Smartening up an Apartment on Any Budget

Smart homes have moved from the realm of tech geeks to mainstream America. Even if you don’t set out to have a smart home, the various ways to connect devices and everyday items have become so easy it is impossible to avoid. It’s a bit tougher when you rent, but there’s plenty of ways to make your apartment smarter!

Smartening up an Apartment on Any Budget

The biggest obstacles if you rent are usually space constraints and restrictions on altering anything. For example, I rent in a condo community that has very strict rules about the outside of the building, and they are still considering whether to allow Ring doorbells or not. Space is not a huge issue since tech is constantly getting smaller, but it also means I don’t need a powerful speaker system for good sound quality, or a complex security system when I don’t have that many rooms. Here are a few of the ways I’ve “smartened up” my apartment, and many of these are great last-minute ideas if you have any renters on your gift lists!


August Smart Lock: I did a full review of this earlier in the fall, but I love this lock. Everyone I know who sees it wants one, especially after I demonstrate how easy it was to install and how it didn’t impact the outside of the lock itself (important, since, again, I live in a community that sent out a robocall on Nov 1 reminding people they had to take down Halloween decorations or risk fines). It was $279 when we reviewed it, but it is now down to $249 through December 29th and can be found cheaper depending on the retailer.

Smartening up an Apartment on Any Budget

Nest Cam IQ: It’s a small space, but I still feel better being able to keep an eye on things. I managed to set up the Nest Cam so it captures the front door as well as my patio doors, and it works really well. At times a little TOO well, because apparently when my heat kicks up it makes the curtains blow slightly. This means I have days where I get a dozen notifications that movement was detected. I was vaguely concerned about what was making it trip until I was home one day and I saw the curtains move right as the notification went off. The camera is ridiculously accurate and has such a sharp picture I can look at it in the app and see what toys my son left on the coffee table. You can also use the microphone and the app to speak to someone in the room if you wanted…aside from playing around with my son I’ve never used this. I do vaguely regret not using it on my brother the night he fell asleep on my couch, but it’s probably best I didn’t use it to scare him out of a deep sleep. In any case, the camera costs $299 for one or $499 for a 2-pack, which is really not terrible for the peace of mind you get from being able to check up on your home in HD-quality. If you want to be notified if familiar faces appear, be able to rewind 5 days (or more!), and set up activity zones and other customizable alerts there is a subscription service called Nest Aware that starts at $5.00 a month. Simple notifications and monitoring are free within the app.

Smartening up an Apartment on Any Budget

Kasa Smart Plug: We all know electronic devices are little vampires suckling electricity away. It’s also nice to come home to a light on in the house. You can control both with a Kasa Smart Plug. It plugs into a normal outlet and connects via WiFi. Then you can program the plug to activate according to a timer, set schedule, or even a special travel schedule. You can also monitor how much time each day the plug is in use. I have found two huge benefits to the smart plug. One, it means I can have my living room lamp pop on every night, so there’s a light on when I get home and it looks like I’m home even if I work late. Two, it means I don’t have to worry about remembering to turn off the living room lights. I just have it set to go off about 5 minutes after I usually get ready for bed, so typically as I am locking up the lights go off on their own. If needed, Google Home can also control the plug. It’s the little things in life. And at only $18, these make a great stocking stuffer, or a thoughtful gift for a family member still using one of those manual light timers from 1993.

Entertainment and general use:

Kasa Smart Bulb: This is one of those simple but useful devices. You don’t think you need a smart bulb, but it’s super handy to have around. Flick lights on and off from your phone or a Google Home, and depending on the bulb you can even make it change colors. Is it necessary? Necessary is debatable, but it’s less than $20 per bulb for lights that you can program, dim, and are energy-efficient. Not bad!

Chromecast: It’s not quite as versatile as a Fire TV, Roku, or Apple TV, but it is small, simple to use, and is perfect for a secondary TV. I didn’t know if I would use it since I have a FireTV on my main television, but when my son was sick and really needed to rest, being able to beam Ninja Turtles to my bedroom tv was awesome. It’s cheap, it works with most devices, and it’s there whenever you need it. For $35, you can have one on every tv easily!

Smartening up an Apartment on Any Budget

12-inch Spider-Man included for scale.

Google Home Mini: Bringing it all together, you need something listening to your instructions and helping to control all these various smart devices. And you’re in an apartment, so you need something small and simple. Enter Google Home Mini, which sort of looks like a coaster that inflated. You can ask Google to lock your doors, turn lights on and off, control plugs, play music, all sorts of fun things. The Mini packs a surprisingly loud speaker, and it is sensitive enough that I can “hey Google” it from anywhere in my living room, dining room, or kitchen. Plus at $49 normally and $29 for the holidays, that’s damn cheap for a tiny smart AI!

Basically, with a little effort and some careful swaps of smart versions of everyday items, you can make any space a smart space, even if you can’t put holes in the walls!

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About the Author

Zek has been a gadget fiend for a long time, going back to their first PDA (a Palm M100). They quickly went from researching what PDA to buy to following tech news closely and keeping up with the latest and greatest stuff. They love writing about ebooks because they combine their two favorite activities; reading anything and everything, and talking about fun new tech toys. What could be better?