If you are thinking of turning your home into a smart home and don’t know where to start from, then you’re just in luck. A smart plug is one huge step in turning your home into a smart home. Smart plugs allow you to control appliances that have mechanical switch i.e. on/off switch with just a voice command or with the use of an app on your mobile device.
Smart plugs are one of the most available, affordable, and easy to use devices that can give you that magic you want in your home. Of the most basic elements anyone can think of that is required to start or switch to a smart home, I’d say is a smart plug, and they come in various shapes and sizes.
Though they do not have a wide variety of colors, however, you can make a color choice, as it is not a “one color for all” product. So what then is a smart plug? Stick around while we provide an answer to this question and more.
What then is a Smart Plug?
A smart plug is an electrical receptacle that you plug into your regular electrical wall outlet, which allows you to control appliances that are plugged into it. Simply put, smart plugs are like middlemen that stand between your electrical wall outlet and your appliances. So, instead of plugging your TV for instance directly to the electrical outlet on the wall, you plug your smart plug instead to the wall, and then, plug your TV to the smart plug.
This allows you to control your TV without the need to get up whenever you can’t find the TV remote. Best still, you don’t even need the TV remote when you have a smart plug for your TV. Now, you don’t have to worry about making a locker to keep the remote because of your kids. You will not be needing the remote anymore. Really “smart-plugstic”.
Some of the commands you can use to control, if you have smart phone or smart speaker.
- Hey Google, Turn on the TV.
- Hey Google, turn off the lights.
- While driving, you just say to your phone. Hey Google, turn off all the lights in home, Its done.
How Does It Work? Do I Need to Be Close to an Appliance to Control It?
How smart plugs work is very straightforward and easy to understand. Most smart plugs can work with Wi-Fi connectivity of 2.4GHz. This means they can connect easily without the need for a hub and can also be easily installed. Every smart plug comes with its accompanying app for its control, so, the app needs to be downloaded into your smart device.
Once the app is downloaded, then an account needs to be created. Once the account is created, you can go ahead and connect your smart plug with Google Home or Alexa, using that same account. Google Home and Alexa allow operation by voice commands. To make the best out of your smart plugs, always check for the features and see if it matches the services you are looking for.
Are Smart Plugs Worth It?
Are smart plugs worth buying and using or is it just another new tech companies have found to extort money from people? So, what is the benefit of using a smart plug when I could just turn on/off my appliance or better still use the remote control for the appliance? We will be looking at the benefits of a smart plug, and if they are worth buying, and so you know, it goes beyond just turn on/off your appliance.
- Smart plugs afford your convenience. Remember that time you got an urgent call and you had to drive out, and just when you got to the door you remembered you left your TV on in the living room and you are very much in a hurry. If your TV is connected to a smart plug, right there you can use a voice command to turn it off or just with a tap on the app turn it off. Talk about convenience!
- Another benefit is, it helps you to save the money for replacing broken remote control and regular buying of batteries for your remote. You would think this should make smart plugs all the more expensive, but not so, smart plugs are very affordable.
- Smart plugs also help to monitor and conserve energy, which in turn helps you make savings on your electricity bill. This is one of the benefits that I find interesting which makes this house-hold smart device worth it. Smart plugs can help you track the energy consumption for your appliances/devices and help you to make choices on how to cut down on this consumption. Since smart plugs can be scheduled to work at a particular time, you can set it on how long a device/appliance should work. For example, if you connect your air-conditioner to a smart plug, you can schedule it to work at a certain period, such that even if you are not home, it will come on only within the scheduled time. What a great way to save energy.
- Smart plugs could also add to security measures in your home. If your home appliance like TV, fan, light e.t.c were scheduled to come on and go off at certain times, it could give your home extra security. Some burglars make use of the opportunity of the absence of people in a house to burgle it. However, if they get the feeling, there is someone in the house, the house will not be burgled. A smart plug can create this effect for you, especially if you have to travel.
- Smart plugs can also offer your home fire safety. If you have items that are likely to heat up from long use connected to smart plugs, such items/appliances can be turned off by the smart plug through the app on your mobile device. So, even if you remembered you left an appliance on that could overheat from long use while you were approaching the mall entrance, you can easily turn that item/appliance off on your mobile device.
Difference Between Indoor vs Outdoor Smart Plugs
Now you are getting to know about smart plugs, and you are wondering if you could use these smart plugs to power your garden light and schedule it for how long it should be on and some other devices outside of your house. No need to wonder anymore. You certainly can use a smart plug outside of your home just like you do inside.
However, there is a little bit of a condition here; you have to get an outdoor smart plug. Please do not make the mistake of taking an indoor smart plug outdoors. It’s the same working technology for both, but not the same mechanical build-up. One is built to be more rugged than the other. Below are some differences between indoor and outdoor smart plugs.
|Indoor Smart Plug||Outdoor Smart Plug|
|Indoor smart plugs cannot withstand water splashes or even jets of water.||Outdoor smart plugs can withstand water splashes and some can also withstand jets of water when it comes in contact with them and still function optimally.|
|Indoor smart plugs are not weatherproof. Using them outside of the home can pose serious threats to the users and other household members.||Outdoor smart plugs are normally weatherproof and are therefore able to function optimally without causing harm in varying weather conditions.|
|It is not manufactured to be rugged like outdoor smart plugs.||They are manufactured to be rugged. This helps them maintain their function and durability even while been used outside of the home.|
|Allows you to control devices/appliances that are plugged into it indoors.||Allows you to control devices/appliances that are plugged into it outdoors.|
|Their Wi-Fi range is not as long as that of the outdoor smart plug.||Depending on the brand, some outdoor smart plug can have a Wi-Fi connection range up to 1,000ft, about 304meters. This is a lot and allows you the make the best use of your smart plug.|
Difference Between a Smart Plug and a Smart Dimmer
Like the name dimmer implies, it refers to controlling the brightness of lighting fixtures. Now that you have your TV connected to your electrical wall outlet via a smart plug, you’re thinking of fixing your room lighting and controlling it through voice commands, not just to put it on or off, but be able to control its brightness. Majority of smart plugs cannot do this for you, and that is where a smart dimmer comes in.
Smart dimmers are used interchangeably with smart switches. Smart dimmers are smart switches that have had more functions incorporated into them. A smart switch will turn on/off a light bulb that it controls, while a smart dimmer will control the light bulb’s brightness, and sometimes that’s all we need. Remember your 3-year-old who wouldn’t sleep without the lights on, dimmer can help to solve that problem. All you need to do is connect the lamp or light bulb to a smart dimmer. So, rather than put out the light completely in your toddlers’ room, you can reduce the brightness and help your toddler sleep better.
One thing similar to both smart plugs and smart dimmers is that both can be controlled with voice commands or with the app on your mobile device. Now, we will look at the differences that exist between smart plugs and smart dimmers.
|Smart Plug||Smart Dimmer|
|A smart plug is used to turn on/off a home appliance or device. E.g. a smart plug can turn on/off the bedroom lamp.||A smart dimmer like the name implies controls smartly the brightness of your lamp.|
|Can be used for other home devices and appliances.||Smart dimmers are concerned only with lighting fixtures.|
|A smart plug with an in-built dimmer feature could perform the work of a smart dimmer.||A smart dimmer cannot perform the work of a smart plug.|
|Smart plugs are plugins. They work by being connected to an electrical wall outlet.||Smart dimmers are also smart switches and they work when you rewire your light to be controlled by a smart dimmer/smart switch. It cannot be plugged in like a smart plug.|
Best Things to Use Smart Plugs for
There are lots of things that you can power up with your smart plug. From TV to lamp, to air conditioner, and the list continues. With the use of a smart plug comes a lot of opportunities that you can utilize to give you the smart home of your dreams. As long as the device/appliance has a mechanical on/off switch, then a smart plug can give you ‘smart control’, as long as the switch of the appliances is left in on position. If turned off, the smart plug will not work in turning on the device/appliance. Below are some devices/appliances that can be controlled with a smart plug.
Smart plugs can be used to turn on/off your TV, as long as the TV’s mechanical switch is not off. People love TV, and kids are no exception here. Are you tired of telling your kids to turn off the TV or stop playing games when it’s bedtime, or you’re tired of saying yes, you can finish up the movie because you can’t stick to turn the TV off when you hear those soft sweet pleas? Then, you’re in luck! How so? The TV can be scheduled to go off when it’s time for bed or you can do it on the app on your smartphone or just by simply using voice commands, beautiful still is the ability to do it from anywhere in your home. No more worrying about those soft pleas that make you change your mind.
Using your smart plug to turn on your TV is pretty easy and straightforward. Think of your smart plug as an adapter, connected to an outlet that lets you plug your devices. First thing is to set up the smart plug.
Step 1: Plug the smart plug to the wall and wait for the blue light on the plug to come on and start blinking.
Step 2: Download and open the app on your mobile device that will serve as the control for the smart plug. Be sure to have the latest version of this app.
Step 3: Follow the set-up process to finish setting up the smart plug.
For voice control commands when using a smart plug for your TV, you can make use of Alexa, Google Assistant or, Siri for iPhone and iPads or any other assistant that accompanies the app you have downloaded for your smart plug.
Not all smart plugs can do this, in fact majority may not be able to do this, however, some brands that have been manufactured with built-in dimmers can dim lights. This feature therefore allows your smart plug to not only turn on/off your lamp but allows you to reduce the brightness of your lamp. So, if your eyes need to rest from reading that novel and you do not want to put out the light yet, you just give the command to dim the light and it does. Please remember you have to look out for the smart plug with this feature.
A smart plug can also be used to control your air conditioner even when you’re not physically there or not even at home. You can have your air conditioner working just before you get home and come back from work to meet a cool bedroom. This can be done on the app on your smart mobile device. Also, smart plugs can help you turn off your air conditioner when you forget to and only remembered when you just sat down to begin your work in the office. From your smart device, you can turn it off, stopping it from working all through till you return from work, saving your home energy which in turn influences your monthly electrical bill. This is a smart move. Also, like other home appliances using a smart plug, you can turn on your bedroom air conditioner even if you are in your living room.
The idea of waking up to the sweet smell of brewing coffee is welcoming, or you prefer tea, but want to be about other activities before taking your morning tea. No problem! A smart plug can help you start your kettle and coffee maker before you even get out of bed. All you have to do is fill up your kettle and coffee maker the night before going to bed, and when you wake up, you can give a voice command to power them up. Don’t feel like talking or you don’t want to wake others up with the sound of your voice, then you can use the app on your mobile device to power them up. If you prefer that they work without voice commands or app control every other day, then you can preset and schedule the time they should come up and how long you want them to work. Also, if your kettle is scheduled to come on at a certain time, and timed for how long it should work, it will reduce the likelihood of all the contents boiling off, which can lead to the risk of fire, especially when you are caught up in an activity and forget you left the kettle boiling or you have to leave home for emergency reasons.
A smart plug can be used on your deck or any other extensions outside of your home. Really good news! The thing is, outdoor smart plugs are specifically designed for that purpose. Therefore, an indoor smart plug cannot be used outside. For safety reasons, the outdoor smart plug is manufactured with more ruggedness, that enables it to withstand the weather conditions outside, something not done for indoor smart plugs. So, do not attempt to use an indoor smart plug, outdoor. You’re probably thinking if I can’t use an indoor smart plug outside, will the one specifically designed for outdoors still work as good as the one indoors? I understand your concern and it’s normal to have such concerns. Outdoors smart plugs work just as great as an indoors smart plug. Why not turn on the music to get the party started outside without moving away from the grill. Also, your Christmas decorations can continue to work even when everyone has gone to bed, and if you want it to go off at daybreak, you can schedule it to do so.
Can You Set Timers?
With a smart plug, you can set timers, and not only that, but you can also schedule when your devices/appliances should come on. You can set schedules and timers for a smart plug on your mobile device. No more setting an alarm to help you remember to turn on the Christmas decorations. As long as the smart plug is scheduled and timed appropriately, it will do the remembering by itself. These schedules and timers feature come in handy when one travels. It can deter ‘would-be burglars from breaking’ and entering into your home when you are not home, if some appliances, for instance TV and light come up at certain times during the night.
If you’re thinking of making your garage door a smart one, since not all garage doors have in-built smart properties, and yours appears to be in that category, you can easily convert it to a smart one, and at an affordable rate. Some people may go all the way to having the garage door replaced with a smart garage door, but that’s expensive and will weigh much in your pocket. There are cheaper ways to make your garage door smart. Just like you did with some ‘dumb’ home appliances, you can do so with your garage door. It’s a smart plug to the rescue! Controlling your garage door smartly offers a whole lot of benefits. Like every device/appliance using a smart plug, your garage door can be controlled by an app on your mobile device as well as voice commands. However, you may choose not to use voice commands for security reasons, you don’t want an “unwanted visitor” giving a voice command to open your garage door. As long as there is an electrical wall outlet close to the garage door, then you can plug the smart plug to the wall outlet and then plug the garage door to the smart plug. There are some advantages to controlling your garage door with a smart plug. First thing is that it offers you some sort of comfort and it is very convenient. Right from your vehicle when in front of the garage, you can control the garage door without stepping out of your vehicle, whether or not it is raining. Also, you do not have to keep looking for the keys to your garage door, especially when you are in a hurry to drive out. This is convenient and comfortable.
Secondly, rather than duplicate keys for your garage door and give to other members of your household, you can have other members of your household registered on your app to allow multiple users to control the garage door.
Thirdly, some smart plugs can help you to take a reading of how much energy your garage door is consuming. This will help you decide if you have to change your garage door to a more efficient brand with less energy consumption.
As you already know, most smart plugs require an internet connection to work, however, some may still be able to function without an internet connection, but not optimally, as advanced controls like voice commands will not be responded to.
With all that has been discussed in this article, you may ask is there anything to be concerned about with smart plugs. There certainly are some concerns about a smart plug, after all, we are dealing with electrical matters and a smart electrical device.
One concern people tend to have is fire safety and safety from electrical shock. Most smart plugs are produced with in-built features that make it shut-off in the event of an electrical malfunctioning, protecting your device and preventing a fire outbreak. Traditional/non-smart plugs do not have this. Also, most smart plugs undergo safety certifications, which makes the product more reliable. With regards to an electrical shock, if a smart plug is used according to instructions, and an indoor smart plug is not used for outdoor purposes, then, there shouldn’t be a problem of possible electrical shocks, except that product has some fault from the factory, in which case once noticed, one should make haste to have the product returned to the seller and have the smart plug replaced with one that is safer.
Another concern is the affordability of the product. Smart plugs are relatively cheap in comparison to what they have to offer you and how it helps you save on your electricity bill. You certainly couldn’t put a price tag on convenience and comfort, two things that smart plugs offer. The price, however, could range from $29 to $50 or higher, with the more complex products (e.g. outdoor smart plugs and smart strips) costing more.
We hope we have been able to provide detailed information for the basic things you need to know about a smart plug.
Sam has been a Smart Things expert for years and the author of DIY SmartThings. Recently he’s really more into Nest smart devices and has a lot of experience with all sorts of projects from converting a regular Home to completely a smart home with the background degree in Electronics.