lights dim when it’s time to watch a movie.
A World of Options
The products I’ve listed in this guide are some of the things I’ve gotten the most use and enjoyment out of in my own home. While you can certainly spend a lot of money setting up a smart home, you can get a lot of benefit with just a few of the things I’ve talked about here. If I had to sum up all of my advice, I’d say: get an Echo Dot and either some Hue lights or a smart outlet, and start having fun.
When you’re ready to expand your setup, you’ll find that there are nearly limitless options to control all sorts of things in your house, from ceiling fans to door locks to coffee makers. I’m planning to write some future posts about more ambitious smart home setups, so keep an eye out for that if you’re looking to upgrade.
If you can’t tell, I love talking about this stuff and it’s something I spend a lot of time researching, so if you have any questions about what you should buy or how to set it up, get in touch so we can talk about it. You can find me on Twitter or by leaving a comment here or on social media.
Good luck making your home smart!