How to get a high-end, fully automated home – on a budget

Ideas to steal and where to DIY if you want that seamless smart house

Get a high end smart home – on a budget
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In our Smart Home Tours series we've been showcasing lush, connected houses and apartments where money's no object and unblemished interior style is king, with inspiration in the form of hooked-up hot tubs, hidden TVs and the latest in full home automation.

When we spoke to Cornflake's design manager Mark Withers, he talked of bespoke smart home projects running into the "hundreds of thousands of pounds" – and it's very much the same Stateside. There seems to be no ceiling when it comes to what you can spend kitting out your home with smart home tech.

Read this: How to style, store and show off your home tech

But the more we feature these properties, the faster affordable consumer tech seems to be catching up. Alright, there are some things that need to be custom built or wired in at the planning and design stages, but there's actually a lot you can do yourself by choosing an ecosystem and combining the platforms and compatible products out there.

Here's our tips and tricks to recreate the likes of Crestron, Control4 and Lutron powered homes on a budget that won't cost more than your home itself.

How to get a high end, fully automated home - on a budget

Get full home control with Alexa, HomeKit or Google Assistant

The main benefit of going with an expensive full home system is often touted as the convenience and ease of being able to control your lights, thermostats, security cameras, garage doors etc from every room of the house.

Well, they are all still works in progress but Amazon's Alexa, Apple's HomeKit and Google's Assistant – as well as accompanying tech like Alexa Cast, Siri and Google Cast – are all able to do just that: Give you control over all the major smart home brands via one voice assistant or smartphone/tablet app. These platforms now do everything from multi-room audio to viewing security camera feeds on your phone or smart TV. Samsung's SmartThings too is about to get a voice controlled smart speaker to put in the same ranks.

Plus with Routines (across multiple devices and brands) and Away modes and more features rolling out, they've already leapfrogged what most premium systems can do. For any gaps in compatibility or true automation, look to free, beginner friendly web based platforms IFTTT, Yonomi and Stringify.

In fact, many of the homes we've featured in Smart Home Tours already used Alexa or were looking to add one of the big three tech ecosystems.

How to get a high end, fully automated home - on a budget

Get a wall mounted touchscreen controller

Lust after those wall mounted touchscreens you get with a fancy install? You can have that too. There's the Amazon Echo Show and Echo Spot, of course, and their counterparts the Lenovo Smart Display and Google's smart displays as a whole category tend to come with stands to prop them up.

But if you really want control panels on the wall, go for Brilliant's controller which features a 5-inch, 720p touchscreen panel that replaces your light switch. It has built-in Alexa, scenes like "Good Morning" and "Away Mode" and works with Nest, Ring, Philips Hue, Sonos, Honeywell and IFTTT. The pre-order stock sold out but it will be on sale "soon" from $299 per unit – the price could quickly add up with one per room but expect the cost of these wall mounted controllers to come down as we see more. (Brilliant is US only for now.)

Also worth considering, a handily placed smart button for scene control or Ecobee's Switch+ $99 smart light switch (above) has Alexa built in for voice commands and no need for a screen if – like us – you're looking to use displays less day to day.

How to get a high end, fully automated home - on a budget

Get meshy

It had to be said. A lot of the appeal of these do-it-all installations and schemes is that all the connectivity is taken care of right at the start of the project. And as Paul found out in his Smart home diary series, there's something to be said for getting your Ethernet cables in order before you do anything else.

But if you're not starting from scratch, there's a lot you can do to improve the Wi-Fi around your tech-filled home with a mesh Wi-Fi device and system that uses nodes around the house to improve coverage. There's now plenty of fine options from Samsung SmartThings to Google Wifi to the Zyxel Multy X (trust us on this one).

How to get a high end, fully automated home - on a budget

Don't always go for default

If you're willing to spend a bit more money, smart home kit from the big names opens up a whole lot and you can really make it your own.

Take Philips Hue. There's the regular white and colour-changing smart light bulbs, sure, but it's well worth digging into where you could place Philips Hue Lighstrips and Philips Hue Beyond table and ceiling lamps to act as statement or subtle lighting; downloading third party Philips Hue apps and experimenting with Philips Hue Sync for parties, movie nights and special occasions and getting into the new Philips Hue outdoor lighting range for gardens when that lands.

And that's just one smart home brand. As soon as you branch out from the cheaper, most popular devices, there's often a lot more to play with in terms of customisation and style options.

How to get a high end, fully automated home - on a budget

DIY for special projects

As we said, some of the bespoke connected tech and appliances seen in these very high end homes (the remote controlled hot tub, say, or the dedicated coffee button) is just that – bespoke. That doesn't mean you can't get tinker-happy and try it yourself though.

Check out our comprehensive How To section for some ideas, and particularly in-depth weekend projects like how to build an Alexa skill; how to use your record player with Sonos or how to build your own smart home hub with Raspberry Pi.

You might also like our chat with Liberty Games about their Alexa and Google Assistant powered, connected arcade games room. It's exactly the kind of thing you'd expect to see in these luxury tech homes but with a little effort, it can be rigged up just how you like it for the price of a couple of smart speakers and a Raspberry Pi.

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