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Why Aren’t Smarthome Sensors More Common?

Smart home application concept with CCTV security online camera

Smarthome hubs are great for tying together your devices for routines and voice commands. But the real benefit is automation so your smarthome can act for you without any input. But there’s a problem: smarthome sensors are rare and expensive.

Smarthome Sensors Detect You and Do Things

A Wyze and SimpliSafe contact sensor.
Most contact sensors look similar and are usually only different in size. Josh Hendrickson / Review Geek

Smarthome sensors come in multiple form factors to detect your presence or other information using a variety of methods. Contact sensors go on your doors or windows and recognize when you open and close them. Motion sensors see when you enter and leave the room. And temperature sensors don’t detect you. Instead, they infer information, such as noticing a temperature rise due to an open door on a hot summer day.

With smarthome sensors in the right place, you can accomplish rich automation like lights that turn and off as you walk through your home. More advanced hubs can take this further and add additional components to the routines like the current time or weather. You could, for instance, create an automation that turns on the porch light when someone opens the back door while it’s nighttime.

If voice assistants make your smarthome reactive to your commands, then sensors make your smarthome proactive to your presence. But outfitting your home in smarthome sensors is difficult because there are very few choices and most (if not all) of them are expensive.

You What How Much For a Sensor?

A Fibaro Motion sensor
Josh Hendrickson / Review Geek

One of the biggest problems with smarthome sensors is a sheer of lack of choice. You can try an Amazon search for Z-Wave contact sensors, but some of those results are for security systems that won’t work with smarthome hubs.

When you do narrow it down to just the contact sensors that work with a hub, you’ll find yourself with two to three choices. And then price becomes an issue. Samsung makes the most well-known Z-Wave contact sensor, and it’s typically in the $20 range. That may not seem like much upfront, but you need a contact sensor for each door and window you want to track. If you have a front door, a back door, and two windows you wish to be connected to your smarthome, then you’re up to $80 already.

Motion sensors that work with smarthomes are just as rare and often more expensive. Again a search for smarthome compatible sensors reveals two to three options. You’ll usually spend around $60 for Fibaro’s highly rated motion sensor. Now multiply that by every room in your home, and you’ll see how quickly the cost adds up.

The odd thing is, these sensors aren’t necessarily difficult to make. Most motion sensors are effectively just PIR sensors with a Z-Wave or ZigBee radio, and PIR sensors are easy to find. Wyze’s Sense kit shows they don’t have to be expensive either. And yet there are few smarthome compatible sensors to choose from, and they are typically costly.

A Few Imperfect Alternatives

A RoomMe device hanging from the ceiling.
The RoomMe sensor hangs from the ceiling in every room you want detection. Intellithings

If you do want to add presence detection to your home, you have some alternatives, but each comes with compromises. Wyze offers a very inexpensive sensor kit that bucks the trend entirely. They work great and are useful for simple basic automation. But Wyze Sensors are not compatible with Z-Wave and ZigBee smart hubs. You have to own a Wyze camera to use the sensors.

Additionally, while the Wyze system is capable of basic automation, it can’t pull off more advanced scenarios yet.

With RoomMe, Intellithings wants to try a different route entirely to add presence detection to your home. Rather than add contact sensors to your doors and windows and motion detectors to your room, you hang a device that resembles a smoke detector from your ceiling. Then you download the RoomMe app (for iOS and Android). As you carry your phone from room to room, it contacts the RoomMe hardware, and RoomMe then turns on the lights or changes the thermostat, based on your preferences.

The obvious downside is that you have to carry your phone everywhere in your home for this system to work. And you need to buy one for every room you want to automate. Worse yet, it works with a limited number of smart hubs and devices—currently, Wink, Homekit, and Philips Hue make up the most well-known names in that list. If you have another hub, like Hubitat, you’re out of luck.

For now, complete automation that truly anticipates your needs seems out of reach due to a lack of choice and high cost. Hopefully, other companies follow in Wyze’s footsteps and release low-cost, effective sensors. But until then, voice controls are the most viable option for controlling your smarthome.

Josh Hendrickson Josh Hendrickson
Josh Hendrickson is the Editor in Chief of Review Geek and is responsible for the site's content direction. He has worked in IT for nearly a decade, including four years spent repairing and servicing computers for Microsoft. He’s also a smart home enthusiast who built his own smart mirror with just a frame, some electronics, a Raspberry Pi, and open-source code. Read Full Bio »