Smart Plugs: How to Automate Anything in Your House

The iDevices Switch can provide energy reports, voice control, and nightlight features.

You never seem to have enough of them or have them where you need them. We're talking, of course, about electrical outlets. And honestly, they're usually a pretty boring part of your home.

It's tough to make your outlets more decorative, but you can smarten them up. Smart outlets are an actual thing you can buy for your home. They're not that expensive, don't require any complicated installation, and they can automate pretty much any electronic device in the home.

What is a Smart Outlet?

A smart outlet is a device that plugs into any ordinary electrical outlet. Also known as a smart plug or smart switch, you can think of it like an outlet extender that turns your outlet into a fancy control center for anything you plug into it.

Of course, an outlet is ugly enough without making it protrude from the wall. But in this case, the bulk is worth it. That's because a smart outlet can add remote control to almost anything that's plugged into it. In other words, you will be able to control lamps, waffle irons, flat irons, crockpots, coffee makers, or any other electronic devices remotely, all through your smartphone, tablet, or a web browser.

How does a smart outlet work?

Most smart outlets work pretty much the same way. The big difference is the technology that's used, since some work via Bluetooth, while others are designed to be paired with a smart hub and a larger smart-home system. However, most just tap into your existing WiFi network.

Many smart outlets have additional features, such as energy monitoring.

After plugging a smart plug into an outlet in your house, you'll complete the setup by downloading the product's app, which will walk you through connecting the smart outlet to your home network. Once the setup is complete, you can plug any electronic device into that smart outlet and start controlling it remotely from your couch, the office, or a beach 3,000 miles away.

How much is it?

The average price for a smart outlet is around $50, although that can vary based on brands and features. One of the least expensive options is TP-Link's Wi-Fi Smart Plug, which sells for $29.99.

Even at that low price, you probably won't want to add smart outlets to every outlet in your house. It adds up! However, it does make it incredibly easy and affordable to add remote control to devices that need it the most.

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What to look for

Of course, price is probably going to be the deciding factor when it comes to which smart outlet you buy. Just know that different ones do have different features.

For instance, some smart outlets allow you to track energy usage, so you get an estimate on that space heater, in-wall air conditioner, or fan. Some also integrate with other smart-home devices, such as security cameras, TVs, thermostats, and more. A few even have features so you can incorporate voice control from Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit, and Google Home.

At the bare minimum, a smart outlet should allow you to turn devices on and off remotely. Most include settings for triggers and schedules, so you can program the outlet to turn on or off at set times of day or based on certain conditions. That way, you won't have to remember to turn lights or appliances on and off every single day. Also make sure that smart outlet is compatible with your smartphone (not all of them are).

And finally, read reviews. The smart outlet you choose should be incredibly easy to operate and add convenience to your life. Isn't that what the smart home is all about?