How to get into Home Automation on the Cheap
Unless you’re like me and spend the next 17 years picking up odd bits of equipment here and there and slowly build up your Home Automation system, one of the biggest barriers to getting introduced to Home Automation is the cost. It’s most definitely not a cheap hobby. If all you want to do is pick up a few lights to amaze your friends (home control, not automation) then it isn’t too bad. If you truly want to make your home smart it can be quite prohibitive.
In that vein of thought here are a few ways to get introduced to home automation (HA) that won’t break the bank.
Cree Connected Dimmable LED Light Bulb At just under $15 per bulb these are one of the more affordable controllable light bulbs. No color changing and no extra bells or whistles. They require some type of external hub in order to control (which we’ll get into on a later post)
Philips Hue White A19 Starter Kit An excellent purchase and good way to get introduced to HA. It’s also compatible with most, if not all, hubs and software (some via plugins) if you want to integrate your system later. These are the basic white LED bulbs but they also include the Hue bridge meaning you can control them via an app on your phone, through the meethue.com website and with Alexa (or Google Home.) Just under $70.
INSTEON Home Control Starter Kit An older home automation protocol, Insteon is more reliable than the old X10 stuff but still pretty relevant. At $49 this is a good way to get starter. This beginner’s kit includes the Insteon hub and two dimmer modules. Just plug your lights in and set up the hub and you are good to go. I went straight from X10 to Z-wave and never had much experience with Insteon but know quite a few people who did and they are very happy with it. This hub allows you to set up automation scheduling and expands to let you add both Insteon and Nest thermostats, light bulbs, switches, ceiling fans, etc. It is also compatible with the Amazon Echo and can be controlled via your phone.
Echo Dot (2nd Generation) While not a true HA device the Echo and it’s smaller cousin the Echo Dot allow you to control connected HA devices via voice as well as a ton of other things, some pretty neat and others….that are quite useless. $49.99
I have the original Echo as well as four Echo Dots scattered through the house and while I like to talk a lot about not counting on the “cloud” for your HA system, Alexa is probable the most important and useful piece of equipment I have added to my set up in the last decade. Most HA hubs and software are compatible with Alexa as are most of the connected devices. If you just want voice control of a myriad of devices and apps but want to tie them together without true automation the Echo Dot is the way to go. Over $100 cheaper than the original echo makes it a great purchase.
If you only want to use it for voice (and speech responses) it can be used as is. If you also want to be able to play music I recommend connecting it to a set of speakers via Bluetooth or the 3.5mm jack.
Controls lights, fans, switches, thermostats, garage doors, sprinklers, locks, and more with compatible connected devices from WeMo, Philips Hue, Samsung SmartThings, Nest, ecobee, and others.
There are also several other cheap ways to get into the hobby including Wemo switches, TP-Link plugs and others but these are a good start. Next time we’ll talk about Hubs and a quick intro into actually automating all of the devices you’ve managed to pick up.