DIY smart home: Here's how you can save thousands

DIY smart home: I’m saving thousands doing it myself — how you can, too
(Image credit: Brilliant)
DIY Smart Home

This story is part of an ongoing DIY smart home series. Be sure to check out the latest installments to follow the renovation process from start to finish.

Despite my knowledge of smart home devices, I still feel intimidated by building an automated and affordable smart home for myself. So it’s only natural that readers with even less experience than me might look to a professionally installed system.

Such was the case with one reader, who, after seeing my DIY smart home series, asked for my thoughts after being quoted $6,000 for a smart home control system.

The reader says they were quoted for a Control4 system, which is priced based on the amount of control panels and connected devices you need. Control4 is a high-end smart home platform with a reputation for connecting everything in your house — not just lights and locks, but intercoms, A/V systems, home theaters, and more. Better yet, Control4 sends an authorized installer to set up your smart system for you. 

There are a couple of scenarios where investing in a Control4 system makes total sense. Homeowners with large spaces and lots of devices but neither time nor interest to hook everything up themselves might appreciate Control4’s services. Frequented businesses and busy offices are viable candidates for the professional set up, too.

Based on the information shared with me, the reader doesn’t sound like Control4’s target customer. They’re interested in a system for “simple smart home things” for a new beachside property they’re planning to rent out. 

The reader even provided a short list of products they want connected in the home. They wanted a system that could manage a smart door lock, smart thermostat, motion sensors and “possibly” a couple of cameras for their driveway and an ocean view. 

Definitely not because I’m hoping to secure a beach rental for the summer, I wanted to see how much it would cost to create a Control4-type experience using off-the-shelf smart home devices. 

Control panel

Central to Control4 and other professionally installed smart home systems is a control panel, which lets you manage everything in your house. The most apt DIY analogue is the Brilliant Smart Home controller, a touchscreen smart switch that not only lets you turn your lights on and off, but can be used to manage other smart devices in your house, such as smart speakers and smart plugs. A 3-gang panel costs $399, although you could get a single switch panel for $299. When I installed smart switches instead of smart lights, this was one thing I splurged on. 

By comparison, both Control4’s entry-level wall panel and entry-level tablet cost $950, but you hypothetically only need one or the other. I personally prefer a stationary, in-wall screen, yet you might be attracted to the freedom Control4’s tablets allow. Of course, Brilliant’s app turns any smartphone into a mobile smart home remote of sorts.

If you’re not comfortable with wiring, you’ll also need an electrician to replace your standard switches with a Brilliant panel, but even then, you should still be able to save at least $200.

Smart thermostat

Next, the reader specifically said they’re familiar with the $250 Ecobee SmartThermostat, our favorite of all the best smart thermostats. The Honeywell Home model I’m using in my build is just $79 and also compatible with Brilliant, but has less features than Ecobee. Control4 offers just one thermostat option, the Wireless Thermostat by Aprilaire for $345. 

Smart lock

The reader also mentioned they’ve used Schlage smart locks in the past. The Schlange Encode, which I’m using in my smart home, costs $250. The Control4 “door station,” is quoted anywhere from $1,295 to $16,000 — I could only imagine spending that much for a place with a dozen entrances. 

However, Control4’s door station offers intercom features and acts like a video doorbell, too. If the reader wants a video doorbell, they could get a Ring one. The Ring Video Doorbell Wired costs just $60. The $229 Ring Video Doorbell 3 Plus probably has more comparable features to Control4’s option, though.

Security devices

As for motion sensors, it makes most sense to get the Ring Home Alarm Security Kit, which costs $299 for a pack of motion sensors, plus an alarm base station, alarm keypad and indoor security camera. Meanwhile Control4 asks for $108 per motion sensor. 

I will also say Brilliant’s partnerships are a little limited in the security camera space. As it stands, only Ring cameras can be checked via the Brilliant app or Brilliant panel. So reader, if you’re seeing this, know that you’ll need the $250 Ring Floodlight Cam or $200 Ring Spotlight Cam instead of any of the other best security cameras when you go the Brilliant Control Panel route.

This Control4 price list I referenced doesn’t include rates for security cameras, although I’m sure you can assume they’ll cost more than Ring ones. 

Brilliant vs. Control4

Time for totals. Going the DIY route with Brilliant, you’ll spend about $1,600, while you’ll spend at least $3,000 for Control4’s products. That’s shy of the reader’s $6,000 quote, but doesn’t include the cost of security cameras and service fees.

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Row 0 - Cell 0 DIYControl4
Control panel$399$950
Smart thermostat$250$345
Smart lock$250$1,295
Motion sensors$300$432
Security cameras$450N/A

I recognized a number of similarities between my smart home needs and my reader’s. I won’t be renting my home out, but I do want my handful of devices to be organized under a single umbrella of sorts.

With Brilliant’s platform, you don’t need to be a smart home expert, but you also don’t need to pay a smart home expert to set it up for you. At least that’s how I feel. When I’m home, I can use the physical panel to adjust the lights and sound. When I’m away, my Brilliant account integrates with my smart home devices from compatible companies, so I can use the Brilliant app — and only the Brilliant app — to make adjustments and create scenes.

Again, if you’re looking for significantly more automation with less effort on the set-up side of things, systems like Control4 are a great option. They don't come cheap, so you’ll have to ask yourself how much a professionally-installed smart home is worth to you. 

Be sure to check out my guides to the best smart home devices (and best cheap smart home devices) for more gadget recommendations. Email me at or leave a comment below with anything you’d like to see me cover in the connected space — I might just address it in a future installment.

Kate Kozuch

Kate Kozuch is the managing editor of social and video at Tom’s Guide. She covers smartwatches, TVs and audio devices, too. Kate appears on Fox News to talk tech trends and runs the Tom's Guide TikTok account, which you should be following. When she’s not filming tech videos, you can find her taking up a new sport, mastering the NYT Crossword or channeling her inner celebrity chef.