While you can buy smart gadgets that are specifically meant to integrate into your smart home system, it's likely you have “dumb” stuff around the house already that you turn on and off with mechanical switches, such as lamps and coffee makers.
There is good news, though—you don't have to chuck what you already have and replace everything with brand new smart devices. There is a game-changer called a smart plug that does what you might suspect—it helps turn "dumb" items into equipment that can be controlled easily by your phone or via your smart speaker.
Yes, this means it can turn your lights off and on, even if you're away from your home, and as most don't require a hub, they're usually pretty easy to install. There are also a ton of things your smart plug can do that might (happily) surprise you. Here are 16 things you had no idea you could do with a smart plug that just might make you want to buy one pronto.
1. Turn on your coffee maker
While it may be a little difficult to get your kitchen automated enough to cook a complete breakfast for you à la Pee-wee Herman, turning your coffee maker on before you step out of bed is totally possible, even if it's not a smart coffee maker.
2. Wake up easier
We know that sometimes it's really hard to wake up, and sometimes an alarm (or three) doesn't quite do the job. After you get your coffee going (from your bed, of course), turn on a few bedroom lights with the use of a lamp connected to a smart plug to help get you jazzed for your day.
3. Heat your curler or straightener
One of the worst parts about doing your hair is waiting for your iron to heat up enough to use it. Eliminate the wait by plugging it into a smart plug and remotely switch it on while you're doing something else. This way it's nice and hot by the time you step in front of the mirror. Just make sure you don't forget about it (and more on that later)!
4. Charge batteries
Rechargeable batteries are great—until you forget to charge them. If you're at work and remember something needs to be charged that you'd like to use later that day, such as your leaf blower, you'll be able to charge it up remotely if it's already plugged into a smart plug.
5. Automate outdoor lighting
Outdoor lighting can improve ambiance with one flip of a switch, and it's certainly not limited to the holidays, either, as string lights adorn many backyards and decks during the warmer months. (These outdoor lights with an old-timey look are a great example, and reviewers rave about their high quality, ease of installation, and easy integration with a smart plug, too). Depending on your setup, having outdoor lights might require you to tread outdoors to manually unplug them each night, which can be annoying. The solution? Plug your lights into an outdoor smart plug and control them with ease.
6. Track energy usage
Some of the better smart plugs offer energy monitoring, (including the one that took the top spot in our testing), which will help you keep track of which appliance in your house is gobbling up the most energy (and wasting the most money). If you suspect some of your older appliances might be taking more than their fair share, you can monitor their energy use to see if an upgrade should be in your future.
7. Set a schedule for your home lights
Many smart plugs come with a companion app that lets you control the plug from afar, and these apps often have timers and allow you to set schedules, which can be especially handy if you're going to be away from the house and want to turn lights on and off to create the illusion that somebody's home. Yes, you can open the app on your phone to turn lights on and off manually, but if you've got a set schedule, you really don't have to worry about it.
8. Enhance your phone battery charging
While it's easiest to plug your phone in and forget about it while you slumber, keeping it charging all night long isn't doing you any favors. Keeping a phone on a charger after it is fully charged will cause the battery to lose capacity over time. This is where a smart plug comes in. With your phone charger plugged into a smart plug, you can schedule it to switch off after a few hours.
9. Easily enforce screen time
Plugging your home media into a smart plug or two (plus the WiFi router) makes enforcing your family's "no screen time" rules far easier. Yes, you can run around and manually unplug everything, but doing so from wherever you are in the house (or even out of the house) makes this a snap.
10. Fire up the slow cooker on the recipe's schedule
You leave for work at 7 in the morning and want a hot meal ready when you finally get home at 5 or 6, but your favorite recipe only calls for 6 to 8 hours of cooking time. While modern slow cookers aren't apt to overheat, your food might get a little overdone sitting around for 10 or 11 hours. With a smart plug, you can load your slow cooker before you leave and switch it on so it cooks for the proper amount of time.
11. Customize your sleeping situation without getting out of bed
If you sleep with a fan on, sometimes you wake up frozen a few hours later, and then you need to get out of bed to turn it off. If the fan is plugged into a smart plug, all you have to do instead is pick up your phone (or say, “Alexa, turn off the fan”) and you're on your way to warming up.
12. Have peace of mind that you turned your coffee maker off
You're at work, but did you remember to shut off your curling iron and the coffee pot? If you worry about specific appliances on the regular, plug them into a smart plug, and a quick glance at your phone will allow you to check their status and turn them off right away.
13. Shut off standby power
In addition to seeing which appliances use the most energy while they're running, you can utilize smart plugs to shut off things that you're not using, which will also cut down on energy costs on those devices that drain small bits of energy even though they're not actually "on." Hook your TV, cable box, printer, computer, DVD player, or gaming systems up to a smart plug and have them power down while you're asleep or away from home.
14. Shut off your child's sound machine without walking into their room
Some kids like to have the soothing noises of a sound machine as they fall asleep. If you don't really want it running all night, use a smart plug and turn it off well after they've fallen into slumber, and without actually walking into their room to do so (a dangerous proposition for a parent who needs some sleep).
15. Bring the noise
Radios can also be used with a smart plug. This can come in handy if you want to pipe in some tunes, but aren't in the same room. It can also be a valuable asset if you're away from home and want to keep some music on so it seems like someone is home or to make a pet feel less lonely.
16. Automate your home's humidity
Whether it’s running a dehumidifier in the summer or a humidifier in the winter, you want to make sure your indoor air is comfortable year-round. If you have one in your room, set it up with a smart plug and turn it on before you head to bed for a comfortable sleeping environment. Or, if your plug is compatible with IFTTT, you could even program your smart plug to power on your humidifier when your location’s humidity falls below a specified number.