Smart homes are no longer a thing of the future. As smart devices become more affordable, it’s easier than ever to upgrade your existing home to an automated environment.
There are plenty of advantages to upgrading — smart devices can do everything from regulating your home’s temperature to keeping your family closely connected. Plus you get to feel like you’re living in a radical science fiction movie, and that alone is worth the price of entry.
On the note of cost, starting your futuristic smart home setup is actually much less expensive than you might think. Some devices will save you money as you use them, and there are plenty of affordable and effective alternatives to the more expensive ones reviewed on tech websites. Here’s a quick rundown on four of the most popular smart devices, to help you determine which ones fit your needs and budget.
The popular Nest Learning Thermostat remembers what temperatures you like and when you like them, and it automatically adjusts your house’s heating and cooling accordingly. It also allows you to remotely access your thermostat through its nifty companion app.
Photo by Bit Boy/Flickr
But Nest’s real genius lies in its energy-saving capabilities — the smart device will automatically regulate the temperature so that you save big on heating and air conditioning when you’re not at home. Studies have shown that Nest can save users enough money to pay for itself.
The Nest Learning Thermostat costs $249 upfront, but you’ll make that cost back in energy savings over the device’s lifetime. It’s definitely worth the upgrade.
The Neurio is a system designed to track the amount of electricity each of your home appliances is using to forecast your power bill each month. It also lets you know which appliances cost more to run and can help you cut back on your overall energy expenses. If your gaming console is using power even when it’s switched off, or if your old refrigerator is costing you more than is reasonable, Neurio will let you know.
Photo from Neur.io
The sensor is easy to set up, and there are two package options. The basic set costs $179, while the premium version, which offers real-time tracking, goes for $249. This might seem expensive, but you’ll easily recoup the initial cost (and then some) in energy savings. And Neurio’s home tracking system is great for the nerd in you that likes to see daily stats and energy updates – it can be motivation to spend an extra minute turning off all the lights before you leave.
The Neurio is best suited for larger families or homes, as it can provide more potential savings. The device should pay for itself over time, and it will also provide you with handy usage statistics.
Hue, created by the Philips company, is a revolutionary smart lighting system. It connects to your smartphone via an intuitive app, which lets you program the bulbs to turn on and off automatically, to strobe, or to provide situation-specific lighting. If you hate your alarm clock, for example, the Hue can be set to gently brighten your bedroom lights to wake you up every morning.
Photo by Sho Hashimoto/Flickr
Philips Hue products range from $60 (for a single bulb) to $200 (for a starter kit that comes with three lightbulbs and a bridge appliance). The 2.0 upgrade to Hue includes Siri-based control options, but may not justify the price for most people. If you’re looking for a cheaper alternative, Lifx lights offer dimmable white bulbs that accomplish the same result for only $40. The Lifx app isn’t quite as robust as the Philips system, but it still gets the job done.
If you’re looking to use a single bulb or two, go with Lifx. Otherwise, the Philips system offers more upgradeability and versatility.
The new Amazon Echo serves as both a Bluetooth speaker and a voice command center (like Siri or Google Now). It can search the Web, play music, make changes to your calendar, set alarms, and even control all of the other compatible smart devices in your home. Additionally, Echo is always on and responsive, so it’s easy to use and integrate into your daily routine.
Photo from Amazon.com
The Echo device costs $179, which is a little steep for a service that is already included on many smartphones. However, Amazon is constantly adding new features to the Echo, and it’s also nice to use the personal assistant functionality without tying up your phone. Many users have already incorporated the Echo into their daily activities and routines – even cooking and getting ready to go out.
There are yet to be any true competitors to the Echo, although some Kickstarter projects show promise.
The Echo is expensive and unnecessary if you’re trying to get heavy functionality out of it. If, on the other hand, you have an extensive smart home system and love a gadget that’s almost as smart as you, it may be worth the price to keep everything connected via one voice-activated hub.
While the industry is still young, now is as good a time as any to jump into the smart home revolution. The initial costs are comparatively low and the features are often more than worth it. What one piece of smart home tech can you not live without?
Featured photo by N i c o l a/Flickr