It seems like every day there is a new device on the market that can make your home smarter and more connected, but how do you sift through the garbage out there to know what’s worth your time? Turning your home into a smart home using connected devices and home automation products can quickly become addictive and costly, so if you know what your end goal is, you can make better decisions to save you time and money in the long run.
It starts with thermostats and lights, and quickly spirals into controlling your garage door and your tv with your voice. And that’ just the beginning. There are so many things you can do within your home today that can make it feel like you have your own personal ‘Jarvis’ at your command, but if you’re just looking to get started, what products should you consider, and how will they make your life easier. That’s what we’re here to discuss today. We want to show you 5 smart home products that you can add to your home right now that will improve your quality of live, without being overly complicated.
Our Favorite Smart Home Products
|Amazon Echo||Voice Assistant||$$|
|Amazon Echo Dot||Voice Assistant||$|
|Logitech Harmony Hub||Universal Remote||$$|
1. Ecobee3 Smart Thermostat / NEST Thermostat
There are two main players in the smart thermostat space at the moment, NEST (now owned by Google) and Ecobee3. Both thermostats have their strengths and weaknesses, but either one is a great choice for any smart home. We personally use the Ecobee3 in our home, but a lot of our friends and family use the NEST and it works just as well. The reason we prefer the Ecobee3 over the NEST is for one simple reason, remote sensors. The Ecobee3 allows for remote sensors to be placed in different rooms around the house to monitor temperature and motion. This allows the thermostat to know when people are in certain rooms so that the temperature can be adjusted accordingly. In addition to that, having remote sensors in multiple rooms can also allow for the home to be set at an average temperature throughout, instead of just one temperature at the point of the thermostat. Our thermostat is located slightly away from the general living space, in a room that not many people frequent. This caused the temperature in the bedrooms to fluctuate a great deal leaving 1 bedroom much warmer than the other in the winter. By using the multiple sensors and adjusting to an average temperature across the different rooms of the house, we were able to achieve a much more comfortable temperature throughout the main living areas. And because the thermostat is located in an area of the house that doesn’t get much foot traffic, we felt that the NEST wouldn’t pick up on our habits well enough to make it perform to its potential.
The NEST is also a great smart thermostat if you want to go that route. If you’re thermostat is located in an area where it can properly determine when you are home and away and can make the adjustments properly, then we highly recommend the NEST. Unlike the Ecobee3, which still requires programming (if you so choose), the NEST is a learning thermostat, meaning it doesn’t require you to setup schedules, it figures them out based on the movement it detects in your home. You can basically just set it up and never touch it again.
Both thermostats are priced similarly, and you can usually always find rebates through your gas or electric company, the only added costs would come with the Ecobee3 if you wanted more sensors.
2. Amazon Echo
We know that there are many different ‘voice control’ systems on the market today like Apple’s Siri or Google’s Home, but we still believe that the Amazon Echo is the best when it comes to smart home compatibility. There are thousands of skills created by 3rd parties that allow you to control all sorts of devices using your voice and the Amazon Echo, and more are added each day. The only downside to the Echo is that it doesn’t have the power of Google behind it so it’s not as good at answering general knowledge questions like the Google Home is. But the point of this article is to recommend the devices that integrate the best with a smart home, and we believe that the Amazon Echo is that product when it comes to voice commands.
Unlike the Google Home, which can only communicate with the NEST thermostat mentioned above, the Echo can communicate with both the NEST and the Ecobee3 flawlessly. It may seem like a novelty at first, but being able to just say “Alexa, set the home temperature to 72” when you want to change the temperature of the house, is extremely convenient and easy to setup. This was the first skill that I setup when I received my Echo and it gets used on a regular basis by myself and my wife. Even though the smart thermostats are supposed to make you as comfortable as possible, there are still times when you’ll catch a chill and want to adjust the temperature on your own.
Outside of controlling the thermostat, we have the Echo setup to turn our TV on and off, turn our lights on and off, and even control whole areas of the house. Outside of controlling smart devices, the Echo has basic features like being able to tell you what’s on your schedule for the day, setting stacked kitchen timers, and even playing music through Pandora, Spotify, or your own personal music library. If you’re looking to really jump into the smart home/home automation space, we highly recommend picking up an Amazon Echo to further enhance what you can do with the power of your voice.
3. Logitech Harmony Hub / Universal Remote
Every household these days should have a universal remote control for their TV/Entertainment center. There are just too many different remotes used to control too many different devices. Personally we had 1 remote for the TV, 1 remote for the soundbar, 1 controller for the Xbox One, and 1 remote for the blu-ray player. We managed to alleviate some of these remotes by getting rid of the blu-ray player and using the Xbox One to play movies, but I still wanted 1 remote to control everything, and the Harmony Universal Remotes have always been my goto for this.
Logitech Harmony makes a great line of consumer universal remotes that are easy to setup and extremely versatile in the devices that they can control. If you’re looking for basic functionality, you can go with one of the more basic Harmony Companion, which comes with the Harmony Hub and the extremely basic remote, or you can go all the way up the Harmony Pro, which has the hub plus a more advanced remote. Depending on which remote you go with will determine the variety of things you can control, but even the basic remote will allow you to sync up and control smart lights, switches and outlets if you so choose. It’s pretty amazing to be able to start the activity ‘Watch a Movie’ and have the TV change to the proper input, the blu-ray player turn on, and the lights dim down, all with one press of a button… but you know what’s even cooler? Combining the harmony hub with your Amazon Echo and just saying ‘Alexa, turn on a movie’, and having the activity trigger just as if you pressed the button on the remote.
4. Abode Security & Automation System
When we purchased our first home we thought long and hard about a security system. We made sure that the home we bought was in a safe neighborhood, but you never know what can happen. Growing up, my family never had security systems on our homes, we had dogs instead, so this was never something that I did much research on. My wife’s family has always had a security system and so she felt we should at least entertain the idea… even though we have a dog.
After looking at a variety of different home security offerings out there, a good friend of ours recommended that we look into Abode. The key features that we love about Abode are the fact that it doesn’t require a monthly fee in order to use it. Most security systems require a monthly fee for the 24/7 monitoring service that can call the police for you if an alarm is set off, but instead, Abode pings your cell phone and lets you know that the alarm is going off and lets you decide if you want to call the police or not. The best part is, if you are going out of town, or want 24/7 monitoring, you can purchase it as an option. You can pay monthly and have the monitoring all the time, or you can pay for periods of time like 3 days or 7 days, with no contract. You can also pay $10/mo if you want 3G cellular backup in case your internet goes down.
In addition to Abode being a home security system, it can also integrate with various smart home devices and IFTTT, to turn on lights when you get within range of your home, turn off lights when you leave, arm the security system when you leave, and much more. The system is also very modular, so if you want to add more cameras, window sensors, door sensors, alarms, keypads, or anything else, you can always purchase more devices online and add them to your system at any time. The self-installation process is simple, and you’ll be up and running in no time. So if you’re looking for a smart home security system, we highly recommend Abode.
5. Lutron Caseta Smart Lighting
The easiest smart device you can add to any home is lighting. There are plenty of smart bulbs out there that don’t require much setup and can easily be installed by simply screwing in a light bulb. These smart bulbs are perfect for a table/floor lamp or a desk lamp, but we prefer to use smart switches when it comes to overhead lighting in the home. Why spend the money buying a bunch of individual smart bulbs when you can buy a smart switch to control them all.
Lutron’s Caseta series of smart switches is a great addition to any smart home looking to get a little more out of their lighting. It works great with a ton of existing smart devices, and can even be controlled through the Logitech Harmony Hub or using your voice with the Amazon Echo. We prefer the Lutron products over some of the other devices out there just because of the sheer amount of compatibility with other products, and the quality of these products. These switches can get to be a little pricey depending on how many switches you play to replace, but in the long run, we love the fact that we can control our lights from anywhere and at any time. Having various activities setup to control the lights when we’re away or when we’re watching a movie, may seem like a novelty, but once you’ve experienced it, you’ll wonder how you functioned without it. We do recommend hiring an electrician to help you install these lighting solutions if possible.
And there you have it. Our 5 must have smart home devices if you’re looking to dive into the world of smart home/automation. If you’re skeptical about whether or not you want to make an investment in a smart home, try out some of the cheaper devices first and see how you like them. Not everyone takes advantage of this technology, nor does everyone like this sort of thing, but for those of us that do, it’s a great time to own a home… or a bad time if you ask my wife. Adding smart home devices can definitely become addicting, and very expensive, so just a fair warning, it is very addictive.
Did we miss a smart home device you can’t live without? Let us know in the comments. We love hearing about how people are utilizing various smart devices in their homes.