How to Upgrade Your Home Tech Without Spending a Bundle

Photo by Vinicius Amnx Amano (Unsplash)

A smart home — with lights that automatically turn on as you enter a room, remote locks, music piped into every room — used to be out of reach for the average homeowner.


"When you used to think about these systems, it was very much high-end," Mark Spates, a senior product manager for Nest and Google Home told the New York Times. "It was a luxury."

Not so anymore. Prices have come down, DIY installation is indeed doable, and if you're thinking of resale value, homebuyers expect it.

According to Coldwell Banker's smart-home survey, most potential homebuyers want some smart home technology. Seventy-seven percent want smart thermostats, 75 percent want smart smoke detectors, and 63 percent want smart locks.

All you need is a weekend and a couple of hundred dollars to bring your humble abode into the 21st century — and it won't cost a mint.

Smart Lighting

Wouldn't it be so much easier to be able to control your lights when you're away on vacation, rather than crossing your fingers and hoping for the best? Or, what about coming home late at night alone? With a touch of a button, you could walk into a house that's warm and welcoming.

There are two ways to add this functionality: with smart bulbs or smart dimmers. Smart bulbs like Philips Hue (from about $70 for a starter kit) and LIFX (from about $20 a bulb) are the easiest to install — just screw them into an existing socket — and offer dimming and optional color changes. Smart dimmers are a little more complicated and will require some simple electrical work. Lutron Caséta (about $100 for a starter kit) and Leviton Decora Smart (from $45 a switch) replace existing wall dimmers and switches.

Both smart bulbs and smart dimmers can be scheduled to turn lights on and off automatically, and they both have lighting-level presets. With a touch of a button, you'll can hit the sweet spot for cocktail hour or a sewing project.

Smart Thermostat

It seems like something the Jetsen's would have used. If used correctly, with remote control over wifi and smart scheduling, a smart thermostat can save you hundreds of dollars.

The Honeywell Lyric T5 smart thermostat ($130) is Consumer Report's pick that features an easy-to-use manual control and plenty of smart features like voice control and what's called "geofencing" — a feature that allows the thermostat to automatically adjust the temperature as you leave and return home.

Smart Sounds

Remember when multiroom audio that spilled fluidly from the kitchen to the living room out onto the pool deck seemed like the height of glamour? You don't need to win Powerball to live this sonic version of the high life.

Sonos makes speakers (from $149 each) that can be plugged into any electrical outlet. With wifi and an app, Sonos speakers can play the same music across all rooms or different music in different rooms, with independent volume controls for each.

"We use Sonos a lot, even at the super high-end," Michael K. Chen, an architect in New York, told the New York Times. "Anywhere you have power, you can have music, and I think that's great. Suddenly, there's no need for complex additional equipment to properly zone your apartment or house into different areas. It's just set up to do that well."

Smart Smoke Detector

If only I had the ability to lower my smoke detector's sensitivity when I'm roasting a chicken or when the broiler's on. With a smart smoke detector, I can silence an alarm with a tap rather than waving a tea towel like a white flag. Consumer Reports recommends the Nest Protect smoke and carbon monoxide detector ($100). It will send a text alert to your phone when it detects smoke or when the battery is running low — which will keep it from making that oh-so-annoying beeping sound when you're trying to get some much-needed shut-eye.

Smart Security

Your house will feel more like Fort Knox and less like a low-hanging fruit to the lazy burglar when you install smart locks. They're also a godsend for the forgetful type. Did I lock the front door? Now there's no need to double back on your journey or say a prayer. Just tap your phone and you're good.

Consumer Reports recommends the August Smart Lock Pro + Connect ($250) There's the auto-lock and unlock function when you leave and return home that you'd expect, but it can also make electronic keys for your weekend guests and housecleaner.

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