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Retrofitting my rented home with SwitchBot smart home tools has been a lifesaver
In the summer of 2022, I moved across the United States from Connecticut to California. I landed in a small, two-bedroom rental house. The house itself was built by the owner as a pandemic-era project. Since it is brand new construction and I am his first tenant, he is (understandably) pretty protective of the house when it comes to modifications, care, and cleanliness.
While this isn’t really a problem for me, it does damper my smart home ambitions a bit. Because of how the house is designed — combined with the landlord’s watchful eye — I can’t modify much about it. Even hanging up art requires a specific set of tools and nails to minimize wall damage. Granted, most smart home stuff doesn’t require extensive household modifications, but some products do. Additionally, investing in products specific to this house is a waste of money because I likely wouldn’t need them wherever I end up next.
Thankfully, there are companies focusing on retrofitting smart products into existing homes. Among these, SwitchBot helps renters like me make a smart home that can be temporarily installed and then easily uninstalled and repurposed at some point later. I gave the products a shot on a whim and have been very pleased with the results.
Do you retrofit your rented home with smart home devices?
What is retrofitting?
Retrofitting is the act of adding new technology to older, existing systems. In brief, it’s about turning a “dumb” product into a “smart” one.
See also: Things I wish I’d known before building an advanced smart home
For renters looking to build a smart home, retrofitting is essential. As a simple example, installing a smart oven in a home you own is a great way to smarten up your kitchen. However, doing this in a rented home probably wouldn’t be practical. In this case, retrofitting the existing oven is an easier, cheaper, and more landlord-friendly way of getting the smart home features you want.
You wouldn't install a smart oven in a rented home. Retrofitting the current oven makes way more sense.
The added benefit of retrofitting for renters is that you can take the products with you when you go and apply them to your next spot. Going back to the smart oven example, why would you invest hundreds or even thousands of dollars in installing a smart oven in a home that you don’t own? Instead, you should invest in an inexpensive retrofit tool and then, when you move, take the tool with you to your next house or apartment.
Retrofitting is SwitchBot’s bread and butter. Here’s how I’ve incorporated its products into my house.
The SwitchBot tools I use in my house
SwitchBot came on the scene with the SwitchBot Bot, a small mechanical arm that can physically press a button on an existing device. The Bot connects wirelessly to a hub, allowing you to issue the command from anywhere in or out of your home.
While this seems silly, I have three of these in my home now: one on my printer, one on my gaming PC, and one on my espresso machine. Now I can say, “Hey Google, turn on the Gaming PC,” and the hub will tell the little Bot to push the power button on my PC tower. This works in a similar fashion for the printer and the espresso machine, both of which are not smart products.
The SwitchBot Bot uses a mechanized 'finger' to push any button remotely or through a smart home voice command.
I could put a Bot on all manners of devices throughout my home if I were so inclined. My oven is already smart, but if it wasn’t, I could install a Bot there to turn it on and get it pre-heated. Likewise, I could stick one on my washer and dryer, light switches, small appliances, gaming consoles, televisions — pretty much anything with a button on it.
SwitchBot also makes a digital temperature and humidity sensor called the Meter Plus, as seen at the top of this article. This device monitors conditions within my home and automatically adjusts my mini-split HVAC unit accordingly using infrared (IR) blasts from the same hub that controls my Bots. This is terrific because my mini-split is incredibly dumb — you can’t even have it turn on/off at certain times! Thankfully, the Meter Plus — which is battery-powered and can be put anywhere in my home or even moved from room to room — automates it without needing to change the thermostat or even touch the mini-split.
I also tested some smart light strips from SwitchBot. Because my home is pretty small, putting in lamps takes up too much floor space. Likewise, the ceiling lights are all recessed and don’t use traditional bulbs, so turning those into smart lights would be quite difficult and expensive. SwitchBot’s light strips can go anywhere, such as around my full-length mirror. Now the mirror is a smart light with zero floor space used, no tools, no wall holes, and only $20 spent.
See also: The best budget devices for building a starter smart home
Unfortunately, the nature of retrofitting means that not everything can work in my current home. For example, I would love to have the SwitchBot Lock, which utilizes a mechanized motor that manually turns your door’s deadbolt, giving you a retrofitted smart door lock. However, my front door is a weird design that requires the handle to be pulled upwards to lock, so SwitchBot’s solution isn’t compatible with it. I’d also be all over the SwitchBot Curtain Rod 2, which opens and closes your horizontal curtains by rolling along the bar. However, my home doesn’t have curtains, so this is another product I can’t use.
There are two new SwitchBot products coming soon, though, that I have my eye on.
SwitchBot at CES 2023: More retrofit solutions
At CES 2023, the SwitchBot booth had two new products, both of which I am excited to get.
The first is the SwitchBot Blind Tilt. This smart tool connects to the rod that you turn to tilt your blinds. It turns it for you and supports all the other SwitchBot smarts. This would enable me to open or close the blinds with a voice command or have them automatically open/close based on the temperature in the house, the time of day, or many other variables.
The SwitchBot Hub 2 will combine three devices into one, and the Blind Tilt will make my 'dumb' blinds into smart blinds.
The other new product is the SwitchBot Hub 2. This Matter-capable hub is actually three products in one. It replaces the hub I already use as well as the Meter Plus. It also incorporates a smart button, which I could program to perform any number of functions or routines. Plus, since it’s Matter-capable, I can also use it to control other non-SwitchBot products — once Matter becomes more ubiquitous, anyway.
If you’re a renter, I highly recommend keeping an eye on what SwitchBot is doing. Replacing your home’s blinds, curtains, lights, door locks, appliances, etc., with smart products might be great for homeowners, but renters need cheaper and less permanent solutions. A retrofit device might make your life easier and even save you some cash.