If you’re going to build a custom home in Dallas (or anywhere), you’d be remiss not to explore the “Smart Home” options available today. Smart home devices of all kinds now allow homeowners to automate practically every aspect of their home’s operations, from temperature to audio to lighting, to cooking and cleaning and many, many other things.
And, although some innovations may be costly, many of these devices actually reduce overall costs through the efficiencies of automation.
This article is a deep-dive into the newest technologies available for smart custom homes. To provide some organization of the many options available in the market, we will look at the technologies relevant to each segment of a home:
- Home Audio/Music
- Heating/Ventilation/Air Conditioning (HVAC)
Why should you consider smart home technologies?
Convenience: Being able to control your lighting or engage your locks without moving is a huge convenience. Smart gadgets make such conveniences possible because you can control them remotely from a central point, generally an app on your phone or hub in your house.
Cost Savings: Installing smart technologies in your home may seem expensive at first, but many can lead to cost savings. Smart devices can ensure that only designated areas of your home use light, cooling or heating, for example. The best smart devices provide energy-saving tips by showing you areas of your home that are rarely used, and therefore require less resources.
Flexibility: Smart Gadgets are super customizable. You can choose when the lights come on and practically everything in your home that happens after that. This flexibility is only possible with smart technology.
The products mentioned under each category below are arguably among the best in their space. Of course, our list does not claim to be a comprehensive list so you may find other options with further research.
On to the breakdown by categories, below.
Smart Lighting Technology for Custom Homes
Lighting is vital to a home’s atmosphere and feel, so it makes sense that it is the starting point for most people interested in living in a smart home. Lighting showcases the beauty of the design and structural elements of a home. More importantly, lighting controls the mood of a home. When used correctly, lighting can create warmth and improve the ambiance in an otherwise dark and gloomy environment.
Smart lighting systems are designed to control lighting around the home automatically or semi-automatically, through programming. Many smart lighting systems are motion and voice-activated, while some systems come with a central control hub, and others are Bluetooth/WiFi enabled.
For example, smart lights (bulbs) designed by Cree, LIFX, and TP-Link, connect over WiFi, while others, such as the newest Philips Hue bulbs, communicate using your smartphone’s Bluetooth feature.
Other smart lights (including the Philips Hue mentioned above) are compatible with Zigbee radios and, as a result, require a Zigbee-to-Wi-Fi bridge to connect to your router. Any of these smart bulbs may be controlled via an app on your smartphone or tablet, which can also be used to design lighting scenarios and schedules.
Smart light switches are an alternative to smart lights (bulbs). Smart light switches made by Leviton, Lutron, TP-Link, Ecobee, and other manufacturers communicate with your WiFi network and don’t require a central hub.
If you have already committed to a regular lighting system for your custom home, you can still make your lights smart by replacing the standard wall switch with a smart switch. You can do the same thing for lamps by adding a smart plug to the system. In both cases, the smart switch/plug will allow you to control the lighting remotely from your smartphone, laptop or tablet.
We’ve researched and evaluated everything from basic white dimmable lights to smart lamps loaded with extra features like the Philip Hue Starter kit, which is arguably the best smart bulb on the market currently.
So, if you’re in the market for smart lights, we can point you in the right direction with our recommendations below. All of these smart lights mentioned have excellent customer reviews, and are popular among consumers for different reasons.
The Philips Hue Starter Kit
As mentioned earlier, the Philips Hue is one of the most advanced smart lighting solutions on the market today. The starter Philips Hue lighting system comes with three standard screw-in smart bulbs, with smartphone app control and a hub that connects to your router.
The bulbs have preset lighting schemes that can complement each other, so it is recommended to use the bulbs in the same room for maximum effect. However, you can also distribute the bulbs to different rooms and control each independently from your app.
The hub and app allow you to control the brightness, color, and timing of your lights. You can program the lights to turn on and off at specific times, such as early morning or evening. If you are light sensitive, you can use your lights as your snooze reset device instead of using an alarm clock.
You can control up to 50 bulbs from the hub or app, and the lighting can be controlled over the internet from miles away.
The Philips Hue is compatible with Amazon’s Echo (as is the LIFX system, below). Interestingly, the latest Philips Hue systems can work without a hub, although you’ll still need the hub to connect everything and unlock the full capabilities.
Smart Bulb by LIFX
LIFX produces a line of WiFi-enabled LED lights that can be controlled via a (fantastic) smartphone app. The bulbs are available in both E27 (screw connector) and bayonet (spring connector) mount. You can get LIFX bulbs to produce a variety of colors, including numerous shades of white.
The latest model, LIFX +, has the same 1,100-lumens brightness as its prior Generation 3 bulb, but now also includes infrared LEDs that illuminate at night to light up the room for your security cameras.
The only disadvantage of LIFX bulbs is their cost, but we are confident that you will find the investment worthwhile because they provide excellent luminance across the full color spectrum, and in different shades of white.
With the LIFX app, you can separate whites and colors, and alter the color temperature to mimic natural light at different times of the day. You can also synchronize many bulbs to give off the same color and brightness simultaneously.
The LIFX app is appealing because it allows a ton of adjustments and supports IFTT integration, which allows you to schedule preset actions such as having the lights come on when you arrive home, and go off when you leave the house.
Leviton Décora Smart WiFi Dimmer
As mentioned above, rather than installing smart lights (bulbs) you can replace your light switches as a way to make your home lighting smart.
The Leviton Decora Smart WiFi Dimmer is a smart lighting solution that differs from other systems mentioned earlier, because a) it requires you to replace your light switches instead of your light bulbs, and b) all it does is dim the lights.
If you don’t require innumerable color choices for your lighting, this system can be especially beneficial for rooms with many different lights which would be prohibitively costly- or even impossible- to replace with smart bulbs (great-rooms with dozens of recessed ceiling lights, or chandeliers with in-built lights, for example).
Additionally, this system may be cheaper to maintain over time because if a bulb goes out you are not forced to replace a smart bulb, and instead you are replacing a regular bulb.
The best part is that the Leviton Decora Smart WiFi Dimmer is relatively affordable. You can get a basic unit for $49, and upgraded variations with more features are available as well.
It should be mentioned that smart switches are not limited to lighting. You can install them as your plug sockets as well, and thereby control anything plugged into that socket.
LifeSmart Cololight Pro Decorative Light
The Cololight Pro falls into the decorative light category. This beautiful, smart light has an easy-to-customize compact design. The light, which consists of small hexagonal panels, can be shaped into various forms and programmed to show different colors, patterns and dynamic effects.
Lifesmart equipped the latest Cololight Pro with a built-in pickup module that allows the lighting effect to sync with music or sound. You may have seen this type of synchronized lighting in high-end bars or other entertainment venues. Today, homeowners are able to integrate such decorative light systems in their homes to improve the overall ambience and to make them “party ready.”
The latest Cololight Pro is compatible with Google Home and Amazon Alexa, so you can control it with your voice. According to the product specs, the Cololight Pro supports 16,000,000 colors, and comes with a 12-month warranty.
The only drawback of the Cololight might be its less-than-sturdy build. If you’ve handled other smart lights, you will agree that the Cololight is somewhat delicate – as is common with decorative fixtures.
Nanoleaf Shapes Decorative Lights
Also in the category of decorative lighting, the Nanoleaf Shapes is another interesting system available for your home.
Nanoleaf Shapes mix smart lighting technology with wall art, offering illuminated panels in different shapes and sizes. The system is fully customizable, allowing you to create your own designs by combining panels of different shapes.
Nanoleaf Shapes are simple to set up and use, and can be controlled via a full-feature app that allows brightness control and more. You can get creative with Nanoleaf shapes. For example, you can set the lights to emit your ideal white lighting temperature for work, relaxation or entertaining.
Every area of your home will look better with Nanoleaf Shapes. You just have to place shapes creatively to inspire anyone. If you run out of ideas, use the layout assistant on the Nanoleaf app.
However, Nanoleaf Shapes are not meant for outdoor use. Also, the manufacturer advises against using the product in areas with high humidity like your bathroom.
Nanoleaf Shapes come in hexagons, triangles, and mini-triangle panels. They are fitted with adhesives for easy placement. Like the Cololight Pro, Nanoleaf reacts to music and sound thanks to its built-in rhythm module. Also, Nanoleaf is touch responsive – the light changes when you touch the panel’s surface. They are also compatible with Apple HomeKit, Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, and other voice assistants.
So, there are several ways to control Nanoleaf shapes. You can use the Nanoleaf app, Nanoleaf remote, Google Assistant/Alexa, and the built-in controller (sound, touch, and power switch).
Smart Home Security Systems
Home security systems have come a long way in the past decade, and if you love the flexibility and convenience of smart speakers, thermostats, and lighting, then you will probably love the smart home security cameras available today. Like other smart gadgets, a smart security camera offers flexibility and convenience without losing its primary function, capturing movement.
A smart security camera will allow you to keep an eye on your home, especially when you’re not around. There are indoor and outdoor security cameras, with each type performing the same function with slight differences. For example, smart outdoor cameras feature LED lights to illuminate the environment when the motion sensors detect movement, while indoor models can help you monitor the activity of kids and pets around the house.
Smart home security systems are the ultimate upgrade, integrating indoor and outdoor cameras, video doorbells, garage controls and more.
There are several fantastic brands in the smart home security market. Most of the products offer the same primary functions, so the differences are based on the flexibility they offer. Some notable models include Vivint Smart Home, Ring, Arlo, Netatmo, and Maximus.
Vivint Smart Home
Vivint Smart Home is a full-option home security system that includes video recording as standard and smart home capabilities as needed.
A video doorbell, outdoor and interior cameras, smart locks, and garage control are among the company’s core offerings. The interior video camera has two-way audio (allows communication) and a full 1080p HD video recording. You can program the system to send custom alerts.
The system comes with enough memory space to accommodate up to 30 days of continuous recording. Impressively, it has a speed dialler that can be used to contact you right away.
Vivint designed the security system to support multi-channel control. You can control the system via a home security panel, smartphone app, and voice commands (Alexa or Google Home). The omnichannel control makes it easy to pair the system with other smart home technologies, like lighting and HVAC. You can also integrate other wireless security solutions, like Nest, with Vivint.
To put things in perspective, Vivint Smart Home is superb for the following reasons;
- extensive customization
- feature-rich system
- home automation integration
- high-end, quality equipment
The Vivint system can be pricey, with the base pricing for the system starting at $599. Add to this the additional installation cost and ongoing monthly fees for active monitoring. For $29.99 per month, Vivint will monitor your home security round the clock. When alarms are triggered, the company will contact first responders and offer assistance remotely.
If you consider yourself capable and would like to save on installation costs, consider getting a Frontpoint security system. It is a full-featured security system which is easy to install
Frontpoint is a simple and smart home security solution that utilizes a variety of wireless technologies including cameras, sensors, and a Frontpoint Hub. Every component of the system has been preconfigured to work directly out of the box, so it is considered a “plug-and-play” unit.
You can control the entire security system through the Frontpoint Hub, which functions as a single controller. The hub works with both WiFi and cellular networks, ensuring that your home security remains active if your internet goes down.
According to Frontpoint’s marketing material, the hub is smashproof, and it is fitted with sensors to detect a physical attack. If the system detects a forceful pressure on its surface, it will alarm emergency responders.
Frontpoint also comes with a mobile app for user convenience. The app’s interface is clean and easy to navigate, allowing you to activate your security system with the push of a button.
Brinks Home Security
If age is any indication of experience and quality, then Brinks Home Security is a top product. Backed by years of research, experienced customer service, and technology, Brinks Home Security offers a security package for all types of users. The base package contains a Qolsys IQ touch-screen control panel, a wireless motion sensor, two wireless door sensors, plus a yard sign and stickers. You can get the base package for $199 and a monitoring cost of $39.99.
If you want to add a doorbell camera, outdoor and indoor cameras, extra sensors and professional installation, you can expect to pay $699 for the security system.
Interestingly, the smart home hub is compatible with Amazon Alexa as well as Z Wave devices, and can be used with just about any other home automation device. Like Vivint, Brinks Home Security can integrate with Nest products.
You’ll have tamper-proof equipment, as well as cellular backup and cloud storage for video feeds, and a Live Assist function to use with any setup you choose. Brinks also provides alarm monitoring 24 hours a day, seven days a week, allowing for remote emergency dialing and the cancellation of false alerts.
Each kit’s price is determined by the features you choose, and there’s plenty of flexibility to customize the system specifically for your custom home.
Ring Alarm Security Kit
While the idea of a smart security system is appealing to most homeowners, the accompanying monthly monitoring and operational costs can be a put-off. For this reason, we added the Ring Alarm Security Kit to our list of smart security products to consider for your custom home.
Ring Alarm Security is an all-inclusive security system that is easy to set up and operate, without the need for a monthly subscription. The primary security kit comes with a base station, contact sensor, keypad, motion detector, and range extender, and is less expensive than most of its competitors. Extra components can be purchased separately, or can be purchased as part of the larger, bundled kits they offer.
The entire system works as a coordinated, single unit and relays status reports to your smartphone. As expected, you can control the entire system from the Ring app, which is compatible with Android and iOS devices. The app also supports Amazon Alexa control.
A backup battery in the Ring kit guarantees that even if the power goes out, the Ring kit will keep running for a full day, utilizing your cellular network to stay connected.
While you don’t need a subscription plan to use the Ring system, there are contract-free Ring Protection Plans that provide you access to member perks and savings on further security product purchases. If you plan to purchase other Ring products, such as video doorbells, sirens, smoke alarms, cameras, and more, the Protection Plan membership may be beneficial.
SimpliSafe Security Systems
If you’re familiar with smart security products, you’d agree that SimpliSafe is a well-known brand. Unlike some other alternatives, the company’s security system is available in 5 packages, which are relatively inexpensive and easy to install.
SimpliSafe does not require a long-term monitoring contract. You are allowed to choose the monthly surveillance plan or to opt-out altogether.
$229 will get you the base package (The Foundation Kit) of this security system, which includes a base station, keypad, entry sensor, and motion sensor.
The most expensive package from SimpiSafe is the Haven Kit, which includes the same keypad and base station found in the Foundation Kit, and also includes four entry sensors, a key fob, a 105dB siren, two motion sensors, a panic button, a water sensor, a smoke detector and a freeze sensor. Clearly, the Haven Kit is designed for a larger home and provides advanced protection.
All kits come with a 60-day money-back guarantee (you can return it if it doesn’t work out), and you can choose from a variety of monitoring options, including expert monitoring and cellular backup, without committing to a contract.
Today, thanks to smart technology, we have robots to mow our lawns. However, robot lawnmowers are still relatively new to the market, so it can be difficult to identify the market leaders in the industry.
For this article we researched smart lawnmowers and sampled user opinions to create these high-quality recommendations.
Redback MowRo RM24
Because it’s inexpensive without compromising quality or usefulness, the Redback MowRo RM24 may be the finest robotic lawn mower available for the average homeowner.
This mower is really designed for tiny lawns, since it will mow an area of up to a quarter acre on a single charge. The MowRo RM24 can also mow up to 30 degrees of slope, which is quite impressive.
The MowRo will mow your lawn once every 48 hours at the time you specify. Its brushless motor is whisper-quiet, producing just 65 decibels (about the loudness of a typical conversation), so you might even be able to use it at night without bothering yourself or your neighbors.
The MowRo is packed with safety features, so you can be confident that the mower won’t endanger your kids or pets if they are playing in the yard. One example: the blades of the MowRo are covered by a guard that allows grass to pass through while keeping fingers out.
If your lawn is too big for the MowRo RM24, WORX’s WR150 Landroid L may be your best bet. This mower can tackle up to a half-acre of lawn and 20-degree slopes.
Equipped with built-in WiFi connectivity and a smartphone app that allows you to watch the mower’s progress, measure your lawn, and update your personalized mowing schedule from anywhere, the Landroid is truly a smart mower.
The Landroid is so clever that it can even design and propose a lawn-care regimen, depending on lawn size and other factors.
The mower’s rain sensor ensures that it never runs in the rain (despite its waterproof shell), so as to avoid the sloppy cut-lines that come with mowing wet grass.
The Robomow RS622 is a suitable alternative for bigger yards of up to half an acre with slopes of up to 20 degrees, just like the Landroid. The RS622’s most striking feature is its 22-inch cutting width, which is more than double that of some other robot mowers.
The RS622’s wider cutting deck essentially means it will mow your lawn considerably faster than the other alternatives on our list. The deck also offers a cutting height range of 0.8 to 3.5 inches, making it suitable for a variety of terrain.
While the RS622 doesn’t have WiFi, it does have Bluetooth and comes with a smartphone app that allows you to control the mower’s settings remotely.
The RS622 can link to Amazon’s Alexa virtual assistant, meaning it can respond to voice requests like other smart home gadgets.
The noise level of the Robomow RS622 is one of its significant drawbacks. It can emit up to 74 decibels of sound at maximum power. While this is still quieter than a gas lawn mower, it is substantially noisier than our other top selections.
Smart Irrigation Systems
A smart irrigation system is an eco-friendly and cost-saving addition to your custom home’s landscaping, as it ensures that your lawn and garden get an adequate amount of water without wasting any of it.
Good smart irrigation systems come with a dedicated app, making them easy to operate. Rachio makes our favorite products in this category, but Wyze Labs has also entered the market with a low-cost alternative.
Rachio Smart Sprinkler Systems
Rachio is not a newbie in the irrigation industry; the company is among the best makers of smart irrigation systems. The Rachio 3 Smart Sprinkler Controller is the latest smart irrigation system from the company.
The Rachio 3 combines the existing smart sprinkler control system with Weather Intelligence Plus technology and optional wireless leak detection. Thanks to the weather detection watering algorithm and programmable settings, Rachio eliminates the need to guess how frequently or how much water your lawn needs. Watering is adjusted based on the weather.
Rachio 3 is super compatible and easy to install. It can work with your existing sprinkler system and can be installed in less than an hour. You do not need any special tools, nor do you need to be an expert in sprinkler system installation.
The Rachio mobile app or the controller itself may be used to monitor and operate the system. Rachio connects to your Wi-Fi network using both the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands, ensuring that your Rachio 3 will not be competing with other Wi-Fi linked systems.
The Rachio 3 employs several technologies to keep your lawn hydrated, resulting in healthier grass, and is available with either 8 or 16-zone configurations suitable for lawns of all sizes.
Wyze Sprinkler Controller Systems
Wyze sprinkler controllers offer a functional product at an affordable cost. The newest Wyze smart sprinkler controller comes with all the features you need to water your lawn efficiently, saving both water and energy with its precise timer and functionality.
Purchase of the Wyze devices includes a one-year subscription for their Sprinkler Plus subscription package (ongoing cost = $10 per year), which works with weather reports to discharge only the optimal amount of water.
Wyze Sprinkler features and Sprinkler Plus include:
● Smart Schedules: Water plants automatically based on hyper-local weather data*
● Fixed Schedules: Water plants on specific days or times
● Quick Run: Easily start watering from anywhere with the Wyze app
● Sunrise/Sunset Settings: Schedule your system to start or finish by sunrise/sunset
● Sensor Ready: Compatible with most rain and soil sensors
● Weather Skips: Rain, Saturation, Wind, and Temperature skips*
● Advanced Zone Insights: See the past, current, and forecasted soil moisture level for
● Easy Control: Start or stop watering directly from the device
*Requires Sprinkler Plus ($9.99/yr)
Smart Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detectors
Smoke detectors are a compulsory and invaluable home safety feature. Unlike traditional smoke detectors that only provide audible alerts when smoke is detected, a smart smoke detector alerts those in the home and also sends messages to designated responders.
We found the two best products in this category to be the Nest Protect and First Alert Onelink Safe & Sound systems. The Nest Protect is outfitted with emergency lights to help you navigate out of a smoke-filled home, while Alert Onelink Safe & Sound comes with sophisticated features like an integrated smart speaker for voice control.
Nest Protect Smoke Alarm
Nest Protect is one of the best smart smoke detectors money can buy. With a futuristic design, the device has a square body and rounded corners, and is slightly broader than conventional smoke alarms.
Nest Protect is available in two power configurations, battery-powered and hard-wired. The battery-powered variant requires six AA batteries, while the wired model requires three for backup.
The AA-powered model’s battery life is dependent on usage, but should last for five years or more. The product’s lifespan is meant to last 10 years, after which it should be replaced (as is recommended for all smoke detectors).
According to the product use guidelines, Nest Protect is not designed for use in kitchens due to the high humidity of this environment, but can be installed nearby at a distance of three meters or more away from cooking appliances.
The setup is straightforward. The Nest Protect is ideally mounted to the ceiling using the backplate; however, it can also be wall-mounted. Installation instructions are supplied. Once installed, you can use the Nest app to manage the smoke detector.
The Nest Protector includes a Split-Spectrum Sensor that detects any type of fire or smoke. It also features a carbon monoxide (CO) sensor.
When the Nest Protect detects a problem, you’ll first hear a verbal message, such as “Smoke has been detected in your home,” before the 85dB alarm goes off.
First Alert Onelink Safe & Sound
First Alert’s Onelink Safe & Sound is one of the best and most reliable systems available today. First Alert has been keeping homes safe with its range of smoke and CO (carbon monoxide) alarms for over forty years.
The Onelink Safe & Sound is a smart alarm that connects to your home network through Wi-Fi and sends warnings directly to your phone. Unlike Nest Protect or other detectors, Onelink Safe & Sound has a built-in speaker and comes with Alexa included, allowing you to also use the device for entertainment.
In addition to the speakers and Alexa capabilities, a photoelectric smoke sensor, a Bluetooth radio, an 802.11n (2.4GHz) Wi-Fi radio, a carbon monoxide sensor, an 85dB siren, and a microphone are all housed within.
You can get all the functions of Alexa through the device, such as voice-activated access to sports scores, the latest news and weather, and the ability to manage other smart devices. Also, you can play music from your Amazon library or your phone through Bluetooth.
The Onelink Safe & Sound is somewhat bigger than the Nest Protect, measuring 2.2 by 6.8 by 6.8 inches (HWD). In the middle, a 10-watt BMR (Balanced Mode Radiator) speaker is encircled by a multi-color LED status indication ring that also functions as a nightlight. The device uses multi-colored LED light to indicate use or actions. For example, when the device is active for setup, the led status indication ring flashes white. It glows green when idle, flashes blue when you connect with a phone and flashes red during an alert. When an Alexa voice command is processed, it shows blue and cyan colors.
The Safe & Sound may be used as a stand-alone alarm or wirelessly linked to other Safe & Sound devices. When activated, it will send a push notification to your phone with a red screen indicating that smoke/CO has been detected in the room. The screen has controls for contacting 911 and disabling the alarm.
A smart speaker is an excellent accessory to control your smart lighting systems, and a convenient entertainment technology for your home.
Amazon’s Echo and Google’s Home are the market leaders in this category. Amazon Echo has been in the lead for a few years thanks to its large userbase, dependable support and constant updates. Their device is powered by Amazon Alexa, while Google’s Home is powered by Google Assistant. Other smart product manufacturers have adopted both Alexa and Google Assistant, thus they have a wider integration than other manufacturers.
The latest Amazon Echo (4th gen) is wrapped in a near-spherical shell made from recycled fabric and aluminum. Amazon moved the trademark light ring from the top to the bottom of the device. The new Echo is still powered by Amazons Alexa. Like the Echo Plus, the 4th gen Echo is fitted with a built-in smart hub made by Zigbee.
This Echo sports Amazon’s AZ1 Neutral Edge processor for machine learning, which makes the Echo smarter and more efficient than earlier versions – particularly notable in the device’s improved speech recognition.
Critics agree that the fourth-generation Echo is the best Echo yet. If you’ve never used a smart speaker, the 4th gen Amazon Echo is an excellent smart speaker for a first-time user. It is equally great for experienced users, and provides excellent value relative to cost.
Despite being released 2 years after the Amazon Echo, Google Home is a major competitor to the Echo and rightly so. This smart speaker from Google is designed for convenience and entertainment. You can get information, play music, and control other smart products through voice control. The device is powered by Google Assistant, which is Google’s proprietary AI assistant.
Google Home can connect to Philips Hue lightbulbs, Nest thermostats, and Samsung’s SmartThings platform, among many other systems and manufacturers.
Google recently renamed Google Home speakers to Google Nest, so the latest smart speakers from Google are called Google Nest Audio, Google Nest Hub Max, and Google Nest Mini. The Nest Audio is a low-end product.
If you’re not an audiophile, then the Nest Audio will serve you well. We will recommend the Nest Hub Max and Nest Mini if you want to enjoy superior sound and the smart features of Google Nest simultaneously.
Google Home/Google Nest is a capable device, providing access all types of streaming and services, and the voice assistant is responsive. Overall, the device provides excellent value relative to cost.
Apple HomeKit and HomePod Smart Speakers
Apple also has products available in the smart home market, with its HomeKit cosystem and HomePod smart speakers. Characteristically, Apple promotes its security and privacy as part of the compelling features of the HomeKit ecosystem.
Apple’s HomePod speakers offer excellent sound quality and is compatible with AI powered assistants like Google Home and Amazon Alexa. The HomePod is one of the best sounding speakers in the market, producing big and clear sounds from its tiny box.
Sonos Smart One
The Sonos Smart One is among the best smart speakers you can buy right now. The device delivers impressive sound quality and smart function simultaneously. Sonos equipped the Smart One with six internal microphones which pick up sound easily, providing one of the best user experiences available in the smart speaker market.
The design of the speaker is similar to the company’s previous Sonos Play:1 model. However, the Smart One adds a touch-sensitive capability which allows the user to control music by swiping or tapping on the top surface of the devicd, in addition to controlling the speakers from anywhere remotely through the included app.
Sonos Smart One supports Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, and as some lesser-known AI assistants, as well as most streaming platforms.
Smart Audio Systems for Music
Technology has also gifted us with smart audio systems, which are different from smart speakers. Smart audio systems are designed to integrate with and improve your TV and movie viewing experiences, as well as provide superior audio quality. These systems include multi-room audio capabilities like those from Audio Pro, Denon, and Sonos, and they have multiple speakers that can be placed in different rooms and controlled from an app.
Sonos Arc – the premium soundbar
Sonos products offer exceptional sound quality for a reasonable price. The Sonos Arc uses Dolby’s newest TrueHD and Dolby Digital Plus sound codecs to provide the highest quality lossless audio available on cutting-edge Blu-ray discs and some of the most popular streaming services. It then improves the 3D soundscape by employing Dolby Atmos object tracks to bounce some sounds off the walls surrounding you, giving the impression that they are coming at you from all directions.
The soundbar sports subtle volume control, play/pause, and mute buttons that let it blend into the background, and features a basic status LED light that self-adjusts brightness based on ambient light.
The Sonos Arc weighs13.78 lb (6.25 kg), making it light enough for a wall mount. It has two reinforced rear holes for wall installation for a forward-facing mounting arrangement, although the bass response is naturally more focused when it bounces off a tabletop surface.
Multiple Sonos speakers can be paired to provide a multi-room sound experience
Denon HEOS Multi-Room System
Denon is a favorite sound system manufacturer among audiophiles. The company’s products are as impressive as they come, and the Denon HEOS multi-room is no exception. The speakers offer punchy bass, clear midrange, refined tonal balance, and a simple app for controls.
If you want a multi-room sound system, consider getting the larger HEOS 7. It is powered by five Class D amplifiers and features two tweeters, two mid/bass drivers, a pair of passive bass radiators, and a subwoofer.
Each speaker is fitted with the same number of connectors on the back: USB, ethernet, and auxiliary inputs (the HEOS 7 comes with a headphone output too). There are additional buttons for pairing Bluetooth and connecting the items to Wi-Fi.
To connect the speakers to your wireless network, use the HEOS app and either attach an ethernet connection into the back of the device or use a 3.5mm connector to transfer data from your smartphone or tablet to the device.
Audio Pro Multi-Room System
This shortlist of excellent smart multi-room audio systems would be incomplete without the Audio Pro multi-room system. You can build out your multi-room system with any of Audio Pro’s speakers. The impressive Addon C5 speaker, Addon C3, Addon C5A, and the sonically superior Addon C10 are among the best speakers in the Audio Pro lineup.
The Addon C5, Addon C3, and Addon C10 are nearly identical in appearance but for size. The Addon C5A sports a volume indication and a pair of microphones on its head for usage with Alexa voice assistant.
Among the four speakers listed, the ADD C10 has the biggest woofer at 13cm, the Addon C3 carries a 9cm woofer, while the Addon C5 and Addon C5A have a 10cm woofer. The Class D digital amplification power output for these devices matches their woofer sizes: 80W, 40W, and 15W.
On the top of each of the four speakers is a large circular volume control flanked by four smaller buttons for power-on, play/pause, input selection, Bluetooth pairing to the left, and pre-sets to the right.
Smart Technology for Home Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC)
If you’re serious about installing the newest smart technologies in your custom home, then a smart thermostat is a must-have. Only a handful of smart home gadgets can offer the comfort and energy-saving a smart thermostat provides.
Smart thermostats are more than mere temperature regulators. They can tell when you’re at home and when you’re not, so your HVAC system works only when needed, which can amount to significant energy savings. In addition, many now come with features typically associated with other smart devices, such as speakers and voice control for streaming audio services and AI interfaces.
The latest smart thermostats come with multiple sensors that can be placed in different rooms to detect human presence, ensuring that the HVAC system works only in spaces that are in use.
The 5th generation Ecobee SmartThermostat, the Ecobee 5, supports full Amazon Alexa integration, allowing users to utilize the Alexa calling, messaging, and drop-in features directly from the device.
The Ecobee 5 supports Amazon Music, Spotify, iHeartRadio, TuneIn and a slew of other music players. In addition to controls available through the app, there is a small touchscreen display for controlling temperature and other features on the front of the device.
In terms of connectivity, the Ecobee 5 features everything you want in a smart thermostat: smartphone app management, intelligent scheduling, and presence detection, which allows it to recognize whether you are at home or not and modify your HVAC system appropriately. The integrated remote sensor allows you to detect the temperature in different sections of your home and balance the system accordingly, eliminating the need for numerous zones. The remote sensor can detect human presence, allowing the system to adjust output based on where people are in your house.
The remote sensor on the Ecobee 5 SmartThermostat has been entirely redesigned for this 5th generation device, with a battery life of up to five years, a pairing range of up to 60 feet, and enhanced wide-angle detection of motion activity. For mounting options, the system includes a new magnetic mount, a standard wall mount, and a traditional stand for more versatile positioning choices. The SmartThermostat comes with one sensor, and additional sensors may be purchased in packs of two for $79. At any given moment, the system can accommodate up to 32 sensors.
Nest thermostats offer an excellent alternative to Ecobee thermostats, as they are feature-rich and reasonably priced as well. You can get a Nest thermostat for $129 on Amazon currently, and if you’re lucky, as low as $109 with a promotional price. If you want a more sophisticated thermostat, consider increasing your budget to purchase the Google Nest Learning Thermostat.
The Nest Thermostat has a side-touch interface that simplifies the hardware into slide-and-tap controls, eliminating the need to spin the entire thermostat ring to access the setting. Although the Nest Thermostat doesn’t come with a built-in smart speaker like the Ecobee SmartThermostat with Voice Control, it does support Alexa and Google Assistant. Also, it allows remote control through the Google Home app.
Overall, the latest Nest Thermostat has a new app and look, and it is also less expensive than its predecessors.
Wyze Labs makes some of the most affordable smart thermostats in the market. For $78.98, you get a simple, smart thermostat with all the features you need to manage your home’s cooling/heating remotely. And, don’t let the affordability fool you, as the device supports Alexa and Google Assistant and can be controlled via the Wyze app.
Once you’ve downloaded the Wyze app and registered an account, installing the thermostat is straightforward. The software facilitates initial configuration and programming by allowing you to build a custom schedule for home, sleep, and away temperatures for each day of the week and weekend, as well as for full weeks. If you don’t always want to be connected to your smartphone, you can access most of the thermostat’s choices via its onboard display.
Reminders to change your air filter are becoming more popular on smart thermostats, but Wyze goes a step farther than others. A percentage of utilization is calculated using the filter’s size and lifespan rating. It also allows you to save several filter types for tracking reasons. If you change to a better-performing filter during the year, you can just add the details of the item, and the software will keep note of it. Unlike the Nest Thermostat, Wyze does not track the overall operation of your HVAC system and does not give maintenance reminders or warnings.
Controlling Your Smart Home as a Unit: Smart Home Hubs
As your smart home grows, you’ll undoubtedly want to consider purchasing a smart home hub to connect everything together. A smart home hub allows smart devices from different brands to communicate on one platform, acting as the brains of the operation.
The most popular smart home hubs are the Wink Hub 2 and Samsung SmartThings Hub. SmartThings is considerably more powerful under the hood if you prefer to tinker, while Wink has a simpler, easier-to-use interface. In all, both smart home hubs function nicely with both iOS and Android, so they’re relatively platform-agnostic. Also, they have a wide range of smart home device compatibility; however, nothing is truly all-encompassing. So, before you buy, check out their compatibility pages (Wink, SmartThings). If you ignore this essential research, you risk spending unnecessarily to get smart devices that fit together efficiently.
We typically advise against single-protocol hubs, such as the one included with the Amazon Echo Plus, which only supports Zigbee. The more protocols your hub supports, the more flexibility you’ll have.
Voice assistants are also a good investment for the beginning of your smart home adventure. Nothing beats being able to control your lights, air conditioner, and television with your voice.
Both the Amazon Echo and the Google Home have a wide range of device compatibility, although Alexa is more compatible with smart home devices and third-party capabilities, while Google is more intelligent when answering inquiries and learning about your routine.
As you add devices, sophisticated controllers such as the Brilliant Operate and the forthcoming AtmosControl may be worth considering, which install a panel on your wall and allow you to control many of your smart home devices- even those that use different protocols- from a single location.
For those who want a voice assistant that shows the condition of your thermostat or the view from your security cameras, the Amazon Echo Show and Google Home Hub might be useful additions.
Choosing the Best Smart Home Products for Your Custom Home
Don’t assume you have to purchase everything at the same time. Start with a few devices, and you’ll soon discover which kind of integrations are most beneficial to you. Instead of collecting every device you can get your hands on, consider the pain spots in your day.
Focus on products with a wide range of compatibility and multi-channel control
For example, we consider voice control to be the most helpful aspect of a smart home. Voice control support allows you to operate your smart device without touching your smartphone or interacting with the dedicated hub, so it follows that smart gadgets with Alexa and Google Assistant support should be top on your preference list.
Compatibility is another important factor to consider when purchasing your smart devices. Most manufacturers of smart devices build each unit to be part of an ecosystem of smart things. The best smart devices are capable of integrating and communicating with a high number of devices. For example, your smart lock can notify your lights that you’ve arrived home, causing them to switch on.
So if you want this type of communication and automation, consider buying smart devices with high compatibility.
Smart Homes Have the Potential to Be Even Smarter
When dealing with smart gadgets, keep in mind that they are not as intelligent as you, so don’t be disappointed if your smart home doesn’t work as you envisioned.
You will learn that there is no single system or app that will manage all your smart gadgets seamlessly. Even if you purchase all your smart products from one brand, there is still a chance that one/some of the gadgets won’t integrate perfectly every time you use them.
Instead of worrying about the glitches and incompatibility of the devices, you can raise the synchronization and automation of your smart home a notch higher by using smart workaround tools like IFTTT and Yonomi. These tools coordinate devices and systems across brands and platforms, allowing the user to schedule a chain of reactions based on specific actions, such as a typical sequence which goes like this: “when I unlock the door after 6:30 pm, turn on the lights.”
At the end of the day, smart gadgets should make your life simpler, not more difficult. Start your smart home design by focusing on activities that you want to automate. For example, if mowing is a challenge for you because you are busy or don’t want the constant responsibility of lawn maintenance, that is a great reason to invest in a smart lawnmower. Similarly, if home security provides you with a level of personal comfort you desire, then automate it with smart devices.
Don’t get too caught up in constructing a cutting-edge, integrated system that will compete with the Bat cave or Ironman suit —you’ll be disappointed. Instead, focus on the areas of your day that are bothering you and start by building a simple smart system to solve those challenges. Then add features and new systems as time and budgets allow.