Want to save time, money, and energy all while adding convenience to your life? Something as simple as using smart plugs throughout your home can help achieve these goals.
We often hear about smart homes where everything is connected and residents use an app to control when appliances, lights, and other equipment go on and off whether they are home or not. While some might consider this too futuristic or lazy living, smart devices can save time, energy, and money by controlling when electricity is being used. With the average American family using 10,632 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity annually and spending at least $2,200 a year on home utility bills, many are looking for ways to cut back.
Smart plugs are one of the easiest ways to “smarten up” your home and save energy. These small, affordable devices plug into an electrical wall outlet and transform any electronic appliance with an on/off switch — like a coffee maker, fan, or lamp — into a smart home device with automation and scheduling capabilities. The smart plug enables you to control them remotely through Wi-Fi or Bluetooth using an app on your smartphone or voice commands via virtual assistant technology.
How Smart Plugs Work
While smart plugs look like ordinary adaptors, they are designed to be a gateway between the electricity provided by the power outlet and the connected device. Some smart plugs also come with special features like energy monitoring to track usage in hours and minutes or kilowatt-hours. Another useful feature, IFTTT (short for “If This Then That” and rhymes with “gift”) allows users to program connected devices in a way that if one action takes place then another one will follow. For example, if the temperature in the house gets down to 75 degrees, then fans will turn off. Not surprisingly, this feature has the potential to save energy throughout the home.
Smart plugs are easy to set up. Just plug it into a power socket and turn it on. Then download its companion app and log in. Next, put the smart plug in pairing mode by pressing its power button for a few seconds. Once connected to Wi-Fi, you can link up the device you want to control. Some smart plugs have multiple outlets and USB ports so you can connect multiple devices to manage either independently or all at once.
How They Save Energy
By giving you more control over the devices in your home that use energy, smart plugs can be part of an energy-saving plan. The plug itself uses 1 to 2 watts at most per day. However, it uses less energy than the device plugged into it, resulting in overall savings totaling about a month’s worth of energy for most households. When used correctly to set schedules, minimize vampire load, and turn off devices remotely, smart plugs can cut energy effectively.
A key benefit of a smart plug is the ability to schedule when electrical devices go on and off throughout the day, whether you are home or not. Setting a crockpot to turn off after the number of hours called for in the recipe while you are at work is a perfect example. Scheduling is also a great way to work around peak energy demand hours. An electric vehicle charger, for instance, can be set up to be active only during off-peak hours to reduce energy load and save money.
Reduce Vampire Draw
Smart plugs also help reduce the impact of vampire draw or phantom load — the electricity that plugged-in devices consume even when they are turned off or in standby. Although the device uses less energy than when it’s operating, vampire draw can add up to a significant part of a monthly energy bill. Vampire devices are responsible for an estimated 10% of the total energy consumption in an average American household, adding up to $100 to $200 annually. Consider how much draw takes place in a home office, for example, with a computer, monitor, speakers, phone, printer, and chargers draining power in standby. With smart plugs, you can monitor energy use in real time on your smartphone and see which devices use electricity even when they’re idle.
Finally, smart plugs enable you to turn off equipment from afar that you may have left on accidentally. Did you leave iron on? With a smart plug, you can easily check the device and turn it off remotely using your smartphone. Not only is this a good safety practice, but it also saves time from not having to run back home. Of course, it saves energy and money as well.
What To Look For in a Smart Plug
Ranging in price from $15 for a two-pack to $50 for a multi-plug with six outlets, smart plugs can be found at major retailers like Amazon, Walmart, The Home Depot, and Best Buy. However, keep in mind that different brands and models vary in pricing, compatibility, and functionality.
With a smart-home system, you can control smart plugs and other equipment by your voice and program scenes that power up or power down a group of devices all at once. If you already use Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, or Apple HomeKit, look for smart plugs that sync up to that particular hub. Before you buy a new plug, make sure that the app it uses is easy to navigate, reliable, and can handle multiple devices. If you’re using multiple smart plugs throughout your home, it’s advisable to stick with the same brand to keep the process simple and consistent.
Next, consider how the smart plug connects. Whether connecting it to a smartphone app, Bluetooth device, or smart-home system, pairing should be straightforward. To get the most bang for your buck and to save space, look for models that also have a USB charger built in.
For comprehensive product reviews highlighting the best smart plugs, check out The New York Times Wirecutter and BobVila.com.