Automating Your Rental Home: A Renter's Guide to Smart Home Upgrades
Owning a home provides the flexibility to install any desired smart device, unlike renting where the options are more limited. Altering a rental property might result in a loss of security deposit due to breaching the lease agreement. What do you do?
As a general guideline, it is advisable not to modify plumbing, electrical wiring, or major appliances in rental properties. Installing advanced smart devices, including smart toilets, laundry machines, ovens, or refrigerators, is typically not allowed. Additionally, many internet-connected smart security systems, cameras, video doorbells, and similar devices require wiring, making them unsuitable for rentals.
However, as a renter, you need not sacrifice the benefits of a smart home entirely. We have compiled a list of the best renter-friendly smart home devices that you can quickly set up without any physical installation, and conveniently take with you when you move.
By using a smart plug, you can transform any device that plugs into a wall socket into a connected device controlled by your smartphone. This includes lamps, space heaters, humidifiers, and even Christmas trees. Smart plugs fit directly into a wall outlet or a power strip and feature an additional outlet for plugging in the device you wish to automate. This does not compromise any outlets; instead, you are making an existing outlet smart by connecting it to your home Wi-Fi network.
The ConnectSense Smart Outlet 2 is a slightly expensive option, but one of the best for both renters and homeowners. It allows you to control two outlets independently, reports how much power each outlet is drawing, and comes with a USB charging port. The TP-Link Kasa Smart Wi-Fi Power Strip HS300 is a smart surge protector with six outlets you can control through your phone or voice. If you have fewer devices to automate, the Wyze Plug is a cost-effective option that we recommend.
If you want to automate outdoor string lights or a decorative water feature, an outdoor-friendly smart plug is an excellent solution. The Wyze Plug Outdoor is one of the most versatile and affordable options we've tested. It is weatherproof, works with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant voice commands, tells you how much power you're using, and features a built-in light sensor to switch on automatically when the sun sets.
Whether you are a renter or homeowner, a smart speaker or smart display is an essential connected home gadget. In addition to playing music, our favorite models serve as a central command center, allowing you to control other compatible smart home devices with your voice. The first step in the buying process is choosing the voice assistance platform that suits your home: Amazon Alexa, Apple Siri, or Google Assistant. All three platforms support most major smart home device brands.
The fourth-generation Amazon Echo is the top pick for most Alexa users, while the Nest Audio is our preferred choice for Google Assistant fans. Both models are reasonably priced and appropriately sized to fill a room with sound. With Apple's HomePod mini, you can control your smart home using Siri as long as your other connected devices are compatible with Apple's HomeKit protocol.
Smart displays offer the same hands-free voice assistant features as smart speakers, but also have screens on which you can follow recipes, check your calendar, make video calls, and control your connected devices with a few taps. A smart display can also function as a digital showcase for your photos or curated art. For the living room, we recommend the Alexa-powered Amazon Echo Show 10 or the Google-centric Nest Hub Max, which provide the best balance of screen size and sound quality.
Upgrading your rental can be effortless and economical with LED smart bulbs that use less energy, have longer lifespans, and support app and voice controls. You can install these bulbs in standard light sockets, such as ceiling fixtures or lamps, and Wyze offers some of our favorite affordable smart lights. The Bulb White and Bulb Color both use a common E26 base and have built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth radios, enabling them to connect directly to your mobile device without the need for a separate home automation hub.
For those with a yard, smart outdoor lights can create a festive ambiance for outdoor parties and barbecues. The weatherproof Govee Lynx Dream String Lights feature multicolor LEDs that can be controlled with your phone or voice. They offer a wide selection of preset lighting scenes and a Music Sync mode that's perfect for gatherings.
Smart home security
If you are worried about theft or home invasion, a DIY home security kit can help you monitor your home and feel more secure. DIY options are usually more renter-friendly, as they involve wireless components that you can install with double-sided tape, and often don't require professional installation or long-term monitoring contracts with hefty early termination fees. Additionally, you can purchase the hardware outright and monitor it yourself with most DIY systems, such as SimpliSafe. Professional monitoring fees vary, with SimpliSafe's no-contract monitoring service starting at $17.99 per month.
An outdoor security camera can provide additional protection and peace of mind by serving as a watchful set of eyes on your property. Wireless, battery-powered Wi-Fi cameras, such as the Ring Stick Up Cam Battery, are ideal for renters since they can be placed anywhere as long as they can connect to Wi-Fi without worrying about staying near an outlet or running a power cord into your home.
Indoor security cameras that are connected to Wi-Fi can help you monitor the inside of your home and ensure that your belongings are secure while you are away. Our favorite models, such as the Eufy 2K Pan and Tilt P24, do not require hardwiring and are both affordable and easy to install in just minutes.
Another easy way to protect your rental against property theft and home invasion is by installing a video doorbell. These devices enable you to see and communicate with people outside your door and record footage of visitors who approach while you are not available.
When it comes to video doorbells, there are two types available: wired and wireless. For renters, we recommend choosing a battery-powered model instead of one that requires low-voltage wiring. While wireless video doorbells are easy to install and remove, their batteries tend to deplete quickly, lasting anywhere from two to six months. In colder climates, you may need to recharge or replace the batteries more frequently, and there is always the risk of the doorbell shutting down unexpectedly with battery-powered models. Our favorite wireless video doorbell is the Arlo Essential Video Doorbell Wire-Free.
A smart lock allows you to lock and unlock your door with your phone and monitor who comes and goes while you're away. Before installing a smart lock in your rental, be sure to check your lease to see if it is allowed. Laws regarding changing locks in rentals vary by state, so it's important to research your state's specific laws. If you decide to install a smart lock without permission, keep all the original parts in case you need to reinstall them at the end of your lease.
Most smart locks work with standard predrilled holes, so you usually don't need to create new ones. Some models attach to the inside of your door and use your existing keyed cylinder and deadbolt hardware, requiring you to remove only the interior escutcheon. Our favorite renter-friendly smart lock is the August Wi-Fi Smart Lock, which requires minimal assembly and is compatible with your existing keys.
Installing a smart thermostat in a rental can often be difficult and not worth the effort. Instead, a smart air conditioner is a viable option that can provide similar benefits and potential savings on energy bills during warmer months.
Smart air conditioners are a great option for rentals that lack central cooling. Although they may be more expensive than traditional models, they offer Wi-Fi connectivity, allowing you to turn them on or off and adjust the temperature from your phone or with voice commands. Most models also support scheduling, making it easy to program them to turn off when you leave for work, helping to save energy and money.
The Midea 8,000BTU U-shaped Air Conditioner is one of the quietest window units available, and it's easy to install. It effectively cools a room and can be controlled with a remote, mobile app, or through voice commands with Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant.
If you're worried about secondhand smoke, mold, or other airborne pollutants, consider a smart air purifier. These devices also track your air quality in a companion app. Our top pick, the Dyson Purifier Cool TP07, is an effective HEPA air purifier and oscillating fan with a small footprint. It also offers Wi-Fi connectivity, allowing for easy control via your phone or voice commands.
Smart kitchen appliances can provide luxury and convenience to homeowners, but they may not be practical for renters unless the lease permits upgrades to major appliances. However, renters can still enjoy upgraded culinary experiences with smaller smart kitchen appliances.
The Anova Precision Oven combines conventional convection and steam cooking with precise low-temperature modes to produce chef-level results when baking, roasting, slow cooking, and steaming food.
Smart coffee makers, like the Hamilton Beach Smart Coffee Maker, allow for app and voice control, enabling users to turn the device on and off and adjust brew strength using Alexa routines.
For those without a backyard, an AeroGarden Bounty Elite smart hydroponic system can be used to grow herbs and vegetables indoors with Wi-Fi connectivity that sends alerts to your phone when plants need water or food.
Robot vacuums have become a popular cleaning solution for households. Unlike traditional canister or stick vacuums, robot vacuums are autonomous and intelligent. They are equipped with lasers and sensors to navigate around your home without assistance, and include Wi-Fi connectivity for app and voice control. Most models offer the ability to schedule cleanings, which is ideal if you want to program them to start when you're out of the house.
The iRobot Roomba j7+ is a top-performing robot vacuum that uses a built-in camera and machine learning technology to detect and automatically avoid common obstacles like pet waste and phone cords. It's an excellent option for homes with clutter or accident-prone pets.
To clean floors without any physical effort, a robot mop can be a great solution. By simply filling the tank with water and/or cleaning solution (if supported by the robot), pressing start, and letting it run, the robot mop can remove streaks and dirt. The Samsung Jetbot Mop is a versatile option that uses two spinning pads to scrub floors until they're spotless, and features a handle for easy cleaning of walls.
Automation without compromise
Automating your rental home may seem daunting at first, but it can offer numerous benefits, including greater convenience, energy savings, and added security. With a variety of smart home devices available, renters have plenty of options to choose from, ranging from smart lighting and thermostats to robot vacuums and security systems. By selecting renter-friendly models that don't require permanent installations or major renovations, you can upgrade your living space without violating your lease agreement. With a little bit of research and planning, you can create a smart home that suits your needs and enhances your daily life.
Most people I know actively look for appliances which *aren’t* “smart”. If you’re so lazy that you can’t get up from your chair and cell phone to turn off the lights, then natural selection will act against you.
Smart home? No thanks. I’m already being spied on by the TLAs enough. It’s why I totally power down my computer when I’m not on it.