With the best home automation systems, you can make all kinds of adjustments to your home just by asking.
When it comes to the best home automation systems that are voice-controlled, Amazon's Alexa powered Echo devices or Google Assistant may immediately come to mind, but there are lots of voice-controlled AI assistants, including Apple's Siri and Microsoft's Cortana, available in 2021 so there’s plenty of options to choose from.
Utilizing a smart speaker is the easiest way to get your home automated with voice controls as it will allow you to command multiple devices from one WiFi-connected and microphone integrated speaker. A full home automation system can often require a proper installation from a professional and come with dedicated hardware, so it may be a bit pricier.
It’s worth considering which automation tasks are most important to you. Some systems don’t utilize two-way cameras, for example, so aren’t a great option if you want to be able to see who is at your door from a smart device. Some also come with long contracts and monthly fees, so it’s important to account for this when deciding whether a particular home automation system fits your budget. If you’re looking at home security as a priority, then take a look at the best home security systems.
With the wide range of options available, including DIY home automation systems, and different levels of home integration on offer, it’s worth really taking stock of what areas in your home would really benefit from automation and make your life that bit easier.
1. Amazon Echo (3rd Gen): Best cheap home automation system
The Amazon Echo (3rd Generation) is a great value home automation system. It works well thanks to deep integration and wide compatibility with lots of smart home devices.
The far-field microphones make this very, very good at picking up your voice and the Alexa AI is now so advanced it will get your request right the first time. For home automation, this can be used with voice controls but also used via the Alexa app on a phone or many smart TVs.
Using this as a home automation system is easy thanks to voice controls. You'll be able to control everything from garage doors, heating, and smart lights. The Amazon Echo is also compatible with some smart doorbells too. If you want even more from a home automation system, the Amazon Echo (4th Generation) has a dedicated Zigbee hub that can be used to control lots of smart home devices.
- Read our full Amazon Echo (3rd Generation) review
2. Control4 Home Control: Best home automation integrated system
The Control4 Home Control is a top choice for residential home automation systems thanks to a powerful combination of hardware and software. This is highly compatible with the likes of home security systems, cameras, and alarms. It also works with voice-controlled assistants like Alexa, allowing you control from speakers like the Echo we've mentioned above.
The system features a tablet interface as well as the option of a video-screen toting remote called the Neeo. Despite this being a system that's typically installed by a professional, it's modular, meaning it's easy to add more at any point. You can also rely on excellent customer service from the start.
We particularly like the Mockupancy setting, which uses your system randomly when you're not home to make it appear as a lived-in property.
- Read our full Control4 Home review
3. Google Nest Hub: Best home automation system for features
The Google Nest Hub is an all-in-one home automation system. Despite being a convenient solution, with touch controls and smart assistant voice interactions, it does lack a little on the audio punch. That said, it does offer a useful control panel screen specifically for home automation systems.
There isn't a camera on this home automation system, so that means this can't be used as a two-way camera system, not ideal for anyone that wants to connect with a smart video doorbell, for example. There is a Google Nest Hub Max variant that does offer a camera though.
Grouped commands are useful, allowing you to automate a series of actions from one statement. For example, "good morning" could turn up the lights, heat up the home, and even have your coffee warming through, ready for your day.
- Read our full Google Nest Hub review
4. Savant Pro: Best high-end home automation system
The Savant Pro is a premium home automation system that caters to the high-end market. That means, yes, it's not cheap, but it does what you need and does it well.
While the amount of hardware partners numbers in the dozens – rather than the hundreds - this does offer compatibility with the likes of Honeywell. That helps to make this, otherwise luxury provider, fit in with the average homeowners too.
Savant Pro works with security cameras, safety sensors and energy monitoring with a host of controls including a touchscreen wall or table-mounted tablet interface. The system comes with a two-year warranty and features a Savant Remote, which you can use as a trial before committing to the full system installation.
- Read our full Savant Pro review
5. Vivint Smart Home: Best home automation system for easy use
The Vivint Smart Home Security system is a simple but effective relative newcomer to home automation systems. It minimally offers three packages, all with cellular backup. This delivers camera-based security, for a surcharge, smoke, and CO monitoring as well as medical alert monitoring. This all requires professional installation, however, so you will need to factor that in too.
The Smart Complete top-end package offers video monitoring with security cameras and video doorbell, heating controls, Alexa and Google Assistant integration, and lots of sensors for doors and windows. This comes with a wall-mountable touchscreen tablet interface but also comes with an iOS and Android app too.
- Read our full Vivint Smart Home Security review
How much do home automation systems cost?
You can expect to pay at least $2,000 and as much as $10,000 to have a professional integrator install a simple home automation system. Unfortunately, the price tends to vary depending on the size and layout of your home as well as the equipment you get. A simple home automation system usually includes a central controller, sensors, light switches, thermostats, and locks. However, we've included lots of more affordable smart home devices which double up as speakers too.
Even if your integrator only uses inexpensive devices, your project’s total cost can go up quickly based on the number of devices you use and the price of labor to install them and program them. The central controller is usually the most expensive component, followed by security cameras, thermostats and locks.
Anything involving complex electrical work will dramatically increase your project costs beyond $10,000. This includes installing new outlet boxes, home theaters, whole-house audio systems and surveillance cameras throughout your home. Running all of those wires behind walls and between rooms is time consuming, especially since your integrator needs to comply with building codes in your area.
Lastly, you don’t pay just for equipment and installation – your integrator puts serious effort into designing and programming the system before and after installation. This means the more you customize your system, the more your integrator will likely charge.
Types of systems
A professionally installed home automation system is a serious investment that can add value to your home – it's not a hobby or a gimmick. Installing a home automation system is as expensive and complex as remodeling your home. Our research revealed some ways you can rein in your expectations to find a system that's best for you.
What to expect from professional home automation
Whole-house automation systems from Control4, Crestron, Elan, RTI, Savant and URC are more expensive than security systems, but they offer more flexibility and connectivity, particularly with home theaters. They also require custom wiring and programming, which can take weeks to prepare in some cases.
Home security systems focus on home security but offer automation upgrades. These upgrades aren't as complex or customizable as whole-house automation systems, notably lacking home theater integration. However, these systems are often more affordable and include home security monitoring.
A stable market with local dealers
Whole-home systems are sold by local dealers, also called integrators, in most states. In addition to acting as resellers, these dealers install and set up you home automation equipment. Home security systems have larger installer networks. Only in the last decade have DIY systems appeared, and voice controls like Amazon Alexa make them more useful each year
When you work with a dealer, they figure out which products work together ahead of time and then offer a variety of systems to meet specific needs. Many whole-home system manufacturers make every piece of equipment and also support hundreds of third-party products.
Home theater integration
A home theater is the most expensive part of a whole-home automation system because it requires special controls to send audio and video to rooms throughout your home. The rest of the cost associated with home theaters comes from audio equipment, such as speakers and amplifiers, and video equipment such as projectors and TVs.
Where to start when buying a home automation system
When you decide to buy a smart home system, aside from setting a sensible budget, there are only two things to consider: what and who. Getting what you want means finding the right focus for your smart home. From there, decide who should install it. Here are some tips to help you decide the what and who of your smart home.
Determine your focus
Focus only on features you want. Whole-home automation has elements of control, security, utilities and entertainment. However, systems sold by security companies don't do entertainment. These categories are not mutually exclusive; for example, lighting plays a role in all four. Once you know your focus, you can find a dealer to make it happen.
Getting the most from your automation system
Whether you use your system as a universal remote or have automatic tasks that run in the background, you can expect to interact with it every day. Idle systems are a great way to underutilize your investment – make them work for you. Here are a couple things every home automation system owner should know.
Learn the ropes
Take time to study the manual, mobile app and other tools you have access to. Look at all the components that make up your system and see how the mobile app controls them. By familiarizing yourself with the app, you can find lights, create presets and know where in the menu everything is. In most systems, you can set up schedules to control devices such as your thermostat and exterior lights.
When to call the dealer
Aside from occasionally replacing batteries in a sensor or dusting off your equipment, there isn’t much maintenance you can do on your own without voiding the warranty. If your system is under warranty, you should be able to replace your defective components at no cost. It’s possible that you might pay a service fee, even with a warranty – check with your dealer to see when they charge for service calls. If you don’t have a warranty, set priorities instead of calling the dealer any time a component stops working.
When you work with a dealer, remember they may offer a separate warranty from that of the manufacturer. Make sure the dealer’s warranty covers installation and labor for at least a year. For faulty hardware, many dealers work with manufacturers to get replacement parts so you don’t have to contact the manufacturer directly. The best home automation systems offer lifetime warranties, though a warranty should last at least three years.