Throughout the history of humanity, it has always been a well-established fact that not everyone is smart. But nowadays, more and more people are riding the trend of smart technology, and that’s actually a smart thing to do. Today just about every gadget in the home can be smart: phones, TVs, lights, thermostats, door locks, security camera, and baby monitors. And it has become so ubiquitous that even outlets and switches come with smart features! It’s not a joke and the idea of smart outlets actually makes perfect sense.
Since a lot of electrical appliances around the home don’t have any smart features at all, why not plug them in a socket that comes with smart features? This makes it possible to grant smart capabilities to any electrical appliance you plug into it.
Benefits of Smart Outlets
If you’re considering delving into home automation then you really should start with smart outlets first. It’s a plug which you can insert in any ordinary electrical socket. Then at the back of the plug it offers its own socket, so in a way it’s like an extension or an adaptor. You don’t plug your desk lamp or ironing board directly to the wall socket anymore. Instead you plug it in the smart outlet that’s also plugged to the wall outlet.
So what does that do? As it turns out, you get several benefits. Perhaps the most common advantage is that now you can turn it off remotely. That is its most basic feature, and most (but not all) smart plugs have this feature. It’s why they’re also called smart switches.
This capability is made possible with its Wi-Fi capabilities. With Bluetooth connectivity, you’re limited to just 30 feet or so in range. Beyond that, you can’t communicate with your home automation switches. But a Wi-Fi controlled light switch gives you control over the outlet even if you’re at work or out of town. All you need is an Internet connection for your smartphone, and at home you also have an Internet service with Wi-Fi. The result is a remote controlled light switch you can control from anywhere.
What that means is that you’re spared endless hours of worry when you’re out of the house and you’re not entirely sure you left your “dumb” lights or TV on at home. It’s not a trivial worry when you’re not sure if you left the iron running, however. But with these automatic outlets and an app on your smartphone, you can always make sure to turn off the outlet and the iron.
In some cases, these switches can operate according to a schedule, so your lights and appliances can turn on and off automatically even if you’re not home. With other outlets, you can even integrate the outlet with other smart devices in your home. For example, you can plug in a light or an alarm to the smart outlet when it’s integrated with a smart home security camera. When the camera’s motion sensors detects something, the outlet can turn on, and so will the light or alarm that’s plugged in to it.
The energy savings alone can make these things worthwhile. It’s not just the ability to turn off “dumb” appliances that can help cut down on your energy usage. It’s also the way they can reduce vampire loads, which refers to the electricity your appliances consume when they’re plugged in or in standby-mode.
So which of the many smart outlets and switches should you choose? There are several factors to consider. The price is important, but nowadays these prices often depend on the seller—you can find discounts and sales online. So you’ll need to look at the features, the ease of use, and the reliability. Of course, you shouldn’t forget about the aesthetics too.
Here are some of the more popular brands of automatic switches today:
1. Belkin. This brand’s most popular model is the WeMo Switch, which is one of the first smart plugs to enter the market. Its long history means that Belkin has ironed out the kinks so that you have a device that works reliably and well. Its popularity also means that if you ever have any trouble with the device, you have lots of people online who can give you advice on what to do.
It’s designed for home automation beginners, because it’s very easy to use. You just need to lug it in while you download the app to your Android or iOS device. After that, you can then just turn the outlet on and off with your smartphone. The app also lets you set a schedule for your smart outlet, so it can turn on or off at the times of your choosing.
It’s a modular system, so that means you can add more WeMo switches to your home and your app can control them all. The app lets you turn on or off all the switches at the same time, or you can assign different schedules to each smart outlet.
Note too that there are lots of devices in the WeMo lineup. Belkin makes a very long list of household appliances, and that means you won’t have any trouble integrating this device with other appliances.
Another smart plug in the Belkin lineup is the WeMo Insight Switch. It comes with all the features of the regular WeMo Switch, but you also get a bonus feature. It has an energy monitor built inside.
This bonus feature gives you an accurate idea just how much energy is being used by any electronic appliance you plug into the switch. This can make you much more conscientious as to which appliances can best help you conserve energy.
Now if you’re one of the rare people who don’t have a smartphone or Wi-Fi, you can make use of the Belkin Conserve Socket Energy-Saving Outlet. Because it doesn’t have any Wi-Fi capabilities, it’s only about 25% as expensive as the regular WeMo. But it can also help you conserve energy. Just plug it in, and then set the timer switch to ½, 3, or 6 hours. At the end of the time you set, the plug will automatically turn off.
2. Ankuoo. This brand also offers several types of smart outlets, so you can find one that matches your preferences. One advantage you’ll notice at first is the attractive white and blue color scheme. Not only does it look nice, but you’ll immediate notice the difference if you happen to have lots of adaptors and plugs in your home.
With the Ankuoo Neo, the color scheme is the only main difference with Belkin, although it’s also a bit more affordable. It’s also Wi-Fi enabled, and you can use your iOS or Android device. You can turn it on or off remotely, or have it activate according to a schedule. There’s a countdown timer, and you can set schedules days in advance.
Now with the Nero Pro, you also get a chance to monitor the energy usage through the outlet. The apps display your energy stats so that you’re aware of how much electricity you’ve consumed.
Finally, Ankuoo offers the NUT outlet, which uses your smartphone’s Bluetooth instead. Since your Bluetooth has limited range, the outlet will turn itself off when you (or actually, your smartphone) go out of range. So if you’re heading to the office, the act of bringing your smartphone with you automatically disables the outlet.
But one big drawback to Ankuoo is that it doesn’t manufacture a lot of products that can seamlessly integrate with their smart outlets. You can try other smart items, but that’s always a hit-or-miss proposition when you’re trying to integrate smart devices made by different manufacturers.
3. SmartThings. From this brand you can get the SmartPower Outlet. But to get the full range of features, you’ll need a compatible hub. The most convenient option here is the SmartThings Hub, because these are guaranteed to with the SmartPower plug. But SmartPower uses the Zigbee protocol, so any hub that supports Zigbee should work as well.
SmartPower works pretty much like Belkin, as you can use an app to control the plug remotely. But it offers a feature that Belkin doesn’t: it will send you an alert if it senses that you’ve left some electronic device on accidentally.
4. Insteon. Many plugs can be rather eye-catching, and for some people that’s not always a good thing. But the Insteon On/Off Outlet doesn’t have that problem. It has a simple and slim design that enables it to smoothly blend into a wall. Unless you really look closely, you won’t know that you have it plugged in to your wall socket.
And another main difference with the Insteon is that it offers 2 outlets. So even though it’s a bit more expensive, the fact that you get a double outlet actually makes it a cost-effective option.
These two outlets can be controlled separately with just a single control device. If you already have the Insteon Hub, then you can use the app that’s designed four your smartphone. There’s also another app you can use for your Apple Watch. And if you’re home, you can use either a mini-controller or even an on/off wall switch.
You will have to buy the mini-controller and the wall switch separately. And if you get an Insteon Hub, you’re locking yourself to using Insteon smart devices exclusively. It won’t work for other protocols.
5. Aeon Labs. Unlike the discreet Insteon smart plug, the Aeon Labs Smart Energy Switch is a bit more obvious. It’s like a small box with a wire at both ends. One wire is a plug you connect to your wall socket, while the other wire offers a socket into which you connect your appliance. It can support devices that rate up to 1875 watts.
It also comes with a built-in energy monitor, so you’ll know how much energy is being used by the appliance you’ve plugged in to the smart outlet. It can be controlled by a Z-wave controller or hub, and with the hub you can then be able to use your smartphone to control it. Its range from the hub should be within 100 feet.
Now if this design isn’t to your liking, you can choose the Aeon Labs Smart Switch Appliance Module instead. It looks better, although you may have to spend a few dollars more.
6. D-Link. The first smart outlet from this brand didn’t exactly wow anyone, but there’s a lot to be said for their DSP-W110. It’s a bit more affordable, but you get standard features like Wi-Fi remote turn on and off, and you can also use schedules. Its app can work for Android and iOS devices.
It’s very simple, and consequently it’s easy to use. It may not have the built-in energy monitor, but you can still be fairly certain you can save some money from your energy bill with this smart plug.
7. Buzzi. With these smart plugs spread throughout your home, you can now remotely control your “dumb” appliances with just one smartphone app. One of the convenient features it offers is that you can organize your outlets into groups. So you can group them according to types (the lights) or location (all the plugs in the bedroom. And you can use the app to give commands for a specific group.
8. Edimax. Their Smart Plug Switch comes with all the basic features you’d expect. You can turn it on or off with your Android or iOS mobile device. You can set a schedule for the plug to activate or deactivate. When you switch it on or off, you’ll get an email notification.
They also offer the Smart Plug Switch with Power Meter. This time you get a built-in energy monitor. And you don’t just know about your current power usage either. The app stores your energy usage for the last 12 months.
You can also set the on/off feature according to your budget—the app calculates the money you’re spending on energy through the outlet, and it will turn itself off after the outlet has exceeded your budget.
Get smart outlets and start your home automation project the right way. You don’t have to replace all your appliances with their smart counterparts. With smart switches, your appliances can turn on and off automatically or remotely, and that can save you a lot of money down the road.