7 Easy Ways to Make Your Home a Little Smarter
Internet of Things (IoT) devices aim to solve everyday nuisances and problems by making dumb products smarter, but what if you're fond of your dumb products? Many of you have light bulbs, beloved appliances, and electronics strewn throughout your home that you wouldn't trade in just because they can't "talk" to your smartphone.
So don't. Make your outlets and switches smart instead.
Smart plugs and switches allow you to turn on regular lights and electronics with an app, your voice, or through automated schedules. Whether you just need a couple of smart plugs or you want to completely revamp your lighting system, we found the switches and plugs to bring your home into the future.
If you don't want to deal with hubs or sacrifice one of your outlets, we've found the perfect plug for you. We recommend TP-Link's Smart Plug Mini for its ease of use, WiFi connectivity, and small size.
- Easy to use
- Doesn't block the other outlet
- Connects to Amazon Alexa and Google Home
- Won't connect to your existing hub
- Poor customer support
Unlike most smart switches out there, the Lutron Caséta Smart Switches don't need a three-wire system to be installed, making them compatible with older homes. We recommend the Lutron's Smart Switch Starter Kit for its hub and smart assistant connectivity, compatibility with both standard American wiring setups, and its reliability.
- Easy to use
- Doesn't require a neutral wire
- Some switches work with ceiling fans
- Non-traditional button switch
If you don't want smart plugs jutting out of your walls, an in-wall outlet can provide a more streamlined aesthetic. We recommend the iDevices Wall Outlet for its easy installation, compatibility, and energy monitoring feature.
- Doesn't need a hub
- Individually controlled outlets
- Energy monitoring
- Needs a neutral wire (incompatible with old homes)
- Poor HomeKit connectivity
Have you ever wanted a dimmer for your lamps? What if that dimmer was also smart? We recommend GE's Wireless Lighting Control Plug-in Dimmer for its simple setup, dimmer control, and reliability.
- Easy setup
- Dimmer control
- Universal bulb and lamp compatibility
- Requires a hub
- Marginal issues with LEDs
The future is here and it looks like a touchscreen switch. Though it's pricey, the Noon Lighting System offers a minimalist, sleek switch that helps you create dynamic mood lighting. We recommend this starter kit for its design, functionality, and bulb compatibility.
- Minimalist design
- OLED touchscreen switch
- Automatically detects dimmable and non-dimmable bulbs
- Doesn't work with hubs or ceiling fans
Whether you want a lit walkway, scheduled holiday lights, or an electronics-friendly backyard, a smart outdoor plug is a great investment. Inovelli is a new name in the smart plug world, but it's already making waves. We recommend their Z-Wave Dual Outdoor Plug for its ease of use, weatherproofing, and customer service.
- Automatically pairs with hubs
- Waterproof and operable in -4ºF to 120ºF
- Great customer service and a lifetime warranty
- Needs a hub
This plug is a little smarter than the rest of the pack. The Awair Glow takes most of the air quality monitoring sensors from the standalone Awair and packs them into a smart plug. By doing so, it allows for the automation of appliances like humidifiers and air purifiers. We recommend the Awair Glow for people who want a sleek plug that helps their devices to react to their environment.
- Measures temperature, humidity, carbon dioxide, and VOCs
- Automates air quality appliances
- Motion sensor
- Doesn't connect to hubs
- Can't measure dust
Smart Plugs, Switches, and Outlets
When you think about making your home smarter, your instinct might be to get new, IoT electronics, appliances, and lights. An easier option is to just bring your switches and outlets into the 21st century. Here's the skinny on upgrading to smart plugs, outlets, and switches.
Smart Plugs and Outlets
If you just want to turn things on and off with your voice or phone, smart plugs and outlets can help. But which one is right for your needs?
Very few smart in-wall outlets currently exist and most "smart" outlets on the market just have USB ports. These in-wall units blend in, but will require a bit electrical know-how. Installation is pretty simple, but if you're not comfortable messing with wires, you can always call an electrician.
If you don't want to go through the hassle of replacing all of your outlets, smart plugs are a great alternative. Smart plugs are essentially outlet adapters that plug into your existing outlet. Some may cover both sockets while others are more space conscious.
At the very least, you want to end up with as many outlets as you started with, but some smart plugs offer additional sockets. Usually, they split the original socket into a smart outlet and an always-on outlet.
Smart plugs are always drawing a little bit of power (to receive commands), so using products that have an energy monitoring feature ideal. The majority of small plugs won't have this feature, however, so you'll need to determine how important it is to you. Since you'll only be able to control a smart plug from an app and/or a button on the plug, you should consider plugs that can follow a schedule and can be connected to a smart assistant.
Keep in mind that some dumb products simply can't be made smart. A good test to see if a smart plug will work is to keep the product on, unplug it from its dumb outlet, and then plug it back in. If it turns back on, congrats; it's smart plug friendly.
Whether you want to keep your old bulbs or you want smart switches for your smart bulbs, these IoT fixtures give you access to automation and manual control. Smart bulbs need your light switches to be on at all times and chain you to voice or app activation.
When it comes to wiring, some switches only need a ground and a live wire, but some need a neutral wire as well/3-wire system. Homes built before approximately 1965 typically don't have neutral wires in switch gangways unless their wiring was upgraded to a 3-wire system. If you have neutral wires, you have more options when it comes to smart switches, but there are a few great switches that run on a 2-wire system. You can also hire an electrician to "pull" a neutral wire.
Smart switches generally look like and have the same functionality as standard rocker/paddle switches or dimmers. Some switches might offer more buttons to allow for more manual lighting control or even the additional control of ceiling fans. High-end smart switches include touchscreens which can have limited to advanced capabilities.
If you want to install smart switches in a room with multiple entrances, hallways, or stairwells, you'll want to make sure you use a 3-way switch. This will allow you to control one light/group of lights from multiple switches.
Close, But No Cigar
Apple Home Kit has only recently started to prove itself as a contender in the smart home ring, but there are still some gaps in its reliability. As a result, we didn't consider Home Kit-only products.
We also avoided Bluetooth-only products because we wanted you to be able to remotely control these devices. Bluetooth mesh networks are on the horizon and we'll consider products that utilize them in the future.
Finally, there are a few smart surge protectors out there, but none of them impressed us enough to recommend. As more products are launched and existing products receive firmware updates, we may include them in future updates to this guide.
How We Chose
Since many of these products have almost identical features, we focused on how well those features actually work, the reliability of their connection to their network and schedules, network and smart assistant connectivity, ease of use, and design. When it came to products that required some wiring, we paid special attention to switches and outlets that didn't need a neutral wire so that they would work in older homes as well as new ones.
After all that, we figured out which products we didn't feel comfortable recommending (see above) and, more importantly, which products would knock your socks off.