How to build a smart apartment

Piecing together a smart home isn’t easy — and building a smart apartment is even more challenging. Not only do you have to wade through dozens of great products, but you’ll also have to discover ones that require no hardwiring or major reconfiguring of your apartment’s existing hardware.

Thankfully, there are some innovative smart home gadgets that make it easy to build a versatile smart apartment. From smart speakers and light bulbs to robot vacuums and more, you’ll have plenty of ways to personalize your home. Before you get started on your smart home journey, however, there are a few things to keep in mind. Here’s everything you need to know about building a smart apartment.

What can you change in your apartment?

August Wi-Fi lock being installed
August

While the most exciting part of putting together a smart home is searching for products, there’s something you’ll need to do before heading to the local hardware store: talk with your landlord. What you can and can’t modify in your home will vary by owner. If you’re renting a traditional apartment from a large corporation, there are probably stringent rules laid out in your contract about what you’re allowed to touch.

If you’re renting from an individual owner, however, you might have a bit more freedom. Some might be willing to help you install a new doorbell or security camera, while others won’t want you to meddle with anything. Others might even let you install a smart lock (as long as they have a copy of the keys). In any case, make sure you read your contract closely and understand what improvements you can make.

Which smart home platform is right for you?

homepod mini comparison homepod google home amazon dot 2
John Velasco/

Google, Amazon, Apple, and Samsung all offer their own ecosystems for smart home devices. These individual ecosystems let you link all compatible products, giving you control of smart bulbs, vacuums, locks, and more in one central location. Determining which one is right for you isn’t an easy choice, but it’s hard to go wrong with any. Not only do all ecosystems offer deep catalogs filled with useful smart gadgets, but it’s never a dealbreaker if something doesn’t work with your current setup. Most products offer their own standalone app — so even if your new smart light bulb can’t hook up with the rest of your system, you’ll still be able to make full use of its functionality.

The best way to figure out the “right” smart home platform is by first picking out a few products you like. Then, see which platform is compatible across all devices. If they won’t all work on the same platform, either swap out your least favorite pick for another choice or pick the platform that has the most products in common.

While it might seem daunting, it’s not a dealbreaker if you pick a system you don’t like. In fact, a new bit of software (Matter) is set to launch soon, which will offer a unified system for most of your smart home gadgets. That means, regardless of which products you buy, you’ll be able to use them all on your platform of choice.

Finding apartment-friendly smart home products

Even if your apartment has an ironclad contract, there are still plenty of apartment-friendly smart home products that’ll fit your needs. Here are a few categories to consider, along with some suggestions to kickstart your smart apartment plans. Remember: Be sure to double-check your contract before starting with your upgrades.

Smart speaker

Smart speakers often serve as the central hub for all your other smart home appliances. They also offer a wealth of functions in a pint-sized package, such as listening to music, checking your schedule, or getting updates on the weather. Simply plug them into an electrical outlet, connect them to your Wi-Fi network, and you’re ready to go.

Our list of the best smart speakers can help you narrow down the options, but it’s hard to go wrong with the Sonos One. It’s a bit expensive, but you’ll get a product that sounds great, offers an easy setup process, and is compatible with a variety of today’s most popular smart home ecosystems.

Smart light bulbs

Multiple colored hue lights on inside a living room

Give your entire apartment a cool new look by swapping out your old light bulbs for smart bulbs. These let you easily adjust their brightness, turn them on and off remotely, and improve your energy usage. Some even give you access to millions of colors beyond white and yellow, giving your home a soothing blue glow or a warming red hue.

The Philips Hue White Ambiance Smart Light Bulb Starter Kit makes it easy for apartment dwellers to get started, although our best smart lightbulbs round-up has plenty of other options to consider.

Smart plugs

Echo Dot (3rd Gen) bundle with Amazon Smart Plug 03.

They might not be as exciting as a smart speaker, but smart plugs are a great addition to any smart home — apartment or otherwise. After plugging these into your current outlets, you’ll be able to remotely turn devices on or off, set daily routines, and get tips on how to improve your energy consumption.

If you don’t mind the lack of Apple HomeKit or Google Assistant support, the Amazon Smart Plug is a great option. Not only is it affordable, but it’s packed with all the functionality you’ll ever need in a smart plug. Not convinced it’s for you? Check out our other favorite smart plugs.

Robot vacuums

The iRobot Roomba S9 Plus robot vacuum cleaning the floor near the wall.

Vacuuming is arguably the worst chore in the household. Robot vacuums are here to save the day, and they’re much better than the smart vacuums of just a few years ago. With customizable suction levels for different surfaces, programmable schedules, and the option to set “restricted” zones, no smart home is complete without a robot vacuum. You’ll still need to empty them every so often, but that’s a small price to pay to take the chore off your “to-do list.”

The iRobot Roomba s9+ stands as one of the best choices on the market — although its price tag is a bit steep. If you’re looking for something more affordable, consider the Eufy RoboVac 11S Slim — or one of the other products on our best robot vacuum round-up.

Smart locks

Wyze smart home lock on a door.
Wyze

Most smart locks are probably off-limits to renters, as they require you to replace the existing deadbolt. That’s not the case for the Wyze Lockwhich fits nicely over your existing gear and brings a bit of brains to the operations. Be sure to double-check with your landlord before beginning this installation, as it might be pushing the limits of your lease. But if you’re approved, this could be one of the coolest ways to upgrade your smart apartment.

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