If you don’t have an energy monitor, or would like to monitor some appliances in more detail, you could use a smart plug.
These usually look similar to normal extension plugs or cables that fit into sockets at the wall. But they can control the appliances that are plugged into them remotely, and you can monitor their energy consumption via your smart phone.
Prices start at around £10.
Smart plugs allow you to:
- Monitor energy consumption of individual appliances.
- Turn appliances on or off remotely.
- Set times for appliances to be turned on or off.
- Activate appliances through voice recognition.
Smart plugs are a way of reducing your electricity consumption. You can set times for appliances to turn off when you don’t need them, even when you’re not at home.
You can also identify the appliances that use most power, so you can think about when best to use them. For example, if you are on a time-of-use tariff, you can set appliances to turn on during times where electricity is cheapest.
(Time-of-use tariffs are where you pay different rates per kilowatt hour of electricity at different times of the day. More information on these can be found in our Getting Smarter with Energy fact sheet.)
Smart plugs don’t just potentially save you money but can also help in other ways. If a wall socket is hard to reach, you can turn on or off an appliance that plugs into it via your smart phone or even through voice control. Some smart plugs have ‘away modes’ where they can turn appliances like radios and lights on and off to simulate occupancy while you’re out.
Although smart plugs can remotely control when power is delivered to your appliance, often appliances such as tumble driers, washing machines, and dishwashers do not start their cycles just when power is delivered.
Digital settings often need to be configured or a physical ‘start’ button may need to be pressed. In these cases, the smart plug would only be able to monitor power consumption and would not be able to be used for scheduling when your appliances operate.
With some appliances, you can press ‘start’, cut the power at the wall, and then when the wall switch is pressed again, the appliance will continue operating. If this is the case, you could set your appliance running in the morning, cut the power with your smart plug via the app, and then select a time on the app that you would like the appliance to turn on again. This is usually more typical with older washing machines and tumble driers.
Most smart plugs are easy to install; they simply plug directly into your existing wall socket and your normal appliances are plugged into them. You will also need to download an app to a smart phone or tablet so that you can control your smart plug.
And home wireless connection is also required, and the connection type varies according to what smart plug you have: wi-fi, Bluetooth or Thread (a network that connects a home’s smart devices). Some plugs need an additional hub installed for control outside of the home.
What to consider when buying a smart plug:
- Installation: is it simple, can you just plug it into your existing wall socket?
- Is an additional hub needed?
- What features are needed? Energy monitoring, away mode, scheduling?
- What is the connection type? – Wi-Fi is needed for remote control outside the home; Bluetooth and Thread for at home control.
- What’s the compatibility with voice assistants and other smart devices? Do you need these?
Smart button pusher
If you need to remotely start an appliance and that appliance also doesn’t have an in-built timer, there’s an alternative: an automated button pusher. These devices have a little mechanical arm that flicks a switch or push a button. They are controlled in a similar way to a smart plug, via an app on a smart phone. They start at around £30.