Use smart plugs to manage higher energy cost due to working from home
Coronavirus disease COVID-19 pandemic has forced many people to work from home for months. Even though businesses are resuming operations gradually, work from home is a new normal now. Since more people are working and staying at home all day long, energy bill will increase. As one of the easiest and fasted methods for smart home DIY, smart plugs are also the logical choice to manage energy cost.
There’re endless creative ideas on using smart plugs. However, many of them can easily be satisfied by mechanical or digital outlet timers which are a lot cheaper. Why would anyone want to spend more on smart plugs then?
Let’s look at some of the most popular and creative recommendations for smart plugs and see if they really save cost, if any.
Switching Lamps with Smart Plugs
Lamp switching is one of the most popular, if not the most popular, recommendations for smart plugs. The biggest benefit is that we can schedule when to turn the desk lamp on during working hours and when to turn it off during break time.
Similarly, mechanical timers are built for turning on and off electronics including lamps at fixed schedules. They’re more cost-effective than smart plugs for this purpose.
Another benefit is that we can set ‘away mode’ in smart plugs. That means the lamps turn on and off randomly creating the illusion that someone is at home. The intention is to discourage the would-be burglar from targeting our home.
Likewise, some digital outlet timers are programmable for switching electronics randomly. They’re more cost-effective than smart plugs too.
We need better reasons that the above 2 scenarios to justify the more expensive smart plugs. The following features are not available in conventional timers:
- View the status of the lamps on smartphone while far from home
- Change the lamp switching schedules remotely from smartphone
- Control the lamps switching with voice via smart speaker like Amazon Echo which extremely useful for touch-free operation
- As an integral part of smart home system where the lamp switching is triggered by motion detector or other smart devices.
If we can live without the conveniences above, then we should stick to conventional timer plugs for a fraction of the cost. They are also readily available in local hardware stores near us.
Scheduling Coffee Machines
Another popular recommendation for smart plugs is to schedule when to turn on coffee machine. By the time we’re ready for coffee break, the coffee is hot and aromatic. When we’re done, the coffee machine turns off automatically.
Since the schedules to turn on and off are fixed, mechanical timers can do this job easily. They’re more cost-effective than smart plugs in this regard.
What about having different schedules for coffee machine during weekdays, weekends or holidays? In this case, our coffee hours during off days are likely to be different from working days.
Digital outlet timers are programmable for a week of schedules. Therefore, they’re more cost-effective than smart plugs.
To justify the use of more expensive smart plugs, we should have similar needs like lamp switching. Otherwise, we should stick to conventional timers.
Limiting TV Screen Time
Without supervision, most kids will keep on watching animated TV shows for eternity. Same apply to adults who have weak resistant to long TV break time. And whoever switch off the TV in the middle of the show will invite hatred instantly.
Since the schedules to turn on and off are fixed, mechanical timers can do this job easily. They’re more cost-effective than smart plugs.
For various TV schedules throughout the day, mechanical timers are designed for this task. If we need different TV schedules for week days and weekends, then digital outlet timers are more suitable.
Smart plugs are handy when we need the following features:
- Monitor the TV power status on smartphone while far from home
- More convenient than programming smart TV to power on and off automatically
- Use our voice to turn TV on and off once we’ve added smart speaker like Amazon Echo, but kids will likely to turn it with their voice
Controlling Fans and Air Conditioners
Not sure why anyone would want to turn on the fans and air conditioners while nobody is at home. When someone is at home, that someone should do the job. There’re smart plugs advertised for keeping the pets cool by turning the fans on automatically. We always wonder how the pets know that they should stay in front of the fans.
We may need smart plugs when we really want the following conveniences:
- Measure the power consumption of these appliances, then smart plugs with energy monitoring function is necessary
- Turn these devices on and off with our voice via smart speaker like Amazon Echo without touching the switch
Timer for Humidifiers and Space Heaters
There are recommendations on using smart plugs for humidifiers and space heaters. Frankly speaking, we don’t really understand why smart plugs are recommended for these devices.
Since the schedules to turn on and off are fixed, mechanical timers can do this job easily. They’re more cost-effective than smart plugs for this purpose.
Even if we need to turn humidifiers or heaters on and off every hour, we can do that with mechanical timers easily.
We don’t really need remote function either because we don’t need to turn them on when we’re not there physically. Even if we prefer a warmer room to step in, mechanical timers are designed for this purpose.
We don’t really need smart plugs for humidifiers or space heaters unless we want to:
- Measure the power consumption of these devices, then smart plugs with energy monitoring function is useful
- Turn these devices on and off with our voice via smart speaker like Amazon Echo without leaving the cozy bed
Automating Christmas Lights with Smart Plugs
Maybe some of us prefer automated Christmas lighting during Christmas festive season. Or we like to have the lights on and off randomly for different days.
For fixed schedules, use mechanical timers. For random schedules within a week, use digital outlet timers. They’re more cost-effective than smart plugs.
It’s strange that anyone would want to control Christmas lights while away from home. Furthermore, Christmas lights are useful for about 1 to 2 months only per year. If the purpose is to discourage the would-be burglars, then smart lights and smart security are more efficient.
There’s no solid reason to use smart plugs here unless we prefer to use our voice to turn Christmas lights on and off with smart speaker like Amazon Echo. Maybe we prefer to have all switching in touch-free operation.
Switching Off Heated Irons Automatically
Normally ironing time is not really fixed like turning on coffee machine. We iron clothes whenever we’re free or when we’re forced to. It can happen during weekends, the night before or few minutes before we rush for work.
In this case, the schedules to turn on and off are NOT fixed, conventional timers are not designed to do this job.
This’s a good candidate for smart plugs. The timing function we need is off-timer, i.e. turn iron off automatically after 10 minutes, half an hour etc. This function is generally not available in mechanical or digital outlet timers.
Of course, smart plugs offer more than just off-timer function. We should make full use of other intelligent functions in smart plugs like:
- Cost-effective solution for standard irons without auto power-off function
- View the status of the iron on smartphone to ensure that the power is off
- If the power is not turned off due to programming error, we can turn it off via app while far from home
- Use our voice to turn off iron once we’ve added a smart speaker like Amazon Echo where the operation is touch-free
However, if we can always remember to turn off the iron, then we don’t need smart plugs or any timer for that matter.
Controlling Charging Duration of Laptop
As a result of work from home, we need to charge laptop and mobile devices more often than ever. Normally, we need to charge every one of them at least once a day. Maybe more often when we attend video conference for hours everyday. And we don’t like to charge them all the time since this will shorten the lifespan of the batteries.
Unfortunately, we can’t really schedule when to charge laptop and mobile devices because we charge them only when the power level is low. Or before we go to sleep. However, it’s a challenge to remember when to switch the charger off.
Since the schedules to turn on are NOT fixed, conventional timers are not designed to do this job.
Similar to ironing, it’s difficult to fix the starting time to charge these devices. Even though we know the charging duration is within hours. This is another good candidate for smart plugs.
Once we’ve decided to use the off-timer function in smart plugs, we might as well make full use of other intelligent functions like:
- Save energy cost on not charging the batteries or power banks more than necessary which could be dangerous, eg fire hazard
- If the battery is fully charged before off-timer expires, we can reduce the charging duration for the next charging cycle
- Use our voice to turn on charging once we’ve added a smart speaker like Amazon Echo where touch-free operation is always desirable
Of course, if we’re able to turn off the chargers manually on time every time, then we don’t need smart plugs.
Smart Plugs or Conventional Outlet Timers
The above scenarios are some of the most popular recommendations for smart plugs. It gives us a pretty good idea when it makes sense to use them and when it doesn’t. In future, smart plugs may become so affordable that the unit cost is no longer an issue. Until then, we can save more by using cheaper mechanical timers to do the same job.
On the other hand, if touching switches frequently is a concern, then smart plugs are good candidates for touch-free operation.
Stay safe and be socially responsible.
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