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Tech tips

The differences between smart plugs and switches

Smart this, smart that. Welcome to the Internet of Things (IoT), where everything is connected. Many household items such as TVs, appliances, home security locks and even shower heads and mirrors once required our attention to operate. But not anymore!

Today, these and many other everyday objects are controllable with just the sounds of our voices. Once deemed futuristic, this ecosystem of interrelated tech have become commonplace. Still, many find the list of smart devices a bit overwhelming, and even believe the transition to be cost-prohibitive.

The process doesn’t have to be either. To help pave your way through the IoT, we want to help you start small with smart plugs and switches. We will take a closer look at these devices and clarify their differences. Want a smart home now? Tap or click here for a starter kit idea on what you should buy first.

No hardwiring required

Unlike the days of The Clapper, when you clapped your hands to turn your lights off and on, today, you can complete this task with your voice and a smart assistant like Alexa or Google Home.

Of course, you would need a smart lamp for this voice activation to work and a smart assistant as well. Tap or click to learn how to make a smart assistant even smarter.

If you’ve only got traditional lamps in your home, you can use smart plugs. Any conventional lamp is easy to convert to a voice-controlled light with the use of a smart plug.

This nifty device will fit any standard wall outlet and is a simple way to transform traditional electronics like coffee pots into smart gadgets. Smart plugs do not command any electrical knowledge or hard-wiring experience, and has few setup steps.

Just insert the smart plug into your power outlet, sync it with your mobile device and follow any additional instructions. Connect your appliance to the plug, and you’re good to go.

One advantage of a smart plug is its flexibility. Want to control Christmas tree lights? Use a smart plug. Need to ensure an appliance is off after you’ve already left your home? If your appliance is powered by a smart plug, you can manage it from your smartphone regardless of location.

Maybe you want to control several adjacent devices. Use a multi-socket smart plug. You can even take the smart plug along with you on your travels (minus international trips as outlets vary between countries).

Another advantage is you can schedule when the plug is turned on or off, so whatever device it supports can be on and ready for you when you get home or turned off after you rush out the door. Tap or click to check out 8 clever uses for inexpensive smart plugs that’ll make life easier.

If you’re interested in purchasing a smart plug or strip, here are a few affordable ideas.

Smart plug

This package comes with four plugs that are compatible with Alexa, Google home and IFTTT. They have a compact design and setup is simple. Just plug it in and set up routines or schedules with your compatible app.

Smart power strip

The smart power strip with a Wi-Fi surge protector is compatible with Alexa and Google Home. This one features four USB ports with a 6-foot cord and four smart plugs.

Make it permanent

While smart plugs are ideal for individual appliances like lamps, devices controlled by hard-wired switches, like ceiling light fixtures, require smart switches. If you have vaulted or high ceilings, or fixtures that are difficult to reach, a hard-wired smart switch is perfect.

Options for these smart devices include switches and dimmers, which allow you to turn things on, off or dim your lighting. All you need is a wall switch, smartphone app or voice-activated smart speaker. No need to change any existing bulbs or fixtures to install the switches, and you can manage your lights with a schedule.

RELATED: 4 clever ways smart tech can make your home safer

There are a few things to keep in mind before you start shopping for smart wall switches.These devices replace existing switches, which does involve wiring. This means you will need to either have some electrical know-how or you’ll need to hire an electrician.

Furthermore, because smart wall switches are a permanent (until manually uninstalled) way to manage your lighting, they aren’t suitable if you reside in a rental. You must also take note of your home’s wiring, as many smart switches require a neutral (white) wire that older homes may lack.

Other switches and dimmers necessitate a smart hub to work. So do your research before deciding to purchase smart switches for your home. Unlike smart plugs that can be plugged into outlets, smart switches require more money and a more involved installation process. Here is an affordable smart switch option.

The Kasa smart light switch does require the neutral wire but it is compatible with Alexa and Google Home. The app does provide instructions on how to install it but if you’re not confident, you may be better off calling an electrician.

While you may hesitate when you see the prices of these smart devices, remember you do not have to purchase a plug for every outlet in your home, nor do you need to replace every wall switch.

These devices offer convenience and potential energy savings. The initial investment may be a little costly, particularly for the smart switches, but being able to control when they’re on and off can make a huge difference on your energy bill.

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