Here’s How You Build a Smart Home the Smart Way

updated May 3, 2019
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(Image credit: Anna Spaller)

You dream of having a smart home the way others dream of having a closet full of designer shoes. The only problem? You’re on a budget, and smart home solutions are way beyond your means…

Or are they?

It’s true that just like designer shoes, many smart home devices and systems come with a high price tag. Truth: High-end connected appliances and kits costing thousands of dollars are nice, but they aren’t essential to creating a smart home experience. In fact, there are plenty of affordable solutions you can use to automate your home and make your life more convenient.

Check out our step-by-step guide to help you go smart without going broke.

Nest Learning Thermostat (Image credit: Carley Knobloch)

Step One: Start with a problem.

Smart home technology can be the remedy to many a home headache, but if you buy devices for your home because you’re wooed by a slick advertisement or a friends tricked-out house, you’re less likely to feel like you got your money’s worth. A better strategy is to start with a problem—say, wanting to lock your front door remotely or keeping an eye on the family dog when you’re away—and use your first device to solve for that problem. Once you’ve learned to use it and have success with it, you can add more to your smart home system. Which brings me to my next point…

Amazon Echo Spot (Image credit: Taryn Williford)

Step Two: Build over time.

Envisioning your home with all systems, appliances and devices connected through a single hub—and how much that would cost—can be overwhelming. It’s easier than ever to start with one high-value product and add compatible products over time. For example, if lowering your family’s energy costs is one of your top priorities, starting with a smart thermostat like Nest’s Learning Thermostat, which allows you to control (and reduce) your home’s heating and cooling systems from anywhere (perfect when we’re traveling or even just away during the day).

From there, you can find other problems to solve, one at a time, and purchase compatible products to solve them. The Works With Nest collection includes everything from locks to light bulbs, and they all work together to make your home smarter over time. Solving small “problems” with smart devices one by one will stop you from spending too much, too quickly.

Some good jumping off points:

August Smart Lock Pro + Connect (Image credit: August)

Safety and security

Smart door locks, window shades, smoke detectors, alarm systems, internal and external cameras and leak or movement sensors can give you valuable peace of mind when you’re away from home.

Google Home (Image credit: Carley Knobloch)


Upgrade your entryway with a smart doorbell in-home intercom system. You’ll get alerts when visitors or packages arrive, as you’ll be able to communicate with anyone, anywhere in the house.

NOON Home Smart Lighting Kit (Image credit: Christopher Broe)

Lighting and switches

Smart light bulbs, switches and outlets provide convenience and safety, allowing you to operate them remotely. No more running around flipping switches when you leave the house—one tap turns them all off.

Haiku Home Smart Fan (Image credit: Amazon)

Energy efficiency

Smart thermostats, window shades and smart fans can help you monitor energy usage and cut down on your energy bills.

Sonos Beam (Image credit: Sonos)

Audio and video

Stop fiddling around with multiple remotes and applications and upgrade your TV-watching experience with a smart TV and speakers.

Step Three: Do your research.

Just because you’re on a budget doesn’t mean you should be buying the cheapest devices available—this is your home we’re talking about! Instead, as you’d do with any big purchase, do some research to get a rough idea of the typical costs and determine if there may be comparable products that are more reasonably priced but still high quality. Remember: Any smart home device you purchase should be from a trusted brand—one that’s investing in security and frequently updating their devices—and has the potential to be compatible with future smart home purchases.

Wink Hub 2 (Image credit: Wink Hub 2)

Step Four: Bring it all together.

Once you have a few devices up and running, you’ll want to invest in a hub—a singular device that integrates multiple smart devices in your home under a single application. It’s like a central brain for all the smart devices in your house, so they can all work together and provide a more elegant user experience for you.

Using a hub means you can now create “scenes” that use multiple devices. Let’s say you aren’t a morning person: You can program your hub to turn on the lights, raise your blinds, turn on NPR, and start the coffee maker—all triggered like magic when your alarm goes off. Or when you say “Alexa, bedtime,” your downstairs lights go off, the stair and bedroom lights go on, and the temperature drops to cool off the room. Pretty cool, right?

You’ll want to make sure you get a hub that’s compatible with the devices you already own, but here are some smart buys to look into:

It’s easy to put a smart home together on if you start small and build over time, thanks to lots of affordable pieces that offer great value right out of the box, and allow you to build over time.

Sound like a plan? Let me know in the comments!

Edited from a post published 6.29.2017—TW