Smart home technologies seek to make our living environments more comfortable, daily tasks easier and more convenient, appliances more energy efficient, and our homes more secure. Increasingly, the devices we use on a daily basis in our homes, often taken for granted, are becoming interconnected so that we can use them interactively.
Outlets and switches control a myriad of appliances in the home – lights, music players, TVs, coffee makers, garage doors, space heaters, ceiling and floor fans, electric or gas fireplaces and the like. The new crop of smart outlets and switches enable us to control all these appliances through our mobile devices, via Bluetooth streaming, and remotely, if connected to our home’s Wi-Fi network.
All these smart outlets and switches come with the maker’s free app that provide you with various features such as the ability to schedule on and off times, set countdown timers, and create alerts. Many are compatible with one or more of: Amazon Echo (Alexa), Google Voice, Apple Homekit, Nest Thermostat, Z-Wave, and IFTTT. However, not all these products are both Android and iOS compatible.
Installing these outlets and switches is pretty easy, and the only tool you may need to purchase is a voltage tester, which is a handy device to add to your tool box. If you have a smart home hub you’ll be able to control these outlets and switches, along with any other smart home devices you have, from a single app.
These are among the simplest devices to use and don’t require any tools to install – you simply insert the device directly into one of the sockets of an existing 120V wall outlet. Some smart plugs, like the Belkin WeMo Switch and TP-Link Smart Plug will block the top socket if you plug it into the bottom socket. All the smart plugs we looked at provide only one smart outlet, except the ConnectSense (only iOS compatible), which provides two independently controllable sockets, along with a 2.4-amp USB charging port. Some, like the Belkin Wemo Mini Smart Plug (shown) and iHomeAudio iSP8, are stackable, so you can insert a smart plug into each outlet socket. The iSP8 also comes with a separate remote, so you can control it from up to 35’ away without a mobile device. Most will control appliances that draw up to about 1800W of power. You can find dimmable smart plugs that work only with lamps – these generally have a maximum current draw of around 300W. Some plugs provide thermal protection (they automatically switch off overheating appliances) while others can monitor an appliance’s energy consumption. There are separate models for use indoors and outdoors, so make sure you get the right one. Priced at $50 and up.
Smart power outlets (aka smart receptacles or smart wall outlets) are similar to smart plugs, except they completely replace existing power outlets – which makes them a good choice if you’re planning a renovation or new build. Just about anything that you can plug into the smart outlet can then be wirelessly controlled via your smart device and the maker’s app. Typically these outlets have a 1800W capacity, and both sockets can be independently controlled. InsteOn makes a dimmer outlet with one dimmable 2-prong socket and one non-dimmable 3-prong socket, both of which have a 300W capacity (they come in seven different colours). As with smart plugs, if connected to your Wi-Fi network you’ll have remote control from outside the home. Priced at $50 and up.
Smart switches are similar to smart wall outlets, in that they replace existing wall switches. Once installed, they enable you to control whatever appliance the switch is connected to, via the maker’s app. The most common appliance controlled by a smart switch is lighting. There are smart switches that replace single pole outlets only, while others can work with single, 3- and 4-way outlets. It’s a good idea to check your existing wiring before purchasing a smart switch, as many require a neutral wire. Not all smart switches are dimmable; the Lutron Caseta are dimming switches, while the Belkin Wemo light switch is an on/off non-dimming switch (Note: Belkin is coming out with a dimming switch in mid 2017). Most switches, like the iDevices wall switch (shown), are rated for a maximum 1800W draw. All smart switches have conventional paddle or toggle-style switches that enable you to manually turn the appliance on or off if required. As with smart plugs and outlets these switches connect to your Wi-Fi network enabling remote appliance control. Priced at $60 and up.
Installing a smart power outlet or switch is a job just about any homeowner should be able to do. You’ll need a voltage tester and a screwdriver. Most of the products come with installation instructions, or you can access the information online. Here are the basic steps to follow: