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I recently had some outlets installed on the outside of my house as part of an extension being built. This got me thinking whether I could use smart plugs outside to extend my smart home to the outdoors.
Smart plugs can be used outside, but only those that have designed for outdoor use should be used. Those designed for use outside are more rugged and will have received an official IP rating to prove it has been tested to withstand most weather conditions throughout the entire year.
I did some research into how you could make use of a smart plug outside and whether there are any major differences between those used indoors or outdoors. What I found is that they are very similar, but there are a few things you should check for before using a smart plug outside.
Why Use a Smart Plug Outside?
You may be wondering why would you even want to use a smart plug outside? There are actually several uses for a smart plug that can save you time and money as well as making life more convenient for you.
Most people when starting their smart home will just think of automating the indoor space, but there are some opportunities for outdoor automations as well.
Let’s take a look at some ways you could use a smart plug outside.
Pool Filter Pumps
If you have a pool, it is important to make use of a filter pump otherwise it will quickly turn into a dirty mess where the bacteria and dirt remains in the pool.
Especially if you make use of the pool a lot, you need to make sure it is filtered frequently enough, but not everyone remembers this and just filter their pool as and when they think about it.
Depending on the size of the pool, some can take as long as 12 hours to be filtered thoroughly with a recommended break of a couple of hours in the middle.
If you are having out for the day and want to have the pool be filtered whilst you are gone, there normally wouldn’t be anyone there to stop the filter halfway through.
This is where an outdoor smart plug can come in really handy.
Hook up your pool filter pump to the smart plug and set a schedule in which it should be powered on and filtering the pool whilst including a break in the middle where it is powered off again.
This saves you having to remember the ins and outs of filtering your pool whilst also keeping it clean and bacteria-free.
Smart plugs are perfectly suited for outdoor lighting especially when the smart lighting systems designed to be used outside can be quite expensive.
You can setup a very affordable DIY smart lighting system outdoors simply by connecting a regular lighting system to a smart plug.
Although you may not get as much control such as the ability to change the color of the lights with your voice, but you will at least be able to have them turn on and off as well as incorporate them into your smart home routines.
A particularly popular use is around the holiday season where you probably have lots of different lights set up outside. If you plug them into an outdoor smart plug, you can easily control them through your smartphone as well as have them automatically turn off at a certain time of night, so you aren’t wasting electricity by forgetting to turn them off.
Some outdoor plugs can monitor how much energy a particular device plugged in to it is using which can give you a good idea of how much it costs to run.
They also allow you to limit how much energy is used, so a power-hungry device could still be used without causing your electricity bill to skyrocket.
Lawn and Irrigation Systems
One of my favorite uses for a smart plug outside is to have it automate your lawn sprinklers and irrigation systems.
You can have your sprinkler system that is connected to a smart plug come on automatically when certain conditions are met.
Using IFTTT, you could have the smart plug decide whether top provide the sprinklers with power depending on the weather forecast.
If it is due to be dry, they will come on, but if rain is forecast, they won’t.
Of course, the weather forecast isn’t always correct, but you still get thee convenience of being able to turn all your lawn and irrigation systems on through the app or a voice command thanks to the outdoor smart plug.
For those of you with outdoor features such as water features, patio lighting or outdoor electric heaters, outdoor smart plugs can make an excellent addition to your backyard.
Water features can be powered on and off according to a schedule to save on money whilst also improving its lifespan, patio lighting can come on automatically and certain times of the evening and then turn off again when you head to bed, and the outdoor heaters could be incorporated into a routine so they come on automatically if the temperature drops below a certain point.
Anything that uses mains electricity can be used with an outdoor smart plug, so there are many opportunities for automations to save on time and money.
Fans, heaters and lights are all used with a greenhouse to maintain the optimal conditions for different plants to grow, so a smart plug allows you automate all these tools as well as giving the option of controlling them remotely.
If you are away from home and suddenly remember you didn’t switch the heater off when you should have, all you need to do is turn off the smart plug it is connected to through the app.
Not only does this save you wasting electricity unnecessarily, but also greatly improves the chances of your plants surviving and continuing to flourish.
Is There a Difference Between Indoor and Outdoor Smart Plugs?
In terms of functionality, indoor and outdoor smart plugs work in exactly the same way.
They make a dumb outlet smart by allowing you to control it through an app, your voice assistant or as part of a larger smart home ecosystem.
The major difference between indoor and outdoor smart plugs is that those made for outdoor use have been designed specially to protect the internal components from weather.
That’s not to say they only protect against the rain. They provide protection against many different weather conditions including vast changes in temperature as well as varying humidity.
You’ll also find that a lot of outdoor smart plugs have a protective shell and come with a bracket that allows you to secure the plug in place against a wall.
This bracket can come in handy as it allows you to position the plug in such a way that it is protected that little bit more. The recommendation is to have the outlets facing down where they won’t be as exposed to the rain.
Installing your smart plug against the wall using the bracket is not only very simple to do, but makes for a much cleaner, better looking setup whilst also making it more secure and providing additional protection.
It may well be physically possible to connect an indoor smart plug to an outlet outside; however, this is definitely not recommended. You may think it works for a short while before inevitably failing due to it not being designed to withstand the weather.
Can Outdoor Smart Plugs Be Voice Controlled?
Most outdoor smart plugs can be voiced controlled and are compatible with the likes of Alexa, Google Assistant or Siri.
They be used solely with your voice assistant or can be integrated into a larger smart home ecosystem where a hub is used to control all your smart devices.
Once the smart plug is paired with your voice assistant, it is really easy to voice control it. You could have the plug power on some outdoor lights or a stereo system from the comfort of the indoors.
Are Smart Plugs Waterproof?
Even smart plugs that have designed for outdoor use are not waterproof, but they are considered weatherproof.
You may be wondering what exactly the difference is between waterproof and weatherproof devices. There is actually a very distinct difference between the two.
Waterproof devices have been designed to be submerged underwater and essentially don’t let any water in or out.
Weatherproof devices are resistant to the effects of bad weather like rain and hail but have not been designed to be submerged under water.
By knowing this distinction between the two, it is easy to see why manufacturers will design their product to be weatherproof but not go to the extent of making it waterproof.
I don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t plan on going swimming with my outdoor smart plug!
If it isn’t clear through the product description whether a smart plug is weatherproof or waterproof, have a look for its IP rating. Those that have been rated IP7 can be submerged underwater and are therefore considered waterproof.
IP rating stands for International Protection Rating and is used to describe the level of protection a device has against both solid objects and various forms of moisture.
The first digit describes the degree of protection against solid objects whereas the second digit describes the level of protection against moisture.
If either of the digits have been replaced with an X, this indicates that it has not been rated for that particular specification.
That’s not to say it offers zero protection; just that it hasn’t been tested and officially confirmed to be protected.
I did some research into several different outdoor smart plugs to compare their IP rating as well as the operating temperature they can safely work within.
|Outdoor Smart Plug||IP Rating||Operating Temperature (°F)||Operating Temperature (°C)|
|POWRUI||IP44||-22°F – 104°F||-30°C – 40°C|
|VAVOFO||IP44||-4°F – 140°F||-20°C – 60°C|
|GE Enbrighten||None||32°F – 104°F||0°C – 40°C|
How to Protect a Smart Plug Outdoors
You should have confidence that outdoor smart plugs that have received an IP rating will be able to withstand bad weather conditions, but what if the weather is particularly harsh where you live? Is there anything you can do to provide some additional protection?
I’ve already mentioned using the included bracket to attach the plug to the wall with the outlets facing down to provide additional protection from the rain, but you may also want to consider a sockitbox to place the smart plug in.
They create a sealed chamber for the plug with the ability to run in and out multiple cords whilst also coming in different sizes and colors.
Another benefit in addition to keeping electrical connections safe and dry is that Z-Wave signals will happily pass through the box so you can continue using this wireless protocol instead of falling back to using Wi-Fi.
If your smart plug has an IP rating, you should be fine using it outdoors. That is what they have been designed for after all.
But if you experience really bad weather regularly, it wouldn’t hurt to also install a sockitbox given that they are so affordable and provide that extra bit of protection that can go a long way.
Do Outdoor Smart Plugs Need Special Wiring?
Outdoor smart plugs don’t require any special wiring; they are exactly the same as those designed for indoor use whilst having a rugged exterior designed to protect against the weather.
When it comes to installing an outdoor smart plug, you simply need to plug it into an outlet just as you would inside.
Make sure the accompanying app is installed and your voice assistant can see it to interact with and you’re away. The only time you may need to perform some additional setup is if you are choosing to connect it to your smart home’s hub.
Do Outdoor Smart Plugs Use More Power?
Outdoor smart plugs won’t use any more power than a regular smart plug that is used indoors.
Just like an indoor smart plug, those used outside consume very little power themselves and have the similar capacity in terms of the total wattage they can handle.
Again, the only real difference between smart plugs that are used outside with those used inside is the rugged exterior shell that makes them weatherproof; everything else works in the same way.
Things to Consider Before Using a Smart Plug Outside
I’ve already mentioned it, but I’ll say it again as it is important to make sure the smart plug you intend to use outside has received an official IP rating.
I would recommend one that has an IP rating of at least IP4 to protect it from splashing water, but you may want to consider going one step further and getting one that is IP5 rated if the weather gets particularly bad where you live.
Another consideration before setting up your smart plug outside is that falls within the range of your Wi-Fi network. If it is too far away, it won’t receive the signal it needs to be controlled remotely, making it pretty redundant as a smart plug.
Wi-Fi networks typically have a pretty short range, especially if you are using the 5 GHz band.
If you are placing your outdoor smart plug a substantial distance from your router, you may want to consider and outdoor wireless access point.
Like the smart plugs themselves, these have been designed for outdoor door and do an excellent job of extending the Wi-Fi signal and broadcasting it outside for you.
You could also consider using a mesh Wi-Fi system.
This works much like a Wi-Fi repeater to extend your wireless network further but also work seamlessly. As you move around both indoors and outside, the mesh network will automatically determine which mesh device is closest to you and transfer the signal.
To make things even easier, mesh networks also share the use of a single SSID.
If your smart plug can use Z-Wave and Zigbee protocols in addition to Wi-Fi, you will be pleased to hear that they form a mesh network to extend their range as well.
It could also be worth using a smart home hub and an outdoor smart plug that uses Z-Wave or Zigbee if you are finding that the Wi-Fi signal is the limiting factor within your smart home.
Samsung do their own routers which also double as SmartThings hubs, offering the best of both worlds in the form of the improved range of mesh Wi-Fi whilst also being compatible with Z-Wave and Zigbee devices.
Set up one of these hubs as close to your backyard as you can, whilst keeping it inside, and you’ll get the benefits of a better Internet connection and use of Z-Wave and Zigbee outside.
With the massive range of different smart plugs to choose from, picking one can be overwhelming and get quite difficult. Some will not be compatible with certain voice assistants, some will only work over Wi-Fi, and not all will have been designed for outdoor use.
When choosing a smart plug for use outside, just remember to make sure that it has received an IP rating to show it has been thoroughly tested and confirmed for outdoor use. I would also suggest you consider what you are planning on using the smart plug for and whether it is compatible with your existing smart home devices before making your final decision.
I hope this article has helped give you a better understand on the use of outdoor smart plugs and the differences between those that can only be used indoors.