Smart Home technology has exploded in recent years, and it’s been a challenge to keep up with what’s available, what’s compatible, and what’s getting positive reviews. It has also been a really exciting time for those of us with small homes (and budgets), since DIY smart home technology is affordable, easy to install, and often ideal for small spaces (even if you don’t own yours).
Not every product works with every other product which can become a headache, but a handful of systems are emerging as easy, approachable options to make your small home into a "Smart-partment": Pick a system, add some compatible products, and you're good to go. I’ve highlighted a few of those systems below so you can get started with confidence.
Start with a Nest Thermostat...
Nest's Learning Thermostat has been elevated to rock star status in the smart home world, with its dashing Apple-inspired good looks and its killer energy-saving features. Installing one means you can control your home’s HVAC from anywhere, and the thermostat will start to learn your habits (like when you leave for work, and when you come home) so you’re not heating or cooling the house when you’re away. Nest makes Protect, its smoke detector, as well as Nest Cam monitoring cameras, but it has also created a network of “Works With Nest” products: Popular items like smart lightbulbs, locks, security systems and appliances that connect to your thermostat easily and help build your smart system with ease. To build a system around Nest, I’d add:
- LIFX bulbs: These smart lightbulbs can be programmed to illuminate anytime and in any color you choose. When your thermostat senses that you’re out, your bulbs will automatically switch on, making it look like your place is occupied. (LIFX can also be set to lower your lights when you’re away, saving electricity costs.) A good place to start with smart lightbulbs is in your central living areas (the family room, dining room and kitchen), but you can start anywhere and add bulbs as you go.
- SimpliSafe: This alarm system works similarly to hardwired systems, but it’s wireless (no drilling and wiring) and you can install it yourself. Every time you leave the house and arm the system, it will cue Nest (and your lights) to go into “Away” mode.
- Skybell Doorbell: This doorbell allows you to see video of whose at your door on your smartphone and converse with them, even if you’re not home. The Skybell will work in tandem with your Nest Cams to send you alerts and start video surveillance if it detects motion around your house.
Start with an Amazon Echo...
Echo (or, as she likes to be called, “Alexa,”) is Amazon’s voice command service. Talk to the Echo, a tower-like Bluetooth-enabled speaker, and she’ll stream music from Spotify, Pandora, or your Prime collection. You can also ask her to help you around the house by setting timers, reading the news headlines… and even controlling your smart devices. Alexa's always-listening presence and her far-field voice recognition means you can talk to her from wherever you are, but adding her to another room is easy with Echo Dot, which does what Echo does, minus the Bluetooth speaker. To build a smart home using Echo and compatible products, add:
- Samsung SmartThings outlets: Plug your TV, lamp or any other small appliance into one of these outlets, then control it and monitor it’s status from anywhere. When it’s time to call it a night, you can tell Alexa to “Turn off the TV.”
- Lutron Caseta Light Switches: Keep your bulbs and swap your switches with these smart options from Lutron, then control your lights from anywhere with the Lutron app, or just ask Alexa to turn them on and off for you.
- Anymote: Anymote turns your iPhone, Android, and even Alexa into a sophisticated remote control, not just for your television, but for other smart devices in your home. Ask Alexa to turn off your TV, or tell Anymote to tune the TV to CNN.
Start with an Apple HomeKit...
iOS users rejoice: The long-anticipated HomeKit has finally arrived, and Siri can now control your lights, doors and appliances. HomeKit isn’t really a thing to buy, it’s on any Apple device running iOS9. You then purchase compatible smart products, and HomeKit connects them to each other and lets you operate them in-app, or with voice commands using ‘Siri'. You can also create “scenes” that make them work in concert— Example: Tell Siri, “I’m leaving Home,” and it will turn off the lights, lower the thermostat, and lock the doors. For a smart and savvy home run by Apple, I’d add:
- Honeywell Lyric Thermostat: The second generation Lyric is HomeKit enabled, and can even be controlled from your Apple Watch. It’s geofencing technology knows when you’re approaching the house, so it can get your optimal temperature ready. It also takes into account the temperature and humidity outside, so 72-degrees really feels like 72-degrees. Plus it’s round, polished glass design is a stunner.
- August Smart Lock: This lock is great for Apartment-dwellers who aren’t allowed to replace their hardware because you simply slip it on to the interior of your lock and BOOM— your old lock is smart. Lock and unlock your door remotely, create “virtual keys” for family and friends who need temporary access, and see a log of all activity— who entered and when— on the August app. Plus, I love the idea of walking up to my door with arms full of packages and being able to get a virtual hand from Siri.
- Eve Door and Window: Beautifully designed wireless sensors that install in minutes, then connect to an app so you can get alerts when doors or windows are opened. Their long-lasting, replaceable batteries make them virtually maintenance free, and a great security option if you don’t own the home you’re in.
Smart Homes, meet your compact rival. The Smart-partment!
Is there a smart system that you love? Tell me about it in the comments!