You don’t have to own a house to make your home “smart”
Smart Home Guide for Apartment Dwellers
Outfitting your apartment, rental home, or condo with a smart home ecosystem is a great idea, even if you don’t own the place. There are tons of devices that are convenient, affordable, useful, and—importantly—easy to take with you if you move.
In this guide we’ll go over everything you need to know, from setting up your internet to choosing the perfect devices. So let’s get into it!
Getting started with the essentials
Before we talk about all the nifty gadgets and devices that you can put in your smart apartment, let’s talk about the basics. If you don’t have the right foundation, your smart home ecosystem could have some major issues down the line. Here’s what you need to do to get started.
Make sure your internet is fast enough to support your devices
You can have all the newest smart home products available, but they won’t do much for you if your internet is stuck in the 2010s. You really need a fast and reliable internet plan before you start adding a ton of devices to your smart home/apartment system.
Everyone has different needs, but generally we recommend at least 200 Mbps for most connected households and up to 1 GB internet speeds for those who have a bunch of roommates (or are splitting internet with adjacent units).
Not sure how fast your current internet is? Test it out using our internet speed test.
Another thing to invest in (if you haven’t already) is a powerful modem and router. Most of your smart devices will connect to the internet through Wi-Fi. A dinky old router will easily get overloaded by that bandwidth.
All new technology comes with new ways to snoop on our private lives. Smart devices are no different. But there are some steps you can take to secure your smart home and ensure greater privacy. Encrypting your Wi-Fi, getting high-quality devices from reputable brands, and using the proper settings can get you pretty far.
Choose a smart home ecosystem
Wouldn’t it be nice if every new gadget that came out just worked with everything else? Imagine using just a single charger for your iPhone, bluetooth speaker, electric toothbrush, and Windows laptop! Unfortunately, that dream is far off.
You’ll have to choose a smart home ecosystem and stick with it (more or less), whether you want to or not. There are three main options: Amazon Echo, Google Nest, and Apple HomeKit.
Many readers will already have a smart device from one of these ecosystems (like an Amazon Echo speaker, an iPad, or a Google Nest). If that’s the case, it might make sense to just stick with that ecosystem. For those who are starting from scratch, here are some pros and cons for each ecosystem.
Amazon Echo smart home ecosystem
You have probably heard of Amazon’s Alexa. The commerce giant’s virtual assistant has been around since 2014, when Amazon introduced its first version of the Echo speaker. But in the years since then Alexa has become a major asset that’s included with (or compatible with) hundreds of devices from dozens of companies.
This means you can control a ton of household items with a simple voice command to your speaker. Adding new devices to your ecosystem with Amazon is easy using the Alexa app.
Amazon Alexa may be the “smartest” of all the ecosystems out there. Not only can it answer questions, like “What is the weather today?” or “Who won the Steelers game?’, it can also learn different “skills”. These skills are essentially third-party games, quizzes, news roundups, and other useful voice-driven activities.
Google Nest smart home ecosystem
The Google Nest ecosystem hasn’t been around as long as Amazon’s Alexa, but it is gaining speed quickly. This system uses an intelligent voice-command system called, simply, Assistant. It is very similar to Alexa, but not exactly the same.
One advantage that Google Assistant has over other smart home ecosystems is that it’s automatically built-in to many Android phones as the default assistant (much like Siri is built into iPhones). You might already be using Assistant in your daily life.
There are tons of devices that are compatible with Google’s ecosystem (though not as many as Amazon’s). For most, the Google Nest speaker will be the main hub-like device, but there are tons of products from other companies that have Google Assistant built-in or are compatible with it.
Perhaps Google Assistant’s biggest asset is . . . Google. Who else would you want to answer your questions, give you directions, make shopping suggestions, and otherwise navigate your complicated, modern day life?
The acronym IFTTT stands for If This Then That (it doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue). IFTTT is actually just a system that lets you automate many of your smart devices’ functions. It can, for example, automatically send you screenshots from your Arlo doorbell or set your home security system to activate at a certain time of day.
Apple HomeKit smart home ecosystem
iPhone users are already familiar with Apple virtual assistant, Siri. But you can use Siri on more devices than just your smartphone. You can use Siri on an iPad, Apple computer, or HomePod device to control all of your smart home devices.
Apple’s HomeKit has the smooth design and powerful functionality that we’ve all come to expect from Apple devices. However, there are fewer products out there that have the system built-in. Those that do have it built-in are often pricey.
For those who are super committed to having everything Apple, HomeKit is a great option. For those who want more choices (especially more affordable options), Amazon and Google’s ecosystems are probably better choices.
To hub or not to hub?
One more thing to figure out before you start outfitting your apartment with a bunch of smart devices: do you want a dedicated smart home hub?
Hubs can be as cheap and simple as a smart speaker that lets you control devices with voice command. But some hubs can get really fancy (and pricey). Many of the best smart hubs can even connect products that are in different ecosystems and make it easier to connect devices that are far apart physically.
But some people may choose to skip the hub altogether. Most smart devices can be controlled using a smartphone or computer app. It might not be as simple (or feel as futuristic) but it gets the job done.
Keeping track of different wireless technology can get a bit confusing. There’s Bluetooth, Wi-Fi 6,Thread, Zigbee and more. This is one reason that sticking to your smart home ecosystem is important. However, things might get easier thanks to a new standard called Matter. Most of the biggest names in smart home devices—including Amazon, Google, and Apple—have already agreed to adopt the new technology, which is great for consumers.
Devices to consider for your smart apartment
While there are some devices you’ll want to avoid if you’re a renter, like a permanent home security system or smoke detectors that wire into your walls, most popular smart devices will work great in an apartment or rental house. Let’s start with some of the most simple and portable devices: smart speakers.
We mentioned speakers like the Amazon Echo earlier when we talked about hubs. But small, simple speakers like that are just one end of the spectrum. There are plenty of higher end smart speakers that give you powerful sound, tons of settings to mess around with, and a host of ports to link up to all of your devices.
If you just want a simple way to play your music and podcasts, and to give voice commands to your other devices, then an Amazon Echo or Google Nest device will do great. But if you want to upgrade for amazing sound quality then check out wireless surround sound systems from companies like Yamaha, Bose, Sonos, or VIZIO. While some of these systems require a little bit of wiring work, all of them should be able to transfer to a new apartment or house if you move.
Some people study hard so that they can look smart. Other people just throw on a pair of fake glasses and use unnecessarily long words, like indubitably. Smart plugs are kind of like those people: they make ordinary things seem smarter than they are.
With smart plugs, you can turn your household objects off and on with a voice command or a few clicks on your phone. You can help control the temperature in your house while you’re away by turning on fans and air conditioners. You can set your air purifier to go on and off at certain times.
For less than $100, you can outfit every room in your apartment with high-quality smart plugs. It’s the quickest, cheapest, and easiest way to make your apartment seem futuristic.
A little bit of lighting work can go a long way. Smart light bulbs can make that small dining nook in your apartment look like a grand banquet hall and they can turn your drab bedroom into a luxurious chamber fit for royalty. Okay, we may be exaggerating a bit, but honestly, being able to control the hue, fade, and timing of your lights can make a big difference.
Smart light bulbs are usually cheap, and they’re easy to bring with you to a new apartment or home. There are some out there that can change color, sync with the music on your smart speaker, or even play music out of their own speakers!
Keeping your apartment secure and safe should really be your landlord’s job. That said, some renters want (or need) to go the extra mile in protecting themselves and their stuff. Thankfully, there are great home security systems for renters.
Smart home security systems come in all shapes and sizes. Some of the best systems, like those from Vivint, can secure your home in several different ways: with censors, cameras, live monitoring, and doorbell systems.
For many people, just buying a couple of smart cameras might do the trick fine. They are easy to set up and are quite portable, so you don’t have to do any tricky wiring work within the walls.
You may not feel like you need (or want to invest in) a whole security system to stay secure. A cheap and easy alternative is to pick up a smart doorbell. These small devices can let you see who’s knocking (or stealing that package) on your doorstep, stoop, hallway, foyer (or whatever the entrance to your apartment looks like).
Most smart doorbells allow you to see a live feed of your front door, but also store videos for later review.
Another home security device that can benefit renters is a smart lock. They let you monitor if your house is locked or unlocked, even when you’re away. You can see when someone enters your house or apartment, and also let people in remotely (or just give them the code). It’s an ideal solution for those who have many roommates.
Renters may be wary of changing the locks on a place they don’t own, but many smart locks are actually very easy to install and uninstall. Products like the August Smart Lock can fit right over your existing deadbolt.
TVs and entertainment systems
There’s nothing like coming home from a long day at work and plopping down on the couch to watch your favorite show. With a high-quality smart TV you can make sure that you’re getting the best viewing experience available. Smart TVs can work seamlessly with streaming devices, so that you don’t need to worry about signing up for cable at your rental.
Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors
You don’t have to be stuck with whatever second rate smoke detectors your landlord installed. Instead, you can invest in a smart smoke detector. These fire alarms offer the same basic detection as a normal device, but they can connect to your phone or smart hub to notify you when there’s smoke or you have a low battery.
You can also get a smart carbon monoxide detector for added protection.
There’s not much more to say in this guide. We hope we’ve helped you score a genius-level set up in your rental. Before we sign off, here’s a quick recap of the most important bits.
- Get good internet: Before you go out and spend a bunch of money on fancy gadgets, make sure you have the right infrastructure to power them all. You’ll need internet speeds of at least 100 Mbps to give your smart apartment sufficient bandwidth.
- Choose an ecosystem and a hub: Once you’ve got your internet squared up, you’ll want to choose an “ecosystem” so that your devices work well together. We’re partial to the Amazon Echo or Google Nest ecosystems because more products are compatible with them. You should also decide what kind of hub you want to use, even if it's just your smartphone or a basic smart speaker.
- Start adding devices: Now’s the fun part! There are tons of amazing devices—from lights and speakers to doorbells and cameras—that can make your apartment more relaxing, fun, safe, and easy to live in.
Now that you know how to build a smart apartment, here are your next steps.
Here's our roundup of the very best home security systems available!