I get a lot of plaintive requests for articles that cover IoT for renters, so I’m pulling together a list for those who aren’t lucky enough to be able to tear up their walls or remove their locks in the quest for a fully automated and smart home. By the way, the locks are a really important safety features for landlords, especially in apartment complexes, so truly, don’t mess with them. But here are several gadgets that you can buy if you’d like to add a little automation and fun to your life.
Canary: The Canary is a $169 all-in-one security system that offers a camera, a siren and a bunch of sensors. I’ve long recommend it as a good gift for students going away to college or those getting their first apartment. Instead of placing a bunch of sensors everywhere, you just pop this device in the main room and it performs remarkably well when it comes to hearing strange noises that might indicate a break in and even detecting increases in humidity that could help identify a big leak. There are plenty of other security systems out there, but I like the bang for your buck that Canary offers thanks to using inference rather than a bunch of sensors. It also supports optional indoor/outdoor cameras for those who want to build on the base system.
Philips Hue bulbs: There are several light bulbs out there that offer remote on/off and integrations with the main voice and smart home platforms currently available, but I have a soft spot for Philips Hue. For renters, these bulbs can link to a smart speaker to provide voice control, and Philips also offers a pricey, but simple way to control the bulbs from a light switch and using a motion detection sensor. The biggest caveats to these bulbs are that they cost a lot (color bulbs cost $50 and whites $15) and that whenever you lose power they will turn on at full brightness when the power comes back on. If you want something a bit cheaper check out the Sengled bulbs, although they won’t work with Apple’s HomeKit platform.
Amazon Echo Plus: If you are reading this, I will assume you are just starting out with a smart home. If so, the $150 Amazon Echo Plus is an excellent device to pave the way to basic smartness without requiring a lot of extra gear because this device is also a hub. The smart speaker offers all of the talents of Alexa with an additional ZigBee radio that lets it talk to light bulbs, sensors and connected locks. You can’t add locks to your rented abode, but you could add an ZigBee-based light bulb. This means Philips Hue, GE bulbs and others. And because smart home device companies have been working to add Alexa Skills like mad, pretty much any other connected device you buy can work with Alexa too.
Google Home: I know I just spent a paragraph extolling the virtues of the Amazon Echo, but if you don’t mind a few smart device hubs, the Google Home is a smarter device that’s currently much cheaper at $79 than the Echo or Echo Plus. Google’s Hardware doesn’t speak to as many connected home devices but it’s far better at answering spoken inquiries. I rely on Google to answer tough questions such as “Can I store mangoes in the fridge?” Google also lets me call people from the Home and makes it look like it’s coming from my phone number.
Switchmate: For those in a small apartment who want to replace their light switches with something smart, Switchmate is the way to go. Because smart bulbs require a light switch to stay turned on all the time, they tend to get messed up if you live with other people or have a housecleaner. Light switches are generally better, but require you to mess with electricity and replace things built into the walls. Landlords hate that. But these $40-to-$50 light switches snap over your regular light switches (toggle or rocker style) and can remotely control your lights using a Bluetooth command from your phone. Note, that because these use Bluetooth, they will only work when your phone is in Bluetooth range. So no turning off the lights from across town.
Logitech Harmony hub: I have dozens of connected devices that I can control with my voice, but my favorite might be the entertainment center, because it keeps me from having to explain to parents or a sitter the proper order of operations to get my TV to talk to the stereo system and for everything to talk to the Roku. Instead we tell Google Home or Alexa to turn on television (or turn on Netflix) and it works. Yes, we still have to use the Roku remote, but for $100 I really appreciate how easy this device has made my life. Perhaps my favorite is I can tell Alexa to fire up the TV while I am still getting my popcorn ready and by the time I’m ready to sit down, everything is warmed up and connected.
Smart outlets: There are so many connected outlets on the market, that’s it’s tough to pick just one. The most popular are the TP-Link and Belkin’s WeMo outlets that are able to fit two to an outlet, thus allowing you full use of the plug. They run about $30 to $40 depending on sales. The downside is that while both of these outlets are made by reputable companies, neither of these companies is particularly fast when it comes to patching security flaws. I tend to prefer WeMo over TP-Link but both have their issues with security. That being said, a smart outlet is nice for anyone who wants to control a lamp with her voice or in some cases set a device like a coffeepot or curling iron on a timer. During the holidays I have a shortage of connected outlets because I use them for holiday lighting needs. In the summer I use one with a tabletop fan to blow cool air when the outside temperature gets above a certain point. If your apartment doesn’t have AC that’s a pretty handy trick.
All in, these devices would run you well under $1,000 to trick out your rental, and can make your life a bit easier, safer and more fun. Happy to hear what other products you guys like.