Q: Is there a way to turn on my window air-conditioning units from my office, so my house isn’t hot when I get home?
A: Home automation with remote control over a network – even over the Internet – is available, though generally at a higher cost than the average home-owner would prefer. A cheaper way is to plug your air conditioner into a smart outlet, which, in turn, plugs into your regular outlet. These can be controlled over the Internet via your smartphone or from Web portals.
We like Belkin’s Wemo Switch (sadly, not yet available in South Africa) for its compatibility with If This Then That (IFTTT), an automating service, and ThinkEco’s Modlet, which is used by some utility companies for demand-response programs. As long as your a/c unit isn’t an industrial-size behemoth, and as long as it has either a manual control knob or, if it has digital controls, can restart after a power outage, it should work fine.
Both Belkin and Modlet have smartphone apps that pair with their respective switches and let you flip them on and off from anywhere. Keep in mind that you must leave your a/c on for either smart switch to work, since it turns the entire outlet on and off – stopping and starting the flow of electricity – not the specific device. (The same is true for other appliances, such as lights, that you plug into the Wemo.)
If remembering to remotely turn on the a/c ahead of time is too much for you, opt for the Modlet, which comes with scheduling capabilities, or turn to prewritten Wemo scripts from IFTTT (ifttt.com), such as one that turns on the Wemo every time the outside temperature reaches a predetermined threshold, and another that puts the Wemo on a set daily schedule. Next thing you know, you’ll never have to lift a finger to an on/off switch again.