How To: Install Five Easy Smart Home Upgrades
5 weekend upgrades you can DIY for a “smart” home
Photo by R ARCHITECTURE on Unsplash
If you’re looking for your next home or rental property do-it-yourself (DIY) project, look no further than the five smart technology upgrades listed below! Smart home upgrades add conveniences, functionality, cost savings, and security to your home. For me, the smart home thermostat and video enabled doorbell have been gamechangers and worth the effort associated with installation.
In many cases, these upgrades can even increase the home’s value. According to the National Association of Realtors, thermostats and smart security devices are most likely to impact sale prices. As you upgrade your home however, it is important to note that potential buyers may shy away from homes with overly complex systems that require multiple applications to manage.
As a general rule, if you struggle with managing multiple apps on your mobile phone, you may want to limit your device selections to those that connect to the same ecosystem app (e.g. google home, amazon alexa, apple homekit, or home assistant).
Below we share five smart home upgrades you can install over a weekend project. The upgrades are ranked from easiest to most difficult, though all are relatively simple for someone with basic DIY skills.
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Plug in Smart Electrical Outlet ($10-$20 per outlet)
Can you plug a device into an outlet? If so then you have the “installation” phase of this covered. This smart home upgrade is as easy as it gets. These devices turn any electrical device connected to the upgraded outlet into a smart device (e.g. lamps, fans, irrigation pumps, etc.). Once installed, the device can be scheduled to activate remotely or follow a programmed schedule.
Here are links to our top picks for indoor use (Apple Homekit, Amazon Alexa, & Google Home compatible), outdoor use (Alexa & Google Home compatible), and an option for a power strip that allows for independent control of multiple plugged in devices (Alexa & Google Home compatible).
Smart Light Bulb ($10-$35 per bulb)
Almost as easy as plugging a device into an outlet, smart light bulbs simply need to be screwed into bulb sockets to be installed. These bulbs allow you to control brightness, light temperature, and in some cases even the color.
Here are links to our top picks. If you’re not interested in different colors, the white lights are cheaper, but still allow you to schedule on/off and adjust their temperature and brightness. The Wyze smart lightbulb (white or color) works with Amazon Alexa, Google Home, or the Wyze application. The Philips Hue light bulb (white or color) works with Amazon Alexa, Google Home, or the Philips Hue bluetooth app.
Smart Door Lock ($75-$150)
Photo by Sebastian Scholz (Nuki) on Unsplash
You may have already encountered an electronic keypad door lock on a vacation rental property, allowing access to a building using a numeric code rather than a key. Layering on “smart tech” to these keypad locks adds more functionality, including owner notification as visitors enter and exit, and remote locking and unlocking.
These are great for both rental properties and primary residences, as you can provide different codes to family, guests, or maintenance contractors and collect data when each code is utilized. The Wyze smart door lock can be used with an optional outdoor numeric keypad and fits over your existing deadbolt lock, making installation relatively simple (works with Amazon Alexa, Google Home, or the Wyze app). The Ultraloq U-Bolt lock is a modern and stylish option, though installation will require a bit more work since it replaces your existing lock (works with Amazon Alexa & Google Home). Traditional door lock companies Kiwkset and Schlage have also entered the smart home market with their own versions of the devices.
Smart Doorbell With Camera ($50-$200)
Photo by Roberto Huczek on Unsplash
Smart home doorbells take a bit more work to install, but the added functionality is worth the effort given their wide range of features: These smart devices convert the humble doorbell and chime into a video intercom and motion sensitive camera you can access from anywhere in the world. The recordings of activity at your doorstep can be used to track package deliveries and add a layer of security to your home.
Most smart doorbells require a bit of wiring to connect them to a power source and to your home’s existing door chime, so consider consulting an electrician if you’ve never done this before. If you want to avoid wiring altogether, you can also choose a device that runs on battery power and connects to its own proprietary plug-in chimes (see below). Another key factor to consider among available options is the approach to video storage, which could involve a monthly subscription fee for cloud storage, a USB stick, or a home storage device.
The market leader in smart doorbells is the Ring device, which launched in 2013 and was acquired by Amazon in 2018. Their premier model can operate via battery power or be wired to the home’s power. This model can be wired into your home’s existing chime, or you can opt to use their proprietary plug-in chime. An alternate Ring-wired version is cheaper and a bit sleeker, requires a wired power connection, but does not offer the ability to connect to an existing home chime. Both Ring devices connect to the Ring mobile application and integrate with Amazon Alexa. We skipped the Ring devices since we were looking for an option that could work with a home chime and offered home USB storage of the recordings.
The smart doorbell that fit both of those criteria was the Blink Video Doorbell & Sync Module. Similar to the Ring, the Blink device can be installed with or without wiring. If installed wire-free, you will need a separate plug-in chime. Wiring the device allows it to connect to your home’s existing chime. Recordings can be saved to the cloud via a monthly paid subscription or recorded directly to a USB drive plugged into the sync module. The device works with Amazon Alexa and connects to the Blink app, which can also be used to manage other Blink camera devices (e.g. battery powered, solar, or wired cameras for outdoor or indoor settings). This means that the Blink app and sync module could become your hub to link all home security camera devices.
Other highly rated smart doorbells include the Arlo Essential Wired doorbell and the Eufy doorbell. The Arlo doorbell is wired into the home’s electrical supply, connects to the home’s chime, and requires a monthly subscription to enable the recording feature (compatible with Amazon Alexa, Apple Homekit, and OK Google). The Eufy doorbell can be wired or use battery power, cannot connect to the home chime, and is paired to an indoor “HomeBase” station that works as a chime and also stores video recordings (no need for a cloud storage subscription). The Eufy integrates with amazon alexa and can also link to Amazon echo dots to serve as additional chimes.
Smart Home Thermostat ($100-$200)
Photo by Dan LeFebvre on Unsplash
Smart thermostats can boost your home’s energy efficiency by adapting to your lifestyle and activating your heating and cooling only when needed. Installation requires wiring, so once again you may need to consult an electrician.
The market leader here is the Nest Learning Thermostat, launched in 2011 and acquired by Google in 2014. The Nest device allows you to program your HVAC to fit your weekly schedule, dials down your system when you’re not home, and is accessible via the mobile Nest application (also compatible with OK Google).
We chose a device by a legacy thermostat manufacturer, the Honeywell T5 smart thermostat. The T5 works with Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit, and Google Assistant. The device links to the “Resideo” mobile application which can also control a range of cameras, leak sensors, outlet timer switches, and security systems. This device requires power input via a “C” wire, so before purchasing this or similar models it is a good idea to look behind your existing thermostat to see what wires you have access to.
Do you have a home maintenance log book?
You can track your smart home upgrades plus other routine home maintenance tasks in a home maintenance log book. Join the Citizen Upgrade mailing list and your welcome email will include a link to a google document template you can use to get started. Or get a paper copy of the log book here on Amazon.com (available in paperback or hardback). Both versions of the log book include an extensive checklist of maintenance tasks to consider, which you can edit down to suit the needs of your property. Staying on top of preventive maintenance will save you time and money in the future!
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