Creating Your Smart Home on a Budget – Essential Kits

So … you are at work and cannot remember if you locked your front door when you left for work. You wish you could somehow remotely lock it or least check to see if it is indeed locked. Or, you want to turn the heat up in the house as the temperature has suddenly dropped, so it is nice and cozy when you get home. But, your house is far away and you have no remote access to it – well not today, that is all changing!

Smart Home

More and more of our devices and services are becoming totally inter-connected.  You want a smart home but don’t have the funds to buy the premier kits. Well, there are many options for budget-friendly smart home devices currently on the market. While they may not have the most features, or look the most stylish on your wall compared to some of the more expensive kits, they can certainly meet your needs.

3 Easy Steps to Smarten Up Your Home on a Budget

Here’s how to turn your home into a smart home on a budget.

First Step:  What problem do you need to solve?

The allure of having one touch control of your entire house is very compelling. However, there are many reasons to have a smart home fully configured for remote access. Some being security, appliance management, or environmental controls.


First, you need to decide what you really need. Do you need to see when the kids get home from school?  Check up on the dog?  Answer the doorbell to prevent break-ins, or turn down the furnace?

Step Two: Build what you need, not what you think you want

(or what the salesman says you need!)

The idea is to build your smart home over time, as your needs arise. By procuring an extensible system, you can build economically and at a pace that suits your budget. By solving small, essential problems, you prevent yourself from spending too much money on an expansive system that may be over-kill.

Take a good look at your home and what is in it. Look at the locations where you can place cameras or smart locks and create a basic plan. 

Step Three: Research, research, research!

Simply because you’re on a budget doesn’t mean you need to buy the cheapest devices on the market — this is your home and you know what will work best for you! Instead, approach this as you would any big purchase, do research and get an idea of the common costs and determine if there are comparable products more reasonably priced but still have the features and functions you seek.


Another important aspect of feature research is compatibility. The smart home market is crowded with different manufacturers offering different types of smart home devices. You will immediately see how quickly you will end of with a long list of apps; for smart lock, surveillance, thermostat, lighting, sound system, switching, security and more.

Apple, Google and Amazon have each come up with a solution to bring all these devices together, to control them using their flavour of voice activated assistant; Apple HomeKit with Siri, Google Home and Assistant and Amazon Echo with Alexa. Choosing the right smart home solution meant you can control them all in one place.

Another technology that brings different devices together is Z-Wave. Z-Wave devices require a Z-Wave hub to interface with the home router and connects to the Internet. You can then use one app to control them via the Z-Wave hub Samsung’s SmartThings and Wink Hub are Z-Wave compatible.

Remember: Any device you purchase should be a trusted brand, with support and a warranty — one that’s investing in future enhancements and who frequently update their devices — as well, are their devices compatible with other smart home technologies.

Budget Smart Home Gadgets – What is Out There?

Check out your options online using the links below where.

Security

A great way to start building your smart home is to start with a smart lock. Rather than depending on keys which can be easily lost or misplaced, you can lock and unlock your door with an iOS or Android device. The Lockitron Bolt is a great way to get started.

Lockitron

Retailing for $100 USD, the Bolt uses Bluetooth to connect to a smartphone or tablet. Using the free App, you can easily provide access to family members and friends. Even better, you will receive notifications each time the door is locked or unlocked, allowing you full control of your home security.

Lockitron App

The ‘Lockitron Sense’ feature will automatically unlock when you’ve returned home and within the range you configured, from the lock. Another great feature is the ‘Tap to Unlock’ feature which will notify your phone when you are home. Simply tap the screen three times and the door will immediately unlock.

If you want to step up your Bolt to the next level, a $79 USD ‘Bridge’ will bring Wi-Fi compatibility full control from any location with a wireless signal.

OTHER SMART LOCK OPTIONS

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Additionally, a smart surveillance camera is a great way to see what’s happening in and around your house from anywhere in the world. There are now smart and connected door bells with cameras built-in.

A low cost IP camera option is the Wansview Home Camera can send 720p video to your Android or iOS device via Wansview app and compatible browsers.

Wansview Home Camera

It has 24 IR LEDs, and can even capture fottage up to 20 feet away. It has a 120-degree viewing angle, and the microphone and speaker will allow you to talk to anyone in or around the house.

Now, the camera doesn’t have all of the fancy bells and whistles like many other devices, it is a great way to get started on securing your burgeoning smart home.

OTHER SURVEILLANCE CAMERA OPTIONS

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Environmental

Using a smart thermostat is, very smart. Most models will help you save energy, lower your electricity bill, and maybe even improve your health. A great affordable choice is the Sensi.

The Sensi Smart Thermostat is compatible with any Echo device — including the Dot mentioned later in this article — this $99 USD unit is designed to operate with most HVAC systems. You will need to remove your old thermostat and install the new one, then configure. If you are not comfortable doing this, you can hire someone or get a handy friend to assist. It does come with comprehensive instructions to help you install it easily.

Once the Sensi Wi-Fi thermostat is installed and operational, the App offers numerous ways to manage your home’s environmental comfort. One feature is geofencing, permitting the thermostat to use your smartphone’s location to ensure it’s maintaining the comfort levels you prefer.

You can set up a weekly schedule to allow you to configure the HVAC to keep your home comfortable and running economically.

SMART THERMOSTAT OPTIONS

Lighting

There are numerous options for smart lighting, which will allow you to save money on your electric bills and be more eco-friendly. Each Smart WiFi LED Bulb in this multi-pack from TP-Link averages out to just under $20 per bulb, which is just a bit more than you’d spend on a regular LED option.

TP-Link Smart Light

The bulbs last up to 14 years with standard use and provided a soft white light of 600 lumens. Each bulb can be accessed using Amazon Alexa or the Google Assistant.

Through the iOS or Android app, you can dim each bulb (even without a hardware dimmer!). A great feature is the ‘sunset on/sunrise off” option that will automatically adjust to the changing seasons. Imagine, you can also monitor how much energy each bulb is using!

SMART LIGHTING OPTIONS

Smart Plugs

To make any device smart home ready, using a smart plug can be a fast and easy wat to get started as well. As an Alexa-compatible device, the Etekcity plug turns any outlet into a smart device.

Smart Plug

Imagine using a voice command to Alexa or the VeSync app ( iOS and Android), you can control the outlet (and thus whatever is plugged into it).

Just like most smart home devices, you can configure a schedule that will control the devices connected to the plug. The App will also track how much power is being consumed.

A wonderful feature to note: In the event of a power outage, each plug will retain its most recently used settings.

SMART PLUG OPTIONS


Smart Home Hub and Kits

If you want to have a more complete installation with extensive expansion options, installing a base kits may be the right choice for you. These hubs work with a wide range smart home brands allowing you to control them all from one app, for better control and more efficient working.

Smart Home Hub and Kit

Options for home automation hubs like Wink Hub 2 and Samsung SmartThings work with devices that utilise Z-Wave, ZigBee, Lutron Clear Connect, Kidde, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi, including loads of devices in the smart home venue. Wink Hub 2 is considered one of the most reliable, widely supported hub on the market.

Once you start to build your smart home, you will immediately see the benefits of the convenience, safety and ease of use. Most devices can be accessed via an App, usually free, from the App Store or Google Play. Managing your home environmentals, security, and lighting as a start will allow you to expand your smart home plan to include your home entertainment devices and more.

It is important to note that many of the major home security companies, like ADT are partnering with smart home technology manufacturers to provide more robust solutions.  Additionally, access to your devices now referred to the ‘Internet of Things’, will be through your Social Media accounts.  While this is still in it’s infancy, it will be readily available sooner than later.

SMART HUB AND KIT OPTIONS

Instead of just getting the hub, you can also consider these starter bundles which includes lighting, environment monitor, security and more. Often, you will find that these start bundles are cheaper compared to buying the components individually.

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Voice Control

With voice activated assistants going mainstream; Siri, Alexa, Google Assistant and Cortana are here to not only help with simple questions, check your schedule and notifications but to control you smart devices too. Working with smart home device manufacturers, these platforms are letting you control

Amazon Echo and Alexa

The original Echo is a Bluetooth speaker powered by Amazon’s handy voice assistant, Alexa. Alexa works with many smart home devices directly, as well as ‘If This Then That’ (IFTTT) technology to control many “recipes” you can configure yourself.

Echo

 

Needless to say, the more devices you choose to add will require some configuration.  Once done, Alexa will control most of the devices in your home just by the sound of your voice!

It’s great to have your home systems and devices connected under a single managed solution. It’s even better to be able to use voice commands to do things like preheat the oven or turn off the lights at the end of the day.

Apple HomeKit and Siri

Apple HomeKit uses existing Apple devices such as the Apple Watch, iPhone, iPad and Speak to access Siri to connect and interface with Smart Home gadgets that supports Apple HomeKit. Use the pre-installed Home app to control supported devices such as smart lock, lighting, smart plug, speakers, security, monitoring and more (see HomeKit enabled accessories by category).

Apple Homekit Hub - HomePod, iPad or Apple TV

To control your devices remotely, you will need the Apple TV or HomePod. You can then set room temperature, change lighting scenes, play songs and more simply by issuing voice commands to Siri. On top of that the Home app lets you group devices by room for ease of access as you grow your Smart Home domain and create Scenes which enable multiple accessories to work together like a recipe on IFTTT, pre-programmed with a single command like “Good Morning”, “I am Home” and “Good Night”.

Apple HomeKit App

You can then take these scenes further putting them on autopilot with further conditions like time, location, action and occupancy. All you need to do to take advantage of the Home app as a control hub is to make sure that the devices you purchase are Apple HomeKit Enabled.

Google Home and Google Assistant

Like Amazon Echo, Google Home is a speaker and hands-free voice activated assistant known simply as Google Assistant. It is considered a relative new comer in the voice activated services but with Google’s software prowess and links we are bound to see great things coming soon. The list of Google Home partners for smart home entries include nest, Philips Hue, TP-Link, Wemo, Samsung SmartThings, HIVE, LIFX, Lightwave RF, Wiz, Netatmo and tado.

Google has also recently launched Google Home Mini, Google’s answer to Amazon Echo Dot, a smaller version of Google Home.

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You can follow some of the smart home enthusiasts and manufacturers on social media: check out Arlo Smart Home on Facebook, Control4 Smart Home on Instagram, Your Smart Home on LinkedIn and Create Your Smart Home on Pinterest, where people are building their smart home share ideas, technologies and experiences in an open forum.

Edited by Samuel Tan