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How to build a smart home for a budget of $400 to $500

At the top end of this budget you can pick up no fewer than 18 smart home products.

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We at GearBrain recently wrote about how to start your smart home for just $100, but now it's time to up the budget and see what $400 to $500 can get you.

This may sound like a large jump - yes, it is at least fourfold - but remember, we live in a world where $1,000 smartphones are quickly becoming the norm. Spending half that but getting a wide range of smart home products, which all talk to each other and can be made to work together, seems like good value in our books.

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You can split your own $400 to $500 across any smart home products however you like, but this article is aimed to be a look at what we'd do with our own money. If you are a renter you will be limited when it comes to installing a thermostat and lighting, so you may want to invest more heavily in higher-quality speakers and more smart plugs.

Similarly, if you are a homeowner, then a smart door lock might sound more appealing than a second smart display. It's ultimately up to you, but this is how we'd spend $400 to $500 on building a new smart home of our own.

Smart speaker, hub or smart display

Amazon Echo smart speaker The $70 Echo works as a smart home hub Amazon

As with our article on the $100 smart home, your starting point still needs to be a hub of some description. This can still be the $49 Nest Mini or Amazon Echo Dot we recommended in the $100 article, or you could stretch to a larger Google Home, Amazon Echo, or a smart display like the Google Nest Hub.

You could blow half the budget on the Nest Hub Max, but we think the smaller $130 Google Nest Hub makes more sense when the limit is $400. This gives you the Google Assistant and a speaker for playing music, plus a touch screen for controlling smart home devices like lights, plugs and cameras, and for displaying extra information when you ask the assistant questions.

Google Nest Hub on Sale at Walmart

If you prefer the Amazon and Alexa ecosystem, then the second-generation Echo Show is currently reduced from $230 to $180.

If you don't want a smart speaker or display, your best option for 2020 is the $70 Samsung SmartThings Hub V3, which connects to a huge range of smart home devices using Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Zigbee and Z-Wave.

For this $400 example, we'll go for the newest Amazon Echo, which currently costs $75. The $130 Nest Hub is also good value for a smart display, but we want our budget to stretch further so we're sticking to a speaker with no display for now.

Note: This article previously featured the Wink Hub 2, but it has been listed as "temporarily unavailable" on Wink's website for months, and the company rarely speaks via its social media channels.

  • Spent: $75 (Amazon Echo 3rd generation)
  • Remaining budget: $325

All-new Echo (3rd Gen) - Smart speaker with Alexa - Twilight Blue



Smart lighting

Sengled smart light bulbs starter kit This set of three color bulbs and a hub costs $90Sengled

Most smart lighting systems produce very similar results, in that they give you control of the brightness, color and temperature of your light bulbs, via an app, automation, or voice commands.

The main differentiator is whether you buy white or color bulbs. The latter can shine any color with literally millions of options available, while the former only show different temperatures (and brightness) of white light, ranging from crisp, bright white to a warm, orange glow.

Color smart bulbs start at around $30 from C by GE, whose bulbs connect to your Google or Nest smart speaker/display and don't require a hub or bridge - unlike market leader Philips Hue, whose color starter kit is $140 for a hub and three bulbs.

That said, Hue offers a broader range of indoor, outdoor and decorative bulbs and LED light strips than most, plus buttons, motion sensors and switches. If lighting is going to be the focus of your smart home, then Hue could be the answer.

But with a $400 total budget, we think Sengled and its pack of three color bulbs and a hub for $90 is good value for money, and includes compatibility with Alexa, Google Assistant, SmartThings and IFTTT.

  • Spent: $165 (Amazon Echo and three color smart bulbs)
  • Remaining budget: $235

Sengled Smart Light Bulb, Smart Bulb Multicolor LED A19 Starter Kit, 3 Smart Light Bulbs & Smart Hub, Color Changing Dimmable Smart Light Bulb that Works with Alexa, Google Home, SmartThings & IFTTT



Smart plugs

Gosund smart plug pack Smart plugs can cost as little as $30 for fourGosund

Smart plugs are a remarkably cheap way to add smartness and automation to your home. They cost from under $10 each, and when installed let you switch appliances on and off from your phone, or by speaking to a voice assistant.

Smart plugs work best with products like heaters and fans, which start working as desired when switched on at the wall outlet. This is because the smart plug is only controlling the power supply, and nothing else. Still, they are cheap and can be automated - for example, you could have a fan switch on when a room reaches a certain temperature, or a humidifier power up when the air gets dry (as measured by a smart air quality monitor, sold separately).

You can currently buy a set of four plugs from Gosund on Amazon for $30. These connect to Wi-Fi, require no hub, and can be controlled by Alexa and Google Assistant.

  • Spent: $195 (Amazon Echo, three color bulbs, four smart plugs)
  • Remaining budget: $205

Smart Plug Gosund Smart Wifi Outlet Works with Alexa and Google Home, 2.4G Wifi Only, No Hub Required, ETL and FCC Listed 4 Pack [Upgraded Version]



Smart thermostat

Nest E smart thermostat The Nest E is priced at $169Nest

While the regular Nest Learning Thermostat is just out of our budget for this article, the company's cheaper $169 Nest E is attainable. This product still offers many of the same features, but has a simpler, cheaper design.

The Nest E can be controlled with a smartphone app or by speaking to Google Assistant or Alexa, and once it has learnt your preferences for heating and cooling, it will adjust automatically to keep you comfortable but also lower your energy bills.

  • Spent: $364 (Amazon Echo, three color bulbs, four smart plugs, Nest E thermostat)
  • Remaining Budget: $36

With just $36 of the $400 left, we can't make any big purchases, but that's still enough to buy another color smart light bulb, or a set of smart plugs to bring internet connectivity and voice control to more otherwise 'dumb' devices around the home.

Google, T4000ES, Nest Thermostat E, Smart Thermostat, White



Unless…

If we up the budget to $500 and introduce you to budget smart home company Wyze, you can add another 12 devices to that $364 haul.

The Wyze Cam v2 costs $20, and so too does the company's sensor kit, which includes two door/window sensors to let you know when they are open or closed, plus a motion sensor and a bridge which connects to the Wyze Cam to hook everything up to your Wi-Fi network.

Wyze Cam v2 indoor smart security camera The Wyze Cam v2 costs just $20 Wyze

The company also sells white smart bulbs in packs of four for $30, and a new smart lock for $90.

Add all this together, and include our earlier $364 spend, and we have a total outlay of $524. But for that final $160 we got ourselves a security camera with free cloud storage, two door/window sensors and a motion sensor (creating a simple home alarm system), four further light bulbs, and a smart door lock (which goes on sale later in February 2020).

We may have bent the rules slightly at the end there, but we hope this article demonstrates how much smart home equipment you can buy for half the price of a top-end smartphone. In all, we managed to pick up 18 individual smart home devices for $524.

Wyze Cam 1080p HD Indoor Wireless Smart Home Camera with Night Vision, 2-Way Audio, Works with Alexa & the Google Assistant, One Pack, White - WYZEC2


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