The Newsroom - Washington DC

Smart-home upgrades that you can install yourself


Tim Savoy and Jonathan Fox are real estate agents with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage Dupont/Logan.

You may be fascinated by thermostats that seem to intuit your favorite temperature or front doors that automatically lock and unlock themselves but hesitated to buy them because you fear the potential cost.

But smart-home technology doesn’t have to break the bank. There are several home upgrades that you can make yourself. Here are a few:

• Thermostats: Smart-home technologies were largely inspired by new-age thermostats, which promised to go above and beyond the traditional “set and hold” options found in most homes today. Unlike traditional thermostats, smart thermostats allow your system to “learn” from your behaviors automatically, have instant remote control of the system from your smartphone, gather real-time energy consumption data, and take other factors such as humidity into account when making adjustments to the temperature.

Nest thermostats ($199-$249) were among the first to enter the smart space and are still considered by many to be the best in the market. The upsides are obvious, with the ability to manage energy use remotely, as well as having a system that is working with you to make adjustments based on your lifestyle. These thermostats are installation-friendly, making this a great project for the ambitious DIYer while keeping costs low.

• Locks: High-tech locks are arguably one of the most useful and functional upgrades in the smart-home market, largely because of their 21st century functionality and practical application. Imagine not having to dig through your bottomless tote bag or pockets for your keys in the dark, with your hands full while you’re standing in the rain.

With the help of Bluetooth and/or wireless networks, smart locks can detect your arrival (via your smartphone) and automatically unlock your door as you approach the lock, or with other systems a quick touch of the lock. You can also easily program your smart lock to allow guests to access the premises at set times without ever giving out a key, all remotely from your smart phone. Looking for an easy-to-install product? Check out August (approximately $199), a DIY install lock that provides a pretty diverse array of functionality.

• Home lighting: Over the past several years, efficiency in home lighting has become important to many homeowners because of the potential to save money on electricity. From high-efficiency bulbs to automatic sensors when entering or leaving a room, there are a variety of technologies that can change the way you illuminate the home.

LED popularity has never been higher, and the cost for LED lighting continues to decrease. These bulbs last much longer (often times years longer) than common incandescent lights. One of the best rated, Phillips HUE Connected Bulbs, allows the user to connect LED bulbs to a network.

Yes, the starter kit of these bulbs and a hub is a bit pricey ($199), but the possibilities are endless. Not only can you turn lights on and off with the touch of your phone, but you can also change the ambiance of a room by changing the bulbs’ color.

Sound systems: For music lovers and morning NPR aficionados, it’s quite important to have sound throughout the house. Whereas building sound into a home has been popular for quite some time, 21st century upgrades have not only increased the quality of sound at home, but also the accessibility.

Like most other smart-home products, wireless sound systems designed for the home allow users to change the song or the channel from their wireless device. One of the most consistently recommended is Sonos. The two-room starter kit ($349 online) is completely DIY — all you need is a wireless network. The speakers provide great quality and can easily be set up in any room of the home.

Want sound in more rooms? No problem. Adding additional speakers is easy and comes at a minimal cost.

• Security systems: DIY-friendly smart home security systems have become a cost-effective way to take advantage of emerging technologies in the home security space. Some of the DIY security systems allow more freedom in choosing what you would like to monitor and how you would like to do it. With most products, from your smartphone you can arm and disarm the system, check the event log, monitor your house temperature while you are out, and even stream live video from in-home cameras.

In short, smart home security systems can be a great option for those looking to maximize opportunities in the home security space while avoiding costly installs and lengthy contracts found with traditional security companies. One of these DIY products, iSmart Alarm ($199 for the starter kit) is perfect for the basics. iSmart Alarm includes motion sensors, cameras and alarms without a monthly contract to the user. Products like these are perfect for those who want to monitor their home while away.

In all, smart home technologies not only provide a little bit of flair to your home, they also improve its efficiency. For just a couple hundred dollars, you can begin to transform your dwelling into a home of the future.

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Jonathan Fox
DC, MD, and VA

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