Recently, USA Today ran an article called The real cost of setting up a smart home where they claimed that they estimated the minimum cost to get started with smart lighting, doorbell, lock, thermostat and security is north of $2000. They then went on to list $1650 worth of products, including the Ring Pro video doorbell, August Smart Lock, Hue White and Color 4 Bulb Starter Kit, Nest Thermostat E, Nexx Garage, Canary Security, Echo Plus and Ring Floodlight Camera. Finally, they said that the layperson probably couldn’t set these devices up themselves, so they would require professional installation, which would cost over $400.
This article annoyed me from the start because it is rife with bad advice and poor assumptions. Without going on the attack, I’d prefer to take on this challenge to see if I can build a smart home* with quality products that do exactly what the author set out to do for less than the $1650 listed without installation**. Without further ado, CHALLENGE ACCEPTED!
*You know I can build the target smart home because I wrote this article.
**I will not include installation costs because I’m a firm believer that anyone that takes on simple DIY smart home projects should be able to actually do it themselves.
Ring Video Doorbell: The original Ring Video Doorbell is currently selling for $99 on Amazon and it’s a steal at this price. This doorbell packs more than enough features for most smart homes, and continues to be the doorbell installed at my house. Choosing Ring over competitors gives us the ability to add additional Ring cameras later in the build, and if Ring gets past their ADT lawsuit, their home security suite will work with this doorbell in the future.
August Smart Lock 2nd Generation: For an entry level smart home the 2nd Generation August Smart Lock provides all of the necessary features at a comparably reasonable price ($147). The USA Today article provided a $200-300 range without actually specifying the lock they chose. I chose August over competitors like Schlage because it doesn’t require a separate hub to communicate with voice controllers like Alexa or Google Home, and it can be used to retrofit existing hardware without having to completely replace what you already have. If you want the latest and greatest, the 3rd Generation August Smart Lock will currently cost you $229, but the extra $42 would put me over the $1000 mark.
Philips Hue White 4 Bulb Starter Kit: This was one of the big misses in the USA Today article. Hue is the current king of smart bulbs, and the Hue white and color bulbs are fun, but far from practical. Although the Hue White 4 Bulb Starter Kit is no longer selling for $59.99, you can still pick it up for $93 (and I expect to see that sale again before Christmas).
ecobee4 Alexa Enabled Thermostat with Sensor: I can, and have, spent entire days going on about the best smart thermostat on the market. I’ve also said numerous times that if I were to start over, I would choose ecobee over Nest. In this case I’m recommending the ecobee4 for two reasons. First, because it comes with an external sensor. USA Today seems to have made the assumption that their smart home has one zone for heating and cooling. If that’s the case, you’re going to want the sensor for a second level or to monitor hot/cold spots. The second reason is because the ecobee4 has Alexa onboard and works just like a fully featured Echo. I’m still going to add an Echo later on, but now I’ll have at least two in my budget smart home. This may be the priciest gadget on the list, currently retailing at $201. If you’re really looking to save money on a smart home build, though, I’ve been recommending this $75 Honeywell wifi thermostat for years. It’s not as pretty or fancy as the top names, but it’s packed with features and works with Alexa.
Nexx Garage: USA Today got this one right. The Nexx Garage is a cheap way to modify your existing garage door opener to make it a smart garage door opener. Plus, unlike MyQ, it works with Alexa and Google Assistant. I’ve seriously considered retrofitting my two MyQ enabled openers with these because Chamberlain/Liftmaster seems to have absolutely no plans to work with anyone but Apple as a MyQ partner. This sells just about everywhere I can find it for $99.
Amazon Echo 2nd Generation: USA Today chose to select the Echo Plus for $149, but the writer offered little explanation as to why. The Echo Plus has a built in ZigBee smart home hub, which is great if we were selecting devices that communicated over ZigBee and didn’t already work with Alexa, but we’re savvy shoppers and haven’t done that. The 2nd generation Echo works just fine with all of the devices listed above, and hundreds more. At $99 this saves us $50 over the Plus. Technically, because we chose the ecobee4, this is an extraneous purchase, but if you want to play music with Alexa, this will sound significantly better than a thermostat.
At this point we already have an impressive smart home for under $750. For some reason the author of the USA Today article decided to throw in a Ring Floodlight Camera right at the end, as well as a nebulous mention of a Canary security system that I can’t even find. Personally, I don’t think that an entry level smart home requires a security system, and the amount of sensors required varies wildly by home, so I’m not including it. Call me a cheater if you like, but just to be a good sport, I’ll throw in the Ring Floodlight Camera…
Ring Floodlight Camera: This bonus addition to our list adds more external security with video/motion detection as well as exterior smart lighting (a must for any smart home). Although this currently sells for $249, it’s cheaper than buying quality LED floodlights and a smart camera separately.
So how much is this entry level smart home going to cost us to put together ourselves? $987. That’s $663 less than the USA Today author estimated without installation, and over $1000 cheaper than he estimated with professional installation. Even if you were able to find the $150 Canary security system they had listed, this is still a savings of over $500 without installation.
I’ve always said that building a smart home is an expensive hobby, but prices are continually dropping, and getting all of this for under $1000 was unheard of just a few years ago. I call this “entry level” but outfitting your home with the smart home gear I listed would give you an impressive smart home for under $1000. This build included two external security cameras, one smart lock, four smart bulbs, two Alexa devices, a thermostat, a doorbell, a bluetooth/wifi speaker, floodlights and a garage door opener controller. Not bad for under $1000!
Feel free to try to top me in the comments!