How you should spend first $250 on smart home
Many people do not realize that even with the initial investment of just $250 (£250) you can build a very functional system. Our recommended seven devices can automate the most frequently used lights in your house, avoid wasting money on electricity and give you a great sandbox to play with. Just a couple of hours spent on building your first home automation setup will tell you if smart homes are for you or not.
Below are the most practical (not cheapest) devices which will help you to build a reliable smart home system with professional-like functionality (like Loxone or Control4). $250 (£250) will buy you three key components of your smart home:
- Brains: Powerful and flexible hub to manage devices and set rules
- Controller: Two smart light switches and two power outlets to control devices like amplifiers, kitchen appliances, etc
- Sensors: One multisensor (motion, temperature, and luminance) to make your home aware of the environment. If you want to learn more about the sensors, have a look at our guide on the 5 types of smart sensors each house should have.
To control all that, we recommend Home Assistant as the best smart home open-source hub (see a comparison vs OpenHab and other hubs). Downside? Well, as with all non-professional system you might need to spend some time in research, but believe me, it will be really worth it.
WHAT WILL YOU BE ABLE TO DO
- Have a secure and reliable control center with a simple and appealing UI so all your family can use it – see how it looks
- Build rules with an easy visual editor to control your devices based on your presence, temperature and much more
- Automate up to four lights/devices in your house based on motion – we recommend kitchen or corridor lights.
- Integrate with any of your existing voice assistants (Google Home or Alexa), media players or any of over 1,000 products (TVs, amplifiers, cars) into one happy smart home ecosystem
A hub is a computer that always runs the brains of your smart home. This is where Home Assistant will run with your control panel and rules engine. You also connect to it any comms devices (like z-wave or RF stick) to integrate other devices as required.
- We recommend Raspberry Pi 3, a small but powerful and reliable server.
- You can use any existing server if you have one, but having separate hardware make the setup a bit more resilient.
You can use switches or change bulbs to make your lights smart. The former is more cost efficient and future proof. It is important that the majority of smart switches require having a neutral wire in your switch box (if you have rewired your house or it is a new build it comes as the standard).
- We suggest a Sonoff switch (which can be 1, 2 or 3 gang) which give the best functionality at a good price. You will need to flash custom firmware to integrate, but it only takes 30-60 min to install – see the guide here.
- If you do not want to fiddle with flashing and want some extra features (like dimming) the best options are WeMo(US) or TKB, but it will be more expensive.
- For smart bulbs, we recommend Tp-Link bulbs two of which you can get for $40
With the outlets you can control almost any of your electrical devices without changing the existing power sockets. General ugliness is the only drawback. You can use an extra features like power consumption stats, but we do not think it is worth paying the extra money.
- As above we also suggest Sonoff, specifically the S20 switch. You also flash custom firmware to integrate, but it only takes 30-60 min to install – see the guide here.
- For those who want an off the shelf solution, we recommend TP-Link outlets, although they will cost you double the price of the Sonoff option – see the review of smart outlets
Sensors are the eyes and ears of your systems. You can get separate temperature, motion, luminance and many other types of them. For our initial setup, we recommend having a multi-sensor combining 6 different ones into one little device. Sensors are great devices and should be your next investments after the initial kit – see our pick of 9 best smart sensors
- We recommend the Aeon Gen 2 multisensor. It is reliable, configurable and tested personally by us. Fibaro is the next good option that you might consider.
- The sensor is using Z-wave protocol to connect to your hub, so we included a Z-wave stick. It might seem expensive, but the only other option is to buy RF sensors (at the cost of reliability) or buy closed systems like IKEA or Philips. The latter option still requires a separate hub and is just slightly cheaper.
WHAT ARE THE NEXT STEPS?
Once you have bought all the parts, all the fun begins. See below the next steps you can take:
- Install Home Assistant
- Install Node-RED – a visual tool to set up automations
- Create your first automation
- Install beautiful Home Assistant Panel
If you want to continue with more smart automation, check the articles below:
- Smart Home Navigator – best smart home devices in 2018
- 9 best smart home sensors
- Best automatic water valves