How to Get a Smart Home: Three Frequently Asked Questions, Answered

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What’s the best way to get your home connected? Here are three approaches.

I want the coolest connected-home gear, and I’m not afraid to do it myself. What should I get?
If you don’t mind doing your homework — and searching internet forums for trouble­shooting advice — you can assemble a smart-home system that addresses three key areas: heating, lighting, and security. Our pick for an ideal setup would include (1) the Ecobee3 thermostat ($250;, which optimizes heating and cooling using an array of temperature sensors; (2) a few dimmable Cree Connected LED Bulbs ($15;; and (3) the Canary ($199;, a networkable security camera that watches for intruders (and also monitors ambient settings like temperature and air quality) when you’re away. On their own, these devices won’t communicate with one another, but by pairing them with (4) a Wink ($89; smart-home hub, you can set them to act as triggers for each other. Your lights, for example, could go on when your camera detects motion and shut off when you leave for work. Since compatibility is a nagging smart-home issue, Apple is developing its own HomeKit ecosystem, which aims to link a larger selection of smart products with your iOS devices. HomeKit-compatible devices, which include locks, bulbs, and even window shades, are rolling out now.

Should I just let a pro do it?
Even if you’ve only fiddled around with your home WiFi network, you know that getting connected devices up and running can be a painful affair. If you have the budget, there’s no beating a pro outfit that will suss out your needs before building a custom system to automate your home. That usually means they install all the wiring, transmitters, hubs, touchscreens, and sensors — and, best of all, they teach you how to use them. Bruce Reed, the senior AV engineer with New York City–based Cloud9 SmartHome, says the sky really is the limit when it comes to a custom installation, and his company even offers a white-­glove service that includes responding to “emergency” emails in the middle of the night about, say, that one light bulb that just won’t shut off. Major caveat: Expect to pay at least in the mid four figures and sometimes way beyond.

I’m not a techie but want a simple way to smarten up my home. Any help?
Now, with self-contained starter sets, it’s possible to have a bona fide (if somewhat limited) smart-home system up and running in less than a couple of hours. If you want to begin with lighting, the Lutron Caséta Wireless Smart Lighting Dimmer Kit ($99; replaces a pair of wall switches with a smart dimmer (without the need for an electrician) and includes a portable mini remote control, as well as allowing adjustment via a smartphone app. For simple home security, the Samsung SmartThings Home Monitoring Kit ($249; comes with an assortment of tiny motion and temperature sensors and can notify you if something seems amiss.

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