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Smart Plugs: A Cheap Way To Get Started With Home Automation

Please don’t take the phrase “getting your feet wet” literally – we all know what can happen when you mix electricity and water.

But the whole idea of smart home technology can be somewhat intimidating, and that causes many homeowners to put the idea off…and off...and off. If you think it might be cool to have a house that automatically adjusts your lights for you, but don’t have the knowledge or budget to dive right into the deep end, you can try out the kids’ pool first by purchasing a few smart plugs.
Woman Controlling Smart Plug Using App On Mobile Phone

What Is A Smart Plug?

Have you ever gone on vacation and used one of those mechanical plug-in timers, to turn your lights on and off at set times to fool potential burglars into thinking someone’s home? A smart plug works on the same general principle, but on 21st century “steroids.”

Just like that old-fashioned timer, the simplest version of a smart plug is a device that plugs directly into a wall socket. It also has its own outlet, so all you have to do is plug any appliance you want to control (as long as it has a mechanical switch) into the device. You’re then able to access the smart plug via WiFi from a mobile app on your smartphone or tablet to turn it on and off, and to program it to operate on a fixed time schedule. This is an inexpensive way to go; you can usually pick up a smart plug for $25-$40. Just be sure you choose the right model, since some are only compatible with either Android or iOS.

There are many smart plugs that have more functionality or options built in, usually at a slightly higher price. For example, some have energy monitors that show you how much electricity your appliance is using, and others have two power outlets that can be used to control two different appliances.

Buying a smart plug with an eye toward eventually going the whole-home automation route? You might want to spend a bit more and purchase a model that is compatible with popular smart home integration systems like Nest, Google Home, SmartThings, Alexa or IFTTT. That could require some research to figure out which home automation system you might eventually want to use, but it’s a “smart” way to combine operation of a stand-alone appliance like a coffeemaker with your home’s temperature, lighting and/or security systems.

Uses for a Smart Plug
Thin line icons of internet of smart house technology system

The whole concept of home automation is to make life easier, so it should be easy to come up with the appliances you’d love to be able to control or program from your phone.

  • Coffeemaker: Since we’ve just mentioned this one, let’s start there. Having your java brewed and ready for you as soon as you wake up isn’t a requirement for everyday life, but it’s pretty darned close. Just connect the machine to a smart plug, program it to start brewing at the same time your alarm goes off, and your day will go a lot smoother. Other kitchen appliances are also great candidates, too. For example, you can turn on your slow cooker from your phone while you’re at work and have dinner ready when you get home.
  • Lighting: Whether you have a bedroom lamp that’s across the room or a light you like to turn off when watching a movie, it’s a welcome luxury to control it from your phone without having to get out of bed or leave your comfortable spot on the couch. Being able to have your lights turn on before you walk in the door can be convenient, too.
  • Home environment: You’ll probably need something more complicated like a NEST system to fully control your temperature and air conditioning, but if you have a room air conditioner or humidifier you can start them running at full blast while you’re on your way home, or use your phone to turn them down if it gets too chilly or humid.
Those are just a few of the possibilities; you can probably come up with others pretty quickly. And if you still use those old-school mechanical timers to control your lights while on vacation, a smart plug will be a welcome substitute that’s much more reliable and convenient to use.
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