Smart Plugs and Outlets Overview

Introduction to Smart Plugs

Smart plugs and outlets provide yet another way to control devices around your home. These devices work just like you would expect. They control the power going to a plug so that you can turn things on and off with your smart network.

A smart plug requires no wiring and just plugs into any regular outlet. Whereas, a smart outlet requires some wiring and replaces your existing plug with a hard-wired smart outlet. Both have toggle switches so that you can control them at the plug. Some even offer power management tools in their own app for tracking things like power draw and hours of operation. This can be very useful for optimizing your energy efficiency.

Smart Plug
Two different smart plugs that I have used. Wemo on the left (WiFi) and Peanut on the right (Z-wave). You can guess which one I prefer (hint – not the WiFi)!

Applications for Smart Plugs

Here are a few applications around the house where I have used a smart plug:

  • Lamps.
  • The Christmas tree (I love this!)
  • Outdoor Christmas lights.
  • Decorative light strings in my daughter’s room.
  • Landscaping lights.

Wemo Smart Plugs

Wemo is a line of home automation products by the trusted brand of Belkin. I have a couple of their WiFi smart plugs, and they work great and are easy to install and configure. At $24 each, they are a little on the pricey side for what they do. They operate on a WiFi network, which can be a plus and a minus. The plus is that there is no need to get a smart home hub. But the negative is that I find WiFi networks to generally be less reliable than smart home networks. I bought a couple of Wemo smart plugs before I knew about Z-Wave smart plugs, like Peanut (covered below). My future smart plugs will be Z-Wave compatible, because I don’t like the idea of using wifi for my smart network.

Wemo smart plug
Wemo smart plus that operates on a WiFi network. They have changed their design a little since I bought mine.

Peanut Smart Plug

Peanut is a small smart plug that works with a smart home hub via the Zigbee network. For reasons noted above, not operating on a WiFi network is an advantage for me. The peanut plug has a small form factor. And it is inexpensive ($13), works great and was easy to configure. I love this plug. I have a spare or two sitting around the house in case a new application comes along for one.

Peanut smart plug
Peanut smart plug that operates on the Zigbee network (not WiFi), which I consider a plus. This plug is small, cheap and easy to set up, making it my favorite!

GE Outdoor Smart Home Plug

GE makes an outstanding, rugged, weather resistance outdoor smart home plug. It runs on the Z-Wave network (not WiFi), which is a plus for me. I have two of these units – one on my outdoor landscaping lights and one that I use to control my outdoor Christmas lights. I am thrilled with its operation for both functions.

GE Outdoor Smart Switch. Absolutely great for the outdoor Christmas lights and landscaping lights.

My landscape lights have a standard (non-smart) 12-volt controller box that came with the lights. The box is in the garage and the box has a light sensor, that in theory, is supposed to turn the light on at night. But it does not work well, because in the garage it is dark when the garage door is down. This causes the lights to be on often during the daytime. A smart plug works great in this application, because the smart plug is programmed to automatically turn on and off when the sun goes up and down. It’s connected to the web through the smart home hub, so it knows the exact time of the sunrise and sunset every single day of the year!

Smart home light automation
Example of programming a switch to turn on and off at sunset and sunrise in the Samsung SmartThings app.

Outdoor Christmas lights have the same advantage. Plus the lights are programmed to turn off at midnight, rather than sunrise. It is nice to be able to ask Alexa to turn the Christmas lights on or off at different times with a voice command.

These GE outdoor smart plugs are rugged, easy to configure and work well. For outdoor applications, these GE smart plugs can’t be beat. I love these things!

Conclusions

The smart plug is a very simple, affordable way to make your house smart.

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