One way to build out a smart home is to buy lots of components—sensors, smart bulbs, security cameras, speakers, and whatnot—and connect them all to a hub that helps them communicate with each other and with you, via your smartphone. But let’s be real: That can involve spending a lot of money and investing a lot of time. And for some people, it’s just overkill. If your wants and needs are simpler, just a few relatively inexpensive products will deliver most of the conveniences a high-end smart home can deliver, and on a much more modest budget.

And if you make sure those smart home products are compatible with each other, you’ll build a solid foundation that you can expand over time. The key is knowing which smart home products don’t depend on a smart home hub to operate. While hubs offer advantages—the most important of which is having a single user interface to control everything—they’re not always essential. One thing you must have, however, is a good wireless router—ideally one that can reach all corners of your home.

Here some of the a few common ways you can build a hub-free smart home system.

Smart lighting

For most people interested in living in a smart home, lighting is the entry point. Many smart lighting systems work perfectly well without a central hub and are still capable of interacting with other smart home elements. Bulbs from LIFX and TP-Link, for example, communicate over Wi-Fi, while some others communicate via the Bluetooth radio in your smartphone.

Philips Hue Color and Ambiance Starter Kit Philips

Philips leads the smart lighting market with its Hue series of bulbs and luminaires. While they don’t require a smart home hub to operate, they do depend on a ZigBee to Wi-Fi bridge that’s included with each of their starter kits.

Still other smart bulbs, including Philips Hue, Cree, and Sengled Element, rely on ZigBee radios and therefore must have a ZigBee-to-Wi-Fi bridge connected to your router. You can control any of these smart bulbs with an app on your smartphone or tablet, which you can also use to program lighting scenes and schedules.

If most of your home’s lighting is in the ceiling and controlled by a switch on the wall, you might be better served by replacing those dumb switches with smart switches and dimmers, instead. That’s because a smart bulb becomes dumb the instant you turn off the switch controlling it. Leviton, TP-Link, Lutron, Ecobee, and other manufacturers make smart light switches that operate on your Wi-Fi network and don’t require a central hub. Check out Noon Home’s system for a super sophisticated, but relatively expensive, lighting control system.

If you use lamps for most of your lighting, a smart plug such as the Wemo Mini will enable you to turn the lamp on and off—and dim its dumb light bulb—with a smartphone app.

Smart speakers

What’s more convenient than pulling out your smartphone to dim the lights on movie night? Saying “dim the lights” and having a smart speaker linked to your smart lighting do it for you. The Amazon Echo series and Google Home series are the market leaders in this space. And while Amazon has held the lead for the past few years—it has a much larger installed base, has enjoyed much broader support, and had the only smart speakers with displays for a time—Google is coming on very strong.





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