Home Automation on a Budget: Smart Tech That Won’t Break the Bank
Everyone these days is adding smart devices and automating many facets of their home. If you are just diving into the smart home world it may seem a bit overwhelming with so many brands and features and enormous price tags.
Don’t let the high price of some smart tech deter you from adding some smarts to your home. Yes, some brands like, Phillips Hue or Nest, do have cost a decent amount. But there are options out there that work just as well, and in some cases, better than the big name brand products.
Smart tech prices have been slowly coming down as more and more companies jump into the smart home devices ring. The industry is growing and will continue to grow, slowly bringing down the prices even more.
The products we will be talking abut today all work and work how they are supposed too. I am sure no one would call these the best on the market, or they probably wouldn’t be on this list, but the prices more than makes up for it.
Build slow, there is no rush. The technology industry moves fast but not so fast that you will miss it. Do your research! If you aren’t sure a product will work for you, then wait on it. Youtube and blogs are powerful resources. Leverage them.
If you are all about budget, like me, letting go of those hard earned dollars is tough. Smart home stuff is worth it though, trust me! Check out some of the budget friendly devices we like and use.
Hubs and Assistants
Amazon and Alexa are the two big voice assistants right now. Apple Homekit is a distant third at the moment, but being how fast technology can change and advance, that may not always be the case.
Your assistant of choice will be, in the simplest terms, the ears of the smart home. When you ask Google or Alexa to turn off your new smart bulbs, they hear you and pass it on to that bulb. Same with any of your other smart devices, as long as they are compatible and connected on the apps.
The Echo Show and Dot are also Zigbee hubs, meaning they can speak directly to devices that are Zigbee enabled. This cuts down on the strain on your wi-fi connection because these devices do not rely on the internet to communicate.
If you are team Alexa and aren’t willing to shell out for the Show or Plus, the Echo Dot is for you. At the time of writing, it was about $50, much easier to swallow than the $100 and $200 plus for the others,
If you are only planning on using the Echo Dot (or Google Mini), all of the smart devices you bring into your home will need to be wi-fi enabled and compatible with Alexa. Each device will be connected to the internet and with Alexa allowing you to control your smart home with your voice or remotely.
You may need more than one if you want voice control from multiple rooms. It’s not a requirement as one will get the job done, just something to think about.
Google Home Mini
If you are team Google, the Mini will be your huckleberry. Now Google does have some higher end models but they do not have a real built in hub like Alexa. So we won’t even bring them up because the price tag is a bit out of our budget.
Google Mini is powered by… drum roll… Google. This means that when you ask it a question, it will be much more likely to get an answer. ALexa sometimes struggles in this area.
Connecting the device to the Mini is the same process as with the Echo. You will log in to the device’s app, connect it to the internet and pull it into the Google app. One Mini will get the job done but having a few will make it a lot easier to control your smart home from any room.
SmartThings is a hub. This by no means is a requirement for a smart home but does help reduce the strain on your wi-fi and allows you to control all of your devices from one app.
If your internet is a little weak or you just don’t want the extra devices always connected to your wi-fi, you’re going to need a hub. SmartThings, at the moment, offers a wide variety of compatibility with a range of devices.
If you plan on going the hub route, make sure to plan ahead and check to see if the devices you plan on bringing home fit into the SmartThings ecosystem. Check out some of our favorite devices for SmartThings here. Just a warning, not all of these devices are ‘budget friendly’.
Smart bulbs are everywhere. If you are building a connected home, on a budget or not, you’re going to need at least a few smart bulbs. They last forever and also save you some money on your energy bills.
They come in white and multicolor, where you change the color of the light to just about anything you want. Check out some of our favorite smart bulbs here. Full disclosure, those are not all so budget friendly, but great products.
Here are some great budget smart bulbs that will get the job done and bring your lights to the connected future for less.
These bulbs are very bright, powered at 800 lumens. They are enough to fill a mid-sized room with a good amount of light. They barely emit any heat and can be touched with no problem after hours of use.
These bulbs do come with a hub, but it is pretty small and inconspicuous. Installation is also very simple. Plug your hub in and download the corresponding app. Scan your bulbs and rename them if you want.
You can also control the brightness of the bulbs. It ranges from 0-100%.
These are a great value for what they are. They are color changing bulbs that are compatible with Google and Alexa. It is vibrant with its colors and an overall bright bulb compared to similarly priced smart bulbs.
These bulbs come with a the Kasa app where they can be controlled or you can add them to your voice assistant app. They have a circadian mode that mimics the natural light patterns, which is pretty cool.
This is one of the lesser priced color smart bulbs. If you are just wanting to test the waters and want to drop a few bucks, check this bulb out. It boasts a color wheel of over 16 million unique colors because we all really need access to 16 million colors, right?
These bulbs are also dimmable. Have Alex dim the bulbs to 10% by just asking her. You can also dim the bulb from its companion app.
This smart bulb also does not require a hub. It will connect directly to your Wi-Fi and you will be able to control it remotely.
The best part, these bulbs cost less than $20 each!
Smart plugs are those little devices you plug your lamps or other light electronic devices into to make them smart. With smart plugs, you are able to control whatever you decide to plug into them from anywhere in the world.
I currently have some living room lamps and my sons’ television hooked up on smart plugs. The lamp is big and awkward and sometimes a pain to turn on so smart plugs were an easy choice.
My sons’ television is good to monitor his night time tv consumption. That kid will watch PJ Masks until 5 AM if we let him.
I control everything through Alexa and at the moment am taking advantage of the Amazon app if I don’t feel like asking Alexa to turn anything on or off for me.
Smart plugs are life and I think the easiest way to make some aspects of your home smart for pretty cheap.
I have a few of these around my house now and they work exactly as advertised. I am using Alexa at the moment and they are connected to my Alexa App. Of course, I can also turn the plugs on and off with my voice.
Installation was a breeze and linking it into Alexa was just as easy. These plugs also allow you to create scenes and schedules.
The Kasa app is also pretty user-friendly. It is robust and I will be looking for my Kasa products to play more with the scenes function in the app. Kasa is compatible with Google too, so there won’t be any issue there.
This is a six receptacle and 4 USB charging port smart strip. It’s great because each outlet is independent, meaning you can control each one on its own. It’s not an all on or all off deal here.
The USB port is all controlled with one switch though. But that’s ok, as you will most likely be using those for phone chargers, at least I would.
This is also compatible with both Alexa and Google.
Set up schedules and routines and add energy savings to many more devices and much easier than if you had a bunch of individual or double smart plugs. And it costs less than 30 bucks. Not to bad if you ask me.
I have one in the mail right now for my entertainment center electronics.
This plug is compatible with Alexa and Google Home for voice controlling. They are small enough to fit two in an outlet with no problem.
the iDevices plug also comes with s timer that allows you to turn off outlets after a set time or on a schedule.
Control it from anywhere in the world as long as you have internet connection. When it comes to smart plugs, this one is a pretty good deal. They cost less than 30 bucks and you get two of them! Not bad at all.
If you ever want to check in on your home while you are away, you will need some sort of security camera system. The problem with a lot of these cameras on the market now is the price.
Don’t think you are alone when you check the price tag on some of the cameras out and have a mini heart attack. We have all been there.
Worry not though, there are some good quality cameras out that you can buy right now and not lose any sleep over.
If you were looking to break into the smart camera space but don’t want to drop hundreds of dollars, the Wyze Cam is for you! These cameras retail right around 25 bucks, one of the best priced on the market.
You get the crystal clear 1080p as well as night vision. It also has a rolling 14-day cloud storage or you can add in an SD card for continuous recording. It will even listen for fire or carbon monoxide alarms and alert you if one goes off.
These cameras even have 2-way audio! Talk through the camera to whoever is on the other side or just say hi to your pups from work. I am all for that!
I recently met some developers from the company and they are very motivated to keep innovating and bring value to us, the customer. I am looking forward to see what they will be bringing to the table in the near future.
Wyze also has another cam, the Wyze Cam Pan, that will rotate to see more of your rooms. It is a pretty good deal too for what it adds to your home security needs, coming in at under 40 bucks.
The Yi camera is a solid choice for a smart camera addition. It has been compared to the Nest cameras and includes two-way audio.
It has a clean app that is easy to use and will send notifications when it senses movement. It will even recognize a crying baby if you are using it as a baby monitor and send you a notification.
You can take advantage of the Yi cloud storage or use an SD card of your own. The best part of the Yi smart camera is the price. These are full of great features and will cost you less than $30 a camera.
Smart doorbells are going to be a little pricey but not so bad that it hurts for weeks. Yes, there are a lot of brands out right now offering some models that are a bit less than the ones below, but you get what you pay for with those.
Video doorbells allow you to see who is at your front door through your phone or video enabled devices. They also allow for 2-way audio so you can talk to them from where ever.
Motion sensors will pick up and record anyone coming to your front door. This added layer of protection might even help thwart porch pirates, those terrible people who like swiping packages off of peoples doorsteps.
Video doorbells are a great way to add some smarts to your home. The problem with the doorbells is they are going to cost a bit more than everything on this list. The Ring doorbell will cost you about $100 bucks at the time of writing.
The best part of Ring products is they include lifetime theft protection. So even though you may be spending a few extra bucks, you won’t have to worry about your jealous neighbor running off with your new tech.
Ring is equipped with night vision and motion activation. See who is at your front door from your phone no matter where you are. It is also equipped with two-way audio so you can talk to whoever is at your door even if you are not home.
The Ring Video doorbell also comes in a battery powered and hardwired version. It is best to hard wire it in so you don’t have to change the batteries when they are running low but if battery powered is your only option, you’re still covered.
You can also check the video stream anytime with on-demand video. So if you are ever wondering whats going on outside your home, just pull up the app and check. Pretty convenient!
This doorbell functions as well as any other smart video doorbell. It offers a 140-degree view and 1080p full HD. It also has a pretty good warranty at 3 years and a 60-day return window. It is hard to beat that and if you find this camera is not for you, just send it back.
It also comes with an indoor chime/hub that also help strengthen the Wi-Fi connection. There is also a really cool feature that allows you to adjust the brightness of the camera. This really comes in handy when the sun is shining directly on the camera so you can actually see who is at the door.
The company also says they will have facial recognition in the near future. I am not sure if that would be a software update or not but something to consider when looking at the Zmodo Video Doorbell.
When motion is sensed, the Zmodo will record on 10-second intervals and store the clips for 36 hours on the cloud. They do have subscriptions available for more storage and offer discounts when you pay the year in advance.
Smart Light Switches
These are the switches that are usually hard wired in. These may not be an option for everyone but if you have the option, they are really great.
Most are compatible with Alexa or Google, or both, allowing for voice control. A lot will also come with dimming features as well.
Now, smart light switches will be relatively inexpensive for one but if you are looking to install multiple it will add up. You can usually find deals for packages so keep that in mind when looking to purchase.
If you are a renter, I am going to assume these won’t work for you but you can check out some of our favorite smart tech for apartments here.
There are switch covers that will work for renters, something I will cover below. They are very interesting and a solid option for those hoping to automate as much of their apartment as possible.
If you are able to install smart light switches, this is definitely one of the top budget contenders. You can control these switches from the app or with Alexa and Google Home.
Installation is straight forward but if you are not comfortable installing, always contact a professional.
This switch is also compatible with a lot of other devices. Ring, Nest SmartThings etc. This switch allows you to set routines or schedules and just ups the cool factor of your home.
With any add on style smart home device, the more you get the more its going to cost you. Remember to keep that in mind as these things are addictive.
This smart light switch is compatible with both Alexa and Google Home so you can control your lights with your voice assistant. It does not require a hub and has a sleek and efficient app that is very user friendly.
The app will even walk you through installation with step by step instructions making it that much easier. Again, if you need to bring in a professional, do it. Better safe than sorry.
The Kasa Smart Light Switch allows you to create schedules and routines, features you are going to find with most smart devices.
I am a huge fan of Kasa and have not used a product from them that wasn’t top quality. These have a great price as well, at under 30 bucks a piece making outfitting your home a lot easier on the wallet.
The Smartplex have the most unique design out of most of the budget switches we have come across. They just look cool. They even come with a lifetime warranty so rest assured knowing you will always be taken care of.
They are touch-enabled and is said to feel like glass. Aesthetically, it is very modern and can control multiple fixtures.
Smartplex is compatible with Alexa. Google Home and IFTTT. It does come with its own app as well.
Smart In-Wall Outlet Receptacles
These operate in the same way as a smart plug but they are the plug. Instead of using your existing outlet with a smart extension, you are instead making the whole outlets smart.
Now, these may not be an option for everyone as they will require some electrical work. Installation isn’t difficult and would require you shutting off the power to the outlet, matching some wires to the new smart outlet and screwing the new outlet back into the wall.
You will always want to follow the instructions that come with the new smart outlet and if you are uncomfortable working with the electrical outlets, reach out to a professional.
The prices for a single outlet will be lower but if you plan on updating your entire house, the expenses may add up. Be sure to plan in advance so you are not over extending yourself.
If smart outlets are not an option, smart plugs are your best bet for adding automation.
As I said above, I’m a big fan of Kasa products. The app is clean and easy to use and the products are quality made. The Kasa Smart Outlet is no exception.
This outlet does not require a hub and is compatible with Alexa, Google Home, Nest and IFTTT. These retail for about $40 and they boast an install time of about 15 minutes.
With most of the smart products on this list, this outlet comes with a lot of usable features like scheduling and routines. You can control it from anywhere through the app and take advantage of away mode if you plan on being away from home for a while.
This smart switch runs on Z wave and will require a hub. If you are using a SmartThings hub, you will be all set. Unfortunately, the Echo Plus or Show will not be sufficient as they are enabled with Zigbee.
The reason I added this one to the list is price. This smart plug is less than $30 and has great reviews. So even though it does require some extra pieces to work (the hub), if you plan on outfitting an entire house the costs even out and it still fits into the budget category.
This thermostat may not have all the bells and whistles as the higher end competitors like Nest or the Ecobee4, but it gets the jobs done. It comes with an app that you can control and monitor the temperature in your home.
If you set up geofencing with your phone it will know when you are home and away and adjust the temperatures accordingly. It is also compatible with Alexa and Apple Homekit for voice control.
You can usually find this for around $120 making it one of the most affordable smart thermostats on the market. Well, there are cheaper ones out there but after looking into them, they just are not worth it.
The Lyric T5 also has a pretty sleek design and a simple but responsive touch screen. All in all, a great addition to your smart home if simplicity and function are what you seek.
You can read a bit more about our favorite smart thermostats here.
Budget does not always mean better. We all want to get a good deal but beware of those products that may not be up to par. If you are not familiar with the brand name be sure to do your own due diligence.
Check Amazon to see the reviews. Run a quick Google search to see if anyone has reviewed the product. Be sure to look out for those sponsored videos that may be by the manufacturer.
The good thing with everything on this list is the fact that we researched the heck out of each of them. If we don’t own them we found people who do.
If we missed anything, or you want to share your thoughts on any of the devices above, drop us a line in the comments!