How To Design A Smart Home For Less Than $1,000

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From keyless entry to colour-changing lights and voice-activated streaming, a smart home can do it all. Let’s take a look at how you could turn your home intelligent on a budget.

What is a smart home? 

Smart homes are one interpretation of the Internet of Things (IoT) in action. 

Setting up a smart home involves replacing common household appliances such as lights and entertainment systems with sophisticated versions that are capable of being connected to the Internet and the home WiFi network.

This allows them all to be controlled from a central hub, which may be a voice-activated speaker, or a dedicated app on your mobile phone. This makes many interesting things possible. 

What are the advantages or conveniences of a smart home?

Imagine this. As you walk up to your home after a long day at work, your main door automatically unlocks to let you in. You step into a soothingly lit home, with the aircon blowing a cool gentle breeze. 

After dinner, you decide to unwind with a movie or serial drama you’ve been chasing. With a simple voice command, your 55” television starts streaming your Netflix queue, while the lights dim themselves automatically. 

Come bedtime, your bedroom lights turn into a relaxing shade of lavender. The aircon switches on to your preferred temperature, the front door locks itself for the night, and everything else powers down for the night. 

Sounds like a scene from a utopian future? Well, everything we described is thoroughly possible with the right devices. 

What do I need to know before converting my home to a smart one?

Virtually every household appliance can be designed to connect to a unified network and operate wirelessly (thereby ‘made smart’), there’s no limit to achieving a technologist’s dream of living in a fully automated home, controlled using simple voice commands or a tap of a touchscreen.

Well, in theory at least. In reality, the current smart home ecosystem is a somewhat messy mix of different protocols — some proprietary, some open source — depending on brands and standards, which means that not every smart home device is able to work seamlessly together. 

As such, there’s a chance you may encounter a smart home device or two that cannot be controlled via your current setup, forcing you to add a hub, or even a separate network altogether to operate the errant devices.

For this reason, it is important to choose devices that have a wide range of compatibility (able to work with as many platforms as possible) to maintain a coherent smart network. 

Is it expensive to set up a smart home in Singapore? 

Smart home devices are many times more expensive than traditional ‘dumb’ appliances. For example, a normal LED light bulb costs just a dollar or two, but a smart version can cost over 20 times more. 

However, proponents of smart homes point to better power and resource management, which ultimately translates to savings down the line. Currently, the most popular smart home devices are lights and lamps, power plugs and switches, speakers, televisions, door locks and doorbells.  

A beginner’s smart home shopping list for under $1,000

Setting up a smart home needn’t burn a hole in your pocket. Here’s our guide to setting up a reasonably priced space-age home, for under a thousand dollars. 

CategoryDevicePrice
SpeakerGoogle Nest Audio$139
Lights and lampsYeelight LED Bulb$25 each (6 for $150)
Door lockYale Assure Lock SL$275
DoorbellSmart WiFi Video Doorbell$64
TVGoogle Chromecast$65
Vacuum cleanerAlfawise V10 Max Robot Vacuum Cleaner$260

Total: $953

Google Nest Audio, $139

This is the nerve centre, so to speak, of your smart home network through which you can control the connected smart devices. The Google Nest Audio is the next-gen replacement for Google Home, and functions as a Google Assistant, as well as a portable speaker.

This device can pick up your Google Assistant voice commands that start with ‘Ok Google’, or ‘Hey Google’, and perform the requested operations on connected devices. For example, you can say to it, “Hey Google, turn the lights blue,” and the smart lights will change their hue. 

For those who enjoy listening to music at home, Google Nest Audio is noteworthy for being loud and punchy, which provides a better listening experience over the smaller Google Nest Mini, which is roughly the size and shape of a hockey puck. 

Hence, Google Nest Audio makes for an economical 2-in-1 device for beginners, being both the Google Assistant platform and a decent speaker for at-home listening. 

However, if you seek higher music fidelity, or already have your own favourite Bluetooth speaker, you can pair the speaker using Bluetooth to your Google Assistant device and add it to your smart home network.  

Yeelight Smart LED Bulb, $25 (6 for $150)

The range of smart lights and lamps available is mind-boggling large, with some requiring their own hub and system to operate. So-called starter kits may also come with a measly few bulbs, forcing you to spend more for extras. It can all end up costing a pretty penny, especially if you’re a newbie. 

Luckily Yeelight (by Xiaomi), has a smart LED light bulb that is not only easy to use but also pretty affordable. At just $25 per bulb, these smart lights are amongst the easiest to set up. Simply, screw them into any available light socket and register them on your smart home network.

Once done, you can turn them on and off, change their colours, and even dim or brighten them as you like using your voice or the Google Assistant app. You can also programme them to automatically change colours and brightness as part of a scene. 

Yale Assure Lock SL, $275

With keypad entry capabilities, you never have to worry about forgetting your keys again. Also, the keyless operation of this smart lock means no risk of being lock-picked, and no more changing the locks due to lost keys. 

As it pairs with Google Assistant, you can lock or unlock your door with a voice command. Already in bed, or outside, and need to check your door? Just whip out your mobile phone to do so. 

With the Yale Assure, you can also programme up to 25 separate keycodes for use by relatives, neighbours, friends and other authorised persons. 

Smart WiFi Video Doorbell, $64

Add an extra layer of security to your home with a video doorbell that allows you to see and talk to visitors that show up outside your door. These devices also typically include video recording that provides surveillance information. 

While there are many no-doubt excellent brands and selections out there for video doorbells, they can also be prohibitively expensive. For example, Google’s own Nest Hello video doorbell with facial recognition costs up to $500 per unit.

Instead, go for a cheaper alternative that offers similar functions, such as the Smart WiFi Video Doorbell. Once set up, it allows you to see and communicate with visitors at your door using your phone, tablet or computer via its native app. The smart doorbell also features motion detection, and video and image recording.

Chromecast, $65

Chances are that you already have a television with a HDMI port. You can recruit your television into your smart home network under Google Assistant with Google Chromecast, which is simply a small dongle that you plug into your HDMI port. 

Once the setup is done, you can say, “Hey Google, play Record of Youth on Netflix”, and your television will instantly start streaming the Korean drama. You can also project your mobile, tablet or laptop display to your television with Chromecast. 

Alfawise V10 Max Robot Vacuum Cleaner, $260

This is perhaps the closest we can get to living in an episode of The Jetsons for now, but if you hook up a robot vacuum cleaner to your smart home network, you can go to work satisfied that there’s a little helper toiling away to keep your floor clean at home. 

The Alfawise V10 Max Robot Vacuum Cleaner provides both vacuum and mopping functions, and comes with an in-bulit water talk. It has an average operating time of about 2 hours, which gives it plenty of range for small and average-sized homes.

It also supports Google Assistant, so you can have the robot clean up spills with a voice command. 

Money-saving tips when building a smart home

Start small and simple

Because the IoT ecosystem is always changing, and a universal seamless protocol is still nowhere to be seen. So, buying too many devices too quickly can cause you to waste money on incompatible devices.

Hence, it is advisable to start small and decide on an ecosystem in the beginning, building your smart home slowly by replacing different components along the way. As your familiarity grows, you will be better skilled at picking compatible products, or finding workarounds for incompatible ones. 

Plan your purchases

Be sure to plan your purchases to take advantage of sales and promotions and save money on your devices. Smart home is an increasingly popular shopping category, both in the East and West, and there’s a good chance you can find great deals during major online shopping holidays, such as 10.10, 11.11, Amazon Prime Day, Black Friday or Cyber Monday.

Trade your unwanted devices

Smart home devices are largely reusable, so don’t throw away your unwanted devices, as there’s a good chance another IoT enthusiast has a use for them. Try to trade your unwanted devices with other smart home tinkerers on platforms such as Carousell. 

Don’t forget your credit cards

Many smart devices can be bought online or in electronics stores so don’t miss the chance to earn credit card perks. 

If you’re buying from Harvey Norman or Courts, there’s a good chance you’re shopping at a CapitaLand Mall. In that case, pay with the American Express CapitaCard to earn points which you can redeem for CapitaVouchers. 

If you’re getting your smart home items shipped from overseas via VPost, use the Standard Chartered Spree Card to get 2% cashback on your online purchase and 3% cashback on your delivery fees. 

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By Alevin Chan
An ex-Financial Planner with a curiosity about what makes people tick, Alevin’s mission is to help readers understand the psychology of money. He’s also on an ongoing quest to optimise happiness and enjoyment in his life.