Smart plugs come in all shapes and sizes, and can be snapped up for prices to suit all budgets. They’re also the most basic element of any smart home. Forget Internet connectivity, home networks and gadgets enabling remote management – smart plugs are where it starts.
The chances are that you have a household without a smart plug, yet own a smart meter, or have embarked upon some smart home project (perhaps using the Raspberry Pi with OpenHAB). If this is the case, just stop what you’re doing, grab a smart plug, and go back to basics.
Benefits of Smart Plugs
If you’re reading this cold, and have no prior knowledge of smart plugs, here’s a brief explanation.
These devices, which sit between the electrical outlet and the device you’re plugging in, come in a variety of shapes, sizes and specifications. However, they all possess a shared quality: control, usually in the shape of a timer.
This enables you to set a plug to switch on or off at a pre-determined time. This is particularly useful, and thanks to recent developments, it doesn’t end there.
You’re now able to purchase Wi-Fi smart plugs, to which you can connect directly via a desktop or mobile app, or indirectly using a third party tool such as IFTTT. This connectivity option means that the possibilities are considerable for any smart home project.
Ultimately, smart homes begin and end with smart plugs, as these 10 examples demonstrate.
Wake Up to Smart Plugs
What is the first thing you do in the morning? Perhaps you like to listen to the radio, or enjoy a cup of coffee? You might like to heat up a croissant, spread some butter and jam on it, and start your day off with all three.
Rather than stumbling out of bed as your alarm goes off, walking into the kitchen door and electrocuting yourself on the toaster, before burning your fingers with the kettle and getting the radio antenna up your nose, why not employ smart plugs to switch all of these on for you?
With less to concern you in the morning, you’ll be able to focus on getting yourself dressed and looking presentable. If you have a family, the benefits are multiplied!
Enjoy Pre-Heated Hair Irons
On the subject of getting ready, why not preset your smart plugs to switch on at the optimum time for doing just that? Ladies, for example, can have quite a detailed and time-consuming regimen first thing in the morning.
If this sounds familiar, and you have a set of curlers or irons that you need to heat up early every day to get your hair looking perfect, then smart plugs can again come to the rescue, either with a manual timer on the device, or using a time-based app to remotely switch on the plug and allow the hair irons to heat up while you make breakfast (or do something else).
It might take a couple of days to get right, but you should find those hair irons are ready to use when you pick them up.
Fool Opportunistic Burglars
A large proportion of burglaries are not pre-planned. Rather, they are opportunistic crimes, committed by thieves too lazy to even bother committing to planning something.
But what can a smart plug do to help?
If you’re out or away from home for a few hours and concerned about crime in your area, why not employ smart plugs to control your lights (the Belkin WeMo is a good option here)? Either a timer or an app can be used here; imagine it getting dark outside while you’re on your way home from work — all you need to do to create the illusion of activity in your house is to tap a button on your smartphone to switch on a light! Similarly, you could switch on your TV as well.
Marry this up with some useful home security camera solution, and your property should be pretty well protected.
Cook Dinner While You’re at Work
What else might you do while at work? How about getting dinner ready?
I’d personally recommend that you rely on a crock pot (known as a slow cooker in the UK) for a healthier and tastier end result than something like a microwave, and by adding the ingredients you need before you head to work, you can activate the crock pot remotely to ensure you have a very tasty meal to come home to.
And if your budget doesn’t stretch to a smart plug with Wi-Fi (several models are available), simply program your analog or digital smart plug to switch on at the right time for the meal to be ready when you step through the front door.
Switch Off Your Tumble Dryer Overnight
Tumble dryers have been proven to cause a lot of house fires over the years, and you don’t really want to spend the last moments of your life in an inferno of your own making. To avoid this, employ a smart plug (connected or analog) and use it to switch off the tumble dryer after, say midnight.
You might even consider purchasing a Nest Protect, and then use an IFTTT recipe to kill the dryer if any smoke is detected in the basement. This has the potential of putting a stop to a potential fire before it ever ignites.
Alternatively, you might program the smart plug and a companion app to switch on the tumble dryer only on weekends, or other times when electricity is cheaper to use.
Control Your Kids’ Consoles and TVs
The modern family household often features a children’s bedroom or playroom complete with a TV and game consoles. You might even have a PC in there too, upon which you should manage access using family safety software. But what about the TV and console?
Well, it’s smart plugs to the rescue once again. With these installed between the appliance and the power outlet, you can have the devices shut down based on a predetermined (and, for the best results, agreed-up) time, using a timer.
You might also opt to use a smart plug app to manage time earned by your hardworking children on their favorite game console. Just go easy with it – you wouldn’t want them to have to repeat a level because the console was shut down before they saved their work, would you?
Remotely Recharge Device Batteries
You’re at work, and you notice what a stunning day it is outside. Obviously there is little you can do to enjoy it now, but if you had a smart plug connected to your garden trimmer’s rechargeable battery, you could get the device topped up mid-afternoon, and have it ready to use by the time you pull into your driveway.
Similarly, you could use a Wi-Fi connected smart plug to charge your vacuum cleaner. This might prove particularly useful if you discover at the eleventh hour that you have family coming to stay over, and have last minute vacuuming to carry out.
Keep Your Space Warm in Winter
Your den, or private study area… whatever you call that place where you chill out and do stuff that you enjoy for some “me time”, may get quite cold in the winter. This is especially true if your space is a shed, or an attic.
To keep things warm, before heading to your wintery abode, why not plug an electric radiator into a smart plug, and remotely activate it to heat things up in advance? As long as the radiator isn’t set too high and you don’t leave it alone for too long, you should find yourself stepping into a nice, warm, and cozy space.
Save Money on Your Next Electronic Purchase
How much do your electrical appliances cost to run? One of the big draws (and for some, drawbacks) about smart plugs is the ability to connect them to smart meters.
With these devices setup in your home, you can tell what devices are in use, and how often they’re active.
You can use this information to measure how much it costs to recharge a phone, tablet or laptop, and use this knowledge to choose a potentially more efficient device in the future!
Switch Everything Off when You Fall Asleep
We’ve already looked at the pitfalls of having particular appliances running while you’re asleep. But how can we ensure that they are switched off? What if we forget one of them?
Using a smartwatch or a fitness band is the way forward here. As we told you previously, the Jawbone Up integrates with IFTTT, so if you team this up with a smart plug, you should be able to program your appliances — such as a tumble dryer, or perhaps TV and Blu-ray player – to shut down for the night when you do.
There’s a clever kind of perfect about that, don’t you think?
We’ve given you ten creative uses for your smart plugs, but how do you use yours? Tell us about how you get the best out of your smart plugs (whatever the brand), and any related apps, in the comments.