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Smart Home Basics: Smart Plugs

smart home basics: Smart plug, smart plugs

I get it: Embracing a more connected home can feel… daunting. And, while you’re on board with the concept— and the ease of life and general streamlining “smart” home technology offers — you’d love to find a small place to start before you dive in whole hog.

Is a smart plug small enough for ya?

What’s a smart plug?

Trust me, you’re gonna love this little guy. He’s all the benefits of a smart home with none of the commitment: No need for fancy (read: expensive) devices— just plug in the stuff you already own into a smart plug and they become Wifi-enabled things that can be controlled remotely from your smartphone or tablet.

Think: That bedroom lamp you always forget to turn off when you go to work (wouldn’t it be cool if it could TURN ITSELF OFF everyday after you leave?). Or your tea kettle that you’d love to start boiling before your feet even hit the floor (just tap and you’re ready for tea!). Or how about cooling down your apartment while you’re commuting home without having to run your fan all day. A smart plug makes all your “dumb” household objects ready to honor your remote commands 24/7.

Best of all, they’re a great place to begin for people who feel a little tech-apprehensive because they’re so simple to set up. All you need is Wifi.

Any cool features worth knowing about?

There’s actually quite a few, depending on the smart plug you choose.

For example, the Amazon smart plug works with Alexa to add voice control to any outlet. This means beyond using an app, you can verbally command your bedside lamps to turn on and off. (A handy trick to have in your back pocket if your hands are full or you don’t feel like reaching for your phone.) The Wemo Mini works with Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa, and Apple Homekit, in the same way. (FYI that’s the one I just featured on Hallmark Home & Family, if you caught me on TV!)

Both also offer the option to schedule lights, fans and appliances to turn off and on automatically— my daughter likes to sleep with a noise machine running… and NEVER remembers to turn it off in the morning… so we have hers scheduled to turn off at 9:00A every weekday. Think about holiday time: What if you could cut power to your tree lights while you’re sleeping, but have them come on when you wake— no chance of any electrical fires, and you’ll never know the tree went dark.

And while you can’t use a smart plug to adjust the temperature on a thermostat, some—like the Wemo Insight—function as energy monitors, so you can see exactly how much power your toaster or space heater uses each week.

You can also set some to “away mode” which will turn your lights on and off randomly to make it appear that you’re home even when you’re on vacation. Intruders will think twice. All thanks to one of the cheapest and tiniest smart home devices around!

Another helpful attribute: Smart plugs can sync with thermostats like Nest and other occupancy sensors, so they know when you’re home and when your’e away—a way to maximize energy savings when you’re gone, but also automatically switch things like lights on when you walk in the door. The iHome smart plug works with just about every home automation platform out there.

What about outdoor things? iDevices makes a smart plug for your backyard… again, it connects to your home’s Wifi (so you’ll need to make sure your Wifi range is good in your backyard) and you can operate many with voice assistants. It’s totally rain-proof and will be the best thing to happen to your end of day routine when you can sit in your living room and tell Google to turn on those outdoor fairy lights that are strung up all the way out in your garden.

What should I know before buying?

First, size matters. Many smart plugs are slim enough that you could stack two in a standard size outlet, but some are larger, which means if you plug one in, you’re blocking the second outlet, thereby losing the opportunity to plug something in. So make sure you buy one that fits with whatever else is plugged into that area.

Also, as with any smart home device, make sure your’e buying from a reputable company— it’s not a good idea to go cheap when it comes to devices that can cause a security breach for your home. Lastly, most smart plugs are cross-compatible with all smartphone operating systems, but just make sure the one you’re contemplating works with the phone you have before you plunk down your cash.

So, what do you think? Does a “connected” home feel less daunting? What would you do with a smart plug?

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