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Chris Monroe/CNET
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Welcome to Hacks@Home: CNET's guide to easy smart home upgrades

Level up your house with these simple, impactful smart home projects.

The sheer number of smart home products out there today makes it difficult to know how to get started. We're here to help narrow it down. This is Hacks@Home, our handy guide to the smart home. Think of it as "smart home 101" -- a list of the best product categories (and specific products) to consider if you're interested in connected devices but don't know where to start.

We're also posting related videos below, showing you how to set up our favorite devices from each category, as well as providing info about their key features and how those features can add convenience to your daily life. 

We cover five product categories: smart speakerssmart plugs, smart light bulbs, security cameras and thermostats. Each category is aimed to help you delve into the smart home armed with the knowledge you need to make the best possible buying decision. Welcome to Hacks@Home.

Smart speakers

Smart speakers are a great first step into the smart home. Our recommendation is the $50 Amazon Echo Dot. It's fun and easy to use. Even without other smart home gadgets, you can play music, ask questions, check your calendar and more. Once you start adding devices like smart bulbs, your smart speaker will let you turn off the lights with a voice command and control multiple gadgets with a single device. Think of the smart speaker as a control center for your smart home that can also play music. 

Read more: Best smart speakers of 2020

Smart plugs 

The $30 TP-Link Kasa Smart Wi-Fi Plug Mini is our favorite smart plug. It's affordable, simple to configure and even easier to use. Connect a lamp, desk fan, coffee maker or other small gadget to the plug. Then you can control it remotely from the Kasa app, or with an Alexa or Google Assistant voice command. The Kasa plug also has scheduling capabilities, sunrise/sunset settings and even scenes that group together multiple Kasa-connected devices.

Read more: Best smart plugs of 2020

Smart light bulbs

Turning your lights on and off with a voice command never gets old. Smart light bulbs are an easy way to take advantage of the magic of the smart home and Wyze Bulbs get all of the basics right for an affordable $8 per bulb. Put the bulb in a hard-to-reach lamp and it'll connect directly to your Wi-Fi network so you can control it remotely with an app. They also work with both Amazon's Alexa and Google Assistant, so if you have a smart speaker like the Amazon Echo Dot, you can turn on your bulb with a voice command.

Read more: Best smart lights of 2020

Security cameras

The Wyze Cam is a $20 indoor home security camera. Beyond its incredible price, the Wyze Cam is easy to install and use. It offers solid performance and features, like free cloud storage, a built-in microSD card slot for local storage and detection zones. It's a great entry point into home security, both because of its affordability and its ease of use when you want to livestream video and view saved clips.

Read more: Best home security cameras of 2020

Thermostats

The $200 Resideo Honeywell Home T9 Smart Thermostat is an excellent smart thermostat. In addition to its related app, where you can adjust your home's temperature -- as well as other settings -- this model also works with Alexa and Google Assistant voice commands. Your purchase includes one Smart Room Sensor that can go anywhere in your home -- and detect temperature, humidity and proximity.

Read more: Best thermostats of 2020

With any smart home category, we recommend starting small and adding more once you're comfortable with what you have. If you'd like to expand even further than what we cover with Hacks@Home here are our favorites from the rest of the category.