Your Smart Plug Can Pay for Itself, if You Use It Correctly

That $10 to $20 smart plug has the potential to cut your electric bill. You just need to know how to use it.

David Anders Senior 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.
Expertise Broadband providers, Home internet, Security Cameras
David Anders
5 min read
Image of four smart plugs arranged on a desk.

Smart plugs make it easier to turn devices on and off and could save you money on your energy bill.

Chris Monroe/CNET

Smart home gadgets, from the Amazon Echo to the Ring camera doorbell, are all about convenience. When it comes to smart plugs, however, their benefits don't stop there. Smart plugs can secure your garage, remotely restart your router and even help you cut your energy bill. How can smart plugs save you money, you ask? It's simple, really. Smart plugs help reduce wasted energy while consuming a negligible amount of energy themselves.

Any and all of the five tips listed below can help you cut energy consumption with a smart plug, but they're not the only way to lower your electricity bill. For more ways to save energy, consider switching to Energy Star appliances, using a smart thermostat, flipping the rotation of your ceiling fan or changing up how you do laundry.

How much energy do smart plugs use?

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On its own, the average smart plug uses at most one, maybe two watts at any given time. Zero, like that of an unused standard outlet, would be ideal, but smart plugs require a small amount of electricity to stay connected to your Wi-Fi. Still, a smart plug uses only around 10 kWh over the course of a year. 

Electricity costs are different everywhere (and in some places, prices even fluctuate throughout the day), but my provider here in Fort Mill, South Carolina, currently charges a rate of 13 cents per kWh. So over the course of a year, if my smart plug stays plugged in all 8,760 hours, it'll add less than two bucks to my electricity costs for the year

Given how little smart plugs will add to your energy consumption, it doesn't take much for them to save more than they use. Soon enough, that $10 to $20 smart plug will likely pay for itself, but it won't do all the work on its own. You'll need to use smart plugs strategically to maximize the savings. Here are five ways to do just that.

Go Van Helsing on those energy vampire appliances

They're called "vampire" appliances or devices, and they're surely in your home, consuming energy even when they're powered down. With plug prongs like a vampire's fangs, televisions, desktop computers and their monitors, gaming consoles and other devices will continuously leech energy after you've hit the power button. 

Vampire devices are responsible for around 10% of total energy consumption in the average household, easily adding $100 to $200 to yearly electricity costs. Unplugging vampire devices when they're not in use is an effective way to combat waste, but the task isn't always convenient and can be easily forgotten.

Smart plugs can save you the trouble of remembering to unplug things and running all over the house to do it. Set a timer for your smart plugs to turn off automatically, or turn them off manually via the app on your phone. When turned off, smart plugs cut all power to whatever's plugged into it, so turning the smart plug off is essentially as effective as unplugging the device from the outlet.

Room with several lit lamps.

Forgot to turn the lamps off before leaving the house? Use your smart plug to do it remotely.

Chris Monroe/CNET

Turn off the lights you left on, from anywhere

With a smart plug, you can hit the lights, wherever you may roam. It's alright if you don't get that Metallica reference; the point still holds true. Smart plugs enable you to check a device's on/off status and switch it accordingly from virtually anywhere. That means if you left the house for work, or a two-week vacation, you can check to see if you left any plugged-in lights on and turn them off remotely. 

A left-on light won't waste the same level of electricity as a vampire device might, but every little bit adds up. If you can reduce your energy consumption by turning off a couple lights from five or 500 miles away, why not do it? 

The same goes not just for lights but anything that may have been left on, whether you're home or away. Use your smart plug to turn off any fans or heaters that may be needlessly running in another room, or devices like electronic toothbrushes and earbuds that don't need to be charged 24/7. Also consider turning an indoor security camera off when you're home or a nursery cam when you're away and don't need the monitoring.

Monitoring your energy consumption makes it easier to save

Screenshot of the Emporia app's energy monitoring feature

The Emporia smart plug and app allows you to see the how much your energy your plugged in devices are currently and keep track of past energy consumption down to the second.

Emporia App/Screenshot by David Anders

Most smart plugs, and specifically the accompanying app, come with an energy-monitoring feature to help you keep track of how much electricity your plugged-in devices are using at any given time. 

Use your smart plug to get a gauge of how much energy your household items use. You may be surprised by how uneconomical that space heater is and opt for an extra layer and a blanket instead. You may also find that even low-usage devices such as a lamp could benefit from minor changes like using a more efficient light bulb. Either way, your smart plug is keeping you conscious of how much electricity you're using.

Read more: A Space Heater Could Save You Hundreds on Heating This Winter. Here's How

Some smart plugs make it even easier to monitor and rein in energy consumption. For example, the Emporia Smart Plug, one of our favorite smart plugs, offers a setting to automatically turn devices off if they hit a set level of energy use. 

Set it and forget it

Ever heard of the smart home automation tool called IFTTT? IF This Then That (no, that TTT doesn't stand for "trust the tech," but it could!) controls and combines the automated actions your connected smart devices perform in response to other devices. 

For example, if your smart thermostat detects a rise in temperature, you could set a compatible smart plug to automatically turn a fan on and then off again once the temperature drops back within a set range. Or, you could set lights to automatically turn off when Alexa notices you've left the room, effectively doing the job of conserving energy for you.

Even if you don't take full advantage of the IFTTT capabilities, your smart plug is sure to come with settings to schedule devices to turn on and off at certain times. So, if you accidentally leave a light or the TV on when you go to bed, your smart plug can turn it off for you when scheduled to do so.

Work around your electricity provider's peak hours

Demand can have an impact on what you pay for electricity, and demand is often at its highest at certain times, often known as on-peak hours, during the day. If possible, use your smart plug to coordinate energy consumption around these hours to save money where you can.

Obviously, there's no avoiding the use of some appliances or devices during on-peak hours, but some could operate just the same no matter the time of day. The dishwasher, battery chargers and electric vehicle chargers, for instance, could be scheduled to be active only during off-peak hours. You won't be using as much energy during those popular on-peak hours, but that's OK; you'll be saving money.

That's it for our list of ways to save money with a smart plug. For more money-saving tips and home hacks, check out our list of year-round cost-cutting tips for around the house. Plus, a smart plug isn't the only smart home gadget that can save you money. And try this smart bulb trick that your Uber driver will thank you for.