They are one of the cheapest and most popular smart home devices, but most smart plugs end up spending their entire life turning lamps on or off.
Sure, theyâre great at that job, but they have so much more potential. Weâre here to give you some good uses for for these handy gadgets throughout your smart home.
Able to control practically any device that plugs into a socket, smart plugs just need a bit of thought and some fiddling to be able to do fun and useful things, such as tell you when the washing's done, or turn your security cameras on when you leave the house.
Before we get started, itâs worth running through a few things. First, smart plugs only work with devices that have physical on/off switches. For example, if you want a fan to turn on or off, you need a physical switch on the fan so that it springs to life when the power comes back; use a Dyson fan and it just goes into standby mode when the power turns on.
Second, you need to choose the best smart plug for the job youâre looking to fill. Features on smart plugs include voice control with Alexa or the Google Assistant, IFTTT integration, HomeKit integration, and the option of power-tracking.
If you don't have a smart home system though, you can still use smart plugs.
Devices from WeMo, Awair and the likes have their own apps you can use to set schedules and control whatever is plugged into your plug.
1. Control your smart cameras
Smart security cameras are a brilliant way to monitor your home, but it can be tricky to manage exactly when they record. A smart plug can fix this by letting you cut power when you donât want to record and turn the power back on when you need monitoring.
For the best results, think about how you can control the plug. Weâve got a camera in a garden office, hooked up to a SmartThings Outlet. When the Yale smart lock is unlocked, the camera is turned off; when the lock is locked, the camera turns back on.
An Amazon Alexa routine is another great control method. Add the smart plug your camera is connected to into your Hello/Goodbye routine and trigger recording to turn on and off automatically when you say Hello or Goodbye to your smart speaker.
If you prefer geofencing, use an IFTTT applet to turn on your cameras when you go out, and off when you come home.
Why not have a smart button hidden somewhere in your house, too? For example, stick one in your bedroom and turn on your downstairs cameras on with a quick tap at night and then easily turn them back off in the morning.
2. Pre-heat your room
If youâre using a space heater to warm a garage or outbuilding, a smart plug is a perfect way to control it, letting you remotely switch the heating on or off, that way the room is warm when you get there and you can be sure itâs not running while youâre away.
If you want a degree of automation, say to maintain a minimum temperature, all you need is a smart temperature sensor. For example, Samsung SmartThings multipurpose sensor has a thermometer in it, which you can use to programme an automation to turn your heater off when it reaches a set temperature and on when the air dips below a minimum temperature.
You can use similar rules with a device such as the Awair indoor air quality monitor and IFTTT. With IFTTT, you can also use a secondary heater to give your existing system a boost, say turning on a fan heater when your Nest thermostat calls for heat.
3. Help your homeâs humidity
If your home is too humid, you can get mould growth; too dry, and you might get breathing issues and cracked skin. With smart plugs you can control the environment, aiming for a relative humidity level of 45% - you donât want to go above 50% or below 30%.
Use a dehumidifier to reduce humidity, or a humidifier to add moisture to the air. To control both, youâll also need a smart air monitor, such as the Awair 2nd Generation, or the Awair Glow C - which also doubles as a smart plug. This sensor has a full IFTTT channel that lets you control devices when the humidity goes above a set point or when it drops below a defined point.
With a few Applets, you can, for example, turn on a humidifier when the humidity drops below 35%, but turn off when it hits 45%. If you have a dehumidifier, you can have it turn on when humidity rises above 50% and off when it hits 40%. In that way, youâve can have the perfect level of control.
4. Turn your kettle smart
Sure, you can buy smart kettles with Wi-Fi built-in and their very own Alexa voice control, but theyâre expensive. If youâve got an electric kettle and a smart plug, just make your own.
Plug the kettle into your smart plug, turn off the plug, fill your kettle with water and turn the kettleâs switch on. When youâre ready to boil water, just ask Alexa to take care of it for you, and youâre ready.
You can also set a schedule in the smart plug's app or via an Alexa or Google Assistant routine, so you can wake up and have boiling water ready for your cuppa. These methods also apply to a coffee maker with a physical switch, too, providing a hot cup of joe as soon as you wake up.
5. Foil thieves
If youâve got a smart plug with an Away mode - such as the Belkin WeMo range of plugs - you can have them turn on and off at random while youâre gone.
Plug some lamps into them and program them to turn on and off automatically, simulating someone being at home. You could try a similar trick with a good old-fashioned rÂÂÂadio too, to make it sound like people are in.
6. Turn off the TV with your voice
Plug your TV into a smart plug and you get instant voice control - you'll never need to get up off the couch to find the remote again.
Turn it on or off using Siri, Alexa or Google - depending on your smart plug's preferences. Plus, if you want to turn it off to get your kids to the dinner table, whip out your smart phone and shut it down silently (until you hear the cries of pain coming from the living room).
7. Know when the laundry's done
Smart plugs with power monitoring built in, such as Eve Energy, Belkin WeMo Insight and Wyze Plug, will send you a notification when power usage falls below the point you set.
This is a handy way of monitoring whatâs going on. For example, if you have the Insight connected to a washing machine, you can get a notification when itâs finished, rather than relying on the unreliable timer on the front.
8. Maintain battery charge
If youâve got cordless tools for DIY or the garden, then chances are theyâre not charged when you need them. A smart plug can help. Plug the charger into one and leave it turned off. When you know that youâre going to need the tool, just turn on the smart plug a few hours before and youâll head out to a fully-charged battery.
If you just want to keep your batteries topped up, then you can set a scheduled routine to turn your battery charger on, say once a week, and off again after a few hours. Then, your tools will be ready whenever you want to use them.
Smart plugs have a wide range of uses, all of which can add convenience, save energy and just generally help out around the house - what more could you ask for?
9. Automating your Christmas Holidays
If you are still switching your Christmas lights on and off by hand, or relying on old-fashioned timers, then you really should be on Santa's naughty list. We're into the third decade of the 21st century. Get with the times, grandpa.
The obvious thing is to put them on all of your festive lights and create some groups â maybe differentiate between indoor and outdoor, and have an overall group too. That way, a simple, "OK Google, turn the Christmas lights on" or an "Alexa, turn the outdoor festive lights on" will create instant 'magic' and save you walking around the house turning on a load of switches.
However, don't be resigned to just smart-plugging up your lights. Think big. A toy train in a lapland scene? A giant inflatable snowman for the front lawn? The possibilities are endless.