The beginner’s guide to setting up a smart home in 6 steps and how to pull it off for under $500.
I’m the least techie blogger on the planet. There, I said it. My solution to every problem is “turn it off and turn it back on again”, and if that doesn’t fix it, I know zilch.
If Google didn’t exist so that I could ask it a million elementary tech questions, this blog definitely wouldn’t exist either.
But for a while now, I’ve really been wanting to set up a smart home, especially before this baby bean arrives in the fall. Because I remember so many times snuggling and rocking sleeping Olivia as a baby and thinking, “If only I had a magic wand to turn lights off and play lullaby music and change the channel and turn up the a/c so I don’t have to risk life and limb by getting up and disturbing this snoozing time bomb.”
Enter our new magic wands. Yaaaay!
We officially have a smart home, and I’m telling you I had absolutely nothing to be worried about in the technologically-challenged department.
Because I set up all 6 components BY MYSELF in one afternoon and the entire setup was less than $460 at Walmart. And it has saved us money in other ways since we’re now able to ditch our $134/month cable bill, decrease our energy usage, and decrease our security system cost.
If you’ve been intimidated about setting up a smart home or thought it was too expensive, here’s a full beginner’s guide to make the process easier.
- Google Chromecast and Google Home Mini Bundle – $75
- Linksys Velop Whole Home Wi-Fi 2 pack – $149
- Merkury Innovations Smart Bulbs (I bought 4) – $9.88 each
- Merkury Innovations 720 Smart Camera – $24.88
- Nest Thermostat E – $169
Our existing Wi-Fi has to travel through a lot of thick walls in this old house, so to help give it a boost to reach some of the spots that get a poor signal, I installed this Linksys Velop Whole Home Wi-Fi 2 pack that extends the reach to 3,000 square feet, and you can add more nodes (that little white box on our nightstand) for the more square footage you have to get a strong Wi-Fi signal in every room.
Set-Up: Just plug one node into your modem and plug in the second node in a room in your house where you need an extra Wi-Fi boost. Download and launch the Linksys app on your smart phone and you’re done.
- Boosts weak Wi-Fi to prevent dead zones and buffering
- Allows you to schedule your kids’ internet time and set up parental controls on all devices from the app
Google Home Mini
Once you’ve set up the Wi-Fi, you can connect the Google Home Mini, which acts as the central hub to control all of the other smart devices in your house. We placed ours in our kitchen where we spend a lot of our time and it’s the very center of our home (and also where I usually need hands-free capability the most while cooking).
Set-Up: Plug it in, download the Google Home app, and the on-screen steps will help you finish set up.
- Ask Google questions like, “What’s the weather for today?”
- Organize your day like setting alarms, reminders, get info about your commute, get the news, add items to your to-do list, and plan your grocery shopping list.
- Place calls to friends and family hands-free using just your voice.
- Play music or start a TV show via voice command.
- Control your home with your voice with compatible smart lights, thermostats, security systems, doorbells, appliances, etc.
Ever since we installed it, we have loved dancing around to music each evening while cooking dinner in the kitchen. Olivia asks it trivia questions every chance she gets.
Our house is quirky with light switches on a bunch of different walls, and none of our lights are ever grouped together for one room, so these light bulbs have been great solving that issue for us. We started out with 4 bulbs for now to use in our living room and foyer, but we’re planning to add more now that we’ve seen how much we like them.
Set up: Just download the Geeni app in Google Home, screw in a light bulb, add the bulb in the app to be recognized, connect it to the Wi-Fi, and you’re done.
- Set your schedule by turning your lights on or off automatically (great for if you’re out of town and want to make it look like you’re home).
- Group them by room so you can turn on all of the lights in the room at once with one command, “Hey Google, turn the living room lights on.”
- Bulbs make any lamp/light dimmable and can replace regular 60W bulbs.
I was so ecstatic that I managed to install this thermostat all by myself. I kid you not, I’ve never even installed a light fixture in my life (that’s always Robert’s job), but I did it and feel like I can rewire a whole house now (I promise, I won’t… I know my limits). But so far, we’re really happy with how it’s helping us save energy costs on air conditioning in the blazing heat of summer.
Set up: This video helped me a lot. Switch off the power to your thermostat on your breaker box. Remove the cover of your old thermostat, take a picture of the wires, label your wires with provided stickers, disconnect and remove base, screw in the Nest base to the wall, connect the wires, attach the display, switch power back on, and finish setting up through the Nest app.
- The thermostat turns itself down when you’re out of the house and allows you to control it from anywhere.
- Allows you to check your energy history to see how you save
- Alerts you to when it’s time to change air filters
- Allows you to control it from your phone, tablet, laptop, or via voice command
We’ve been wanting to get an indoor surveillance camera since our 10 month old Stella the wonder pup gets into quite a bit of mischief and we like to keep an eye on her. It’s a big bonus that it’s cheaper than our security system company offered.
Set up: Download the Geeni app in Google Home, plug in the camera, add the device in the app, connect it to the Wi-Fi and done!
- Night vision provides security at night
- Get alerts when there’s motion in your home
- Listen and talk to your pets/family in live two-way conversations
I just placed the camera on our mantel next to a little plant to help it blend in so that we can get a clear vantage point of Stella during the day while we’re gone and see everything she’s up to (and chewing/destroying) from our phones. Her middle name is Mischief.
And Lola (our 7 year-old first-born) gets into a bit of mischief herself, but she tries to play it off with that fur angel face. Seriously, just look at her. She’s smirking.
We were able to cut the cord with cable and end our contract a year early thanks to this little guy now that we can stream shows, movies, and music through our smart TV. It is saving us $1,400 over the next 11 months because our satellite bill is gone.
Set up: Plug the Chromecast cable into the TV’s HDMI port, download Chromecast from the Google Home app, follow the in-app install, and start streaming channels/movies.
- Stream HD video from the cloud through apps like Netflix, YouTube, Spotify, Hulu, HBO GO, WatchESPN, Google Play, etc.
- Your phone can be your remote or you can control your TV through voice command like, “OK Google, play Stranger Things from Netflix on my TV.”
Before installing Chromecast, we were using our Playstation 4 for streaming Netflix, but the picture always came out grainy and digitized. Chromecast has made our HDTV actual high-def now.
So now our TV, thermostat, music, security camera, and lights, all can be operated by voice command and work through Google Assistant. If wands can’t exist, this is close enough to magic!
You can snag all of the components we used at Walmart to set up your own smart home and make the process easier or check out all of the latest and greatest smart home devices here to customize it to your own needs on a budget.
At this point, our house is definitely smarter than I am now. If you need me, I’ll be over here reading Technology for Dummies for everything else. 😉