How Do I Choose the Right Smart Outlet?

By Vernon Trollinger, January 25, 2017, Home Improvement

Welcome to the How Do I Do This? series from Bounce Energy. Each month, we’ll dive into what it what you need to know to shop-for, install, or repair those things in your home to keep your life affordable and convenient. Plus, you’ll (hopefully) learn some useful tips for other projects along the way.

How to Choose the Right Smart Outlet

How Do I Choose the Right Smart Outlet? | Bounce Energy Blog

No, this is NOT a smart outlet. In fact, this might be a safety hazard.

As developing Internet of Things (IoT) devices becoming cheaper, plentiful, and sometimes silly, more homeowners are interested in buying some of these devices for their own home. One in particular receiving its fair share of attention is the smart outlet. This bit of technology allows you to plug in nearly anything – a lamp, kitchen appliance, television, you name it – and then control it remotely with your smartphone, tablet, or laptop.

But with so many kinds of smart outlets available, from the basic to specialized, it can be confusing for homeowners to decide which might be the best one for them.

To help you decide how to choose the right smart outlet before you start shopping, we will first discuss the basics of smart outlet technology and then compare several key models currently on the market.

Smart Outlet Technology

How Do I Choose the Right Smart Outlet? | Bounce Energy Blog

Your home’s WiFi router – now controlling more of your home than ever before.

 

For any IoT device, including smart outlets, you need to understand what communication protocol it uses. You should already know that your home home wireless network uses WiFi and that your smartphone, tablet, and laptop use both Bluetooth and WiFi. And because of the recent reduction in chip sizes, many IoT devices are coming to market using Bluetooth or WiFi.

At the same time, many IoT devices (particularly those part of a packaged system) operate using a format like Zigbee or Z-wave or Insteon. These need to be connected to a Home Area Network Device (HAN) or hub in order to interface with a home network. However, not all HAN’s offer cross-protocol capability like the Samsung SmartThings Home, but more manufacturers, like Wink, are incorporating features that make their hubs cross-compatible.

Plugging into the Power

How Do I Choose the Right Smart Outlet? | Bounce Energy Blog

Not ready to install your own smart outlets? Talk to our friends at Mister Sparky for assistance!

When it comes to smart outlets, there are really only two kinds now:

  1. The “plug-n-play” WiFi kind that you stick into an existing outlet (usually just one socket).
  2. The hardwired receptacle outlet that relies on Zigbee or Z-wave or Insteon. Installation takes some electrical skill. Though it’s not technically difficult, if you’re nervy about electrical wiring, hire a professional. The costs for such installations have averaged above $50 in recent years, but they’re coming down.

The only Bluetooth contender was the Smart Outlet by Nyrius. It’s still available for $9.97, but you should hurry, as Nyrius has discontinued it.

Outlets Have a Specific Safety Rating

When you understand that a smart outlet works by sending out a radio transmission of some kind, it’s pretty obvious that, because of the electronics involved, it’s likely to have some limitations on the electrical load flowing through it. You don’t want electrical noise or heat rendering the “smart” part of your outlet useless.

Thus, all the wall outlets we examine use standard household current – 120 volts AC @ 60 hertz. The average residential socket is usually rated between 15 and 20 amps. Most of these outlets handle loads of 15 amps and 1,800 watts, though several are rated much lower. Consequently it’s a good idea to keep in mind what devices you’ll plug into your smart outlet, complete with a rough idea of how much power it uses.

WiFi Outlets

How Do I Choose the Right Smart Outlet? | Bounce Energy Blog

Who could have predicted that we’d have the ability to turn off a desk lamp from across the country using merely an outlet and phone?!

WeMo Insight Switch monitors your electronics and will send information about the device’s energy usage directly to your smartphone or tablet.

TP Link HS1100 KIT provides remote access, scheduling, energy monitoring, an away mode, and Amazon Echo voice control. Rated at 15 amps. a two-pack currently sells for about $65.

iHome SmartPlug is also compatible with Wink, Siri via Apple’s HomeKit, and Nest. Like other plug-n-play outlets, it fits into a standard socket with an electrical load of 15 amps and 1,800 watts.

D-Link Smart Plugs deliver two models rated to 15 amps and 1,800 watts.

  • The DSP-W110 model (under $40 at Amazon) provides scheduling and smartphone app control.
  • The DSP-W21 offers scheduling, app control, thermal control to turn off overheating appliances, and energy usage information.

HAN-Hub Dependent Outlets

How Do I Choose the Right Smart Outlet? | Bounce Energy Blog

SmartPower Outlet is a ZigBee plug-and-play outlet that requires the SmartThings Hub.

The Samsung SmartThings Outlet is a similar model, except that it incorporates a ZigBee repeater to extend the network range to more devices. It has a maximum general purpose load of 12 amps with a maximum incandescent lamp load of 480 Watts.

Insteon offers two hard-wired receptacles:

  • The Insteon Dimmer Outlet has a dimmer in the upper socket (labeled “Lamps Only”) that can handle a maximum of 300 watts or 2.5 amps. The bottom outlet is essentially a regular socket and is always on.
  • The On/Off Outlet features two independently controllable sockets.

Both require an Insteon hub for smart phone or tablet control. Their newer hub is Apple HomeKit-enabled which allows you to connect more devices to your IoT network and control them with your iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, Apple Watch, or voice control with Siri.

Leviton DZR15-1BZ is a Z-Wave enabled 15 Amp hard-wired receptacle with LED locator lamps. Only the top outlet is controlled, and it’s compatible with Wink, SmartThings, and Amazon Echo, though it requires Wink or a SmartThings hub. With built-in transient surge suppression, it has an electrical load of 1,800 watts for incandescent bulbs and a CFL/LED load up to 450 watts. It currently sells for under $40.

GoControl Z-Wave WO15Z-1 is a hard-wired receptacle with a single outlet that allows remote ON/OFF control of loads connected to the bottom outlet, while the top socket is powered all the time. It’s compatible with Z-Wave systems and hubs and has an electrical load of 15 amps and maximum wattage of 1,800 watts .

GE Z-Wave In-Wall Smart Outlet is a hard-wired outlet with one always-on outlet on top and one Z-Wave controlled outlet on the bottom. With a blue LED indicator lamp, it’s compatible with Z-Wave systems and hubs, and has an electrical load of 15 amps and 1,800 watts.

Do you use any smart outlets in your home? Do you have any recommendations for your fellow readers? Share with us in the comments!

Disclaimer: This article does not endorse the above-mentioned products directly, as it is intended for information purposes only. User experience may vary, and your results can different. Please consult the manufacturer of the products mentioned for more specific information about performance and purpose.

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About 

A native of Wyomissing Hills, PA, Vernon Trollinger studied writing and film at the University of Iowa, later earning his MA in writing there as well. Following a decade of digging in CRM archaeology, he now writes about green energy technology, home energy efficiency, DIY projects, the natural gas industry, and the electrical grid.

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