Moving into a new home is a great time to bring today’s home-automation technologies into your household. However, it’s also a time when budgets are tight, and dropping $4,000 (minimum) on a fully-integrated smart home is often not an option. For those who want to dabble in the future but not pay the price, here are some simple DIY options to help create a semi-smart home on a fully-smart budget.
Let there be light
The simplest form of home automation is turning lights on and off automatically. Variations on this technology have been available for years. But today it’s possible to not only control your lights, but to fully control your lighting.
Philips Hue is a wireless LED light bulb controlled via an iOS app. Program the bulbs to do everything from wake you up gradually to flash when it’s time to take the buns out of the oven. Hue can even notify you when you’re tagged on Facebook by pairing it with free online automation system If This Then That.
Where Hue really shines however, is in its color palette. Pre-installed with four options, you can also create your own “hues.” Have a favorite painting you want your room’s ambiance to match? Just snap a picture on your iPhone and use the Hue app to turn your lights into the perfect complement.
PRICE: Starter Pack (three bulbs and a bridge) $199
Educate your appliances
A big budget-conscious benefit of home automation is being able to keep tabs on how much energy a home is consuming. With knowledge comes power — the power to cut those energy bills. The new WeMo Insight Switch from Belkin takes a dumb appliance and gives it a college degree. It connects anything with a plug – TVs, washers, dryers, fans, lights – to your Wi-Fi network. Then it can be turned on or off and programmed with customized notifications via an app compatible with Android and iOS. The Insight also compiles information about energy usage from connected devices.
Other handy tasks a WeMo can assist with include helping avoid wrinkled clothes by shooting a notification to your smartphone when the laundry is done. You can also check if the space heater has been left on, and turn it off from wherever you are in the world. WeMo will even turn off the TV when your child has hit his or her nightly limit.
Sense your routines
elkin also offers a motion detector to attach to its basic WeMo switch. Have a lamp turn on when you enter the room and go off when you leave. Hook up the stereo so Morning Edition comes on when you stumble into the kitchen for that first cup of coffee. If it has a plug, it can be controlled with this WeMo combination. Belkin’s switches work also work with IFTT. When you’re away from home you can set up a recipe to send you a text if there’s motion in your house, or email your WeMo and have it turn the lights on before you get home.
PRICE: $79.99 for WeMo switch + Motion
Keep warm and cozy
Designed by the lead engineer of Apple’s iPod, the Nest Learning Thermostat is the most stylish thermostat on the market. It does everything a programmable thermostat should, but it also watches you. It learns your household habitats and automatically adjusts temperatures, hopefully saving some cold hard cash on those energy bills. And of course, it connects to WiFi, making it controllable via mobile devices.
Stay safe with a smarter home
Installing a keyless deadbolt such as the Kwikset Kevo in the front door offers a sophisticated level of security and plenty of convenience. The smartphone becomes your key (a touch-to-open keyfob option means your 14 year-old doesn’t have to have a smartphone, yet). You can also share eKeys, so when your sister arrives to feed the dogs you can let her in remotely. Kevo will also notify you when someone enters your house and, wherever you are, if something goes wrong you can remotely provide access to those who need it. Kevo also comes with positioning technology that uses geofencing to determine if you are inside or outside the door, helping prevent unauthorized entry.
PRICE: $219, available for pre-order
Sniff out danger
If you have only one safety feature in your home it should be a smoke/carbon monoxide detector. Nest has stepped up the level of these basic home appliances, introducing Nest Protect last month. A multi-criteria detector with heat, CO and smoke sensors, Nest is packed with features you never dreamed your smoke alarm could have. The most crowd-pleasing one however, is no more waving your dish towel frantically at the ceiling — a simple wave of the hand will shut off a false alarm.
If Nest Protect sees that smoke or CO levels are rising but have not yet reached emergency alarm levels, it will give you an early warning so it can avoid crying wolf. It also connects to your WiFi to send you alerts on your smartphone or tablet when you’re away from home.
Combine the Protect with the Nest Learning Thermostat, and you have a product that could literally save your life. If the CO alarm goes off, Nest Thermostat automatically turns off the gas furnace, a possible source of poisonous carbon monoxide leaks.
PRICE: $129, available for pre-order
Keep an eye on your surroundings
One more exciting area in consumer-level home-automation is video. It is now as simple as plugging in a WiFi enabled camera to get a live feed of any room in your home on any device you choose. Dropcam is a big player in this market, and they also offer cloud video recording that allows you to rewind and playback any video from the past month. The footage is stored in the cloud, meaning you can access it from anywhere. Use the compact Dropcam to keep an eye on your cat while you’re on the road, have a camera trained on your hallway to catch intruders, or set it up to monitor the kids playing in one room while you work in another.
Speaking of babies, Philips will launch a smart baby monitor early next year. The Philips AVENT Smart Baby Monitor connects to and is operated by your smartphone over WiFi and 3G. Philips promises the monitor will help parents build a routine for their baby, as it syncs with the Philips Hue wireless light bulbs for adjustable nursery ambiance to aid bedtime soothing, breastfeeding and waking (not that waking is often a part of a new parent’s desired routine).
PRICE: Dropcam $199, DVR capability $9.95 to $29.95 per month. Philips AVENT Smart Baby Monitor TBA
Fully Integrate Your iPad
To unify your various DIY smart home projects into a fully-integrated home automation system, dedicate a tablet such as an iPad or an iPod Touch as a hub. Secure it in a central location in your home and presto; fingertip control of all your smart appliances.
All-in-One Solutions on the Cheap
If multiple apps and manufacturers stretch your tech know-how to the breaking point, there are some more affordable whole-home options coming to the market soon. Home automation gurus Savant have just introduced a $1,000 basic integrated home automation system. If that’s still too rich for your blood, Smart Things offers a starter kit for $299 with variations on some of the tools mentioned above, allowing you to complete many simple home automation tasks with one basic kit. It also hooks in with IFTT.com to receive smartphone notifications when your pet opens a drawer and such like. Another competitor in this space is Wig Wag. This successful Kickstarter project will offer an all-in-one DIY home automation kit, with its own IFTT-style service built in. Wig Wag is slated for release in 2014.
Jennifer Tuohy is a freelance writer, editor, social media consultant, and all around tech enthusiast. Jennifer writes a variety of gadget reviews, tutorials and other technology related content for eBay.com.
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