Smart Plugs: 10 Tricks to Modernize Your Home's Devices
It's more than a fancy on and off switch. Smart plugs can revolutionize your devices, save energy and simplify your life. Here's how.
David AndersSenior Writer
David Anders is a senior writer for CNET covering broadband providers, smart home devices and security products. Prior to joining CNET, David built his industry expertise writing for the broadband marketplace Allconnect. In his 5 plus years covering broadband, David's work has been referenced by a variety of sources including ArcGIS, DIRECTV and more. David is from and currently resides in the Charlotte area with his wife, son and two cats.
ExpertiseBroadband providers, Home internet, Security Cameras
Smart plugs are the perhaps the quickest, easiest and cheapest way to give your any device the smart home treatment. They'll give you full, remote control over the power supply to whatever you plug in, from lamps and fans to coffee makers and garage door openers.
But smart plugs are more than a means to remotely turn something on or off. They can also make various household routines more efficient and enjoyable.
It's not always easy to get out of bed in the morning, but smart plugs can make it a little more pleasant. Use a smart plug to sync your bedside lamp and radio to greet you with your alarm to help you wake up and get motivated to start the day.
Is coffee a key component to starting your day? Same here, which is why I use a smart plug to automatically brew a pot in the morning. Just remember to fill your coffee maker with grounds and water the night before.
You can also schedule your electronic toothbrush to begin charging when you wake up and stop after a few minutes (to save some energy -- it doesn't need to charge all day). Or, program your curling iron to heat up 20 minutes after waking up.
Tell Alexa to turn off the lights
Alexa, or whatever smart home hub and name you use. Most smart plugs are compatible with smart home ecosystems, adding another level of convenience to a device already made to simplify your life.
Instead of pulling the app up on your phone and (somewhat) manually turning the lights out at night, or creating a schedule that may cut the lights out on you before you're ready, simply tell your smart home hub to do it. Be sure to name the smart plug so your hub knows which device to turn off.
Now we're really talking about "smart." Many smart plugs are built with IFTTT capabilities, enabling you to pair them with other smart devices and automate how they interact.
For example, with a compatible smart plug and thermostat, you could automate a fan to turn on automatically if the temperature gets a little warm and then turn it back off when it's cooler. You could also do the same with a space heater when the temperature drops.
Going back to home security ideas, try setting your smart plug to turn on a lamp when your outdoor camera detects activity in the backyard, or automatically set a lamp to turn on at sunset and off at sunrise.
A kick for the kids
My personal favorite here. We know how smart devices like plugs and lights work (mostly), but to a child, it's nothing short of magic.
Have the app for your smart plug ready, then proclaim your uncanny ability to turn the lights on or off at your command. Use a countdown or the trusty "abracadabra" to really sell it, then hit the button.
Your audience is sure to be captivated, but what's even more fun is letting them be the magician. Instruct them to use a word or gesture to control the lights and use your phone to make it happen each time they do.
Fair warning: This will get old for you before it gets old for them. Be prepared for the "batteries to go out" or the light to "break."
Get dinner started
I'm not quite as sold on this idea as the last one, but it's worth a try. Use your smart plug to start your money-saving crockpot or sous vide steak before you get home. Doing so will take much of the idle time out of cooking, potentially paving the way for recipes and cooking methods you wouldn't otherwise be able to enjoy.
My concern here is food safety. How long are you leaving that food out before the cooking begins? Be mindful of foodborne illnesses when using your smart plug to delay the cooking process.
Command your Christmas display
A good Christmas light display makes the season bright. But plugging and unplugging them? Not so much. And next month's power bill? Even less so.
Smart plugs can alleviate both holiday hassles. Employ outdoor smart plugs to automatically turn on your Christmas lights -- or your arsenal of inflatables, if that's your thing -- in the evening, and then turn off at sunrise. Do the same with an indoor plug for the lights on your Christmas tree. You'll appreciate the convenience and the energy savings.
Secure your garage door
I came across this tip at Smart Geek Home, and it's too good not to share. Plug your garage door opener into a smart plug. It won't enable you to open or close your garage door in place of the button, remote or control panel (like a smart garage door opener), but it will prevent others from opening the door.
Car break-ins are common. What's worse, many of us leave our garage door remotes somewhere in our vehicles. If a thief grabs that, they could also have access to your home.
By plugging your garage door opener into a smart plug, you can cut the power to it when you're away or in for the night. That way, even if someone has the remote to your garage door opener, they won't be able to raise the door.
Get those hard-to-reach places
Outlets are generally located in convenient locations until you put a big piece of furniture in front of them. But some outlets, perhaps in the garage or attic, can be downright difficult to access.
While a smart plug won't make it easier to plug something into the outlet, it'll give you control over the devices once you've managed to plug them in, such as a mounted fan in the attic or a fluorescent light in your garage.
Remotely restart your router
Even the best Wi-Fi routers can give you some trouble when you need to access them. The top of a bookshelf is a good spot for your router, unless you need to reach it. Your router could also be tucked away in a closet, depending on where your internet connection enters the home. Or, your router may be easily accessible but on another floor when you need to restart it.
Use your smart plug to cut power to your router for 30 seconds or so, then turn it back on, effectively restarting it. Note that if your router has a battery backup, this won't work, but if that's the case, neither would unplugging it -- you'd still have to take the batteries out.
While a smart plug is convenient for restarting your router, I don't recommend using it to turn your internet connection on or off. If you want to limit internet access, most, if not all, routers have an app that lets you control internet access by device. Try this before cutting the internet connection out entirely, as doing so could interfere with other connected devices.
End your day the right way
Wouldn't it be nice if your bed was cozy and warm before you got in it? Preheat your bed by plugging that comfy, cozy electric blanket into a smart plug and letting it heat up a few minutes before bedtime. Don't worry about drifting away to dreamland before turning the blanket off. Just set your smart plug to turn it off for you.
I don't know how often I've fallen asleep reading a book and left my bedside lamp on. Not only does that waste energy, but it's also annoying to anyone else trying to get some sleep. A smart plug can either turn the light off automatically at a certain time, or give the person on the other side of the bed the means to turn out the light without getting up.
The same could be said for the TV if you like to wind down with a show. While most TVs feature a sleep timer, the setting may not be easy to find. Also, you may be using the remote to a streaming device, which doesn't have the button to access sleep timer settings. Either way, using a smart plug is a great way to keep your TV from staying on all night.
That's our list of creative uses for your smart plug, but there are countless others. Like any smart home device, a smart plug's full potential is only limited by your imagination and the other devices in your home.