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Smart Home

How to set up a smart plug

Did you get a smart plug as a gift and don't have a clue what do with it? Here's what you need to know.

Amazon

Smart plugs are a small and easy way to make your home smarter. Since they're gaining popularity, there's a chance you got one this holiday season, likely bundled with another smart device. 

They're far more useful than they may appear. You can use them to automate any appliance, light or device in just a few minutes. For example, say you're going to leave your Christmas lights up a little longer. You can plug them into a smart plug ($25 at Amazon) to schedule when the lights go on and when they turn off.

Here's how to get your plug up and running and some nifty tips you need to know to get the most out of your smart plug, whether it's a Belkin WeMo Mini Wi-Fi Smart Plug ($24 at Amazon), iDevices Switch ($30 at Apple) or a Z-Wave Plus.  

How to set up a smart plug

If you're not tech savvy, don't worry. There's no smart device that's easier to set up than a smart plug. Essentially, you plug it into the wall, and then plug a device -- like your coffee maker, lights or television -- into the plug.

Your first step is to decide on what appliance or device you want to automate and plug it in (I've got some ideas, below). Then, you need to download the plug's app to your phone and use it to pair the app with your plug using the on-screen instructions.

Next, connect your plug to Amazon AlexaGoogle Assistant or Siri using their dedicated apps. This will allow you to control the plug with voice commands. 

From there, you can use the plug's app and voice commands to turn your appliance on and off or put it on a schedule that will activate your device automatically.

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Features you'll want to use

There are two features that you'll want to take advantage of when setting up your smart plug: Scheduling and away mode. 

With scheduling, you can time when your device goes on and off. For example, you could use the feature to make your coffee maker start brewing every day at 7 a.m., or turn on your living room lamp at 6 p.m. when you come home from work.

When you're on vacation, away mode randomly turns your device on and off, mimicking human behavior. For example, you could set up your television with a smart plug so that it turns on and off to make potential thieves think there's someone at home.

Creative ways to use smart plugs

We've touched on a few ideas to make your smart plugs useful, but there are so many more. 

My favorite idea is plugging your curling iron, straightener, stove, iron, or whatever your appliance nemesis may be, into your smart plug so you can turn the item off no matter where you are. 

You'll never need to worry if you left the iron on -- you can check anywhere you have an Internet connection, and turn off the switch too. On the flip side, you can also preheat these items with your smart plug so they're ready when you need them.

Here are some more ideas to consider:

  • Use them as energy meters to track the energy usage of an appliance. Note that some plugs, including the Belkin WeMo, don't have this feature, so be sure to check the app for more info.
  • Schedule the TV to turn off when it's homework time.
  • If you're worried about standby power usage, plug it into a device that is hard to unplug, like a TV or gaming system.
  • Automate an window or mobile air conditioner or space heater to come on during the warmest or coldest times of the day. Check the safety warnings on your heater or air conditioner first.
  • Schedule your phone charger to stop charging once your phone is topped off while you sleep.
  • Use your smart plug to turn your slow cooker on or off while you're at work.
  • Schedule when your electric blanket should turn off at night.
  • Remotely turn off an appliance that has a constant, annoying beeping alarm like your oven, dryer or microwave.
  • PThompson509 on Reddit uses smart plugs to automate heater controls, vent controls and misting controls in his wife's greenhouse.

Read next: We automated each and every light in the CNET Smart Home

Read also: The renter's guide to smart-home tech

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