Five Ways to Automate Your Home, Without Spending a Lot of Money

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Not everyone can afford to deck out their homes with Wi-Fi lights, outlets, and voice control. But that doesn’t necessarily mean your home has to be dumb. Here are a few ways to make your home a bit smarter, without spending a lot of money.

Granted, these cheaper solutions don’t offer the ability to control things from your smartphone, and they don’t connect to your home network. That’s the tradeoff you make for cheaper, older tech. But, they can certainly make life more convenient, which is the whole point of smarthome products anyway.

Remote-Controlled Outlets

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While you can get outlets that you can control from your smartphone, there’s a cheaper alternative available that lets you control appliances with a little remote that can work across the room, and they’re pretty cheap.

Here’s a set of five for just $30, which is significantly less than one Belkin WeMo switch. The only downside is that these devices only have one outlet receptacle, and they’re usually bulky enough that they take up the entire outlet. However, if you can get past that quirk, then they’re great for turning things on and off without getting up from the couch.

Outlet Timers

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If you want to have your lights turn on and off automatically at certain times throughout the day grab some outlet timers (you can get two for $17) for things like lamps. You can also control just about anything that you can plug in, provided that it has a physical on/off switch.

If your lights are controlled by a light switch on the wall (which is most likely the case), then you can replace it with a wall switch timer too. They’re a bit more expensive (this Honeywell one is a little over $20), but it’s still cheaper than getting Wi-Fi enabled bulbs like Philips Hue.

Light Socket Motion Sensors

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If you hate having to turn the lights on and off in closets and pantries, you can have them automatically turn on and off with motion sensors that sit in between the light socket and the light bulb.

I have these GE motion sensors ($15) in almost all of my closets, and they work really great. Plus, you can set how long you want the light to stay on after it stops detecting motion–up to 10 minutes.

USB Outlets

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While this technically won’t “automate” your house like the other options on this list, USB outlets can certainly make things more convenient and tech-friendly. You likely have a handful of devices that charge over USB, so this prevents them from taking up an outlet (and prevents you from searching for that A/C block you know you put somewhere.)

You can get USB outlets that still come with two regular outlet receptacles, but squeeze in two USB ports for charging your devices. You can also get one that replaces both receptacles with four USB ports.

Window and Door Sensors

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Do you always like to know when someone comes in or leaves the house? You can get some cheap door sensors (like this 2-pack for $10) that emit a chime noise, similar to what you’ll hear walking into stores. These same sensors can also emit a siren noise if you want to make it more security-focused.

You can also use them on windows, so you know if a window was opened across the house. These sensors won’t detect glass breakage, but you can also buy separate sensors specifically for that. They’re not as cheap ($50 for one sensor), but one can pretty much cover an entire room of windows.


Again, none of this stuff is necessarily “smart”, as you can’t control it with your smartphone and it won’t notify you through your phone if you’re away from home. But you’re also not spending a fortune to automate your home, so it’s the next best thing.

Craig Lloyd writes about smarthome for How-To Geek, and is an aspiring handyman who loves tinkering with anything and everything around the house. He's also a mediocre gamer, aviation geek, baseball fan, motorcyclist, and proud introvert.