5 Smart Home Devices on a Budget (Updated 06/04/21)

Internet of Things and smart home is exciting. It’s the culmination of years of hardware and software advances enabling you to interact and control your surroundings through touch/phone/voice. It is truly fascinating and magical. My first, and for the longest time only, smart device has been a WeMo plug. I was using the phone app to turn the room lights ON/OFF, I no longer had to get out of bed to control the lights of my room. It was great!

Then came Alexa. While I wasn’t an early adopter, the affordable Echo Dot was intriguing. During 2016’s Black Friday sales, I got myself the Philips Hue Starter Pack + Echo Dot combo; my rooms have never been the same. My Alexa-powered room setup was:

  • WeMo plug to control the AC
  • Hue bulbs for the room

I could control my lights and AC through voice commands via Alexa. Since I had to move, I had a few enhancements in mind. My current smart home setup includes:

  1. Voice controlled lights (Echo Dot & Philips Hue)
  2. Voice controlled tea kettle (WeMo plug)
  3. An indoor self sustaining herb garden
  4. A touchless bathroom flush
  5. A robot vacuum cleaner

Amazon Echo Dot with Philips Hue bulbs and IFTTT

I setup my Echo Dot with the Philips Hue in the new place with 2 true-White Hue bulbs in the bedroom area and 1 Yellow Hue bulb in the living. It works as expected. The Echo tells me jokes, weather, news, does basic math for me – it’s a great addition to my house.

Since Hue supports IFTTT, I have setup:

  • 1 of my bulbs to turn on in the morning if there’s rain expected the next day, this has been surprisingly helpful
  • I have set my lights to Turn ON at sunset, it’s great!

I no longer have to go to a page or app to get information or control parts of my home. The combination of these devices and services is something that I rely on to a point that I miss this when I’m traveling am at a hotel.

Additionally, since Philips Hue integrates with Apple Home (and I got a free Apple TV), I have setup rooms and scenes on my iPhone. Based on my experience, the Turn OFF lights when Away and Turn ON lights when near home works better with Apple TV + Home (compared to the Hue app).

Here are the links to these products:

  1. Echo Dot (2nd Generation) – Black ($32.72)
  2. Philips Hue White Starter Kit ($57.27)
  3. Philips Hue White Ambiance Dimmable LED Smart Bulb (2x $28)
  4. Apple TV (I got the Apple TV for free with a 3-month AT&T DirecTV offer, thanks @Joel!)

smart home alexa

smart home bulb

smart home apple home

smart home philips hue

All of these are in my Want bucket, none are Needs. However, with how often I rely on Alexa and Hue, they are almost there in becoming Needs.

Update 06/04/2021: This still works great!

WeMo Plug

This useful little plug & play gadget is a must-have for any smart home. From controlling an AC to being able to tell Alexa to turn ON your kettle, this is smart gadget has stood the test of time. One nifty feature in the WeMo phone app is Auto-OFF timer. I’ve set the timer to 1 minute.  My use of the WeMo is:

  • Leaving my kettle half filled with water and in “ON mode”
  • Asking Alexa to turn on kettle
  • Letting WeMo app turning it OFF in a minute

Product Links:

Update 06/04/2021: This stopped working, there are cheaper and more reliable versions from Amazon / Samsung.

The Touchless Smart Home Flush 

Walking around the aisles in Home Depot, I came across the Kohler Touchless Flush add-on, and in instant the lines between my wants/needs blurred. The technology enthusiast in me took over, looked at the box, figured that I can retrofit my current flush with this, and that was that.

Here’s what it looks like:

smart home flush

(Don’t worry, I’m not going to show you a picture of the inside of the flush.)

The Kohler Touchless Flush is a $50 attachment that took me about 45 minutes to setup. (It was slightly disgusting but touchless flush!) Once done, it worked as expected. Here’s a video of my very cool, completely modernized, working, and magical touchless flush:

Besides the cool factor of this, and I truly believe this is the most fun thing I have and it serves a purpose. Still in the Want bucket.

Here’s the link to this magical product: KOHLER Touchless Toilet Flush Kit ($49)

Update 06/04/2021: This has stopped working on a new flush and I don’t see this available as widely so I’m going to guess that the product hasn’t done well.

My Smart Home Herb Garden

I like cilantro or coriander as I learned it back in India. I wanted to have my own urban herb garden. I wanted some green plants in my house. But I don’t want to deal with watering them everyday. I don’t want to deal with the mud residue around the pot. I just don’t. Cue in the Click & Grow herb hub:

smart home herb garden plant

This is a fantastic addition to my house and brings some freshness to my dining area (and the white garden hub goes great with my white dining table). Here’s what makes this fun:

  • It comes with a phone app
  • You water it once and you don’t have to worry about it for 3-4 weeks, and the app reminds you when you have to
  • It’s indoor, fitted with UV lights, and does NOT need to be kept near a window for direct sunlight
  • It’s clean
  • It comes with pre-configured several herb pods that you place in the Smart Garden, and they just grow

For a $100, I bought:

  1. Smart Garden with 3 pods of basil
  2. 3 pods of Cilantro
  3. 3 pods of Chilies

This is in the Want bucket, but a great addition! Link: Click & Grow Indoor Smart Fresh Herb Garden Kit ($100 for the hub + 3 pods for Basil, Cilantro, Chilies)

Update 06/04/2021: The app has been replaced and it’s a terrible app. Also, the herbs have become a lot more hit or miss, their pod packaging is bad too.

smart home herb garden

Deebot M80 Pro Smart Home Robot Vacuum Cleaner 

I like a clean place but having to do it myself isn’t my thing. That’s why technology exists. Being a on a budget, iRobot’s Roomba line was out of running. I got myself the Deebot. Some key takeaways about this cleaner:

  • The Debot M800 comes with an iPhone app, a remote control, and with wet mops. For a single guy like me living in a studio apartment, this is great! At $169, on Prime Day, I picked this from Amazon.
  • It works decently with the vacuuming except that it does act quite dumb. On every occasion that I’ve used it, it always gets stuck by climbing into 1 of my 2 chairs. It’s quite frustrating when that happens.
  • I have setup scheduled cleaning tasks through the week for the device so when I come back home, I have to physically pick the bot, place it away from the chairs and use the remote to send it back to the charging pod (which it has learned its way to).

I’ll classify this in the Need bucket since every self-respecting guy should have a vacuum cleaner.


Update 06/04/2021: This turned out to be a horrifyingly terrible product. I bought the Roborock 6 MaxV and that’s simply fantastic!

smart home vacuum

smart home vacuum app