Smart plug keeps home energy usage in check

Smart plug keeps home energy usage in check
With all the plugged-in devices at home, one may sometimes forget to turn the devices off before leaving home, which can lead to stress, waste of energy, or even fire hazards. At other times, one may just want to be able to control home appliances remotely for convenience and comfort, such as turning on the coffee machine before getting out of bed, or lighting up the house before entering. Smart plugs offer just such opportunity. 

With smart plugs, users can remotely control most of their home appliances for peace of mind and the feeling that things are under control. Furthermore, smart plugs also allow users to monitor the devices’ energy consumptions to help save money. For instance, users can find out which devices are the most power-hungry and reduce their usage accordingly.

A compact form factor is desired when it comes to smart plugs. A bulky smart plug may block the adjacent outlet, resulting in loss of an available outlet. To address this issue, companies like iHome have designed their smart plugs to fit over a single outlet. If one outlet is not enough, ConnectSense offers a dual outlet smart plug that comes with two outlets and supports individualized control for each outlet.

Consumers can find smart plugs supporting different protocols on the market. For example, smart plugs supporting Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, ZigBee, or Z-Wave connectivity. For Wi-Fi and Bluetooth enabled smart plugs, only a smartphone is needed for setup and operation in most cases—no computers or hubs are necessary. However, for ZigBee and Z-Wave smart plugs, a hub is required as the brain of the system. For example, SmartThings SmartPower Outlet requires a SmartThings hub.

Easy setup a must for smart plugs

Easy setup is a must for smart plugs to encourage adoption, and it is usually done with the app provided. In many cases, the app guides users through a step-by-step setup process, where it is desirable to have as few steps as possible. Other than having a user-friendly and intuitive interface for setup, it is also important that the plugs can easily connect to the Wi-Fi networks or the hubs, and that the connections remain stable.

Once setup is complete, users can start to enjoy the freedom of automating their homes without being restricted by location, such as controlling their coffee machine in the kitchen from their bedroom or office.

Common features

Common features of smart plugs include real-time energy usage monitoring, energy usage reports, scheduling, status alerts via push notifications or email, and LED light for status indication. 

Real-time energy usage monitoring can help users understand how much power is being drawn currently by a particular device, thus giving them the opportunity to take actions such as to reduce or eliminate usage of that particular device. Energy usage reports show usage history for the past day, week, or month, and graphs are often used for easy visualization.

For scheduling, users can set the smart plugs to turn on/off at specific times. For example, turn the lights on when the family goes on vacation to pretend someone were home for enhanced home security.

Some plugs are equipped with safety mechanisms to make homes safer. D-Link’s Wi-Fi Smart Plug DSP-W215 supports thermal protection via its built-in thermal sensor, and it can turn off overheating appliances automatically.

With multiple plugs, scene setting is also possible, where several plugs can be grouped to create scenes.

Voice control, triggers, IFTTT integration

Besides the features mentioned above, some smart plugs also offer other interesting features like voice control, triggers, and IFTTT integration. 

With HomeKit integration, smart plugs like ConnectSense Smart Outlet and iHome iSP5 SmartPlug support voice control using Siri. Furthermore, Users can also control HomeKit-enabled accessories with Siri.

Triggers and IFTTT integration appear to be promising features for the future due to the fact that they can greatly expand on the applications of smart plugs. 

Take SmartThings SmartPower Outlet for example, the outlet supports triggers, and when used with SmartSense Motion, users can set the outlet to turn the lights on/off upon motion detection.

Belkin WeMo Switch, which is part of the WeMo collection of products designed to work with each other, is compatible with IFTTT. IFTTT allows users to create ‘Recipes’ that connect apps, websites and devices to perform tasks as defined. For instance, users can use the IFTTT Weather Channel to trigger the light to turn on when the sun sets. With all the apps, websites and devices that are already around, IFTTT can potentially be a very powerful service for delivering a wealth of new applications.

While it is not clear just yet what role smart plugs will play in the smart home in relation to other devices for the future, for now at least, smart plugs will continue to help homeowners better manage and stay on top of their energy use to save both energy and money.
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