4 smart home projects for beginners

These simple-to-install devices can make your home smart in no time.

Alina Bradford CNET Contributor
Alina Bradford has been writing how-tos, tech articles and more for almost two decades. She currently writes for CNET's Smart Home Section, MTVNews' tech section and for Live Science's reference section. Follow her on Twitter.
Alina Bradford
3 min read
Josh Miller/CNET

If you've been holding off on adding smart home features to your dwelling, now is the best time to start. 

Smart devices are smarter and simpler to use than ever before, making them easier to integrate into your everyday life. Here are my top four smart home devices you can install without much effort and still reap a lot of benefits.

Watch this: Smart lightbulb tips and tricks

Smart lights

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Smart bulbs are a great place to start with smart home tech. All you need to do is screw them into a light socket, download their companion app, connect the lights to your phone and you're done.

From there, you can control the color and intensity of your lighting. With some smart bulbs, like the Belkin WeMo LED and GE Link Bulbs, you can also put your lights on a schedule, so they go on and off automatically. Others, like the Playbulb Color and the Sengled Pulse also have built-in speakers so you can play music.

Here are more on the benefits of smart lighting.

Smart plugs


The Amazon Smart Plug works with Alexa devices.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

A close second in the list of easiest smart home projects is the smart plug. These plugs, like the Belkin WeMo Mini Wi-Fi Smart Plug, Zuli Smartplug or the Amazon Smart Plug, can make just about any appliance smart. You plug it into an outlet, plug an appliance into it and connect the plug to its corresponding app.

Then, you can turn that appliance on and off with the plug's app or schedule when you want the appliance to come on automatically. You can have your coffee maker turn on when you wake up, for example. Or you could have your curling iron or straightener turn off automatically at the time you leave for work every morning.

This guide will help you set up a smart plug in just a few minutes.

Smart detectors


The Nest Protect does more than detect smoke.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Smart smoke detectors, like Nest ProtectHalo Smart LabsFirst Alert and Roost, are basically smoke detectors with a couple of big upgrades. Plus, they are just as easy to install. They come with brackets you attach to the ceiling or wall with screws. Then, you snap or twist the detector onto the bracket and connect it to its app.

Hate climbing up on a chair to silence your smoke detector every time you burn something in the kitchen? With smart detectors, you can simply open an app and tap the false alarm button to shut off the maddening beeping.

Many smart detectors also detect carbon monoxide and poor air quality. This makes your home safer without installing multiple devices.

Here's our buying guide to help choose the right detector for your home.

Smart thermostats


Smart thermostats can be controlled with an app.


Putting in a smart thermostat in my home is one of the best upgrades I've made. The process of switching my old thermostat out for a smart one only took about 30 minutes and I've loved all the perks.

Installing one of these thermostats is pretty simple. You pull your old thermostat off its base, disconnect two to three wires from the old thermostat and detach the base from the wall. Then, you screw the new base to the wall, attach the wires to the new thermostat and snap it to its base. The rest is just connecting it to your Wi-Fi and app.

You can get an idea of the full process from this tutorial on the Nest Thermostat:

Watch this: How to install the Nest Learning Thermostat

With a smart thermostat, you can control the heating and cooling of your home using an app. You can even schedule how warm or cool you want your home throughout the day. No more waking up to a chill in the mornings!

Look at this amazing smart-home tech for kitchens

See all photos

Another perk is that you can control the thermostat when you aren't at home. I don't know how many times I've left for a trip and wondered if I left the air conditioning going full blast. Instead of turning around and heading home to check, I can just check my app.

Here is our list of best smart home thermostats for 2019 to get you started.

Not sure what smart home products are compatible? Our compatibility guide can help.