Josh Hendrickson / Geek Review

I recently visited several million dollar homes that had smart home technology built in. To my surprise, I didn’t see a single custom system like Control4. Most of the technology was devices that you can easily buy and install! (With a few exceptions).

For clarity, I live in an area where the average home sells for around $200,000. Few people own million-dollar homes, and they are usually large, often four or more levels, like the photo above I took before touring the house.

While most of that money goes to luxury features like pantries, the size of home offices, and game rooms with custom themes, you also get smart home technology as part of the package. I went in expecting to see custom systems like Control4 or Savant, but that was not the case at all. I didn’t even see a single smart hub.

Instead, I saw expansive (and therefore expensive) video doorbells, smart assistant devices, smart thermostats, smart lights, smart water valves, smart sprinklers, and smart shading systems. You can easily install most of these devices for a similar smart home experience. The good news is that most of those devices are accessible and affordable, even if you can’t splurge on a four-story house.

Video doorbells were a common theme

A Nest Hello video doorbell
Josh Hendrickson / Geek Review

Almost every house I visited had a video door phone, and that makes sense. Video doorbells are among the most important smart home devices you can own, and now that I have one, I can’t live without it. Video doorbells provide security and peace of mind, whether you’re away or at home.

With a video door phone, you can see who is at your door without stopping what you are doing. With a quick app or smart screen, you can determine if your visitor is a lawyer, delivery person, or family member. And when packages are left behind while you’re away, at least you can keep an eye on them.

Most of these homes had a Nest Hello video doorbell, which is a great premium option. But if you’re looking for something more affordable that even skips the cloud, consider the Eufy Doorbell. It has almost the same features as the Nest Hello at a fraction of the cost.

Charged battery

Nest Doorbell (battery)

If the Nest Hello sounds great but the wiring isn’t working, this battery-powered doorbell from Nest will do the trick.

No cloud subscription

Eufy doorbell

Video doorbells are great, cloud subscriptions not so much. Eufy doorbells never require a subscription to get all the great features of other doorbells.

Smart speakers and displays enhance your timbre

A Nest Hub on a kitchen counter near syrup bottles.
Josh Hendrickson / Geek Review

Every home I entered featured at least one smart speaker or display. That’s not surprising, given the lack of smart hubs. If you don’t want advanced automation, you can skip the complexity of a smart hub and rely on Google or Alexa to tie your smart devices together. And if you want whole-home audio, putting Echo or Google Home devices around the house will get you there.

For your kitchen and office, a smart display like the Nest Hub or Echo Show is the best option. They produce decent sound for music, but more importantly, they tie in with the Nest Hello and Ring Video Doorbell.

That happens in two ways. If you have smart speakers throughout your house, they can act as chimes for your doorbell. That can be useful if you can’t hear your doorbell from the basement, for example. And if you have smart screens, they can stream video when someone rings the doorbell. If you have Nest Hello and Nest Hub, the video starts playing almost instantly. With Ring and Echo Show, you’ll have to request the video to be shown, which makes the process a bit less convenient.

a big screen

Smart thermostats keep you comfortable

A Nest thermostat set to cool a house to 68 degrees.
Josh Hendrickson / Geek Review

Whether you live in a ranch-style home or a five-story house, climate control can be a challenge. If your thermostat is on a wall where warm air is flowing from your home’s heating system, you may think your home is hotter than it really is. A smart thermostat can help.

In addition to easy programming, both Nest and Ecobee offer temperature sensors that you can place around your home for more accurate results. Do you spend most of the day in the living room? Or do your rooms get colder than the rest of the house at night? Put a temperature sensor in those rooms to prevent your thermostat from turning off too soon.

If you’re interested in temperature sensors, the Ecobee comes with one, while the Nest doesn’t. And thanks to Google closing its Works with Nest program, Ecobee can offer more compatibility with its other non-Google smart home devices.

new and improved

Smart lights are easier to implement in smaller homes

An arcade with metal chairs, a treasure chest, and life-size in-game items from Fortnite.
While this Fortnite-themed game room was cool, just like the rest of the house, the lights were dumb and didn’t even offer a color to match the room. Josh Hendrickson / Geek Review

During the tour of the house, I was surprised by how little smart lighting I saw. Only one house on the entire tour had smart lighting and it was a single Lutron switch for a dedicated movie theater.

But eventually, I realized that for large houses with literally dozens of rooms, smart lighting becomes prohibitively expensive. I tried to count the number of light bulbs in a house and gave up after fifty. Even if you opted for Wyze’s insanely cheap $8 bulbs, that cost adds up fast. Smart light switches instead of light bulbs can help, but it still adds up.

Fortunately, the average home is much smaller, with fewer rooms and fewer light bulbs. That means you can more easily achieve something that million-dollar houses couldn’t: smart lighting everywhere. You can choose between smart light bulbs, smart switches or, if that’s not possible, smart LED strips.

Paired with your voice assistant, you’ll have easy control of your lights from anywhere (even away from home), and you can set timers and routines to turn off your lights for you, or make it seem like you’re home when you’re not. .

affordable light bulbs

Wyze Bulbs Color

If you want colored bulbs that won’t break the bank, look no further than Wyze.

Some very expensive options

A section of the house with retractable shutters on the porch that cover where the walls would normally be.
It’s hard to overstate how amazing they look in person. shade tent

Put together a smart home with all of the above and you’ll have most of the experience of a million dollar home. But the most expensive houses on the lot had some options outside the affordable realm. Smart water valves, like Flo by Moen, can detect if you have a leak and shut off all the water in the house. But installing one is expensive, both because of the hardware and because you’ll need a plumber. The same goes for Rain Bird Smart Sprinklers, which puts control of your sprinklers on your phone. They are not easy to install and the cost is high.

But of all the things I saw, the thing I wanted most and could afford the least was retractable screened-in porches. Most had remote control, but some had smartphone and voice assistant options. They completely changed the look of a porch area and made already large homes feel even larger.

The prices on those are astronomical (as in “if you have to ask, you can’t afford it” levels). But, a similar concept is quickly making its way into the realm of affordability: smart blinds. While smart blinds typically cost several hundred dollars per shade, Ikea’s new Fyrtur blinds bring the cost down to something more reasonable. You’ll still spend over a hundred bucks per shade, but for the money, you have voice and app control of your window shades. And you won’t have to tear down any walls or build support structures to support it, unlike screened-in porches.

The truth is, for most people, all smart home technology is a luxury. Unless the goal is to overcome a specific problem, such as a paraplegic who can’t reach the light switch easily, most people don’t need any smart home technology. But it’s convenient, and when implemented correctly, it can even save you money. And just about everyone likes a bit of luxury, so why not splurge on a smart home? It can make your home feel like a million bucks.