Most landlords don’t want you making changes to their unit so you will need permission to change plugs, outlets, and thermostats if you rent your home. But, you can still build a robust system even if your landlord declines to make upgrades for you.
All of the devices below, with the exception of thermostats and door locks, are either wireless or don’t require changes to your apartment.
Our other smart home system builds are based on a specific smart home hub. You have two options, you can select to use a software hub or a hardware hub. Hardware hubs provide more compatibility with accessories, but software hubs might get the job done for many people. Selection of a hub is beyond the scope of this system build, but we have an entire article about selecting a smart hub.
Smart thermostats can definitely help you samve money on your utility bills, plus they can alert you to extreme temperatures to prevent damage to your apartment. We recommend asking your landlord if you can install a smart thermostat since it connects directly to your heating and cooling system.
Keep in mind that thermostats are fairly easy to swap out. If your landlord won’t pay for the device, you may want to install it and then take it with you when you leave. Just keep the original thermostat and a photo of the wiring so you can put it back the way it was.
Be sure you check to see if you have a common wire. If you don’t you’ll need to make some changes that require landlord approval.
We are big proponents of lighting systems that are controlled in a natural way with the addition of smart features. That is why we recommend using smart light switches with regular light bulbs. You can use the switch manually, but you can also control it with an app. Unfortunately, changing out light switches isn’t an option for renters.
Renters have two options for smart lighting. First, you can resort to using lamps with smart plugs. You leave the lamps on and use an app or buttons to control the smart plug. You can read more about our smart plug recommendations below.
Another option is to use Wi-Fi enabled smart light bulbs. In this case, you will leave your room switches in the on position and then use the app or supplemental buttons to control the lights. This may become a problem when a visitor (or you) try to control the lights with the regular room switch. Once the switch is off, the smart bulb loses power and cannot turn on.
We recommend the Philips Hue system, which communicates over Zigbee. You may also consider the Sengled Smart LEDs, which also uses Zigbee for communication.
If you are looking for a very inexpensive lighting kit to test, check out the Ikea TRÅDFRI system. It also operates over Zigbee, but is less expensive than the Hue or Sengled systems. There are some reports about problems expanding the system, but it seems to be a good system overall.
As we mentioned earlier, smart plugs are great if you have lamps that you want to turn into smart lights. You can also use them for small appliances like fans, humidifiers, or coffee pots. There are a number of options for smart plugs.
Wi-Fi plugs like the Amazon plug, Wemo Mini, and the TP-Link Kasa plug work with a wide variety of hardware and software smart hubs. However, some people complain about them often disconnecting from Wi-Fi.
You can use a Zigbee smart plug if you have a hardware hub like the Wink, SmartThings, or Amazon Echo Plus. Zigbee tends to maintain a more reliable connection than Wi-Fi, but won’t work with software hubs and there aren’t many options on the market. We recommend the Sylvania Smart+ Zigbee plug or the SmartThings Outlet.
The most popular wireless doorbell on the market is the Ring, which comes in battery-powered models. Battery-powered doorbells are important since renters cannot run power cables in the walls of their home.
The Ring Video Doorbell is cheaper, but only has 720p resolution. The Ring Video Doorbell 2 is about $100 more expensive, but has 1080p high-definition resolution.
Most security cameras need to be connected to power since they are continuously monitoring or recording. This may be OK for your interior security needs if you have an outlet nearby. Otherwise, you will need to invest in a more expensive wireless system. When it comes to inexpensive wired cameras, we like the Arlo Q and Nest Cam.
You may want to consider the Amazon Cloud Cam if you have chosen the Amazon Echo Plus as your hardware hub. You can watch clips and control the camera directly from the Amazon Alexa app.
If you need to locate cameras where there isn’t an outlet, then you should consider the Arlo wire-free system. The Arlo, Arlo Pro, and Arlo Pro 2 are all wireless. They require a base station that communicates to the internet, but the freedom of wireless cameras can be worth the added expense.
Voice Assistant / Speaker
Voice assistants have become quite popular due to their utility, but also because they let you stream music all around your home. You can add a voice assistant relatively cheaply if audio quality isn’t a top priority by selecting the Amazon Echo Dot or Google Home Mini. However, if you desire better quality sound, there are a number of options, some of which include a voice assistant.
The Amazon Echo Plus has a decent set of speaker drivers, which provides good sound for the small rooms in most apartments. It includes the Alexa voice assistant. The Zigbee radio opens up your home automation accessory options beyond Wi-Fi.
If you already have a smart home hub and want to splurge on higher-quality sound, then look beyond voice assistants. Of course, the sky is the limit with speakers and you can spend thousands of dollars, but we’ll keep it reasonable and recommend the Sonos One for around $200.
Renters may not have a need to keep track of leaks, but some people may want a sensor, especially if you live in a basement apartment.
The best leak sensors communicate over Zigbee or Z-Wave, but there are some that work with Wi-Fi if you aren’t using a hardware hub.
When it comes to Zigbee sensors, which will work with Wink or SmartThings, we like the leakSMART Water Sensor or the SmartThings Leak Sensor.
Honeywell’s Wi-Fi Water Leak and Freeze Detector communicates over Wi-Fi so you can use a software hub (or just the Honeywell Home app.)
Door / Window Sensor
Door and Window sensors require a Z-Wave or Zigbee-capable hub. You can also use Apple HomeKit sensors. Unfortunately, there aren’t any Wi-Fi door/window sensors so you are out of luck unless you have a hub.
SmartThings makes a Zigbee sensor that is perfect for the SmartThings Hub. You can also consider the Z-Wave Dome Door/Window Sensor.
Door Lock / Deadbolt
You must get permission from your landlord before you install a smart lock on your rental home or apartment. Once your landlord approves, you can select from a wide range of locks depending on whether you have a Z-Wave or Zigbee-based hub.
We recommend the August Smart Lock Pro for renters. It uses the outside part of your current lock, which means your landlord will still have the same access to your apartment using the regular key.