How Do I Choose the Right Smart Outlet? | The Light Lab

Smart Plugs and Outlets: How to Use Them and Choose the Right One for Your Home

The wall outlets in your home are some of the simplest yet most frequently used components of your electrical system. To get futuristic smart home features out of these old, reliable receptacles, you’ll need to upgrade to smart outlets.

The benefits of smart outlets will vary depending on the specific brands and models you choose, but in general, they allow you to control the devices plugged into them from anywhere in the world using a smartphone or tablet. Many are also compatible with smart home voice control platforms, allowing you to leave your phone in your pocket and command your lights and appliances by simply speaking out loud.

How Do I Choose the Right Smart Outlet? | The Light Lab

Best Uses for a Smart Plug

Some of the smartest uses of smart plugs include:

  • Lights. Are you always forgetting to turn the lights off at night? With smart plugs, you can set a schedule or turn them off after you’ve already gone to bed. And while you’re away, lights connected to smart plugs can make it look like someone is home.
  • Kitchen appliances. A smart plug can start your coffee maker for you at a specific time, or you can use one to start up your slow cooker on your lunch break and have a hot dinner waiting when you come home.
  • Baby monitors. Don’t risk waking your baby by trying to sneak in the room to activate the baby monitor; if it’s connected to a smart plug, you can check in on your child without making a sound.
  • Media devices. Connecting everything in your entertainment center to a smart power strip can help you curb the loss of energy from standby mode and make it convenient to shut down everything at once when the show is over.
  • Holiday decorations. Set timed schedules or turn them on and off with your phone to save money while making merry.
  • Children’s electronics. If you’re trying to reduce screen time for your children, you can ensure control by using smart plugs to limit TVs, video game consoles and even modems to certain hours.

Which Smart Plugs Should You Buy?

Smart outlets fit into two basic categories: hardwired outlets and smart plugs. The hardwired outlets require a bit of a commitment, as you’ll need a licensed electrician to install these wherever you want them, and switching to a different smart outlet platform later will require another call for professional electrical service. Smart plugs are more flexible because they’re essentially adapters that plug into your existing outlets, so you can move them around or switch them in and out with ease.

But beyond these two categories, there are many more options of brands, models, features and product packages. The breadth of these options can make it difficult and intimidating to shop for smart outlets, but it’s worth taking a little time to understand the different purchasing decisions and shop carefully to ensure you get the best fit for your home and needs.

Here are the major factors to consider when shopping for new smart outlets:

  • Price. The most affordable smart plugs start at around $15, though at this price point, you should expect limited features and shorter ranges for wireless connectivity. Smart plugs and outlets at the high end can approach $100. You don’t need to convert every outlet in your home to a smart outlet, so it’s a good idea to count the number of outlets you’d like to upgrade and set a budget for your project to find out what you can afford to spend on each outlet.
  • Compatibility. Many smart outlets and plugs are compatible with more than one voice control platform, such as Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, Cortana or Siri, but few are compatible with them all. If you’re already a user of one of these platforms, one of the most important steps in your product search is to narrow your options down to only those outlets that are compatible with your system of choice.

How Do I Choose the Right Smart Outlet? | The Light Lab

  • Hub requirement. Some smart outlets only need a wireless Internet connection to communicate directly with your smartphone or tablet. Several of the more robust systems, however, require a wireless hub, which is sometimes also called a “bridge.” The outlets communicate with the hub, and the hub communicates with the control app. The major consideration when choosing a system with a hub is often the additional purchase cost of the hub itself.
  • Size. When it comes to smart plugs, some are bulky and some are slim. By carefully reading product reviews and descriptions, you can find out whether you’re likely to be able to fit two smart plugs side-by-side into a standard two-plug outlet.
  • Features. With the simplest smart outlets and plugs, you may only be able to turn them on and off using your smartphone, limiting your range of practical smart plug uses. But with more sophisticated systems, you can create custom schedules, or even set an outlet to turn on and off periodically to give the impression of an occupied home. Some outlets even allow you to program actions based on changing conditions like weather, sunlight and temperature.
  • Indoor or outdoor rating. Not all ordinary outlets are rated for outdoor use, and smart outlets are no different. If you plan on using your products on the exterior of your home, make sure you choose models that are built to stand up to the elements.
  • Expandability. With some of the more expensive smart outlets and plugs, it might make sense to purchase your products a few at a time over several months. If you want to build your smart home a little at a time, choose a family of products that makes it easy to seamlessly add additional devices.

Smart outlets and plugs can make home life much more convenient, but you’ll need to put a little upfront effort into choosing the right set of products. Good luck, and happy shopping!

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Josh Crank is a freelance writer with a background in legal journalism, travel writing and marketing. He's found his perfect fit in writing about home maintenance and repairs, energy efficiency, smart home technology and other topics to help readers make home life green and comfortable. Josh lives with his wife, two sons and endlessly howling beagle-basset hound mix in New Orleans.