The real cost of setting up a smart home

Echo Plus is one of the latest Alexa-enabled devices.

LOS ANGELES — So you’re thinking about setting up a smart home.

You’d like to say “Alexa, turn off the lights,” or “Alexa, lock the door,” and have it all happen without you having to get up out of your lounge chair. Great idea, right?

No question, but it will cost you.

Based on the costs of purchasing items, trying to install them and then giving up and then paying someone else for installation, USA TODAY estimates a figure of over $2,000 to get started with smart lighting, doorbell, lock, thermostat and security.

Compared to the options a few years ago, that’s a bargain.

Collection of smart home devices, including the Ring, August Smart Lock and Amazon Echo Plus

Then, if you wanted a smart home, you’d have to go to companies like Control4, Crestron or Vivint for home security, lighting and the like. These companies work with dealers for installation, on top of the purchase price, and some charge monthly subscriptions. Vivint, for instance, says service starts at $39.99 monthly, or nearly $500 a year.  

The beauty of the age we’re living in is that you can now order just the pieces you want, off the shelf, and install them yourself. Maybe. If you’re really good with screwdrivers and potentially wiring. If not, you can hire a lower-cost service company like Hello Tech, Best Buy’s Geek Squad or even hire Amazon to send a professional.

Let’s go down the list of what you might want, choosing some of the most common smart-home products:

The Ring video door bell, which shows you who’s at the door and lets you answer from anywhere.

Price: $200.

Ring video doorbell pro

A smart lock, from companies like August Home and Schlage, for opening the door with your phone or via Alexa.

Price: They range from $200 to $300.

Your kids' phones can serve as their house keys.

Smart lights. Plug in a base to speak to the bulbs, and then plug in the bulbs to the regular sockets.

Price: A starter kit from Philips opens at around $150.

Philips Hue starter kit


The Nest Thermostat, which can be controlled from anywhere. You can lower or raise the temperature of your home from work.

Price: The latest, third-generation Nest sells for $249.

Nest thermostat e

Smart garage door opener, to monitor who’s coming in and out, via an app.

Price: starts at $99 from Nexx Garage. 

Canary security, which offers Webcam footage, siren and alerts

Price: $170.

Amazon Echo Finally, you’ll want an Echo, Amazon’s connected speaker that controls all of these devices, plus plays music on demand and tells you the latest weather and news.

Amazon has several Echo units available. The one geared to home automation is called the Echo Plus. Additionally, you can also use the Google Home speaker ($49.99 and $129.99) or the Siri, Alexa or Google Assistant apps on your smartphone to control the home. 

Price: The Amazon Echo Plus sells for $149.

The new Amazon Echo Plus.

So, you’re at $1,400 now, and you might want to add some outdoor lighting that will weed off prowlers, like the Ring Floodlight Camera, which is motion activated and comes with two-way talk and alarms. Add another $250 for that, and the total is $1650.

Now comes the hard part. The products all fall under the DIY category. You are expected to install them.

The manufacturers make it sound easy, but the truth is, it isn’t. Take for instance, my experience with the August Smart Lock, which is designed to fit over the frame of your existing door lock and communicate with your phone and/or connected speaker.

I got as far as unscrewing the two screws from the lock. What I couldn’t do was yank the existing lock out of the door to replace it with August. I did what I suspect many people do: I gave up.

This sequence of events is why Amazon now offers many of these units with installation offers. Add around $100 to the Smart Lock purchase to have Geek Squad, Amazon, or an Amazon sub-contractor like Hello Tech install a deadbolt lock, drill holes and cut mortises into the door, install a cylinder, thumb level and faceplate, and install the strike plate in the doorjamb.

Figure installation charge of $100 or so for five of the units discussed here (you won’t need help for Canary or the Echo Plus) and that’s how I get to $2,150 — though it could be slightly lower with cheaper options on some, like smart locks.

Talking to Alexa is fun, but is it worth two grand for you to do that? That’s a big decision, but again, the great thing about this point in time is you don’t have to do it at once. Buy the Echo Plus and plug in a lightbulb, and you now have a smart home. Without any installation woes.

After all, even I can plug in a lightbulb.

Follow USA TODAY's Jefferson Graham on Twitter, @jeffersongraham