Smart Home Products You Need, Plus a Few to Skip

Woman using a smart washer
Smart home devices stand to make your life easier, if you choose the right ones.

These days, there’s a smart device for just about anything around the house. I can preheat the oven without getting out of bed, and the AC kicks on when I get within 10 miles of my house. Thanks to Alexa, I’m not even sure how long it’s been since I actually touched a light switch.

There is no denying that smart home devices are pretty cool. Not only do they make plenty of things more convenient and accessible, but the ability to automate tasks can also be a huge lifesaver for those of us that have too many things to remember!

Related: Easy Ways to Make Your Home Feel More Relaxing

It definitely took me a while to jump on the smart home train, but I’m glad that I did. And honestly, I can’t really imagine going back to not having these things.

With that being said, not all smart home devices are created equal. Not everything is improved with technology. It’s like in Jurassic Park when Dr. Ian Malcolm (aka Jeff Goldblum) says, “Yeah, but our scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

Universal Pictures via GIPHY

Hey, you know I’m right.

That’s why you have to know when a smart home device is worth it, and when you should just save the money. I mean, unless you’re into wasting money. Some stand to make your life easier, while others might be more trouble than they are worth. And while there are plenty of smart home devices that have staying power, there are a few that might be dated before you ever get your money’s worth out of it. That’s why I’m here with my handy dandy list. We’re going to talk about the smart home devices that you need to make your life a little better, and the ones you can probably pass on.

What You Need Before You Set Up Your Dream Smart Home

Okay, before you go wild buying all the smart home devices, we have to talk about the other stuff you need to think about first. No, you can’t just load up on stuff without planning.

First and foremost, you need a solid home wi-fi. All those devices you purchase are only going to be as good as your wi-fi signal. If you’re loading up your wi-fi with all those connected devices and it’s not strong enough, you’re going to have some serious connectivity issues. But when it comes to items like a keyless smart lock or a smart doorbell with a camera, connectivity issues can be more than just irritating.

I am a big fan of upgrading to the “Big Gigs” – aka gigabit fiber optic internet. There are a couple of companies that have been making some big strides in laying new fiber to reach more areas. If you happen to be in one of these areas, count yourself as one of the lucky ones. Gigabit is one of  the fastest internet speeds you can get, hands down.

wifi router on a white cabinet

Inside your home, take a good look at your wi-fi router, too. They really can make a difference, and even the fastest internet service won’t do you any good if your router can’t keep up.

If your home is still experiencing connection issues and dead spots, it’s time to look at a wi-fi mesh network system. Especially in larger houses with multiple stories, it can be difficult for one router to reach every corner of the home. And if it does reach everywhere, you might notice much slower speeds in the furthest corners from the router. A mesh wi-fi system setup works like a team to bring that signal all over the place at the same time.

On top of reliable, high-speed internet, there’s one other thing to think about at the beginning: which hub to choose. Not all smart home devices come from the same brand, but they can all still work harmoniously together. The key is the hub you choose. Amazon’s Alexa, Google Assistant, or Apple’s HomeKit can help unify all those devices together into one easy-to-use system – but you have to choose just one. You can’t have a Google Nest and Amazon’s Ring video doorbell in the same hub. And having two or three separate hubs is over-complicating a system that is supposed to make your life easier.

Each smart home hub is compatible with hundreds, if not thousands, of items. Do yourself a favor and do the research before jumping in. Which devices do you want, and which hubs are they compatible with?

Now for the fun stuff! Once you’ve upgraded your wi-fi and decided on your hub, which dictates the brands you will be working with, it’s time to find all the good smart home devices!

Virtual Assistant

amazon alexa echo

I held out for a long time on this one, but once I got my first virtual assistant, there was no going back. Literally, I don’t even write out grocery lists anymore. I just tell my robot friend what I ran out of while I’m still in the middle of cooking, and it puts it on my shopping list. Easy peasy. This covers Amazon’s Alexa, Google’s Nest, and Apple’s Siri. Of all the smart products out there, this is the most essential! It’s especially useful if you plan on purchasing other smart devices, because you will likely control them with your virtual assistant.

Security Cameras

If you’re concerned about home safety, smart security cameras get two thumbs up from me. They are usually incredibly easy to install, and some varieties even offer the ability to power it with solar panels instead of batteries or hard-wiring it into your home. You can access the feed right from your smartphone. That means you can check in whenever you want, even if you’re on the other side of the country. Plus, I get notifications every time it senses motion. Sometimes it’s just a neighborhood cat, and that’s just delightful, if we’re being honest.

Smart Doorbell

ring doorbell

Honestly, I can take it or leave it when it comes to the smart doorbell. I already have smart cameras outside, so a separate smart doorbell with an included camera doesn’t do me much good. I can just look at my front door camera. However, if you don’t have a camera setup, a smart doorbell is a good choice that enables you to see who is at the door.

Smart Lock

Having a smart lock installed on your door makes scrambling for keys obsolete. It’s like magic. At the same time, I have my doubts about some of the smart deadbolts and other locks available. There are some that only work if you have (or purchase) a specific hub. Most require you to replace your existing locks, which is a no-go for renters or those less inclined to cut new holes in the door. And, if you don’t come and go a lot, it might not be worth the cost.

Smart Light Bulbs

table lamp

Do your research on which smart bulbs work with your chosen hub, and then replace all the most-used lights in your home with them. Trust me. I have my front porch light set to come on when the sun sets and to turn off with the sunrise. I can tell Alexa to turn on any light in the home before I even enter the room. My youngest kid, who isn’t tall enough to reach a light switch, can control the lights in her room no problem. You can even set your lights to whatever temperature you want, or put them on a timer to run while you’re on vacation.

Smart Thermostat

The smart thermostat is one I am indifferent about. Is it neat that I can control my thermostat from my seat without getting up? Yeah. But that’s kind of the gist of it. Sure, you can set up geofencing so that the temperature will lower when you leave home or the AC will kick in when you get close to home, but I’m not sure I get enough use out of this one to make it worth the extra expense.

Smart Toilet

remote smart toilet

Yes, smart toilets exist now. No, I’m not sure they’re quite worth the hefty price tag yet. Many have features like UV light to help disinfect, heated seats, automatic lids, and an air dryer for your nether regions, but they are really expensive. The other perks, like soft-close lids, bidets, conservative water use, and multiple flushing options aren’t exclusive to smart toilets and you can get them for much, much less with a non-smart variety. Besides, who wants a toilet remote?

Garage Door Opener

If you already have an automatic garage door opener that works with the push of a button, a smart version won’t likely do you much good. Is it neat? Of course! But other than that, the only other benefits are knowing if someone opens it, and knowing if you accidentally left it open while leaving.

Smart Refrigerator

smart refrigerator

Alright, smart fridges are iffy. If you’re redoing the kitchen and have some room in your budget, a fancy fridge could be in your future. However, it’s not the kind of smart device you need to spring for just because. Many of the features, like controlling the fridge’s temp from your phone, seem unnecessary. Many will allow you to see your calendar and other things on a touch screen, although I already have those things on my phone. Higher-end models will let you check fridge contents while you’re at the store, but I’m not sure that’s enough of a benefit for the cost.

Smart Range

I really do like the idea of being able to preheat my oven from anywhere, but there are usually safety features that limit their convenience. You can adjust the cook time and get notifications when your food is done, but you could also just set a timer with your virtual assistant or the corresponding app on your phone. I say smart ranges aren’t worth the upgrade – not yet, anyway.

Smart Laundry Appliances

Woman using a smart washer

Smart washers and dryers can send you notifications when they’re done, send reminders when they need maintenance, and allow you to stop a cycle remotely. Unfortunately, this is a relatively expensive upgrade for not a lot of useful features. If you need a new appliance, it’s not a bad idea, but there isn’t really a need to switch if your current washer works fine.

Robot Vacuum

If your home has hardwood floors or other hard surfaces, buy a robot vacuum. It won’t replace regular deep cleaning or anything, but it knocks out the daily vacuuming like a champ. No more pet fur dust tumbleweeds. If you have carpet or uneven flooring, like step ups and downs, a robot vacuum might not be worth your time or money.

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