If you live in an apartment, an RV or a tiny house, you may fear that limited space and lack of ability to modify your dwelling will prevent you from creating the smart home of your dreams. Certainly, there are limits to what you can install. However, there are plenty of home automation devices that will fit in nicely in your small space without upsetting your landlord or messing with your compact living space.
The following are products that we've selected specifically with apartment-dwellers in mind, thanks to their compact size and simple installation. Note that in a few cases these are not our favorite overall products, but they're the ones we feel will be best for people living in rentals, tiny houses and other small spaces.
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The Amazon Echo Spot offers Alexa’s visual cues and video functionality without taking up much room, which makes it perfect for apartments where space is at a premium. The combination of the small but super useful screen with a sleek, modern design makes this little smart speaker look just as at home on a bedside table as it does on a home office desk, a living room shelf, or a kitchen counter.
The screen displays a customizable clock but also cycles through useful information to give you insights at a glance. It also gives you the ability to make video calls, which are surprisingly perfect with a round screen. You can also check in on video feeds from smart cameras, video baby monitors, and video doorbells. And it can stream TV and movie content, though it's not really designed as a media streaming device.
Philips Hue White and Color Ambiance A19 Starter Kit (Gen 3)
One of the quickest ways to deck your apartment out with smart home technology is to replace its standard light bulbs with smart lightbulbs. They can dramatically change the ambiance of a room, enhance your movie nights, and even keep your home safe while you’re on vacation with smart schedules. Across the board, the Philips Hue smart bulbs topped all of our tests thanks to an easy setup, a robust suite of features, and an intuitive app.
Additional support with smart assistants like Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri add tremendous benefit to an already impressive portfolio. Once you throw in the additional rainbow of possible light colors, these are without a doubt the best smart bulbs you can buy.
Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K with Alexa Voice Remote (2019)
If you don’t have much room for a streaming box next to your TV, Amazon’s Fire TV is just about perfect. It sticks out of your TV’s HDMI port and offers access to all your favorite streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. The Fire TV’s biggest advantage is its inclusion of the Alexa voice assistant for voice searching.
Though we think the new Roku Ultra and Apple TV are better all-around streaming options, the Fire TV Stick is a much better option if your main goal is creating a smart home. Alexa can just do so, so much more like set reminders, control smart gadgets, or re-order you popcorn. You can even use the Fire TV app to control your Fire TV if you misplace the remote or want to type in a password without much effort.
What makes a product great for apartment dwellers?
There are lots of great smart home products out there, but why did we recommend these picks for those who live in apartments?
Installation—Living in an apartment means that you can't always permanently mount or install your new favorite gadgets. All of our picks in this list can be easily uninstalled without leaving a mess.
Portability—Housing situations can change on a dime, so it's best if all of your favorite tech devices are easily portable from your old home to your new home. Our selections can all be stowed away relatively easily.
Small Footprint—In a rental, space is at a premium. These products can help you to get the most out of your smart home environment without taking up valuable real estate on your TV stand or on your living room table.
Emerson Sensi Touch Wi-Fi Thermostat
You might have to run this one by your landlord, but if they’ll give you permission to install a smart thermostat, the one you want is the Emerson Sensi Touch Wi-Fi thermostat. While Nest and Honeywell may be better known smart thermostat brands, we love this one for its smooth installation process, helpful app, and functionality across multiple “smart” assistants.
The installation directions in the Sensi app were fantastic and foolproof: the Sensi app actually checks which wires are connected (which tells you if a wire isn’t touching its contact properly), and then checks the viability of that wiring configuration. If you're new at playing around with thermostat wires, this will be hugely reassuring, as will the easy-to-access contact push tabs.
All the smart tech in the world won’t do you any good if you have an unreliable internet connection. A good router is the foundation of your smart apartment, so make sure you have a good router before you go any further.
Our favorite is the D-Link DIR-878. It gave us the best performance across all of our test locations on our wired file transfer test, and at our toughest, long-range test location, the DIR-878 had the best-combined read and write throughout—and nearly double the speed of the next-fastest router.
Having a few smart plugs throughout your apartment is a quick way to make some of your “dumb” appliances and accessories smart. The iDevices Switch was the best smart plug we tested. On top of Android and iOS compatibility, tThe Switch offers in-depth energy monitoring and seamless integration with the two most popular smart home ecosystems: Amazon Alexa and Apple HomeKit. The Switch only occupies a single outlet on your wall panel, and its own outlet is positioned on the right-hand side—a real advantage if you want to place it snugly behind a couch or bookcase.
You don’t have to use a drill or mess with your apartment’s wiring to use a security camera on the premises. In fact, Logitech Circle 2 can be mounted right on an outlet via its plug mount. No wires to mess with at all!
The camera also supports Apple HomeKit, which is rare for a security camera, as well as Alexa, Google Assistant, and the clever Logitech Pop buttons. The app is incredibly easy to use. It opens quickly to the live view and places color-coded circles on the right side that represent motion-triggered recordings. Blue circles are likely to have a person in them, and you can create a highlight reel called the Daily Brief that stitches the day’s most interesting footage into a montage. Your leftovers-stealing roommate will be caught red-handed.
Honeywell Lyric Wi-Fi Water Leak and Freeze Detector
If you’re going to lose your security deposit, lose it over something fun like a raucous party – not a water leak from some appliance. The Lyric Wi-Fi Water Leak & Freeze Detector can alert you right away if there’s something leaking.
It offers easy setup, a solid app, temperature and humidity readings, and an optional cord sensor attachment that expands the detection area up to 150 feet. The detector works over Wi-Fi for easy setup, doesn't need a hub, and should last up to 3 years on AA batteries. Just leave it in a leak-prone spot and forget about it.
All of the above products ranked high against their competitors in our testing. The following products either didn’t rank as high—but might be the best bet for an apartment-dweller — or we haven’t been tested beyond our own personal use.
Smart mirrors are becoming more and more common in the smart home, and for good reason. Mirrors that can adjust lighting, help you pick an outfit and tell you the weather. Many of them are yet to be released to the public, but the HiMirror Mini is now available to the public and offers a number of very smart capabilities. Alexa, Facebook, and Spotify integration ensure you stay connected while you put on your makeup.
Not only that, but the built-in camera can take detailed photos of your face, produce time lapses to show changes in your skin, and even tell you about your face’s wrinkles, dark spots, blemishes and redness. I’ve been using this mirror for a couple of months, and my only gripe about it is that the face scanning requires very particular lighting. My overhead light has to be off and I can’t be too close to my window if I want to scan. Despite that, I love my HiMirror Mini, and unlike most smart mirrors, its compact size would make it easy to squeeze onto even a very small vanity.
While the Switchmate Rocker wasn’t the best smart switch we’ve reviewed, it might be a reasonable choice for renters since it doesn’t require any wiring. It's more like a remote that you magnetically place over a switch and use to remotely toggle a switch on and off.
It's not a financial huge gamble to try Switchmate, and it's really the only option for renters outside of just using smart bulbs. But if you have your landlord's permission to install one, we highly recommend you go with an actual smart switch. In Switchmate’s defense, there is a newer version of this switch that we haven’t tested yet, but we will soon. We’ll update this article when we do.
If you can’t or don’t want to lug a smart mattress into your apartment, you can smarten up your current Queen, King, or California King mattress with the Eight Smart Cover. I’ve had an Eight Mattress with the Smart Cover for over a year, and my husband and I love the Alexa, Google Home, and IFTTT the integrations.
The feature that we use the most, however, is the dual-zone warming. I sleep very warm, so we keep the house cold at night, and he just heats his side of the bed so he doesn’t freeze to death. We also can see each other’s sleep stats—letting us very quickly figure out why the other is such a grouch this morning.
Sarah Kovac is an award-winning author and smart home editor for Reviewed. Previously, she worked with a multitude of outlets such as Wirecutter, TIME, PCMag, Prevention, The Atlantic, Reviews.com, CNN, GOOD, Upworthy, Mom.me, and SheKnows.
We use standardized and scientific testing methods to scrutinize every product and provide you with objectively accurate results. If you’ve found different results in your own research, email us and we’ll compare notes. If it looks substantial, we’ll gladly re-test a product to try and reproduce these results. After all, peer reviews are a critical part of any scientific process.