Here are a few simple ways to get started without breaking the bank:
• Find a home automation hub. Perhaps the most important piece to start your smart home journey is to decide on a home automation hub.
Home automation hubs act like personal assistants. Think of this as mission control for the variety of products you may want to use. These products are easy to install; all you need to set up a virtual personal assistant is a WiFi network and your preferred product.
These devices, such as Amazon Echo or Google Home, are popping up more and more on the market, which is great for consumers, as it will continue to drive prices down and increase innovation in the technology.
For example, you might use your home assistant to play your favorite artist through the speaker, adjust the temperature to your liking, turn lights on and off, or ask for the weather. Regardless, your home automation hub is a cheap way to connect your lifestyle to your home.
Recommendations: Amazon Echo ($180) or Google Home ($130). (Jeffrey P. Bezos owns Amazon.com and The Washington Post.)
Difficulty to install: Easy
• Forget old-school light bulbs. Imagine transitioning the mood lighting at home from bright lights during the day to soft in the evening, and to different colors during a party. All of these are offered from the most basic smart lighting packages.
One of the focal points to smart home technologies focuses on lighting. The most apparent visually, smart lights take advantage of longer-lasting LEDs as well as wireless technologies to turn lights on and off (though you can still use the old-fashioned light switch). Smart lights are great because you don’t need to upgrade your space. These lights screw into existing fixtures and can be operated via your phone, laptop or home-automation hub.
Though expensive, most bulbs last for years, if not decades. With a range of colors in each bulb, smart lights are likely going to start popping up in many new listings as a feature that comes with the home.
Recommendations: Philips Hue Starter Kit (3 bulbs and bridge, $199)
Difficulty to install: Easy
• Heat and cool your home smarter. Most people immediately think of their thermostat first when it comes to smart home technologies. Early innovators such as Nest were first to appear on the market and in newly developed listings.
The premise is simple: Smart HVAC systems are actually run through the thermostat. Instead of replacing an entire HVAC system, most products “slide” over the existing wiring and provide cost savings and convenience to heating and cooling your home.
The perks of this technology include cost savings as smart thermostats learn your habits. Whether you prefer warmer temperatures in the morning or leave during the day for work and turn your system off, smart thermostats learn your habits. Moreover, you can access the thermostat from anywhere in the world, handy when returning from a long trip and need to heat or cool the home as you enter.
Recommendations: Nest Learning Thermostat ($250) or ecobee 7-day starter thermostat (both $250)
Difficulty to install: Moderate, non-handy owners may want to consult an electrician
• Secure your home with an upgrade system. Although not a new technology, home security systems have undergone a major facelift the past couple of years. Whereas older technologies have been subscription based for in-home security systems, there are now several products that are considered plug and play for convenience.
Instead of paying a yearly subscription to a security company, modernized products are tailored to consumers who want to see first-hand what is happening while away from home.
Most products will normally include self-install motion sensors, video cameras, door alarms and often fobs to easily disable the system. Almost all products offer tailored apps that notify you by message or phone when there is a disturbance detected.
Also, Washington offers a rebate program for homeowners and renters who install security systems into their homes. The reimbursement program is up to $500 per address when registered with the District. This is a huge incentive to someone who may want to get a discount on installing a security system.
Recommendations: Scout Home Security System ($320)
Difficulty to install: Moderate
• Forget being locked out of the house. As with security camera systems, smart locks serve several purposes. First, smart locks provide great security with keyless technology. Second, smart locks are versatile in that the consumer can dictate who may enter the house even when the owner is not present.
Several of these locking options allow instant access to the house for the owner or temporary access for guests. For example, smart locks can allow a housekeeper or pet sitter access during certain days without the need of a physical key. This access then expires and the guest may no longer enter. For the consumer, this also means not getting locked out from home as you can enter with your smartphone.
While relatively cheap, most smart locks should be installed by a locksmith or handyman familiar with changing locks on a home. This may be one product left to the experts!
Recommendations: August smart lock ($230) or Schlage smart lock ($200)
Difficulty to install: Difficult (recommended to hire locksmith or general contractor)
Spending a couple hundred dollars in one or more of these categories can add so much to your home. Smart technologies should not be considered intimidating; instead, smart-home technologies accentuate living in the best ways.
Tim Savoy, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage Capitol Hill, writes an occasional column about the Washington-area housing market. He can be reached at Timothy.Savoy@cbmove.com and on Twitter @SavoyRealEstate.