Home Automation 101 - HANDS ON - Controlling a Smart Plug

The easiest and probably least expensive home automation project you can start with is controlling an electrical socket with a Smart Plug.  This lets you control a standard (non-smart) electrical device like a lamp remotely from your iOS or Android mobile phone and lets you setup scheduling as well.  On top of that, it will integrate with Amazon Alexa and give you the convenience of voice control.

Smart Plugs

This article will cover the TP-Link Smart Plug.  This is a relatively inexpensive device that lets you control anything you can plug into it.  The mobile software controls the device (on/off) and also lets you setup a schedule, start a count-down timer (to either turn it on or off after a predetermined length of time) and it also has an Away mode which lets you set a start time, end time and which days to repeat the schedule.  There are many other plugs you can choose from and they have pretty similar capabilities.  This one is the best value and functionality I have found.

There is a button in the front of the smart plug which can also turn the associated electronic device on and off.  One thing you will not be able to control with this smart plug is any light that can be dimmed.  There are other models of home automation, but this one does not handle it.

An advantage to the TP-Link Smart Plug is that it does not require an additional home automation hub.   You can have just one Smart Plug (which works great on it's own) or you can have multiple ones throughout your home.  I have seen reports of some people with 25-30 of these in their house.

You probably want to stay away from high wattage electrical devices through the TP-Link Smart plug.  The ratings for this plug are 100-120V with a maximum load of 15 Amps.

Installation

There really is not any installation required.  Find an open socket, remove the plug from your current electrical device, plug this in, plug the electrical device into it. 

The only complication I can see is that there is considerable bulk to this Smart Plug.  It extends out a good 1.5 inches and is a good 2.5 inches wide and 3.5 inches high.  Bottom line, it is sort of bulky. 

Most outlets have two sockets, so if you use the TP-Link in the bottom one, it will cover the top socket, and you won't be able to use it.  You can put it into the top socket, and still have the bottom one open no problem.  Depending on your setup, you might not want a bunch of extra 'stuff' coming from your wall.  I could see that if the outlet is in a hallway or a visible location.  For sockets elsewhere which are out of direct line of site, it is not that big of a deal.  

If you don't like the way the TP-Link smart plug extends out from the outlet, you can look at other options.  There are products in which you remove the current outlet and replace it with the outlet, inside the wall.  These require installation.

If you have an older home that is not wired for ground, the TP-Link Smart Plug is grounded, so it will physically not fit into the socket.  This is unlikely, but I have lived in an older apartment in the past which was not grounded.

Software Setup

You will want to go get the free Kasa App which is available for iOS and Android.  It is just a matter of following the simple instructions.  You'll setup the WiFi for the device and give it a name.  The name is important, as you'll use it later with voice commands.  Use something that is descriptive and also easy to say. 

You'll be able to give this specific plug a custom icon, which makes it easier to identify in the App.   You'll also need to register with TP-Link by creating an account with your email and a password.

At this point, you have full control of your device with the Kasa App. 

 

Integration with Alexa

Now that you have the light working, the only action left is to add voice control!  This is easy.  Bring up your Alexa Companion App.  Choose Smart Home from the hamburger menu.  Then, choose Get More Smart Home Skills.  Choose TP-Link Kasa and click on the Enable button.  This will require account linking to your TP-Link account.

Now, click on the Discover devices button.  This will check for all connected devices, and add your P-Link Smart Plug to your account. 

That should be enough so that your TP-Link skill is displayed as a valid device in your Alexa Companion App.

Once you have Alexa enabled, you can give it a go with these commands:

  • Alexa, turn on Living Room Light
  • Alexa, turn off Living Room Light

Yes, not much to it.  All we need is to control the light by turning it on or off.

Summary

If you would like to try out a home automation project, setting up a Smart Plug is one of the best.  It is relatively inexpensive, does not require any tools for installation, and has a powerful mobile App for control and additionally can be controlled through voice commands on Alexa.  I highly recommend this smart plug.  I have used one for about six months, and have found it reliable and have never had a problem with it.

 

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