7 Easy Ways to Make Your Home a Little Smarter

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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.

01

Best Smart Plug for Most People

Best Smart Plug for Most People

TP-Link's Smart Plug Mini HS105 is an easy to use plug with wide range of WiFi-related connectivity options. You can fit two of these sleek plugs in one outlet and count on their performance.

Installation and Compatibility

Since this is a 2.4 gHZ WiFi plug, you only need to plug it in and grab your smartphone to set it up. Using TP-Link's Kasa app, you can connect and activate a Smart Plug Mini.

Once your plug is connected, you can integrate it with Amazon Alexa and Google Home so you can control it with your voice. The Kasa app also have a few IFTTT applets in beta testing.

This plug will not integrate with hubs which won't be a dealbreaker for someone looking for a few plugs. If you're building out a smart home, upgrade to the iHome iSP8 plug which also connects with Apple HomeKit, Samsung Smartthings, and Wink.

What Works

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  • The smart plug is WiFi connected and doesn't require a hub. For people with a few smart devices, a hub isn't necessary and using a WiFi network makes setup easier.

  • The plug is small enough to fit two of them in one outlet or leave enough space for a "dumb" plug.

  • It can be voice-activated via Amazon Alexa or Google Smart Assistant.

  • The Kasa App is available on iOS 9 and up and Android 4.1 and up. The interface is sleek and straightforward.

  • You can schedule plugs to turn on at certain times and also activate an Away mode for when you're out of town. Away mode will randomly turn devices (ideally lamps, TVs, radios/speakers) on and off to make it appear as though you are home.

  • You can remotely control your lights through the Kasa App. There's also a countdown feature for those of us who leave the coffee maker or flat iron on from time to time.

What Could Be Better

  • The plug doesn't offer energy monitoring, but there are some alternatives that do. If you don't want to compromise on size, spring for the iHome iSP8 plug. If size doesn't matter, get TP-Link's bulkier HS110 plug. The latter's energy monitoring is more comprehensive, but you would lose access to one outlet.

  • Users report and we can confirm that TP-Link's customer service is lackluster.

Warranty and Customer Support

This smart plug has a two year parts and labor warranty. It's covered under Amazon's and Best Buy's return policies. When it comes to dealing with customer support, assistance is negligible, but the online community of TP-Link IoT users proved to be extremely helpful.

02

Best Smart Switch for Most People, Including Older Homes

Best Smart Switch for Most People, Including Older Homes

If you're looking to overhaul your lighting system, Lutron's Caséta Smart Switches are the way to go. They're reliable and compatible with a wide variety of hubs and smart assistants. Their ability to function in homes with two-wire or three-wire electrical systems makes installation a no brainer.

Installation and Compatibility

Whether they had an older two-wire system or a newer three-wire system, Caséta Smart Switch users overwhelmingly reported easy self-installation. If you're not comfortable messing around with wires, you can also call an electrician.

Once wired up, you'll need to pair the switch(es) to the Lutron Caséta Bridge in order to connect to hubs and smart assistants. The switches are compatible with Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit, Google Assistant, Harmony, Honeywell, IFTTT, Logitech, Lutron (for shades and other dimmers), Nest, SmartThings, Vera, and Wink. If you want to keep things simple, you could just control the switch from your smartphone via the Lutron Caséta app.

What Works

  • You can control the switches from the Lutron Caséta app.

  • Once connected to Lutron Caséta Bridge, the switches are compatible with popular smart assistants and hubs like Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit, Google Assistant, IFTTT, Nest, Samsung SmartThings, Vera, and Wink. The Bridge can connect to a hub, but it's not necessary. You can simply use it to connect to smart assistants.

  • The switches don't require a neutral wire, which means they can be installed in older homes that run a two-wire system.

  • You can set up three-way switches where multiple switches control one light or group of lights.

  • These switches are especially useful in hallways, stairways, and rooms with multiple entrances.

  • Beyond this dimmer starter set, there other switches that simply have on/off buttons or switches that can individually control a light and a ceiling fan/outlet.

  • These switches can also pair with a remote. If voice-activation or your smartphone isn't an option, the remote can control the lights without you having to walk over to the manual switch. The best rooms for remotes would be living rooms and bedrooms.

  • The switches and main wall plates come in four colors: white, ivory, light almond, and black. The smart switches are also compatible with Lutron's Claro wall plates.

What Could Be Better

  • The design of the switch might not be everyone's style. If you're okay with comparably lower reliability but don't want to give up your wide selection of wall plate colors, we recommend Leviton's Decora Smart Switch. It runs a little warmer, but has a more traditional rocker/paddle look.

  • The Lutron Caséta app is a bit faster on Android than iOS, but users on both operating systems report the app can be sluggish at times.

Warranty and Customer Support

Under a one year limited warranty, Lutron will repair or replace any of the items in the starter kit.You can get a refund under Amazon and Best Buy return policies. Lutron's customer support team isn't the speediest, but they are ultimately helpful and considerate.

03

Best In-Wall Smart Outlet

Best In-Wall Smart Outlet

This smart outlet market is incredibly small and this iDevices outlet is the only one that fires on all cylinders. We recommend the iDevices Wall Outlet for its easy installation, compatibility, and energy monitoring feature.

Installation and Compatibility

If you have modern wiring, installation is simple, but you should consider hiring a professional if you're swapping out all of your outlets. Unfortunately, this outlet needs a three-wire system to work. You can hire an electrician to see if a third, neutral wire can be "pulled."

This plug runs on 2.4 gHZ WiFi and Bluetooth, and you won't be able to use a hub with it. In addition to Amazon Alexa and Google Home, this outlet can (occasionally) work with Apple HomeKit.

What Works

  • It doesn't need a hub to work and can use both WiFi and Bluetooth.

  • Each outlet can be controlled individually(!). You'd think this would be a no-brainer, but this is a surprisingly uncommon feature in reliable smart plugs and outlets. Enjoy the power of choice.

  • The outlet fits all standard plates, giving users considerable decor flexibility and customization.

  • You can monitor the energy usage through the iDevices Connected app.

  • Tiny pull-out tabs hold the pairing information in the outlet itself. This is useful for any connection issues and firmware updates that allow hub integrations because you won't have to worry about losing the information.

  • The sockets are child-safe and tamper resistant, so you don't have to worry about your mini Ben Franklins.

What Could Be Better

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  • Apple HomeKit connectivity is buggy. We would recommend using Amazon Alexa or Google Home.

  • The outlet needs a neutral wire, making it incompatible with older wiring setups.

  • They are expensive. You can get 2–4 external smart plugs for the cost of one of these outlets.

  • The app is buggy on iOS and Android, but outlet users seem to have an overall better experience than those using other iDevices.

Warranty and Customer Support

iDevices offers a two-year limited warranty and can be refunded through Amazon's return policies. Customer support reportedly has quick turnaround and a pleasant, patient demeanor, but resolutions can take a few days.

04

Best Smart Plug Dimmer for Lamps

Best Smart Plug Dimmer for Lamps

You make be thinking "Oh, I'll just use the same smart plug on my lamps as I do on everything else." You could do that, but you would miss out on a few features. GE's Wireless Lighting Control Plug-in Dimmer allows you to turn your lamps on and off, and if you haven't guessed, you can dim them. We recommend this smart plug for its ease of use, reliability, dimming properties, and extra outlet.

Installation and Compatibility

This plug can only directly communicate with other Z-Wave devices, but can cooperate with open hubs like Wink or Samsung Smartthings. In order to pair the plug with your hub, your lamp will need to be plugged into the wirelessly controlled outlet.

This plug is also compatible with Pulse, Trane, Nexia, Honeywell, HomeSeer, Smart Security, Harmony Home Hub Extender, Vera, Connect and Iris. With a hub, you can also use Amazon Alexa and Google Home.

What Works

  • As long as the bulb is dimmable, you can connect any lamp with any bulb type to this plug and get full functionality.

  • The plug offers a smart, Z-wave outlet on one side and an always-on "dumb" outlet on the other side. This allows you to control your lamp, but keep items on that don't respond well to being unplugged (like alarm clocks).

  • You can manually control the light with a button on the plug that can toggle it on and off or adjust the brightness. If this is enough for you and you don't need smartphone or smart assistant automation, you don't need a hub.

  • The horizontal design keeps the bottom outlet open, giving you three total outlets.

What Could Be Better

  • A few user reviews report dimmer buzz or flickering lights when using LEDs.

  • Requires a hub in order to be an Internet of Things (IoT) device. A hub is also necessary for Amazon Alexa or Google Home integration.

Warranty and Customer Support

These GE products are manufactured by Jasco and covered under their two year limited warranty. You can get a refund for the plug through Amazon's return policy. Jasco's customer service team is responsive and handles issues efficiently.

05

Best Touchscreen Smart Switch

Best Touchscreen Smart Switch

If you want your home to look as smart as it is, touchscreen light switches can school your home's wiring. There are only a handful of these kinds of smart switches, but we love how Noon embraces traditional switch aesthetics while providing more functionality.

We recommend this lighting system for people with bigger budgets who want a minimalist, futuristic home. If you want a more elaborate touchscreen smart switch, we think you should keep your eyes peeled for Brilliant Control.

Installation and Compatibility

To install this lighting system, you'll need a neutral wire, so its not compatible with older, two-wire systems. The room director uses 2.4 gHZ WiFi and the other switches communicate over Bluetooth Low Energy.

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It only pairs with Amazon Alexa, making it a very light smart device in terms of connectivity.

What Works

  • Though other screens have more detailed features, the simplicity of Noon's switches is where it succeeds. Only the room director switch has a touchscreen display while the other switches look like and can operate as regular switches.

  • You can create lighting scenes for different moods and set schedules based on your day-to-day habits.

  • You can operate the system from the room director switches or from the well-designed smartphone app (iOS and Android). 

  • Noon supports all residential bulbs and automatically knows which lights are dimmable. 

  • You can monitor the energy for all of your lights.

  • The room director switch also houses a motion sensor for activating night lights or just turning on the lights when you get home.

  • You can set custom lighting scenes or use one of three preset scenes and set vacation schedules that follow your typical lighting habits.

  • It's a three-way switch which means you can control one or a group of lights with multiple switches.

  • There's a mechanical click when you turn lights on or off, which doesn't make you reliant on the touchscreen.

  • The switches also fit in mainstream rocker wall plates, which gives you some design flexibility.

What Could Be Better

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  • It currently only works with Amazon Alexa, so it won't integrate with the vast majority of smart hubs, programs, or devices.

  • The system costs considerably more than others without a touchscreen which might not be worth it for some, especially considering:

  • The touchscreen doesn't do much. It simply helps you navigate between preset and custom scenes. But hey, buttons are so 2017.

  • These switches won't work with switch controlled outlets or ceiling fans.

Warranty and Customer Support

The Noon switches are only covered by a one-year warranty. You can get a refund within 14 days if you buy from Noon or Amazon, and within 15 days from Best Buy. Customer support is helpful and responded in a reasonable amount of time.

06

Best Smart Outdoor Plug

Best Smart Outdoor Plug

This smart plug is proof that you don't always need to go for the legacy brand names. Inovelli, a Michigan startup you've probably never heard of, makes a mean outdoor plug. We recommend their Z-Wave Dual Outdoor Plug for its reliability, durability/weatherproofing, and its ease of use.

Installation and Compatibility

This plug communicates with other Z-wave devices and will need an open hub, like Samsung Smartthings or Wink, to coexist with other smart devices. Once plugged in, it should automatically pair with a compatible hub.

This plug works with SmartThings, Wink, Vera, HomeSeer, Staples Connect, Zipamini/Zipato. It needs a hub to work and to integrate with Alexa or Google Home.

What Works

  • The plug has two outlets. One outlet is a standard smart plug while the other is an always-on, regular outlet with a signal repeater. Signal repeaters are standard in smart devices on Zigbee or Z-Wave networks because they help relay commands and strengthen the network.

  • It automatically pairs with major hubs once its plugged in taking the hassle out of setup.

  • You can create schedules for the smart plug.

  • You can turn each each outlet on and off individually or simultaneously. The "dumb" outlet won't be able to run on schedules.

  • The plug is waterproof and built to survive -4ºF to 120ºF.

  • You can turn the outlets off manually by tapping the sides.

  • In addition to compatible hubs listed above, it has limited integration with Honeywell, Nexia, and Piper.

  • Inovelli has great customer service.

What Could Be Better

  • Some users don't think the repeater is strong enough, but most users claim the signal has a good range.

  • It requires a hub to work. If you're not living the hub life, we recommend the somewhat less reliable iDevices Outdoor Switch.

Warranty and Customer Support

What really sets Inovelli apart from the pack is their customer service. They offer fast and comprehensive support in addition to a lifetime warranty. If a lifetime of repairs and replacements doesn't cut it for you, you can get a refund through Amazon's return policy. 

07

Best Smart Plug for Air Quality Control

Best Smart Plug for Air Quality Control

What if your smart plug did more than just turn things on and off? This little device from startup Awair lets you know what you're breathing. If the answer isn't great, it can turn on appliances like air purifiers and humidifiers. We recommend the Awair Glow for its air quality control, reliability, and sleek design.

Installation and Compatibility

This is a WiFi based plug that runs on the 2.4 gHZ network. In order to set up the Awair Glow, download the Awair app and plug it into an outlet. After pairing the plug with your smartphone via Bluetooth, the in-app instructions will help you get it on your WiFi network.

This smart plug won't work with hubs, but it can connect with Amazon Alexa and Google Home. You can also create command triggers in IFTTT.

What Works

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  • The Awair Glow measures temperature, humidity, carbon dioxide, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

  • You can turn the plugged in air quality appliance on and off via schedule, automatically based on the air sensors, or through the app (iOS and Android).

  • You can also activate it by the motion sensor which could be handy in a bedroom. 

  • The plug lights up! There's a color coded LED that lets you know what the general air quality is like in that room. An additional LED ring around the top can be used as a nightlight and activated with the motion sensor.

  • The plug plays nicely with Amazon Alexa, Google Home, and IFTTT.

What Could Be Better

  • The app doesn't specify which VOCs are being measured and the plug cannot detect dust.

  • The Glow cannot connect to any hubs. Given the air quality monitoring aspect of this plug, you would want to get more than one for your home. It would be better if you could fold these devices into a larger smart home infrastructure.

Warranty and Customer Support

The Awair Glow is covered under a one-year limited warranty and refunds are granted within 30 days, both from the company and Amazon. The responsiveness of the Awair support team varies, but they are accommodating and eager to help once they respond.

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.

"Keep in mind that some dumb products simply can't be made smart."

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.

Smart Switches

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.

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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

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To find the smart plugs and switches people really loved, we cross-referenced expert reviews from WirecutterTom's Guide, and CNET with user reviews from Amazon, Best Buy, Home Depot, and Lowe's. 

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.

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The Guide Team