The price of a smart home can have an incredible range.  With new technology coming out seemingly every day there is no limit to what you can spend.  So what can you do with a limited budget?  The answer is you can do a lot if you have the right plan.  The key is to understand what your goals are. How do you plan to use your smart home technology and what features are most important to you?  Here I will provide some suggestions and features I recommend and also strategies you can use for a low budget smart home build.

1. Start with a single room and build on it over time

When I first started building my smart home, my wife was not so into the idea.  She didn’t think it would be worth spending the money and let’s face it, smart home products are not exactly cheap.  I did manage to convince her that it would be worth trying out just one room.  I started with nothing but an echo dot and a light switch.  Once she got in the habit of using Alexa to turn the lights on and off (and dim) is was a matter of weeks before she was asking me to add more light switches in other rooms.  Of course, this also meant that I needed to buy more echo dots.

Having more echo dots opened up additional options like the drop-in feature which allowed us to speak to each other like a two-way intercom system. My wife loved that one because she could ask me to do things from any room in the house and before we knew it there was a dot in almost every room of the house.  Then I slowly over time added in other devices like the ring doorbell camera, digital picture frame and the irrigation controller.

3. Buy devices that don’t require specialized hubs

There are so many hubs available in the smart home space that it can be difficult to know which one you need.  In some cases, you end up needing several different hubs just to run your house.  Possibly the best piece of advice I can give you for saving money and building your smart home inexpensively is to be careful about buying devices that require extra hubs.  

Building a smart home on a budget one room at a time

2. Choosing a digital assistant. Google, Amazon and Apple, who has the better deals?

Choosing a digital assistance can be a daunting task if you don’t already know what features you want.  Each of the three main digital assistants have their own pluses and minuses and it’s important that you understand what they are and how they will affect your smart home build-out before you decide which one to go with.  Because you will eventually have one of these in almost every room of your home you should choose the one which has the best compatibility with the types of devices you want to include in your smart home build. For a complete comparison of the Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa, Sir, Cortana and other voice controlled digital assistants check out our 2019 guide to the digital assistant marketplace.

Smart home devices that save you money

Hubs can be expensive and I believe that before long you won’t really need them anyways.  As Amazon and Google build in more compatibility with a variety of devices it will eliminate the need to have a bunch of different hubs.  If you want to buy a device that isn’t compatible directly yet, then your best options is to choose a hub that is compatible with enough devices to fulfill all of the requirements you have for your smart home.  One hub to rule them all.  The best options is still to find devices that can be controller by your digital assistant without any extra assistance from outside hubs. 

4. Switches VS. Bulbs, lighting that doesn’t break the bank

Regardless of your choice between purchasing light switches or bulbs, there are many inexpensive options to choose from.  Lighting is definitely one of the best features of the smart home.  The convenience of turning the lights on or off just by speaking a few words is spectacular.  Not to mention the lighting options just keep getting cooler with the color changes and styles.  Everything from strip lights to bulbs with Bluetooth speakers built in can make your smart home amazing.  The trick is not to go broke building it though.  Replacing every light bulb or switch in your house can get very expensive.  However, I can offer a few really good tips for reducing the cost.  First you will want to decide on a brand that works with your digital assistant, so that you don’t have to buy any additional hubs.  Next you will want to make sure that the brand you like offers the variety of lighting options that you are looking for. 

Once you make those selections you can start the hunt.  I recommend that you shop around and find the best price. Compare the cost of buying the light switch with the cost of using smart bulbs.  Don’t forget that the bulbs will be much easier to install, so if you are not comfortable with installing light switches then you will need to factor in the cost of an electrician.  As we stated earlier, start with a single room. Then you only need to purchase a single switch or one to two smart light bulbs.  I recommend using the equipment you purchase for a few weeks to make sure you like the way it works before you add in extra rooms.

5. Free apps that make your smart home even smarter

If you are good with technology and willing to put in the extra time it takes to really fine tune your smart home then there are some really great free apps available.  With these apps you have a lot more flexibility for creating scenes and skills that turn your smart home into a freaking genius. One of those free apps is the IFTTT website. IFTTT stands for “If This Then That” and you can build applets using that same logic.  If this happens, then do this or else do that.  Sounds simple right?  There are already lots of applets available for you to use on the IFTTT website completely free and you can also build your own if the applet you are looking for isn’t available.

Some examples of useful IFTTT applets are

Have Alexa email your shopping list to you

Press a button to track work hours in Google Drive

Turn your lights on automatically as you arrive home

6. Research the features you want

Knowing what you want your smart home to do for you is critical to choosing the right devices.  Everything from choosing the right digital assistant to selecting a hub should be based on your required activities.  There are so many options on the market that you could easily spend a small fortune trying to buy everything so if you are trying to build a smart home on a budget then start by compiling a list of the features you want.  Once you have the feature list you should try to prioritize it from most important to least important.  After you have your list you can start figuring out which equipment meets the needs for lowest price.  See our Smart Home Feature Planning Spreadsheet.

7. Avoid monthly fees

Some smart home devices come with paid features like the ring doorbell.  You don’t have to purchase the subscription to use the ring doorbell but there are some features you won’t get without it.  If your goal is to build a smart home that doesn’t cost you a small fortune, watch out for the hidden fees and subscriptions.

8. Cord cutting to save money

Cord cutting is a trending term people use to represent changing from the traditional TV service like AT&T or Comcast to a streaming service or an Over the Air Antenna.  There are several streaming services available to choose form and they all start at a much lower cost than the traditional TV services.  You can potentially get all of the same channels you have now for a lower cost and still have the features you like in a DVR. 

Be sure that you know what you are getting, all streaming services are not made equal and many of the digital DVR’s have limits on both space and functionality. Additionally, you have to make sure that you have a device on each TV that is compatible with the service you choose.  For example, PlayStation Vue will not work on the Amazon Fire TV. If you are interested in checking out a few streaming services you can look at Hulu Live TV, YouTube Live TV, PlayStation Vue, and Sling TV.  Furthermore, check out our cord cutters guide to streaming services. 

If you prefer not to pay for a subscription at all you can get an over the air antenna.  You probably won’t get as many channels as the streaming services but beyond the cost of the antenna and whatever DVR you choose there are no monthly fees.

9. Go Wireless

There are options for wire free devices in almost every category now.  Wired devices may run a bit more consistently; however, assuming you have a decent WiFi router you should be able to save a lot of money by purchasing wireless devices.  For example, wireless light bulbs instead of light switches will save you the cost of hiring an electrician to install them.  You can also purchase motorized smart blinds that connect over WiFi.  The wireless smart blinds tend to be much less expensive than the wired ones, and the downside is you have to change the batteries every once in a while. Although, for a low budget smart home, wireless is the only way to go. Wireless Camera’s can be much easier and less expensive to install unless you have plenty of open access to the areas you need.  

10. Devices that pay for themselves

There is one particular device that pays for itself.  Smart thermostats which can save you money on your electric bill.  Once the initial cost of the thermostat is paid back you actually save yourself extra money each month.  A good deal by anyone’s standard.  Check out the Nest and the Ecobee.  Many other devices can offer you a return as well, LED light bulbs use less electricity and the number of green energy smart appliances and other devices is growing constantly.

BSC Recommended Smart Home Starter Kits

Amazon Alexa Starter Kit

This is an excellent way to start out by turning master bedroom into a smart room.  With this kit you will have the ability to turn the lights on and off, open the window blinds, and turn on the aromatherapy diffuser all with a single command using the Amazon Alexa Show as the control center.

$89.99 Amazon Alexa Echo Show 5
$36.99 Smart Light Bulbs
$159.00 Smart Window Blinds
$38.95 Smart Essential Oil Aromatherapy Diffuser & Humidifier

Google Home Hub Starter Kit

Google home hub offers some great features like contextual conversations.  With this living room kit you can control the temperature of your house, remotely lock and unlock your front door and provide complete WiFi coverage for the entire house.

$129.00 Google Nest Hub
$239.00 Google Whole House WiFi Mesh System
$159.00 Smart Lock for the Front Door
$239.99 Nest Learning Thermostat