IT executive Matt Klaus has what one might call a smart apartment (a-smart-ment?). In the past two years, Klaus has installed a smart thermostat system to control the temperature in each room, a wireless sound system that’s connected to the internet, and security cameras whose footage can be viewed through an app on a smartphone.
Klaus, 32, used to live with a roommate in the three-bedroom, bi-level condo he owns in Bloomingdale, but now rents out all three rooms.
He estimates he spent about $1,000 to make his unit wireless (labor was free because he installed it himself), most of which was the cost of the Denon stereo receiver (about $700).
“All of it was definitely worth the investment,” Klaus says.
Coldwell Banker Real Estate and CNET define a smart home as having network-connected products that control things like temperature, lighting, safety or entertainment, and can be controlled remotely. Often the products — appliances, thermostats, locks, fire alarms and even light bulbs — are connected via Wi-Fi and controlled with a smartphone.
Renters can make their apartments smarter, too — often without in-wall wiring or expensive installation. Here’s how to get started.
Utilities and appliances
Klaus uses an Ecobee smart thermostat system ($249) with sensors that measure the temperature in different rooms and can tell if someone enters or leaves a room.
“The builder didn’t put in a multi-zone heating and cooling system,” Klaus says. “This was our cheaper solution.”
Nest also makes a smart thermostat system ($249) that learns from your habits and heats and cools according to your schedule to save money.
To control appliances and electronics remotely, Wemo smart plugs ($35) are an inexpensive option. These plug into regular outlets and connect appliances and electronic devices to Wi-Fi, allowing any device with an on/off switch to be controlled through an app. The company’s Insight Switch ($50) also tracks energy usage.
Wemo also works with Amazon Echo, a voice-activated speaker, allowing devices in smart plugs to be turned on with your voice.
“Everyone when they first use it has a slightly tickled, dazzled smile on their face,” says Peter Taylor, VP of products for Wemo.
Safety and security
Smart security systems are also popular and easily adapted to apartments. The Canary system ($199) sends alerts and recorded video to your phone when it detects movement when you’re not home. You can then have the system sound an alarm or alert the local police. Canary can also send alerts when temperatures change drastically or the air quality changes.
Renters have used the system to record burglaries, find gas leaks and catch pet sitters who are slacking off, says John Carter, head of communications at Canary.
Others just use it to watch their pets when they’re at work. “Our Instagram is almost entirely pet videos,” he says.
Nest also offers a “smart” take on traditional smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.
“That’s one technology that’s so old and so outdated,” says Mehul Nariyawala, product manager for Nest.
Nest Protect ($99) has a voice alarm that offers a distinction between a “heads-up” warning about smoke in the kitchen and an “emergency” warning about heavy smoke in a distant room. The alarm also can be silenced from a smartphone.
Smart locks, like the August Smart Lock, allow doors to be opened via a smartphone, but require some hardware changes that may not be an option for most renters. But if security is an issue, it may be worth discussing with your landlord.
Klaus’ built-in speakers allow his renters to play internet radio or music from their iPhones throughout the living area.
“If friends come over and they have a better playlist, they don’t have to do anything special but connect to our Wi-Fi and then AirPlay directly to the sound system,” he says.
For renters looking for a more budget-friendly and portable solution, smart light bulb maker Sengled has light bulbs with Bluetooth speakers ($60-$150). The bulb’s brightness and volume are both controlled via a smartphone app.
“With the smart bulb, all I need is a socket,” says Alex Ruan, general manager at Sengled. Then, when renters move out, their smart gadgets go with them.
“Renters want to put as little money into the apartment [as they can] and get the most out of it,” Ruan says.
Some apartment buildings are starting to provide built-in smart home technology for residents. WC Smith is reportedly installing smart locks at various properties, and the Meridian at Mount Vernon Triangle (425 L St. NW, 202-204-9416) has Nest smart thermostats in select units. IOTAS (iotashome.com) partners with property developers to install and set up apartments with smart outlets, switches and sensors before renters move in. IOTAS is in talks with D.C. developers to build new smart apartment buildings and renovate existing buildings to become smart apartments, hopefully beginning in 2017. “Most millennials aren’t in single-family homes — they’re renting,” says Sce Pike, CEO of IOTAS. “They don’t want to own things, just have access to them.”