How to Make Your Home Feel Like A Million-Dollar Smarthome

A multi-story home with expansive yard and three-car garage.
Josh Hendrickson

I recently toured several million-dollar homes that boasted integrated smarthome tech. To my surprise, I didn’t see a single custom-built system like Control4. Most of the tech were gadgets you can buy and easily install yourself! (With a just 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 typically large, often four or more levels, such as the picture above I took before touring the house.

While most of that money goes into luxury features like walk-in pantries, the size of home offices, and custom-themed game rooms, you also get some smarthome tech as part of the package. I went in expecting to see custom systems like a Control4 or Savant, but that wasn’t the case at all. I didn’t even see a single smart hub.

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

Video Doorbells Were a Common Theme

A Nest Hello Video Doorbell
Josh Hendrickson

Nearly every home I toured had a video doorbell, and that makes sense. Video doorbells are among the most important smarthome 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 doorbell, you can see who is at your door without stopping what you’re doing. With a quick in an app or a smart display, you can determine if your visitor is a solicitor, a delivery person, or a family member. And when packages do get dropped off while you’re away, at least you can keep an eye on them.

Most of these homes featured a Nest Hello video doorbell, which is an excellent premium choice. But for something more affordable that even skips the cloud, consider the Eufy Doorbell. It has nearly the same features as the Nest Hello at a fraction of the cost.

Smart Speakers and Displays Enhance your Doorbell

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

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 together your smart devices instead. And if you want whole-home audio, placing 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 choice. They put out decent sound for music, but more importantly, they tie into Nest Hello and the Ring Video Doorbell.

That occurs in two ways. If you have smart speakers throughout your home, they can act as chimes for your doorbell. That can be helpful if you can’t hear your home’s chime from the basement, for instance.  And if you have smart displays, they can stream video when someone rings your doorbell. If you have the Nest Hello and Nest Hub, the video starts showing nearly instantaneously. With Ring and Echo Show, you’ll have to ask for the video to display, making the process a little less convenient.

Smart Thermostats Keep You Comfortable

A Nest Thermostat set to cool a home to 68 degrees.
Josh Hendrickson

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

In addition to easy programming, both Nest and Ecobee offer temperature sensors you can place around your home to get more accurate results. Do you spend most of the day in the living room? Or do your bedrooms get colder than the rest of the home 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, Ecobee comes with one, whereas Nest does not. And thanks to Google shutting down its Works with Nest program, Ecobee may offer more compatibility with your other non-Google smarthome devices.

Smart Lights are Easier to Implement in Smaller Homes

A game room featuring metal chairs, a treasure chest, and life-sized in-game items from Fortnite.
While this Fortnite-themed game room was cool, like the rest of the home, the lights were dumb and didn’t even offer color to match the room. Josh Hendrickson

During the home tour, I was surprised by how little smart lighting I saw. Only one home on the entire tour had any smart lighting at all, and it was a single Lutron switch for a dedicated theater room.

But eventually, I realized that for large homes with literally dozens of rooms, smart lighting becomes prohibitively expensive. I tried to count the number of bulbs in one home and gave up after fifty. Even if you went with Wyze’s incredibly cheap $8 bulbs, that cost adds up quick. Smart light switches instead of bulbs might help, but it still adds up.

Luckily the average home is far smaller with fewer rooms and fewer bulbs. That means you can more easily achieve something the million-dollar homes didn’t: smart lighting everywhere. You can choose between smart bulbs, smart switches, or if neither is possible, smart LED strips.

Paired with your voice assistant, you’ll have easy control of your lights from anywhere (even outside the home), and you can set up timers and routines to shut down the lights for you, or make it appear you are home when you aren’t.

A Few Very Expensive Options

A section of home with retractable porch shades covering where walls would normally be.
It’s hard to overstate how amazing these look in person. Shade Shop

Put together a smarthome with everything above, and you have most of the experience that a million-dollar home has. But the most expensive homes of the lot did have a few options outside the affordable realm. Smart water valves, like Flo by Moen, can detect if you have a leak and shut down all the water in the home. But installing one is expensive, both because of the hardware and because you’ll need a plumber. The same goes for Rain Bird’s smart sprinklers, which puts control of your sprinklers on your phone. They’re not easy to install, and the cost is high.

But out of everything I saw, the thing I craved the most and could least afford were retractable screened-in porches. Most were remote-controlled, but a few had smartphone and voice assistant options. They completely changed the look and feel of a porch area and made the 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 hitting the realm of affordability: smart blinds. While smart blinds are usually in the several hundreds of dollars per shade range, Ikea’s new Fyrtur blinds reduce the cost to something more reasonable. You’ll still spend over a hundred dollars per shade, but for the money, you have voice and app control of your window blinds. And you won’t have to knock out 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 issue, like a person with paraplegia who can’t reach the light switch easily, most people don’t need any smart home tech. But it is convenient, and when implemented correctly, it can even save you money. And nearly everyone likes a little luxury, so why not splurge on a smarthome? It may make your home feel like a million dollars.

Josh Hendrickson Josh Hendrickson
Josh Hendrickson has worked in IT for nearly a decade, including four years spent repairing and servicing computers for Microsoft. He’s also a smarthome enthusiast who built his own smart mirror with just a frame, some electronics, a Raspberry Pi, and open-source code. Read Full Bio »

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