10 Cool And Unexpected Uses For Smart Plugs

By this point, the smart home revolution is in full swing. Rather than the paradigm-shattering technological explosion we might have imagined, the integration of connected technologies into the home happened gradually. Almost before we knew it, the internet of things was all around us. Today, you can get smart light bulbs, smart doorbells, a smart thermostat, and a smart coffee maker. You can control your washer, dryer, stove, and dishwasher with your phone or voice controls. You can close the blinds, lock the doors, and feed the fish all from the comfort of your bed or while away on vacation. Ain't the future grand?

If you're looking to get in on the action and start incorporating smart tech into your home, smart plugs are one of the easiest and most affordable ways to jump in. While the options for smart tech are seemingly endless (and some of them are pretty weird) achieving the smart home of your dreams might mean replacing all of the stuff you already own. Conversely, smart plugs allow you to upgrade just about any gadget you already have at hand.

Attaching your analog gadgets to a smart plug will give you the connectivity you're looking for without breaking the bank. In fact, they might even save you money in the long term, all while making your life a little more convenient.

When you're out of town

We all need to get away sometimes, but that means leaving your home and all of your belongings (other than what you can fit in a suitcase) unattended. The last thing you want, when you're trying to relax on holiday, is to worry that nefarious forces have recognized the signs of vacancy and are right now descending upon your home. Smart plugs can be a relatively simple way to buy yourself some peace of mind.

The basic functionality of a smart plug is that it allows you to turn the outlet on or off, remotely, using your phone or a virtual assistant like Google Home or Amazon's Alexa, but some can do more than that. Many smart plugs can be programmed to turn on and off under specific criteria, and you can attach them to the sorts of things which make it look like someone is home. Connect smart plugs to your lamps, radio, and television, and set them to turn on and off intermittently to pull a Kevin McCallister and foil any would-be burglars.

A word of caution: some smart plugs will allow you control them remotely while others require that you're on the same Wi-Fi network. It's important to make sure you get the right plug for your situation. If you find that your smart plug won't work when you're away from home, connecting the plugs to a smart home hub should give you the ability to control them remotely.

Holiday timer

The holidays are supposed to be a time of joy and celebration, but they can also be a source of frustration. You spend all this time putting up decorations and hanging lights to make your home a festive place to spend the holidays, and it works! But every evening you have to make a circuit of your home and turn everything off. Then every morning you have to repeat the process all over again. Worse, outlets and switches aren't always in easily accessible places.

Smart plugs are a great way to avoid the hassle of the daily holiday decoration grind by connecting your lights and decorations to the wonder and magic of the internet. Once you've connected the desired decorations to a smart plug, you can turn them on and off remotely, using the accompanying app. Certainly, a series of screen taps is easier than the involuntary solo game of electrical twister you're used to, but it can be even easier than that. Set your outlets on timers and have them turn on and off automatically, at the desired times. Your days of crawling behind furniture and onto rooves are over.

Track energy usage

On top of convenience, smart plugs can give you added insight into your power consumption, which could save you money. Some smart plugs, like the D-Link WiFi Smart Plug can measure the power draw of connected appliances and feed you that data.

If you've ever wanted to figure out how your energy bill gets so high, smart plugs can give you an outlet-by-outlet breakdown of your energy draw. It's likely, of course, that you don't need that information for all of your outlets, but you could gain some ground in the fight against climbing bills, if you target what you're measuring.

Your washer and dryer, dishwasher, refrigerator, heater, and cooling system are the likely energy gluttons. Figuring out what's taking the biggest piece of the energy pie could drive some usage changes. Of course, you can't very well unplug your refrigerator — but you could set up your heater or air conditioner to only turn on when you're likely to be home. If nothing else, it's interesting to know where the power goes once it gets to your house.

Wake up to coffee

Automating your lights is a good gateway into everything smart plugs can do for you. If you like to start your day off with a cup of coffee but dread the process of making it when you've just woken up, a smart plug might be the perfect solution.

Just like your lights and holiday decorations, attaching your coffee maker to a smart plug means you can control it remotely or with timers. That gives you a couple of early-morning options. The first is to turn on the coffee machine's smart plug with your phone when you first wake up, then hit the snooze and let the warm and delicious smell of fresh java lift you gently to wakefulness. The second is to set your smart plug on a timer so that it kicks on 15 minutes or so before you wake up.

Either way, you'll no longer have to stumble groggily to the kitchen to make your morning cup. Just remember to fill the machine with beans and water the night before.

Gadget resets

Nearly every element of our daily lives, from work to leisure, involves at least some amount of technology. Frustratingly, that technology doesn't always work as we'd like it to. Everything from internet routers and gaming systems to televisions and computers freeze up sometimes and need to be reset manually.

One of the easiest and most effective ways to reset your gadgets is simply to unplug them, wait a little bit, and plug them in again. It's a way of forcing your tech to clear its head and start over, which fixes most common glitches. As the old adage goes, "have you tried turning it off and on again?"

The trouble is that plugs are often in hard-to-reach places and getting to them can be a nightmare. That's especially troublesome if critical technology freezes up during a crucial moment. Connecting your troublesome or often-used machines to smart plugs allows you to cut and restore power remotely without having to cut your way through the living room furniture like a machete-wielding explorer through the jungle.

No more power leeching

According to Alan Meier, a senior scientist at the Department of Energy's Berkeley Lab, the average American household has roughly 50 devices plugged in and idling at any given time (via the New York Times). While your television or computer might get regular use, and there are other devices and appliances which need to stay plugged in, many of your devices only get used for a few minutes a day but they keep drawing power even when not in use.

The NRDC estimates that up to a quarter of your total power usage comes from idle electronics. All that extra consumption is hitting your pocketbook and our collective phantom load a significant contributor to global energy consumption. Connecting them to smart plugs gives you an easy way to turn your power-hungry but idle electronics off when you're not using them. Of course, the smart plug itself will draw some power from being plugged in, so it's a little like kicking the can down the road. It isn't a perfect solution, but it should help, especially when connected to targeted outlets like those leading to your microwave.

Save money charging your car

Over the last several years, the demand for electric vehicles has increased dramatically. In 2022, 5.6% of all new vehicle sales were for EVs and that number appears to be climbing. Just a few years ago, EVs accounted for less than 2% of new care sales and the numbers are expected to continue their rise.

If you're one of the millions of people who have made the switch to an electric car, you're probably not missing those gas prices –  but you have likely noticed a spike in your power bill. While that spike should be expected, it still stings a little every time the bill comes due. It's unlikely that your electric bill will ever return to pre-EV levels, but you can lower the cost of charging your car by incorporating a smart plug.

Some smart plugs, and some dedicated EV chargers, can be programmed to pay attention to your local electricity rates. If you live in a region where rates change depending on the time, you can program your outlet to only kick on when rates are at their lowest. That means you can keep your car plugged in over the weekend and hit Monday with a full battery and a lower power bill.

Get useful notifications

By now, you've probably noticed that some smart plugs can do a lot more than just turn your gadgets on and off at a distance. The same functionality which lets you find out which appliances are pulling the most power or charging your devices during off-peak hours can also tell you when power levels at a particular outlet fall to within specified guidelines. And you can use that information to let you know when you're gadgets are in use and when they're not.

By connecting one of these plugs to things like your washer, dryer, or dishwasher, you can set up notifications to tell you when those devices have finished and turned off. Just set up a notification to tell you when the power draw on those plugs falls below their in-use levels and you'll get an alert when they shut down. Now you won't have to wonder if the laundry is dry and ready to fold or if dinner is finished and ready to eat.

Cook dinner remotely

Speaking of dinner, a smart plug can take some of the wait time out of your evening meal. Busy people the world over have been singing the praises of the slow cooker or crockpot for decades, thanks to their ability to cook food for you while you're at work. But not many recipes call for 9- or 10-hour cook times and the work day isn't getting any shorter. What you really need is a way to start cooking dinner around mid-day, while you're still at the office.

Using a smart plug and its connected app or your smart home hub gives you the ability to set a timer or trigger an appliance remotely. Schedule your dinner to start or open the app and press the "on" button at the perfect time, while you're still away from home and return to the welcoming aromas of a freshly cooked meal. And if you get stuck in a late meeting or caught in rush hour traffic, you can kill the power before anything burns. A cold dinner is better than a ruined one.

Never wonder if you left the iron on

At one point or another (probably more times than we'd willingly admit) each of us has left the house in a rush, only to wonder all day if we left something hot plugged in and on the counter. It can be hard to concentrate when you're convinced you'll be returning home to a scorched pile of smoldering rubble.

Clothes irons, curling irons, water kettles, and hot plates are just a few of the home contraptions capable of transforming your home and all of your possessions into an insurance claim and a sad story. If you attach smart plugs to the right outlets, you can eliminate one common anxiety from your everyday life.

The next time you're unsure if you left a fire hazard at home, your smart plug can give you some peace of mind. And if you discover that your worries were justified and you did leave something on, your smart plug can turn it off for you. You could even take your safety protocol to the next level by scheduling any worrisome outlets to automatically turn off each morning when you leave the house. Then you can forget every day if you want to. That's up to you.