What Is a Smart Plug?

Add any outlet to your connected smart home with a smart plug

A smart plug is a power receptacle that plugs into a traditional electrical outlet and integrates it into your smart home network, allowing you to control whatever you plug into it from an app on your smartphone or with your voice through a virtual assistant.

What Can a Smart Plug Do?

A smart plug transforms even “dumb” devices into a part of your smart home network, giving you greater control and customizable options just by plugging the device in. Table lamps, the clothes iron, and even the coffee maker get an IQ upgrade with smart plugs. For the most features and best reliability, stick with smart plugs that connect to Wi-Fi either directly or using a bridge or dongle that plugs into your router.

Let’s get plugged into the latest smart plug features:

  • Some, like Amazon's Echo Flex, have virtual assistant support built-in so you can speak directly to the smart plug instead of using an app to control it.
  • Wi-Fi connectivity allows you to remotely control devices plugged into smart plugs with your smartphone.
  • Voice control options allow you to use Alexa, Siri, or Google Assistant to control devices plugged into the smart plug unit (some models of the smart plug might require a bridge or dongle for this capability).
  • Use your smartphone to set timers that turn devices on and off at scheduled times.
  • Track information about energy use and the cost of use for a device using the plug-in in real time.
  • Some models include a separate remote to operate your smart plug unit without requiring your smartphone for simple on/off functions.
  • Schedule smart plugs in your home or office to turn on or off at specific times — no more wondering if you left the coffee pot or clothes iron on. And you no longer need to worry about walking into a dark house or your house looking empty while you're on vacation.
  • Smart plugs designed for outdoor use allow you to control (and schedule) items plugged in outdoors such as holiday lights and decorations.
  • Set smart plugs to restrict and prevent latent energy consumption by devices while they’re turned off.
  • Smart plug strips work much like a multi-plug surge protector and can send you notifications if a power surge occurs or alert you when the number of devices connected to the strip poses a safety hazard.

Common Concerns About Smart Plugs

Anytime electricity is involved, it’s wise to be cautious. Let’s review some common questions and concerns people have about smart plugs.

Do smart plugs increase the risk of fire or electric shock?

Smart plugs are designed to meet the same codes and standards of installed plug receptacles (outlets). Several models of smart plug actually exceed the minimum required safety standards. Smart plugs include automatic shut-off features in the event of power surges or other electrical incidents that could damage items using that plug. In many ways, smart plugs increase the safety of traditional plugs for many homes.

How much do smart plugs cost?

The average Wi-Fi compatible single unit (one plug) smart plug sells for $25 to $50. Specialty smart plugs such as those made for outdoor use or multi-plug strips will be more expensive.

Are there devices that should not be used with a smart plug?

Most smart plug manufacturers recommend plugging devices directly into the smart plug unit and to avoid using a standard power strip and additional extensions with your smart plug. For example, using a standard power strip with multiple extension cords plugged into it with your smart plug will likely trigger the smart plug to shut off to prevent a fire hazard. By the way, using multiple extension devices such as plug splitters, power strips, and extension cords together is a safety hazard in any situation — smart plug involved or not.

Specific features vary by brand and model. This article is an overview of options from a range of smart plug brands and models.

  • What is the wattage limit of a smart plug?

    Most smart plugs support a few hundred watts of power consumption. That works fine for small appliances and lamps, but a hairdryer or larger appliance may not be supported. The maximum wattage ratings are usually listed in the smart plug documentation.

  • Does an outdoor smart plug differ from a regular smart plug?

    Smart plugs designated for outdoor use are more rugged than regular smart plugs, although they work similarly. Outdoor smart plugs are tested to withstand most weather conditions, and they receive an official IP rating to prove it.

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