Smart home products can range from super fun to incredibly useful. The problem is, a lot of them require drilling holes or wiring cables to work—probably not something you can do if you’re renting your current home. But no need to fear, as there are plenty of ways to make your home smarter that won’t tick off your landlord.
Table of Contents
A Smart Speaker
Smart speakers are unobtrusive in every way—they’re small and just require a single power cord. On top of that simplicity, they’re extremely helpful because you can call out to them for everything from checking the weather to managing other smart devices. The smart assistant is the cornerstone for most smart homes, so it’s a great place to start.
- Amazon Echo Dot: The original Echo showed off what a smart speaker could be, and even on the fourth generation of the smaller “Dot” version of the device, it’s still as great as ever. The new orb design makes way for a light-up bar so that it easier to tell when Alexa is listening, some volume controls, and a button to disable the microphone entirely. Utilizing Amazon Alexa—Amazon’s voice assistant—you can deeply customize and automate your various smart home devices using routines, which allows you to use complex voice commands either created by Amazon or yourself. Alexa is also a widely supported voice assistant among many smart home ecosystems, so finding products, whether they’re from Amazon itself or other companies, to integrate into your system is pretty easy. If you want to maximize automation in your home between a lot of different smart home products, the Echo Dot is the smart speaker for you.
- Google Nest Mini: If you’re a heavy Android user, or like Google’s products in general, the Nest Mini is an easy choice to make—despite the unassuming exterior. It utilizes Google Assistant and has no trouble connecting to the wide range of Google and Nest products out there. For example, you can tell your speaker to play a Netflix show on the Chromecast or even play synchronous music throughout the home by connecting multiple Google Assistant speakers. Google Assistant, like Alexa, is also widely supported among other smart home ecosystems, so this speaker will still be highly versatile with third-party products. Of course, it still works best when surrounded by other Google and Nest products, so we recommend picking up those when possible.
- Apple HomePod Mini: Apple is a relatively new player in the smart home world, but that doesn’t mean the HomePod isn’t a great smart speaker. For Apple fans, It’s easy to connect the HomePod to other Apple devices regardless of what they are, and you can even do some cool stuff with Siri like asking it to transfer a song you’re playing on your phone to the speaker. The nice-looking light-up top and built-in volume controls are also great additions. The HomePod Mini also doesn’t require an internet or cloud-connection to function—a unique feature compared to Google’s and Amazon’s offerings. However, you should be aware that when it comes to connecting to other smart home ecosystems, Apple is the most limited in this regard. Even then, if you’re a big Apple fan and primarily care about a simple connection to your phone and other devices, the HomePod is the way to go.
A Smart Display
Smart displays are the perfect central hub that any smart home needs. While smart speakers are useful for quick commands, displays allow you to manage your other smart devices with the screen and voice commands, among other useful features.
- Google Nest Hub: When it comes to getting a central hub for all your favorite Google Assistant devices, there’s no better option than the Nest Hub. Access the Assistant itself, control your connected smart gadgets, and even view various things with the display like the weather, recipes, photos, and Netflix. It’s a great all-around smart hub that is particularly excellent if it’s surrounded by other Nest products. There’s also the more expensive Nest Hub Max, which has a larger screen (10 inches as opposed to the normal Hub’s 7) and a camera for video calls over Google Duo.
- Echo Show 8: While there may be a lot of devices that support Google Assistant, there’s a small army’s worth of Alexa-enabled devices. The Echo Show 8 can still manage other smart devices, handle video calls, view recipes, and much more, while also using the most widely supported voice assistant on the market. And just like with the Echo Dot, the fantastic automation potential of Alexa makes the Show 8 an even stronger candidate. As a general option, the Show 8 is a pretty safe bet to make, but if you own a lot of other Amazon products then it gets even better.
Shine Bright: Smart Bulbs
Why shouldn’t your lights be smarter? These bulbs allow you to automate turn-off/on times, adjust brightness, and maybe even choose the color.
- Wyze Bulbs: These are the quintessential smart bulbs—they’re relatively cheap and come with all the features you need with zero fluff. You can schedule times for lights to go on and off and adjust brightness levels through the Wyze app (Android/iOS), or voice assistants like Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa. Wyze is also releasing colored versions of these bulbs fairly soon, and if you preorder them now you’ll get a discounted price.
- Phillips Hue: But if you want to interject a bit more fun into your lighting setup right now, then look no further than Phillips Hue. Alongside the standard features you’d expect of a smart bulb—adjusting brightness levels, scheduled on/off times, and management through an app (Android/iOS) or voice assistants—Hue also includes the ability to set your bulbs to any color you want. This added feature makes these bulbs considerably more expensive than Wyze bulbs, but it makes up for that by being way cooler. Hue bulbs do require a hub for voice commands and routines, so we’ve linked to the basic starting kit which includes one and a few bulbs—you can buy the bulbs on their own as well though.
A Smarter Dryer: SmartDry
Do you hate needing to check on your dryer to see if the clothes are done? Well no need for that anymore, because SmartDry will notify you once your dryer is done, and it’s super easy to install. Of course, this product is only for rentals that have personal dryers, so if you rely on a shared laundromat it’s out of the question due to the installation requirements. You can configure the app to notify you how much time is left on the cycle as well, and even if the clothes are getting too hot. There’s also some compatibility with Amazon Alexa (and some limited functionality with Google Assistant speakers), so you can ask your voice assistant if the clothes are dry yet, instead of checking the app.
An easy-to-install sensor that tells you when your clothes are dry so you never need to manually check again.
Stay Dry: Moen Flo
Flooding is a major concern for any home, but there are ways to take preventative action. With a simple water detector, like this one from Moen, you can rest easy at night and leave for the day knowing you’ll be alerted if anything goes awry. Just mount it to the wall and it will notify you through the Moen app (Android/iOS) if it detects abnormal moisture or humidity, along with flashing lights and an alarm from the device itself. It’s an unobtrusive device that eases a lot of worries while also aiding you in preventing major damage to your home. The included “Leak Sensing” cable is also great for detecting damage in hard-to-reach spots.
Moen Flo Water Detector
An unobtrusive water detector that alerts you to leaks and increased moisture.
Lock It Up: August Smart Lock
Smart locks are a great convenience boost; you no longer need to worry about whether or not you remembered your keys, because your phone can do it all for you. Problem is, most smart locks require replacing the entire lock—but not August’s. The August Smart Lock goes over your existing deadbolt instead of replacing it, so you won’t even be able to tell the difference from the outside.
Whether you want to send digital keys to friends and family, or even have your door unlock automatically once you’re within range, the August Smart Lock lets you do it all without a messy install. You can manage the lock through the August app (Android/iOS) as well as voice assistants including Siri, Amazon Alexa, and Google Assistant.
August Smart Lock
A simplistic but still feature-rich smart lock that doesn't require an intrusive installation.
Stay Secure: Smart Security Systems
Unwelcome visitors are never a good thing, so let’s lock up that home of yours with either of these great security systems.
- Ring Security System: The Ring Security System will alert you to intruders with its wide range of motion sensors that can be attached to doors, windows, or inside of rooms. You can arm and disarm the system using the included keypad and receive notifications (along with configuring the security system) through the Ring app (Android/iOS). While not included with the base security package we’ve linked to here, Ring also has flood detectors, fire alarms, and a panic button for calling emergency services available as well, and they can all integrate into the security system.
- Wyze Home Monitoring: Wyze is releasing a smart security system in March of this year and so far it’s looking fantastic and affordable—exactly what you’d expect from Wyze. The “Core Starter Kit” comes with motion sensors and a keypad for arming/disarming the system, and of course, this all works with the Wyze app (Android/iOS) as well. For the price, there’s nothing better, making this a great option for rentals.
Keep Watch: Smart Cameras
Watching over your home is important, and these security cameras bring smart features without requiring special wiring.
- Wyze Cam V2: The Wyze Cam V2 is an inexpensive solution to home monitoring with plenty of features to ensure it still does its job well. It records in 1080p, can detect motion, features night vision, and can be angled any way you need it. If you’re already invested in the Wyze ecosystem this is a no-brainer, but even if you’re not, the low price tag and great features make the Wyze Cam V2 a fantastic pick-up for almost anyone. There’s also the excellent Wyze Cam V3 that offers higher frame rates and can be put outdoors, but you might have to wait on it due to global resource shortages—it’s frequently out of stock, and even when it’s in stock, it requires a Cam Plus subscription (which costs $1.25 per month per camera and adds in some additional detection features) to purchase.
- Ring Indoor Cam: We’ve already talked about Ring’s great security system, but it will work even better if you have the cameras to match it. The Ring Indoor Cam features an extremely versatile mount, 1080p recording, night vision, and motion detection. Combine this with the Ring Security System previously mentioned and you’ll have one very secure home on your hands.
- Nest Cam Indoor: Featuring motion detection, 1080p recording, and night vision, the Nest Cam Indoor may not seem that unique compared to the other cameras here. However, its excellent integration into the Nest ecosystem is what makes it worth considering. Through the Nest app (Android/iOS), you can view the security feed and receive notifications if something is detected, but you can also view and manage all your Nest Cams through the Nest Hub. So if you’re already invested in the Nest ecosystem, this is definitely the camera you want to pick up. There’s also the Nest Cam IQ, which has Google Assistant built into the camera among other improvements in video and audio quality—it’s much more expensive, though.
While living in a rental may limit you, it by no means stops you from having a smarter home. Whether it’s just sticking a few speakers throughout the home, or decking out your entrances with motion sensors, you’re sure to benefit from a few smart upgrades in your life.