This is a guest post from Jennifer Tuohy.
Most parents would agree that an extra pair of hands would make their job easier. While the fabled Rosie the Robot is probably still a few years from becoming a reality, the smart home can take some chores off our hands and help us run our households more smoothly.
In its simplest form, a smart home can be run by smart plugs, which are basic electrical outlets equipped with a chip that connects them to the Internet. You can either hardwire a smart plug to your home’s electrics or pop one into a standard outlet. Once in place, you can control anything plugged into it from anywhere you have an Internet connection via an app on your smartphone.
You can turn your appliances or lights on and off remotely, set schedules for when they turn off, and control how long they stay on. Some smart plugs even offer “insights” into how much power the attached device is drawing — helping with balancing that household energy budget. Plus, with Amazon Echo or Apple Homekit integration, smart plugs such as Belkin’s WeMo, TP Link’s Smart Plug or the iDevices Switch can be controlled with your voice. That means you could actually walk into your home, say “Lights on,” and have it happen!
Here are six ways parents can put the power of smart plugs to use in their households:
1. End the Constant Battle Over the TV
It’s time for dinner. You’ve given the children their five-minute warning, and now they need to turn the TV off and come and eat. “But Mom, it’s only got three minutes left!” they cry. Rather than having to leave the kitchen and go harangue your children to do as they have been asked — thereby starting off the family meal on a sour note — simply whip out your smart phone while still in the kitchen, open the smart plug app, and turn the TV off.
All you need to do is plug your TV into a smart plug and leave it on standby. You can now set schedules so the TV won’t come on before 8 a.m. or after 7 p.m., or have it automatically turn off if it’s been on for more than two hours. The options are limitless, and can be tailored to your unique situation. Additionally, if you have a smart plug that’s compatible with the Amazon Echo, you can avoid the pain of having to rummage for the remote. You can turn it on just by asking Alexa, Echo’s virtual personal assistant, to do it for you.
2. Cure the Fear of the Dark
The TP-Link Wi-Fi Smart Plug goes into your regular outlet and lets you control it from your smartphone — or with your voice, if you have a compatible device.
“Time for bed,” you tell the children. “But it’s dark in my room! I’m too scared to go upstairs alone!” they reply. With a bedside or hallway lamp plugged into a smart plug, you can turn the lights on for your little one from downstairs, so they can start getting ready for bed while you finish cleaning up dinner.
It also works great as a nightlight controller. Leave the light on for them once you’ve tucked them in and program it to turn off automatically 30 minutes later — when you know they’ll be sound asleep. It can then come back on 30 minutes before they normally wake up, helping them feel safe and comfortable and helping you save energy and avoid the danger of a bright light waking them up in the middle of the night. You can also pair a smart plug with a motion sensor by their bed, so if they do get up in the middle of the night, the light will turn back on for them.
3. Make Sure Dinner’s Always Ready on Time
An ongoing struggle for modern families is orchestrating dinnertime. Slow cookers are a great solution to this problem. Simply throw the ingredients in before you leave in the morning, and come home to a hot meal ready to eat. By using a smart plug on your slow cooker, you can avoid the danger of dinner being overcooked because Peter’s soccer match went into overtime, or because Mom got stuck at the office. You can control it from wherever you are. You can check in and see how long it’s been on and turn it off if necessary. It’s also a great tool for when you’ve had the presence of mind to get the food into the crock pot, but forgot to actually turn it on before you left the house.
4. Have Coffee Already Made in the Morning
The Leviton Smart Outlet works with Wink Home Automation System to let you remotely control anything you plug into it.
Smart plugs have lots of uses in the kitchen because they can turn any basic appliance into a smart one. This is the biggest convenience with the coffeemaker. Plug any regular coffeemaker into a smart plug, load it up the night before, and program the smart plug to turn on 20 minutes before your alarm goes off. Voila, an instant programmable machine that will make sure you wake up to piping hot coffee every morning — a must for every parent.
5. Remotely Turn Off the Curling Iron
Smart plugs are an excellent safety tool. Using their smart software, you can make sure any potentially dangerous items, such as hot glue guns or space heaters, are safely turned off even if the user forgets. Say your teenage daughter loves her curling iron, but never remembers to shut it off in the morning. Plug it into a smart plug and set it to automatically turn off after 30 minutes of use. You can also remotely check in via the app to see if it’s off. No more turning around halfway into the drive to school because she thinks she may have left it on!
6. Program Holiday Lighting Schedules
There’s so much else to think about during the holidays that remembering to turn your Christmas trees lights or festive outdoor decorations on or off shouldn’t be a burden on your already overloaded mind. Leaving them on unnecessarily can create a safety hazard, too, so take some of the stress out of the season with a smart plug.
Just set your desired schedule in the app and have the lights turn on and off at optimum times — long enough to keep the magic of the holidays alive, but not so long as to be wasting energy when everyone’s asleep. Smart plugs can also be set to come on and off at sunset and sunrise, so you can be sure your home is glowing softly at the appropriate times all season long.
These simple uses for smart plugs are an excellent way to dip your toe into the smart home pool and see if you like it. If you find this type of home automation fun and useful, you can add other products such as: smart lighting, door locks, and thermostats to your setup. One particularly useful gadget to consider adding to your household is a smart security camera. These plug-and-play devices just require Wi-Fi and a power source to help you keep an extra eye on your children. Use them as a baby monitor, memory catcher, regular security camera or impromptu-teenage-house-party destroyer. Plus, the more smart devices you have, the better they can work together to keep your home running smoothly and safely. This means less work for you and more time to focus on having fun with your family. Now that’s a smart house!
Jennifer Tuohy is a technology maven who can't get enough. From smart home technology to cool security cameras, Jennifer provides useful advice on how to easily navigate the tech waters. To learn more about using smart plugs with your surveillance camera system, visit The Home Depot.