Yes, your "dumb" air conditioner can become a smart home gadget.
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New smart gadgets debut seemingly every day, and we’re not talking about just lightbulbs and thermostats. Appliances, even large ones, are getting in on the action. But that doesn't mean you need to toss your old "dumb" stuff and buy brand new smart devices.
Air conditioners are certainly one type of appliance that is heading down the smart path, but if you have a window or wall unit you already love (or can’t afford to replace), you might consider turning your dumb unit into a smart A/C. With a few tweaks, you can convert the unit you have into a cooling solution you can turn on and off remotely with an app or through your favorite smart home ecosystems, such as Google Assistant or Alexa.
A window or wall unit (or a portable A/C) works just fine when you manually turn it on with buttons, so why is it even necessary to make it smart? Well, a lot of people don't run window units while they're away from the house, as they use a lot of energy and will rack up utility bills. Turning these types of air conditioners on when you get home, though, means it can take some time before your space is sufficiently cooled.
A smart solution will allow you to remotely turn your A/C on an hour before you get home so your room(s) or apartment feels pretty nice when you arrive. You could also set up a schedule or routine so it comes on and turns off during specific times or days. And if you're not running it for the entire time you're away, so your utility bills will be lower than they would be if you were churning out cold air for an empty house for eight to 10 hours at a time.
You can also opt to change to a smart system that includes energy monitoring, which allows you to track how much energy your A/C is gobbling up when you run it.
The easiest way to turn your regular A/C into a smart one is to plug your unit into a smart plug. There are oodles available on the market (we've even tested them extensively to find the best ones out there today), and most are controlled with an app. Simply plug your unit into the smart plug; plug that into a standard wall outlet; add to Alexa, Google Home, or HomeKit; and schedule to your heart's content.
Of course, a smart plug is limited to "on" and "off." You'll have to make sure your A/C is set at the level you want before heading out for the day, and that your unit has a mechanical switch that can be left in the “on” position.
Also, you'll need to compare your air conditioner's wattage to the plug you're looking at to make sure it can handle actually running your A/C without causing a fire.
If you have an air conditioner that doesn't have mechanical switches and can be controlled with a remote (aka infrared remote control technology), installing an IR hub is another option. There are several available now, including the Sensibo Sky, the Harmony hub, and the Bond hub. They're like smart plugs but even better, as you can control the A/C's temperature and fan speed from afar. Some of these hubs’ apps also include humidity and temperature sensors, which can help you decide what temp to set your unit at when you turn it on.
Thankfully, the smart market has advanced to the point where transitioning an old window unit into one you can control via an app or your Alexa-enabled device is pretty simple. Install an app, plug it in, and you're ready to cool down in the best way possible.
If you'd rather just spring for a brand-new A/C unit and not bother with smart plugs or hubs, you can go the smart A/C route. If you have central air, you can completely smarten up your cooling and heating with a smart thermostat.