how to make your house smart

The budgeter’s guide to turning your home smart in 9 steps (or less)

Bethany RamosHome Improvement, Home Security, Homeowners, Lifestyle, Technology

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Houses are getting smarter. As many as 63 million homes in the U.S. are expected to be smart by 2022, with the average cost of installing a smart home system ranging up to $3,000.* The good news is that there are plenty of opportunities for savings: You can knock out most of these projects yourself.

How to make your house smart — and make your dollars stretch

Benefits of making smart upgrades include reducing energy costs, improving convenience, and tightening your home security.

Because of more time spent at home this year, today’s homebuyers aren’t just seeking out extra space — they’re looking for updated tech features. If you’re a homeowner, making a few simple improvements can typically improve your property value.

Consider some of these low-cost smart projects to get started:

1. Change your lighting.

Lighting is typically the first step in the home automation process since it’s fairly easy — and inexpensive — to upgrade. As a note, smart outlets can also be used to improve and control “dumb” lighting, usually connecting to an app to turn lights on and off or even dim them.

With most brands of automatic lights, you can:

  • Set up motion sensor lighting indoors for guest and nighttime use. Motion lights can work well in guest and great rooms and bathrooms, along with the pantry, triggering a light to automatically turn on when you walk in. Lights automatically turn off too, if there’s no motion.
  • Place a solar-powered motion-sensing floodlight by the garage or back entryway. This is helpful not only for night entry but to help potentially prevent theft.

Philips Hue smart lights are known for their simplified setups; lights connect to a hub and then plug into sockets, with a variety of features and integrations that include voice control, customized brightening/dimming, and simultaneous room control. A Phillips Hue lighting starter kit runs about $180, while an Amazon Alexa smart lighting starter kit costs $50.

2. Connect to a hub.

Selecting a hub is a decision you’re likely to make when you’re dipping your toes in the waters of automated lighting. A smart home hub can integrate all your devices and may start as low as $30.

Light switches and dimmers, blinds, vents, fans, door locks, leak detectors, a security system, smoke/carbon monoxide alarms, a thermostat, speakers, outlets, and a voice assistant are examples of what you can connect to your hub. Once connected, personalized routines — like turning off home office lights and turning on music in the kitchen at the end of the workday — can be created.

Sometimes, your phone may be enough to manage your home’s smartness. But as you build out and integrate more devices, establishing a single hub is recommended. A smart hub with a touchscreen also provides a few added perks, like options for watching movies, making FaceTime calls, or setting kitchen timers and cooking along with a video.

3. Increase your internet speed.

It’s a simple upgrade that’s especially important at a time when more of us are working or going to school remotely. High-speed internet costs vary by location, starting at around $50 a month for 100 Mbps.

If you’re looking for more, consider the $379.00 UniFi Dream Machine as an investment. UniFi provides you with a high-speed (3.5 Gbps) managed switch to power security cameras, a mesh network, and multiple devices on a single system.

For those working or learning at home, using a scalable system like UniFi to supply higher-speed internet throughout the house makes it possible to work in different rooms without sacrificing connection.

4. Install battery-operated cameras.

Forego the wire-in security cameras if you’d like to cut costs (and don’t want to mess with cables in the attic). Battery-operated cameras are user-friendly and easy enough to mount, with one charge lasting several months to a year. A wired security system setup could cost up to $1,600 in comparison.

A wireless security camera — like the ever-popular Ring Doorbell, costing around $100 — is a great starting point for a DIY smart upgrade.

Just cut the doorbell power, remove the old doorbell, connect the new one, power on, and test your new security feature. Other wireless doorbell cameras may cost as little as $50.

5. Replace your appliances.

Appliance improvements can be done little-by-little to fit within your budget. A few upgrades will go a long way. A smart trashcan may cost less than $100; most use a sensor to open, with some models featuring a built-in odor control system and handy take-out-the-trash reminders.

If you haven’t incorporated automation into your cleaning routine yet, it can be a game-changer. Robot vacuums range in price from over $100 to $500. Connect a smart vacuum to your hub to do your dirty work and control it with your smartphone or schedule it for daily cleaning.

And while ENERGY STAR appliances cost slightly more than the non-energy-savers, they’re worth budgeting for. You’ll quickly recoup with what you save on monthly energy. Operating an older refrigerator could cost you $623 more (plus 1,774 pounds of carbon pollution) over five years, depending on the size and model.

6. Upgrade your thermostat.

Exchanging your old thermostat for a smarter version is surprisingly easy to do and can yield big savings. How much you’ll gain by using a programmable thermostat — like the Nest, running about $250 — varies based on the size of your home and your local climate.

But by controlling your temps when you’re out of the house, it’s possible to reduce your energy bills by over $100 a year.

Google provides helpful instructions for Nest installation and setup. If you get stuck, you can visit sites like to get a licensed HVAC technician to walk you through it.

Talk about smart. Use our all-in-one mortgage app to make refinancing a breeze.

7. Power with solar.

Solar is another highly-in-demand smart upgrade that can require an initial investment — though it’s not as pricey as most people assume. Read our complete solar panel installation guide for pros, cons, and details.

To save on solar, you can:

  • Improve your household energy use at the same time, with help from a smart thermostat and lighting. When solar panels are paired with an energy-efficient home, you’ll see more noticeable savings.
  • Consider DIY solar panels only if you feel equipped to fully plan your installation and perform the labor. If you’re up to the job, you could lower total installation costs by over $12,000.

Concerned about solar being an eyesore? Many installation companies now hide panels so they aren’t the first thing you see on your house. For homeowners with an HOA, check your handbook. Some rules may explain how to better blend solar panels into your home so they won’t annoy your neighbors.

8. Switch to a mesh network.

Along with increasing internet speed, you can support your smart hub and its wireless devices by using a mesh network. A mesh network — a group of devices that function as one — can create a Wi-Fi “blanket” around your house to keep your smart home covered with a reliable connection.

When starting new service at your home, plan out your mesh setup in advance so the technician can connect your modem in a place that feeds to the network. Also, make sure your mesh setup supports dual-band for smart devices that require 2.4GHZ.

Otherwise, your internet provider may offer a low-cost self-install pod pack, supporting as many as four bedrooms. Follow the manufacturer’s directions or use this simple tutorial to say goodbye to spotty signal.

9. Try a faucet timer.

Like a programmable thermostat, a watering timer can save you time and money. Prices range from around $50 for an Alexa-compatible Wi-Fi smart hose hub, up to over $200 for a larger sprinkler control system.

A simple smart faucet timer attaches to a hose, allowing you to create a watering schedule using weather-monitoring software. You’ll not only save money by avoiding watering when it’s raining outside, but you’ll support the environment by conserving water with a built-in flow meter.

Smaller smart faucets are easy to install and typically connect to an app that you can use to program your timer.

It’s a smart move to lower your rate and save money on your mortgage

Mortgage rates have hit new lows. A lower rate means lower payments, instantly freeing up extra cash for your home improvement budget while growing your wealth, or your equity. Reach out right now to find out what refinancing at a lower rate could do for your monthly payment. Download LoanFly and get started.

*“Smart Homes and Home Automation.” Berg Insight, 2019; HomeAdvisor, 2020.

While refinancing could make a significant difference in the amount you pay each month, there are other costs you should consider. Plus, your finance charges may be higher over the life of the loan.

For educational purposes only. Please contact a qualified professional for specific guidance.

Sources are deemed reliable but not guaranteed.

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