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What Does a Smart Plug Do?

So what are smart plugs, anyway? They’re small devices that look like travel adapters: you plug an appliance into the smart plug and then plug the smart plug into the wall socket. And just like that, they allow you to turn your existing appliances into smart devices.

Smart plugs connect to an app on your smartphone via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, allowing you to control whatever appliance is connected to that plug without the need for a smart hub.


How to use a smart plug

Once connected to an appliance, smart plugs allow users to create “scenes.” Scenes are small IFTTT (If This Then That) programs that can adjust your lighting, coffee maker, washing machine and other appliances based on the time of day, the temperature or anything else your smartphone measures. You won’t sacrifice any wall outlets by using smart plugs, and different plug designs are available to accommodate different space requirements.


Benefits of Smart Plugs

By now, you might have some questions: What are smart plugs for, and do smart plugs save energy? Common uses for smart plugs include energy monitoring, easy control of appliances and home security automation. Here are some of the best smart plug uses:


  • Improve your home network connectivity. While new appliance models and technology often have built-in compatibility with home networks, older models may not. A smart plug can turn any of your existing appliances and electrical devices into smart objects that can communicate with other smart products in your home.
  • Turn appliances on and off with the tap of a button. Can a smart plug turn on a TV? Absolutely. Using the plug’s app, you can turn appliances on and off remotely and even check to see if you left an appliance running after you’ve left your home. If you’ve ever nervously wondered if you left an iron or hair straightener on, smart plugs offer peace of mind—just check the app to see if the object is on, and if it is, turn it off.
  • Monitor your energy use from anywhere in the world. Smart plugs are indispensable tools for anyone concerned with energy use. You can monitor how much energy you’re using directly from your smartphone. Smart plugs will even notify you if a device suddenly starts using unusual amounts of energy.
  • Manage your energy use with easy scheduling. By creating scenes for your appliances, you can schedule when devices should shut down or start up. This way, power-hungry devices don’t consume energy when not in use. For example, you can use a scene as a smart-home routine for children by only letting them use gaming consoles and televisions at certain times of day.
  • Eliminate vampire draw from your house. One of the best things to use smart plugs for is controlling “vampire draw.” Vampire draw, or phantom load, is the energy your devices suck up even when they’re not in use. Smart plugs can help you identify devices guilty of phantom load so you can save on your energy usage.
  • Appear at home while you’re away. Burglars often target homes by watching for signs that a home is empty, and they’re quick to notice when lights, televisions and other appliances aren’t on. Smart plugs can be used to improve home security by turning lights and appliances on and off while you’re on vacation, making smart plugs a safe and effective way to look like you’re home while you’re away.
  • Control your devices with voice commands. One of the best smart plug uses is the ability to turn on hard-to-reach devices remotely. Smart plugs are among the many devices that work with Amazon Echo, Google Home and other smart hubs, so once you link smart plugs to your hub, you can activate and deactivate connected appliances by voice command.
  • Keep your home safe with smart plug temperature control. If you live in a home with older electrical wiring, you may have safety concerns: Are smart plugs safe to use, or will they encourage wall sockets to overheat? The plugs themselves won’t increase the chance of overheating, and some smart plug models even monitor wall socket temperatures and will send you an alert if it gets too hot. You can even have the smart plug turn off the appliances automatically to decrease the risk of electrical fires.

Do smart plugs save energy?

So do smart plugs save energy, or are they responsible for their own energy load? It’s true that smart plugs draw a small current when they’re in standby mode, but it’s a very small amount of energy—only about 1 watt—and that means the overall effect on your energy consumption is negligible.

Also, the savings you gain by controlling devices known for high levels of phantom load, such as gaming consoles, more than make up for that. Used correctly, smart plugs can reduce your energy consumption by between 1 and 4.58 percent.