What is a Smart Plug and How Does It Work? An Epic Guide.
So, what is a smart plug? In short, a smart plug (or smart outlet) turns your traditional electrical wall outlet into a fully controllable and customizable outlet. Once connected to WiFi, it enables you to easily control your lights and other household electronics, from wherever you are. Whether with a timer, a pre-determined schedule or the click of a button on your phone, a smart plug makes managing the devices in your home that much easier.
Smart Plugs – An Epic Guide
I’ve owned and used many different smart plugs over the past year or so. I believe they are a must own product for any smart home.
If you don’t have a smart home or other smart products, smart plugs are the easiest and fastest way for you to get started with this technology.
What does a smart plug do?
Smart plugs turn ordinary appliances and fixtures into smart devices. This means that the device you’ve plugged into the smart plug now has a lot more capabilities than it did before.
Take a lamp, for example. Without a smart plug the lamp needs to be turned, in person, by its physical switch.
Regardless of whether the lamp is controlled by a light switch on the wall or a switch on the lamp itself, the lamp still needs to be turned on in person.
Now plug this same lamp into a smart plug and suddenly you have a lot of options for how you can control it.
NOTE: Be sure to first check the different features and capabilities that come with a smart plug before purchasing. While almost all can be turned on/off remotely and scheduled, you’ll want to confirm which additional devices they can integrate with and any extra functionality the may have.
For example, you can set a timer within an app for a countdown on when to turn the lamp on or off.
You can schedule the lamp to turn on and off at specified times throughout the day and week.
If you forgot to turn your bedroom light off when you left for work in the morning, that’s no problem. You can turn it off with your phone while away at work.
Gone for a week on vacation? Turn on “Away Mode” and your smart plug will randomly turn your lights on and off throughout the day. This gives a would-be intruder the impression that your home.
You can even integrate your smart plug with other devices and control them with your voice. “Alexa, turn on the bedroom lamp.”
How does a smart plug work?
Almost all smart plugs on the market today work by plugging them into an existing outlet and then connecting them to your home’s Wi-Fi network.
Once the smart plug is plugged into an outlet and Wi-Fi has been enabled, you can plug a device into the smart plug and begin controlling it from your smartphone, using the accompanying app.
The app simply sends a signal to the plug about when to turn on or off.
Most smart plugs do not require a smart hub in order to use them. However they can leverage them in order to communicate and work with other smart products.
How to setup a smart plug?
While different smart plugs will vary slightly on their exact setup, the primary steps are mostly universal.
1) Connect your cell phone to your home Wi-Fi network. Most times this will need to be 2.4GHz only, not 5G. If you only have one Wi-Fi network, try to use that. If you have trouble you’ll want to read my section about Wi-Fi connectivity below.
2) Plug your smart plug into desired outlet.
3) Download the accompanying smart plug app to your cell phone from the App store or Google Play.
4) Open the app and setup an account.
5) Add your smart plug to the app. In most cases the app will guide you through this process step by step. As part of this process you will be prompted to name your smart plug. I suggest you name it based on the device it will control (and maybe the room the device is in). For example: “Bedroom Lamp”.
6) Plug your device into the fully setup smart plug and test that it works by turning the plug on and off in the app.
7) You’re done! Start scheduling your smart plug or setup some automations.
Some smart plug setup guides
- TP-Link Smart Plug Setup Guide
- Amazon Smart Plug Setup
- Aoycor WiFi Smart Plug Guide
- Mini Smart Plug Outlet by Gosund
Can you plug a smart plug into a power strip?
So, can you plug a smart plug into a power strip? In short, yes. I do it all the time, but be sure to take into account all of the following considerations, and most importantly never exceed (overload) the specified capacity of the smart plug or power strip!
Power strip usage: rules of thumb
Regardless of whether you’re using a smart plug or not, there are some fundamental rules to follow when using a power strip:
- Don’t overload the power strip. If the strip feels hot, it has likely been overloaded.
- Never plug high capacity electronics into a power strip (in most cases that means space heaters, refrigerators, microwaves, toasters, slow cookers, air conditioners, etc.)
- Always plug power strips directly into the wall outlet (for example do NOT plug a power strip into an extension cord)
- Don’t use indoor power strips outdoors!
Other considerations when plugging in your smart plug
Part of setting up your smart plug involves simply plugging it into an outlet. Sounds easy enough, but there are some things to consider.
For example, if you have multiple plugs and want to turn them all on and off together with a single smart plug.
For instance, two lamps on either side of your couch that you want to control together with one plug.
Instead of buying two smart plugs, get a cheap outlet converter. Plug the outlet converter into your single smart plug and now you can control three or more separate plugs at once, with a single smart plug.
Here is what my setup looks like:
(Plug outlet converter into smart plug to make more plugs, smart.)
Alternatively, you may have an outlet that has a bunch of other plugs that you don’t want to be smart.
If that’s the case, I recommend a setup like this:
(Plug your smart plug into an outlet converter in order to continue using the outlet with regular plugs.)
Calculating smart plug capacity
Remember, know what the capacity of your smart plug (and outlet converter) is and do not exceed it! Most smart plugs have a max load of 15 A (amps). Watts/Volts = Amps.
So if you buy a lamp that is 60 watts and 110 volts thats – 60 watts/110 volts = 0.55 amps. Which means your smart plug can handle many (nearly 15) of these lamps with no issues.
NOTE: A good rule of thumb is that a 15 A outlet (most smart plugs) can supply 1800 watts. So just know the wattage of each of the devices you’re plugging into the smart plug, add them up, and make sure they don’t exceed 1800 watts.
What do smart plugs work with?
Smart plugs do not work with all electronics! You’ll want to be on the lookout for what type of switch the product has that you’re attempting to use – mechanical or electrical. Mechanical switches work best with smart plugs.
Mechanical switches are switches that can be physically toggled back and forth to turn a product on and off. Whereas electrical switches toggle between states.
The mechanical switches work great with smart plugs since you can simply toggle the product’s switch to the on position and leave it there. That way when you plug it into your smart plug, the plug will control whether power is on or off.
The products with electrical switches are the ones you want to investigate further. A lot of products with these types of switches can’t be used with smart plugs.
There are some exceptions though. The best thing to do is to hit the electrical switch “on” for the product in question and then unplug it (with the switch still on). If, when you plug the product back in, the product does not turn on, a smart plug won’t work.
Best uses for a smart plug
What are some of the best uses for a smart plug?
- For added security you can schedule your lights to come on and off randomly while you’re away on vacation, giving the impression that someone is home.
- If you have a specialized “dimmable” smart plug, you can use it to dim the lights!
- Schedule a coffee maker to turn on in the morning so coffee is waiting for you when you first wake up.
- Program a bedroom humidifier to turn on at night and off in the morning.
- Create a schedule for your Christmas tree lights to turn on and off each day.
- Smart plugs are perfect for older loved ones or Alzheimer patients who don’t live with you. You can control their electronics from your phone, ensuring everything has been shut off.
- Plug your kid’s X-Box or Playstation into the smart plug. Now you can turn it off from your phone, or tell Alexa (if integrated) to “Shut off X-Box”
- Along these same lines, if you have a separate WiFi hub on a separate network you can plug this WiFi hub into a smart plug and then control your kids Wi-Fi times.
- Schedule an AC or a space heater to turn on and off at certain times during the day.
- Hook up your pressure cooker or crockpot to a smart plug and get dinner started before you get home.
- Schedule an electric blanket so that it turns on 30 minutes before bed time.
These are just some of the best uses for a smart plug. What are some of the ways you’re using your smart plug? Leave a comment below.
Can a smart plug turn on a TV?
No, in most cases you cannot use a smart plug to turn on a TV. The majority of TVs go into standby mode when turned off normally and therefore are never fully powered down (unless they are unplugged). Since smart plugs shut the power off completely, if you use it to shut the TV off, you are effectively unplugging the TV. When you go to turn the TV back on via the smart plug the TV will enter standby mode and will still require you to manually turn the TV on.
There are however a few fairly easy and inexpensive ways to turn your tv on and off without your remote. You can use Google Home with a Google Chrome Stick or Amazon Alexa with a Fire Stick/Fire TV.
If you’re interested, I detail the Google Home and chrome stick setup here.
What does a smart plug do with Alexa?
Integrating your smart plug with Alexa (or any smart speaker) allows you to control it with your voice. Once integrated, you can ask Alexa to turn on, or off, the product that is connected to it.
In addition to being able to voice activate your smart plug, Alexa provides better automation functionality. If you have other smart home products that also integrate with Alexa, you’ll be able to use them all together.
For example, consider the following. You have a smart lock on your front door, smart light switches in your bedroom and a humidifier plugged into a smart plug.
You can now say “Alexa, Goodnight” and trigger a series of automations that lock your front door, turn your bedroom lights off and turn on your humidifier.
The possibilities are quite literately endless.
How to connect a smart plug to Alexa?
To connect a smart plug with Alexa, you will have to activate the product specific skill within the Alexa app.
You can activate this skill by following these steps:
- In the Alexa App, search for your product specific skill. For example, if you have the Kasa smartplug, search for the Kasa skill.
- Click the “Enable” button in the Alexa app. You will be prompted to log into your account (in our example you would login to Kasa) to integrate your plug with Alexa
- With the skill activated go to “Devices” in your Alexa App and add new. Search and find your product and then “Discover Devices”
- Your smart plug is now connected to Alexa!
How to add smart plug to Google Home?
To add a smart plug with Google Home, you will have to add the product within the Google Home app.
You can add a new product to Google Home by following these steps:
- In the Google Home app, click the “+” symbol at the top left of the app
- Click “Setup device” and then click “Have something already setup?”
- Search and find your product and you will be prompted to log into your account (in our example you would login to Kasa) to integrate your plug with Google Home
- Your smart plug is now connected to Google Home!
Smart plug won’t connect to WiFi
If your smart plug won’t connect to WiFi, the first step is to make sure that your WiFi is working in the first place. Check on your phone or laptop that your connection is solid.
If you have a good connection, the next step would be to unplug the smart plug from the wall and then plug it back in. Press and hold the button found on the device until the light flashes. In the product specific app attempt to re-setup your smart plug.
If that all fails you likely have a more complicated, but not impossible, challenge on your hands – a mesh network.
Without getting into too much detail, mesh networks combine 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequencies into a single WiFi network. Back in the day these frequencies would each have their own dedicated WiFi network. For example, you would see two WiFi networks for your home 1) Home_2.4GHz and 2) Home_5GHz.
Now a days these are often combined together. This posses a problem for your smart device since it is likely looking for just the 2.4GHz network to connect with.
Unfortunately, your best bet is setting up an inexpensive, separate 2.4GHz router that connects to your mesh network.
How to reset a smart plug
You can reset most smart plugs using the same method. With the smart plug still plugged into the wall, press and hold the button on the device for at least 15 seconds. You will most likely see a light flash, indicating that the device has been reset.
If you’re thinking about getting started in smart home tech, a smart plug is the perfect first product to buy.
They are easy to setup, affordable, and have a ton of use cases/applications.
If you have any questions that I didn’t answer here please drop them in the comments below!