If you’ve ever left your apartment, condo, house or ‘tenement on wheels’ (courtesy of Chevy Chase) wondering whether you closed the garage, locked your doors, left the stove on or fed your dog… read on.
These gadgets might not cure your forgetfulness, but they can definitely help you relax a little bit — knowing you’ve still got access to your home even when you are hundreds or thousands of miles away (even in a foreign country).
Most of the devices below are available used, for significantly less than the full-priced, new version — and you can even get some of these devices for FREE! If you are unfamiliar with smart home devices and want to get started, there are several great walkthroughs on sites like (Tom’s Guide).
Disclaimer: I might be slightly obsessed with technology and keeping my home connected — but once you know about these devices, you’ll understand.
Devices to protect your home, save some money and make life a little easier
Smart devices for your car
Automatic is an adapter for your car that connects to the standard diagnostics (ODB-II) port. I know, no one likes too many acronyms, but trust me, it’s really easy to set up. If you want to save on gas, maintenance and even submit your expense reports, the Automatic adapter might be right for you!
The Automatic adapter comes in two versions: Lite and Pro. Best of all, there’s not monthly or annual subscription and you get features that you might be paying for if you have services like OnStar, uConnect or BlueLink, which can cost you hundreds of dollars per year!
Smart devices for your home
Smart Bulbs – no one enjoys coming home to darkness, but you don’t want to leave the lights on all day!
My two favorite bulbs are the GE Link and Philips Hue LED light bulbs. Individually, these bulbs are the 2nd and 3rd cheapest around. At the moment, I’ve got 6 or 7 GE Link bulbs connected to my Wink Hub that I can control from my mobile device. I can set these up on ‘rules’ to turn on/off at certain times of the day or once I reach a certain location.
GE Link – $14.93 (Home Depot)
Philips Hue LED – $14.42 (Home Depot)
Smart Cameras: Play Big Brother on your own home!
I’m actually watching my wonderful dog scatter all of his toys across our living room floor as I write this article — which is both comforting and stressful… But the ability to keep an eye on things right on my mobile device, from anywhere, is totally worth the peace of mind.
Smart Cameras were some of the first smart devices commercially available — and for good reason. They’re one of the best investments you can make when it comes to Home Improvement — from capturing images of intruders and keeping an eye on the kids or dogs, to receiving a notification when a package has been delivered — Smart Cameras are very powerful and you don’t need a lot of tech knowledge to set them up. Most are very user-friendly!
Take a quick search on the Internet and you’ll see several articles about Smart Cameras snapping images of intruders that help lead to the criminal’s capture.
Belkin NetCam v1 – $74.95 (Amazon)
Belkin NetCam v2 – $95.99 (Amazon)
Nest DropCam – $176.00 (Amazon)
Smart Hubs: Control everything with one finger!
If you’re going to add more than one device to your Smart Home, you’re going to need a Smart Hub. The Hub seamlessly connects all of your Smart Devices (assuming they are compatible) into one piece of hardware accessible on one app.
Essentially, the Hub translates the languages of the other Smart Devices — I guess it’s like the Rosetta Stone of the Connected Home. I personally use the Wink Hub because I got one for free from Home Depot, but there are several other options.
What I recommend is looking for a device that offers the following: Supports Wi-Fi, Bluetooth LE, Z-Wave, ZigBeeSmart Locks. These are known as protocols and are the languages your devices speak.
Wink Smart Hub – $59.97 (Amazon): Keep an eye out for specials at Home Depot where you can get this device or the newer version for free.
Smart Lock: Leave your keys in your pocket!
I want you to imagine a few things:
- Never fumbling with your keys again.
- The comfort of being able to unlock and lock your front door (remotely) after your kids get home from school.
- The ability to let your friend into your home to grab something you forgot.
You can do all these, and more, if you’ve got a smart lock. My favorite is the Schlage — and I definitely recommend picking up a used one for significant savings.
Schlage Connect Deadbolt – $171.73 (Amazon)
Smart Speaker: Act like you have no friends and talk to an inanimate object! (and more cool things, too)
It’s highly likely you’ve seen commercials for Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Home — these are Smart Speakers.
In the near future, these will likely convert into Hubs and be the focal point of the connected home. For now, they are effective transporters (carrying your voice command) that leverage the actual Hubs. I’ve got an Amazon Echo and the Amazon Dot (smallest version). I use them every morning for weather and ‘news briefings.’ I just ask for the news and the device reads it to me while I multitask.
Amazon Echo – $179.99 (Amazon): Amazon frequently puts all Alexa devices on sale; check out my other article on setting price alerts
Google Home – $129.00 (Best Buy)
Smart Switch: Like a Smart Bulb but for your Toaster (or lamps)!
If you’ve got a unique lamp that is not compatible with a smart bulb (like one of these) or you’ve got another device that you want to ‘enlighten,’ then you should check out Smart Switches.
My two favorites are the Belkin WeMo and TP-Link Switches. Similar to the Smart Bulbs, these can help you save on electricity bills or home security.
WeMo Smart Switch – $29.99 (Amazon)
TP-Link – $29.99 (Amazon)
Smart Thermostats: Save money on your electric bill!
These are likely the second most useful Smart Devices, after the Smart Camera. Smart Thermostats like the Nest Thermostat automatically adapt to your lifestyle and the seasons in your area.
After a few months with a Smart Thermostat, you’ll start to notice your electricity and heating bill dropping — or at least becoming more predictable. I’ve had a first generation Nest Thermostat in my home for almost four years now with awesome results!
And if you’re lucky, you can get a Nest for free! Visit the company’s rebate site to learn more.
Nest Thermostat – $249.00 (Nest)
Smart apps for your phone
If you have an Android device (phone or tablet), then you should try out Tasker and all the related apps.
The abilities and functionalities of Tasker are outside the scope of this article, but here are a few of the cool things Tasker can do:
- automatically launch and begin playing music when you enter your car
- open your garage by speaking to your phone
- enter airplane mode when you’ve entered a meeting and exit airplane mode after the meeting.