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David Pullara holds up two smart home devices. 'The more you have these devices around and the more you use them, the more you become reliant on them,' he says.

David Pullara bought his first smart home device, an Amazon Echo smart home speaker, two years before they were available in Canada with help from a friend who lived on the other side of the border.

Seven years later, the marketing consultant says there is a smart speaker in every room of his house – except for bathrooms, which his wife has deemed off-limits. “The more you have these devices around and the more you use them, the more you become reliant on them,” he says.

Asking his smart home assistant to play a song, provide the weather forecast, find a recipe, settle an argument or help with his kid’s homework has become second nature over the years, Pullara explains.

While he’s added more smart home devices over the years – including smart TVs, light bulbs, a thermostat, doorbell, home security system and more – his favourite feature is still the one that attracted him to smart home technology in the first place, his Amazon Echo. “I can literally have any question answered immediately,” he says.

Today there is an internet-enabled “smart” version of practically every home appliance, ranging from stoves and washing machines to vacuums and kitchen faucets. While the list of smart home products is seemingly endless, some innovations are far more practical than others.

“Just because something can be ‘smart’ doesn’t mean it needs to be,” says Marc Saltzman, consumer technology journalist and host of the Tech It Out podcast. Instead, Saltzman says he judges smart home technology based on what he calls the “four Cs”: cost, convenience, connectivity and control.

With countless smart home products to choose from, here are five affordable smart home devices that can make a big impact.

1. Smart speakers

Smart home devices enable users to make the leap from tapping a button to simply asking for what they want. In the world of smart home assistants, speakers are the new screens, offering their own functionality while also serving as the control centre for other smart devices.

Saltzman adds that as far as smart home devices go, speakers tend to fall on the lower end of the price spectrum, with some even dipping below $35 during sales events. “It’s a relatively low price of admission for many of these devices, and the value proposition is huge.”

2. Smart thermostats

Another “no-brainer,” Saltzman says, is a smart thermostat, as the devices often pay for themselves by reducing heating and cooling costs. Smart thermostats can be programmed to use less energy at peak hours and turn off heating and cooling functions when nobody is home, while ensuring that the temperature is just right by the time you walk through the door.

“A smart thermostat can regulate temperature and save you money,” he says. “It can recognize when you’re home or not and make adjustments on the fly.”

3. Smart plugs

Smart plugs act as an intermediary between wall outlets and anything that can be plugged into one, effectively turning everyday electronics into smart devices.

“You can plug an old lamp that was handed down from your Grandma that you love reading beside and make it a smart light, using your voice to turn it on or off or dim,” Saltzman says.

4. Smart light bulbs

Smart bulbs were once considered a costly gimmick, but as competition rose, prices dropped – and now there is often real value in making the simple upgrade. Not only can they be turned on and off, dim and change colour via a smartphone or voice command, but LED lights also have a longer shelf life and consume less energy than traditional light bulbs.

In addition, smart lights can be programmed to work in tandem with each other, as well as other smart home devices, to execute more complicated commands.

“I have almost every light in my condo connected to WiFi, and then I can control that with my voice, and I can set different themes,” says Brian Jackson, a research adviser for Info-Tech Research Group. “Whether you’re waking up in the morning or you want to watch TV or you’re putting the baby to bed, you can just tell your smart assistant a command and it sets all the lights exactly as you want them.”

5. Media streamers

With Smart TVs often sold at a premium, Canadians can instead turn most existing TVs into an internet-enabled smart device by connecting a media streaming stick or box. Not only do devices like the Amazon Fire Stick, Google Chromecast, Roku and Apple TV provide access to streaming platforms like Netflix, but they also provide added capabilities when combined with other smart devices, such as displaying smart doorbell, home security or baby monitor feeds.

“I can even say something like, ‘show all my photos of me canoeing in 2018′ and it will do that,” says Jackson. “Or I can say, ‘show me my photos from San Francisco,’ and if I took them with my smartphone and they’re geo-tagged, it can do that too.”

There is no shortage of “smart” devices to choose from these days, but the value of each product can be highly specific based on individual habits. These five serve as low-cost starting points for bringing a home into the digital age. As Canadians grow their smart home ecosystem, however, they are encouraged to do their research, read reviews, and really consider whether they will get enough additional value to justify any the cost.

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