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How to make dumb appliances smart in 2021

AC units, garage doors, deadbolts and smoke detectors: There are affordable ways to get smart all over your home right now.
Image: High angle view of woman unlocking house door through smart phone app. Looking to turn old speakers, smoke alarms, locks and more into smart products in 2021? Try these products from Amazon, Wizen, Roost and more.
Building up your smart home doesn't mean you have to throw out all your old tech — or break the bank. Maskot / Getty Images

If you're spending a lot more time at home thanks to Covid-19, the ability to control your appliances with your phone (or your voice) has likely become a lot more appealing. But you don't necessarily have to replace all your gadgets with expensive smart versions to get those enhanced features — you might be able to retrofit them with affordable smart bridges — and while useful, that applies to much more than the ubiquitous smart plug. Here are a few ways to make your old tech smarter.

Intelligently toggle any plug-in gadget with the TP-Link Kasa Smart Plug

If you have a device that plugs into the wall and uses a physical switch to turn on and off, you might be able to control it with a simple adapter like the Kasa Smart Plug Mini. (To see whether your device will work with a smart plug, just turn it on, unplug it, and plug it back in — if it turns back on without you touching the switch, you're good to go).

The possibilities are nearly endless: You can set your coffee maker to turn on at a specific time, automate your humidifier or tell Alexa to turn on your box fan when it gets too hot. Kasa's outdoor plug is great for things like backyard fountains and their power strip can control multiple devices from one outlet.

Control your window air conditioner with Sensibo Sky

Smart thermostats like the Nest are powerful if your home has central heating and air, but renters with a window AC unit or ductless unit aren't left out in the cold (or heat). If your unit has an infrared remote, it's probably compatible with the Sensibo Sky, which mounts on your wall and sends commands to your air conditioner over the same signal — but with the addition of voice control, automation and other smart features.

Convert all your lights affordably with the TP-Link Kasa Dimmer Switch

You probably know that smart light bulbs like Philips Hue can add smarts to your home's light fixtures, but it can get expensive to replace every bulb in the house. Smart switches like the Kasa Dimmer Switch might not have the color-changing capabilities of individual smart bulbs but they're more affordable if your house has lots of fixtures or if the fixtures are incompatible with more traditional bulbs.

Open your garage door remotely with the Chamberlain MyQ

If you — like me — have been known to leave the garage door open on occasion, a smart motor could notify you when you made this costly mistake. Or you could skip the expensive upgrade and connect Chamberlain's MyQ hub, which works with lots of modern garage door openers. Get notifications when you leave the door open, control its opening and closing with your voice or set it up with Amazon Key, a new service that allows Amazon to deliver packages to the inside of your garage to keep them safe from porch pirates.

Get alerts from your old smoke detector with Roost

A smart smoke alarm is one of the best upgrades you can make to your home since it can alert you of a fire even if you're away — and it's easy to turn off in the event of a false alarm (or midnight low-battery chirp). Outfitting your whole home can get expensive, though, which makes Roost a compelling alternative: It's a Wi-Fi-enabled battery that works with 9V-compatible smoke alarms, notifying you when the alarm sounds, and allows remote control when it's annoying you with noise. Alternatively, if you already have a smart security system, it may offer smoke alarm monitors that listen for the siren and alert your phone.

Convert your deadbolt into a smart lock with the Wyze Lock

If you want the enhanced control of a smart lock but don't want to replace your existing deadbolt, some smart locks are designed to replace the internal handle without replacing the actual deadbolt or outward-facing lock. The Wyze Lock is a fantastic option for an affordable price, though if you have a lot of smart gadgets in your home, the August Smart Lock Pro is a more powerful (and more expensive) alternative.

Turn dumb spakers smart with Amazon Echo

You probably know the Amazon Echo can add voice control to all of the above devices — and any other smart gadgets you have in your house. But it has another, lesser-known feature: the ability to turn any set of speakers into a voice-controlled, internet-streaming stereo, no Sonos system required. Just connect it to your existing speakers or receiver with a 3.5mm cable, and you're off to the races. Any current Echo device can do this, including the super inexpensive Echo Flex — though, if you have a high-end stereo, you may want to use the Echo Link or Echo Link Amp instead for higher audio quality.

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