10 Cheap Ways to Upgrade Your Home

10 Cheap Ways to Upgrade Your Home

Big changes with small money

One of the most common objections to building a smart home is a lack of funds; thankfully, there are quite a few upgrades you can make to your home that won’t cost you an arm and a leg. Here are 10 cheap upgrades to consider the next time you’re at the store:

Change Your Thermostat (pays for itself)

I know exactly what you’re thinking… “isn’t this supposed to be a list of CHEAP things to buy?” It is! Stay with me here…

If you’re like most families, you currently using a “dumb” thermostat that stays on constantly and is probably wasting more power than you realize. Switching to a smart thermostat might cost you a little bit out of the gate (normally between $200-$250), but the money you’ll make back through convenience and energy savings helps most families pay for that purchase in less than a year. Even better, many metro-area power companies offer heavy subsidies for the purchase of a smart thermostat, making the value proposition that much higher.

You’ll want to purchase a Nest or an Ecobee for the energy savings, but you’ll quickly swoon for all of the smart home goodies that come with these platforms like motion detection, temp and humidity sensors, and much more.

Try Some Smart Light Bulbs ($30-$60/ea)

Does reading about the Philips Hue system make you scared for your wallet? There are some fantastic alternatives like LIFX out there that will let you dip a toe into the smart lighting waters just a bulb at a time. If you don’t care about colored lighting, the LIFX White 800 will allow you to automate light schedules, change dimness, and even change the color temperature of its white tone, all with the purchase of just a single bulb. Their Color 1000 bulb is even better, which supports many smart home platforms and can produce a vivid color spectrum that actually tops what Hue is capable of (more on that in an updated review soon).

Spend $20-$50 on a smart bulb here and there, and you’ll be surprised by how quickly you’ve updated the lighting system in your house.

Install a Smart Dimmer ($40-60/ea)

If you’re thinking about adding or replacing a dimmer switch, spend $10-$20 more and upgrade to a smart dimmer switch. Although they look just like a normal in-wall dimmer, the smart switches from Lutron, Leviton, and many other brands use smart home protocols like Z-Wave to integrate with most popular smart home platforms. You can use them just like a normal switch/dimmer, but you can pair them with something like Wink or SmartThings to turn lights off remotely, control a room as part of a recipe/routine, or accomplish many other smart home goals.

I’m installing 14(!) of the Leviton dimmers in my new place, so I’ll have a full review on those soon.

Buy One Thing That Does Many Things

There’s pretty much a device for everything these days, but some of the best purchases are the devices that combine a lot of functionality into a single purchase. Take Amazon’s excellent Echo speaker ($179), which combines a voice assistant, a bluetooth speaker, and a home automation hub into one reasonably affordable device.

Think through the things you want to accomplish in your home, and seek out devices that can knock out two (or three, or four) birds with just one stone.

Buy a Smart Home Hub ($70-$100)

Contrary to popular belief, the smart home hub that runs your home is typically much cheaper than most of the gadgets that connect to it. Wink and SmartThings both offer inexpensive hub products that allow you to tie your smart products together in meaningful ways.

Be warned though… investing in a hub is typically the upgrade that turns your smart home habit into a full-fledged addiction.

Track Personal Items with Bluetooth Tags ($25/ea)

A great home-life upgrade that many families will enjoy is to track certain items like keys or backpacks with inexpensive bluetooth tags. They’re about $20-$30/ea on average (less if you buy in bulk), and can keep you from ripping your hair out when you’re late from work and can’t find your keys. We’re big fans of the XY Find It brand.

Explore Tools Like IFTTT (free!)

It doesn’t get cheaper than free, but that’s the price you’ll pay for IFTTT’s awesome little service. By using recipes with IFTTT, you can dig up all sorts of creative ways to use the devices you already have to upgrade your home life. Use the motion sensor in your thermostat to turn on the lights when you get home. Have the LIFX bulb in your lamp flash blue when someone retweets you. You can get a ton of smart home mileage out of this killer geeky service.

Modernize Your Home Security System (pays for itself)

For most families today, there’s no reason to pay for an old-fashioned home security system and its monthly monitoring fees. Cancel your service, go grab an excellent home security device like the Canary, and watch your bank account fill up quickly from the savings. You’ll also keep your family safer thanks to the high-def video, air quality sensors, and other features that products like the Canary ($199) offer.

Buy Some Door/Window Sensors ($30-$40/ea)

Similar to purchasing a-la-cart smart lightbulbs, it’s cheap to add a door/window sensor to your smart home platform to increase your automation capabilities. You may start with obvious places like the front door for security reasons, but these are surprisingly handy to have on windows, or even kitchen cabinets; it’s great to know if you left the bedroom window open during a rainstorm, or if your toddler is raiding the cookie cabinet again.

Buy a Pack of Smart Buttons ($34/ea)

Tired of tracking down a smart phone every time you want to turn on your lamp? Grab an affordable product like the Flic smart button and place it in a handy location. These are great for controlling your Sonos speakers, triggering IFTTT actions, or even just as a handy extra light switch on your night stand. They get even cheaper if you buy them in bulk!

Those are just a few ideas to help you make some effective upgrades the next time your wallet (or spouse!) allows. Know of some cheaper ways to invest in your smart home? Let us know in the comments below!


Eric is the creator of At Home in the Future and has been a passionate fan of the future since he was seven. He's a web developer by trade, and serves as the Director of Communication and Technology for a large church in Nashville, TN (where he and his family are building a high tech home in the woods).