Part Two - GearBrain's Podcast - How to Build a Smart Home - Renters, Rental Properties and Airbnb Owners
What's up welcome to GearBrains Part 2 of what you need to know to build a smart home podcast. hi I'm Mark Westlake, founder of GearBrain. And thanks for tuning in. Just to recap last week, we started off with the first step of building a smart home. We looked at the different wireless protocols as well as the questions you need to ask before you purchase a smart home system. We also talked about where to buy these smart devices and who can help you install these devices. And we also talked about what you need to think about if you're building a house phone or smart home from the ground up. Who do you call? Who are the companies that can help you add these smart devices? And who can help you figure out if any of the smart devices you already own can come with you to your new home?
Today we're going to learn how to build a smart home if you're a renter or have a rental property or an Airbnb owner. We're going to explore the types of devices and the things that you can do in a rental property. For instance, how to install lights or smart switches, or even a video doorbell. Will also dig into why these devices can help make your space smart as well as learn about devices like security cameras and locks and how they can work well in an apartment. Will also cover some of the best smart tech for you that you could secure your Airbnb or your rental property. And lastly, we will also talk about some of the interesting IoT or connected devices that work in apartments or small spaces.
So, let's get started.
If you're a renter, you probably know there's not much you can do to the walls or switches or the permanent items in your apartment. You can't drill holes in the wall. You can't really swap out locks on the door. Your landlord will be kind of upset if you try to do some of these things. However, you can be part of the smart home revolution. There are tons of devices you can add into your rented space, and we have and we're going to cover some of these today to help you figure out how to build a smart home that's customized for your living conditions.
If you're living in a rental apartment or home, you could easily upgrade your living conditions with not a lot of money. You can build an interesting smart living space for less than $100 if you want. Or you could spend a ton. We recommend setting a budget to help you find the right devices or systems. So, let's look at some of the options and devices that you could add to your smart rental apartment.
First off is smart lighting. This is an obvious place to start because smart lights don't require a lot of money or a big investment. They're easy to install and can help you save money on your energy bill. When looking for smart lights for your apartment, you do have to keep in mind some of the smart lighting companies do require you to have a hub. Companies like Phillips Hue require a hub because it allows them to have their smart lights controlled across multiple wireless protocols. As you might remember, we talked about wireless protocols in part one. Phillips Hue starter kits come with a hub and two or four smart lights. This starter kit can cost around $250 depending on the type of lights. However, you are assured these smart lights will work across any wireless protocol, and you'll have almost no compatibility issues. But if you want to go on the lower end and look for smart lights that don't require a hub, there are brands such as LIFX or C by GE which have smart bulbs at costs 10 to $15 a light bulb and don't require hub. Plus, they can easily connect to a Google or Amazon Alexa smart speaker or display for voice control.
Smart lights are a good first device when building a smart rental property. One of the things I like about smart lights is you could put them on the outside of your apartment or rental home or Airbnb, set them to go on and off at sunset and sunrise. You could set scenes so when you're not home you can have it appear as if you are home. Many of the smart lights come with a vacation mode that allows you to set a routine that normally happens when your home. But it will happen when you're not at home. This is a nice feature that many of the smart lighting companies offer, and it's set up in their app.
We mentioned earlier smart switches and how hard it is to install them on a rental property. You could use it if you're the owner of the rental property or an Airbnb. Smart switches especially if you have a lot of lights in the room is a less expensive way for you to control your lighting and allow functionality more effectively. The switch can change the bulb color and connect to a smart display or speaker such as an Amazon Echo or a nest audio hub. These devices can act like a hub and switch the lights on and off using your voice commands or a phone app. You could set schedules to make your house or apartment, or rental property look like its being occupied when you're away. All the things that smart lights can do you can set up in a smart switch. However, you must keep in mind that behind that wall switch if you are using a wall switch connecting to your wires. You will need to understand the type of wiring behind that switch. All the new smart switches require a neutral wire. The neutral wire is the wire used to bring power to the switch so it can communicate with your home Wi-Fi router. It also allows you to do all the automations. If you're handy with wiring it's easy to install smart switch but if you're not, there are smart switches out there that are battery powered. However, these switches require you to make sure your existing switch is always on, and you must buy smart lights. So, this setup can get expensive.
An important fact to keep in mind with any smart device you install in rental property, you want to make sure that when you move you can take them with you. Yes, smart switches are a little hard to take with you, but if you're handy and saved the original light switches, you could swap them out and take the smart switches with you.
Next to switches is smart plugs and wall outlets. Smart plugs are little easier to use in a rental property. The original smart plugs were big devices but now they are sleeker and don't take up the entire outlet when plugged in. they are powerful and connect over Wi-Fi or Bluetooth or any of the other wireless connection protocols. These devices normally cost $10 to $15 and are not that expensive. Many don't require a hub and you use them to control lamps or an appliance like a coffee maker. The nice thing about smart plugs is you can set scenes or routines like the way you set up a smart light bulb. You can control your smart plug with voice if it's connected to one of the voice platforms. Some even come with smart USB ports to allow the plug to not only function as a smart plug but as a charging station for your electronic devices. There are also smart power strips. TP link is one of the companies that makes a smart power strip. It has six smart outlets and four USB ports. This is a good device to have if you have a smart Home Office and want to charge your phone and electronic devices as well as power up your computer and your screens. These power strips and other smart plugs can also help you monitor your electrical consumption and see if you're spending too much money on electricity or how to save money.
But wall outlets are a little trickier. There are more permanent and you're most likely going to need permission from your landlord if you're going to put one in. Or if you don't get permission, you will need to save the old outlets so when you move out you can put the original outlets back in the wall. When you buy smart wall outlets many of them come in pairs and connect over a wireless connection. That connection can be either Wi-Fi, Z-wave, ZigBee or any of the other popular wireless protocols. You pretty much get the same connectivity in a smart wall outlet as you do a smart plug, but the wall outlet is not as bulky as the smart plug. However, it is more permanent and expensive.
So, for rental apartments the type of devices that you can use to make it smarter would include smart lights, smart plugs, Bluetooth connected smart switches, or smart switches and smart wall outlets that you must install but uninstall when you move. All of these are good devices to have in your space. We would also recommend you add a smart speaker or display. The reason is these devices can act as your hub. There's no wiring. They are easy to set up and a lot of devices are compatible with these voice platforms. But just as we mentioned in part one of the podcast, you should pick one of the voice platforms to build your smart apartment or rental property. You don't have to because all these smart speakers and displays work not only through an app but also through voice controls. So therefore, you can't say the same thing to an Amazon smart speaker as you would a Google Assistant smart speaker. But for setup purposes, I'd recommend you pick one of the platforms. These smart speakers and displays come in different sizes and configurations. Some are just speakers, like an Echo Dot. While others are smart displays with a speaker like a Nest Hub. Both can be used as an intercom if you place multiple around your home. They could also be used for you to play music or ask questions at any time. And the cost of these smart speakers and displays range from $30 to as high as $200. But that would round out your smart apartment.
Next to smart speakers and the other devices we've mentioned, there are other smart devices you should consider or can consider depending on what you need in your new smart apartment or rental property or Airbnb. If you want security cameras, they are good devices to have because they can easily be removed when you move. They also don't cost a lot. Some can be used inside and outside and there are others that are used only for inside. These devices can help you keep an eye on who's coming and going from your rental property. If you live in an apartment and you want to keep an eye on who comes into your apartment when you're not at home. For instance, your super might be coming in and you're concerned about valuables you have in your apartment. A small indoor smart security camera is not a bad purchase. Companies like TP-Link's Kasa Spot costs around $50 as well as Wyze cam is a good camera that you can get on Amazon for only $20.
Besides security cameras which we'll get into what you need to know to buy security camera in a later segment when we talk about security, there are other types of cameras you can consider like a video doorbell or smart peephole you can add to your rental property. Ring is the manufacturer that makes good video doorbells and cameras. They also have had a smart peep hole camera called PeepHole Cam. For a rental property, you don't have a lot of options. We'd recommend getting a battery powered video doorbell if you can put up a video doorbell. Reason is you could take this with you or easily uninstall it from the home. But you must keep in mind the privacy issues with these video doorbells. Some of your neighbors, if you live in an apartment complex might not want a camera overlooking the corridor. Some of your neighbors might consider this an invasion of privacy because you're monitoring the hallway and people coming and going to other places in the building. So, it's recommended if you're renting to check with your landlord to see if you're able to have one of these devices. If not, I would recommend using a smart people or installing a camera on the inside of your door so that you could see who is always coming in.
Another smart device for rentals and rental properties to consider is smart locks. Smart locks are going to be a little harder to install if you're renting an apartment. Your landlord needs to have access to your apartment for emergency purposes. So, what can you do? There are smart locks that are perfect for Airbnb and rental apartments. These smart locks come with keypads some come with key cards. Which you can give out to your guests. For the keypad locks you can give your guests or renters a code to use but you keep the master code which allows you to change and delete old codes. The smart locks are great to have so you can monitor who's coming in when they're coming in and always keep track who's going in and out of your apartment or rental apartment or Airbnb. But if you're a renter, you have limited options. Your landlord is not going to let you change that lock. So, what do you do? Well, there is one company that we've reviewed called level lock. They make level bolt. This smart lock is just the guts of a lock, and you could take your existing deadbolt lock and make it smart. Just take the guts out of your existing deadbolt lock and put in the level bolt. Then put it back on your door. Now this lock turns into a smart lock and can be controlled through an app via Bluetooth connection by you. And you can monitor who's coming and going. And your landlord can still get in and out of your apartment because it uses the same existing key on the door lock. It's a very interesting technology made by a former apple developers and employees. We like it we think it's a really good solution for the person who doesn't want to change the hardware on their rental property Airbnb or even just their smart home. But next to that option, the only other one is to install an August lock. August allows you to keep the same key from your existing door lock because it only changes half your deadbolt lock. The August lock allows you to connect over multiple wireless protocols. You just need an August Connect which is kind of a Wi-Fi extender that comes in the form of smart plug. You plug this little device into a wall outlet within 15 feet of the door with the August lock on it. If you do that, you'll be able to turn your existing lock into a smart deadbolt lock. But it's important to know that most apartments don't only have just one lock. Some will have those locks that come with the teeth. There are no smart lights locks in that type of a lock. Today however we're expecting and hoping that that will change soon. But for the time being if you have multiple locks on the door and one of them is a one with teeth then you're more than likely not going to be able to put a smart lock on that door unless you change the door locks and the door.
So, the last kind of smart device for an Airbnb rental property or even an apartment is a smart thermostat. Now if you're living in a rental apartment and your heat is controlled by you, might be able to convince your landlord to put in a smart thermostat. We know from experience that many of the new apartment buildings are adding climate control to their building units. The reason is it can help them save money. However, if you're in an old building, more than likely you can't change or swap out the thermostat. So, you're going to have limitations. If you have AC units in the window, there are options for you to consider helping reduce your energy costs during the summer. You could use either a smart plug to control your AC unit or there are certain AC units you can put in that come with smart controls. But beyond these for a rental property or you're a renter you're pretty much limited on the smart climate controls you can get.
If you're an Airbnb owner or an owner of a rental property, we advise you consider smart thermostats. The reason is the smart thermostats can help you save money on energy usage especially during the really cold days of winter and hot days and nights of summer. You can use the smart thermostats to monitor your energy usage and can connect them with temperature sensors so when people leave you can change the thermostat's temperature in the home or in the property to help you save money.
Of all the smart devices in a smart home or rental property it is important to note connected thermostats are some of the most complicated devices to install. You need to have access to your homes wiring, and there also must be the right kind of wire in a space for you to install a connected thermostat controller. Depending on how old your home is and what type of heating system you have, more than likely you're going to need to have a C-wire. The C-wire is an important component for a smart thermostat to work properly. You could easily check to see if your home or property has a C wire. Just remove the front part of your existing thermostat and look at how many wires are connected to the thermostat. If you only see two wires, then more than likely you do not have a C wire. This would require you to get a C wire adapter or have someone come in and rewire your thermostat and HVAC system. That could be very expensive. Companies like Honeywell and nest now do sell and Amazon with their new smart thermostat powered by Honeywell offer C wire power adapters for you to connect to your thermostat if you do not have an existing C wire. But I would recommend that you contact an expert or professional installer to install one of these devices. It's not easy to do. It requires a lot of knowledge patience, and most homeowners don't have either. Especially when it comes to installing smart devices or in this case a smart thermostat.
So, let's recap what we have covered so far. When it comes to installing smart devices in an apartment where you can't really change the thermostat, can't change the door locks, can't install anything that's going to be permanent on the walls or in the sockets, you're going to be limited to smart lights, security cameras, smart plugs, and smart speaker displays by Google or Amazon. And if you have an AC wall unit or a heater, you will be able to control these climate control units using a smart plug. This can help you save some money. Remember if you're renting the apartment, we advise adding smart devices which you can take with you when you leave.
If you own a rental apartment or property or have an Airbnb property, there are more options for you to choose to help you turn your property into a smart home. This would include not only smart lights, smart plugs, smart speaker displays, and security cameras, you could also consider adding a smart thermostat, smart locks, smart wall switch or outlet. All these devices can work seamlessly when controlled on the same wireless protocol and ecosystem. This was something we covered in part one of our series and we recommend highly you follow this advice when building your smart rental property or Airbnb.
The last smart device you can add to any of these properties is a smart entertainment system. Even though you can't put a wired entertainment system with speaker wired through your apartment, there are still options out there for you to make your home entertainment system smart without touching your walls and providing a full high quality sound experience. There are ways you can hook up a Google Chromecast or an Amazon fire TV stick to your TV's HDMI port which can allow you to turn your TV on and off and work as a hub. They can work as a smart plug for your TV too.
You could also hook up these smart speakers to your existing audio system. Devices like an Echo Dot have an auxiliary input or a port to connect over a Bluetooth connection to your audio system or smartphone. All providing you a seamless wireless entertainment experience.
We're also starting to see now home cinema systems or surround sound systems go wireless. Companies like Samsung and enclave and Sony offer Dolby Atmos soundbars that have wireless subwoofers and rear speakers. All they get plugged into wall outlets but have no wires connecting them. They all work on a wireless connection but can provide cinema grade surround sound through each of the speakers.
And speaking of soundbars many of these soundbars now offer room filling surround sound from just the bar itself. Or maybe you add a wireless subwoofer. These systems made by Samsung and LG and Sonos all come with full sound and don't require any wiring. So, you don't have to put that huge surround sound system in your small little apartment. You can get it all through these devices and if you want you can even connect a smart LED light strip from Philips's Hue or LIFX to the back of your TV. Or you can even just use a regular lamp with a smart bulb and place it behind your TV, and you can see a big difference in your viewing experience. And if you want you could even use Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant voice commands to help, find your program and get the viewing and the brightness and the colors you want on your TV.
In sum, if you live in an apartment, you could see you have some limitations as compared to someone who lives in a home they owned. Or if you have a rental property or own an Airbnb property, you have more options to help make your space smarter. The things that we would recommend would be to understand first what you want your smart devices to do. And how much do you want to spend and how do you want to control these devices. Do you want to use a hub? Do you want to use a smart speaker or smart display? Or do you want to go hub less and just use your smartphone as your controller via an app. As you answer these questions, we can help you find the devices that will meet your demands and within the budget you decide. I would tell you for rental properties and Airbnb's, you can spend as little as $100 to as high as $2000 or $3000 to make your rental property or Airbnb smart. For rental properties or for renters you can spend as little as $100 to find smart devices that'll give you the experience that would normally come in a smart home in your rental space. You can also use GearBrain's new smart home compatibility find engine to help you find the devices. The GearBrain is free and easy to use. It can help you not only find these smart devices, but you can ask questions and see which products are compatible with the existing smart devices in your rental property, Airbnb or rented apartment.
I hope this was helpful. Remember, you could always learn more by going to gearbrain.com. Our next episode will be all about budgeting. We will help you learn how to build a smart home on a specific budget, whether that budget is $500, $1000 or $2000, will guide you through that process and make it easier for you.
Until then, thanks for tuning in. Talk to you soon.
The GearBrain, First Compatibility Find Engine for Smart Devices www.youtube.com