One of the biggest challenges that I've faced in building my smart home is trying to figure out all of the different smart home devices that are out there on the market and which ones I really should consider installing in my own smart home.
Let us be realistic here. There are so many companies in the smart home market making different devices that it's almost impossible for the everyday joe to just go out and know that he's getting the best devices. Because quite honestly that all depends on what their particular needs are.
I've been writing this blog for over a year now and I've seen prices on most smart home devices dropping. That's a good thing for consumers that have been long pondering if adding smart home devices could actually be a reality. Some smart home devices were so expensive a year ago that a lot of people wouldn't have even considered purchasing them.
Here I'm going to talk about the top 10 best smart home devices that you should consider if want to start setting up a smart home. I'll also show you what I personally use and standby.
1. Smart Home Hub
Every smart home needs a smart hub, a starting place, a brain. There are a lot of good smart home hubs out there. There's the Google Nest Hub or the Amazon Echo which allow you to ask them general questions and both have an insane amount of control using just your voice.
The Amazon Echo Dot, and the Google Home Mini, which are the formers little sisters and work on the exact same premise. The only difference is that they are smaller in size. There's also the Logitech Harmony Hub, which handles the control of your home entertainment devices and integrates really well in conjunction with any of the aforementioned smart home assistants.
However, my personal favorite is the Samsung SmartThings Hub. Basically, it is the best starting point for any new smart home in my opinion. It works really well as a central point of communication for all of your smart home devices and really isn't that expensive.
Samsung also has door and window sensors, motion sensors, arrival sensors, carbon monoxide sensors. Literally everything you can get with monitored home security and home automation solution.
Now you can do it on your own without another company's involvement. I used to work for a company that sold home security. That's not really a cheap way to do it and for 30 bucks a month I'd rather monitor it myself with my smartphone and my own smart home devices.
The cost of not starting out with the right stuff at the beginning will only confuse things. Unfortunately, you'll probably end up spending more money than you needed to down the road. So let us kick this thing off right by outfitting you with the right smart home devices.
2. Smart Home Locks
I have a good friend who is a locksmith. In fact, he's been a locksmith for the last 40 years. He knows more about security and lock brand names than anyone else I've ever met. He can flat out tell you if a lock sucks as soon as you tell him that brand name.
When I told him that I was going to pick up a smart lock that I wanted him to install, immediately he said: "Get a Schlage". So I did and personally, I love the Schlage smart home locks.
Out of all of the different smart locks that I have tried these seemed to be the easiest to install and use on a daily basis. They also come in a myriad of colors and designs as well.
There are a lot of companies that make smart locks, including August, Yale, Quickset and now even Samsung! Here again why I love the Samsung SmartThings Hub. Samsung is starting to add on more value to its smart home product line every day.
3. Smart Home Lighting
This is a topic that both myself and my wife were passionate about right from the get-go. But something that concerned us was the potential cost.
I mean, we just switched all the light bulbs in our house to LED's just a few years ago. So we were trying to justify the expense of switching out all of those bulbs and putting in new smart lighting.
Luckily you don't have to switch out the bulbs in most cases. You can just switch out your dimmers or switches or even outlets that they are plugged into.
Oh yeah, that's another thing that Samsung SmartThings has. Smart outlets that you just plug into your existing dumb outlets to make them smart.
However, there are options to switch out your bulbs and make your lighting situation very intuitive. For example, you can use the kits from Philips Hue. They have both regular white bulb kits and also color ambiance lighting kits to get you started.
Heck, they even have LED lighting stips that you can put behind your TV or entertainment center to make it look really cool at night.
One other item that I have found which works really well with the Echo is the Element Classic Lightbulbs by Sengled. The best part is they are roughly $10 a piece! Which is approximately how much you would spend on most higher-end LED light bulbs, to begin with.
If I were preparing to switch out my lightbulbs for LED's, these are what I would go with. It gives you the capability to go smart anytime you want even if you aren't totally ready yet.
4. Smart Home Thermostats
I live in a tourist town and if I've heard it once I've heard it a thousand times. "I want a smart thermostat since I can't be there all the time." While this is typical, the next question I get is, which one do you recommend?
Well, that's not an easy question to answer. Everyone's needs are a little different. There are a lot of things that need to be taken into consideration if you are planning on doing this yourself.
- Do I always have my mobile phone with me?
- Do I typically forget things that need to be done?
- How many thermostats will I actually need?
- Do your existing thermostats have a C-wire?
- What is a C-wire?
These are a few considerations for you to ponder before buying a smart home thermostat. For our household, it was a combination of all three, although we do almost always have our phones with us.
We have 4 thermostats and a zoned heating system, so right off the bat, I knew it was going to be a bit of a pricey endeavor. I started looking to find out if there was a cheaper way to take on this project for my 2700 square foot house. The answer became clear. No, there really isn't.
In the end, we bought four Ecobee3 lite smart home thermostats. The price point was great comparatively and we have been very happy with them. But the road wasn't paved with roses and there were a few hiccups in setting them up.
We didn't realize that we needed to have a c-wire for almost every single smart home thermostat that is on the market. They were even labeled in the store where we bought them "doesn't require a c-wire".
So I felt that was a little misleading. You can read more about this in my article titled How To Install an Ecobee Thermostat with No C-wire.
5. Smart Flood Sensors and Leak Detectors
This is something that people would ask me about all the time when I worked for the cable company. It's actually something that we didn't offer at the time. But water in your basement is a huge concern. Especially if it is a second home or a vacation home and you aren't there to see the water all over the floor when it happens.
When the pipes freeze and bust it's a mess (another reason to get a smart home thermostat). But it's way worse if you didn't know that it happened. So I generally recommend that you look into a couple of different options for water sensors.
Samsung SmartThings makes a great WI-Fi sensor that you can add right into your system. However, there are other good options. D-link makes an excellent option for you as well with their D-Link DCH-S160 wi-fi water sensor.
The newest thing that I have seen is the leak prevention systems from Guardian. They actually shut off the main water valve in your house automatically if a leak is detected.
6. Smart Vacuum's
People tend to chuckle to themselves when they find out that I have a Roomba in my house. When I ask them why they laugh. It's mostly because they wonder if they really work.
If you've never seen one in action it is quite amazing to watch. These little vacuum cleaners are so intuitive and honestly, it was the first smart home item I ever owned. I have mine set up to run on a schedule nightly.
When I bought mine they only had a few models. However, as with everything smart-home-related, they have changed for the better over the years. Now you can completely integrate it right into your smart home infrastructure via the app.
These connected robot vacuums give you the flexibility of any time, anywhere control of how and when you clean. Through IFTTT You can set up applets to trigger your Roomba robot vacuum to start when you leave your house, pause cleaning when you answer the phone.
It can even fire off a text or a tweet when your cleaning is all done. These are a must-have. It literally changed the way we live, because we don't have to spend all that time sweeping the floor on a daily basis. Plus I get to watch the cats trying to figure out how to ride it. Just get one and thank me later. You can find the current price and reviews over here on Amazon.
7. Smart Shades
I live in a home with a lot of windows. We love to have the extra light, especially because the house we lived in before was so dark all the time.
However, in the winter, sometimes we want to keep a little extra heat in the house at night, so we end up closing the blinds. Well, when you have a house filled with windows that can take a while.
That is why we implemented smart shades. Of course, everyone has their own reasoning for wanting smart shades. But we tend to be more on the practical side when buying smart home products.
You can check out my full article on how to make your old dumb shades smart while your here if you are interested in reading further on the topic.
8. Smart Security Cameras
I'm a big home security freak. Not just from the point of ensuring that my family is safe. I think it's really the geekiness factor that has me spending so much time and money on this topic.
There's always something newer, better, or just plain cooler than what was out last week. Smart home devices, in general, are changing drastically every month it seems. But smart home security cameras are changing by leaps and bounds.
My personal recommendation for smart home cameras has changed slightly. I'm still a huge fan of the Blink smart security cameras. The only problem (for me) is that they don't integrate with Samsung SmartThings. So for that reason, Arlo Pro smart security cameras are taking the top spot here.
They are equally as weatherproof, the battery life is just as good and the quality is maybe even slightly better now. The only downside to the Arlo Pro cameras is that they are slightly more expensive. But as I mentioned earlier the price on a lot of smart home devices is coming down over the course of the last year or two.
9. Amazon Fire TV or Firestick
You must have known this was coming after the aforementioned items. We have 3 Amazon Firesticks and 1 Amazon Fire TV in my household. We use them all the time. My wife's grandparents have one and love how easy it is to use.
There's really not a whole lot of buttons on these things to get you all confused. The price point is right on board with what most people are willing to spend to make their dumb TV smart. Having Alexa built right in gives them even more benefit in a smart home. For example, as you can see in the video below, you can even link your smart home security cameras to show feeds right from your fire tv or firestick device.
10. Mesh Your Network
Are you still using the cable companies modem and/or router?
Stop that! Stop it right now!
First of all, you will save yourself the monthly modem fee and possibly a separate fee that they are charging you for the use of their wireless. The cable company won't charge you anything if you are using your own equipment.
Secondly, if you are planning on having any kind of smart home. You will want to buy a router that can handle all of that information flying around on your network. A smart home needs a smart router.
The fact of the matter is that smart home products are changing and evolving all of the time. I challenge you to stick with it. It is a great hobby to have and makes your life better at the same time.
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