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4 smart, convenient new power outlets

Most of us rarely give a thought to the humble wall outlet, even though this little device brings to life most of the equipment in our homes. From the first drip of morning coffee to the hum of the dishwasher at day’s end, receptacles help make it happen.

After decades without much appreciation, wall outlets are now going the way of other home appliances – they are getting smarter. We’re using them to figure out how much power a device is drawing, and we’re pairing them with smartphones to monitor and control our machines.

Swapping out a wall outlet might seem like a daunting task, but experienced do-it-yourselfers often can tackle this project on their own. Just make sure the breaker to the outlet is in the off position first.

If you’re not comfortable working with electricity, a professional electrician can sometimes install a smart outlet in less than 30 minutes. Here are a few to consider:

Power 2U

Most of our mobile devices are charged by USB cables and similar hookups. Meanwhile, the outlets in our homes are often older and not equipped to connect with those devices. The Power 2U outlet solves this problem by adding two USB ports to the two standard sockets. That means you can recharge your device without an adapter, which frees space for equipment that needs a standard plug. Small sliding doors on the USB outlets cut power when a device isn’t attached, eliminating the energy draw. $30, www.newertech.com/products/power2u.php.

SafePlug Kitchenette

If you live in an older home, you might be familiar with this scenario: You’re warming a meal in the microwave and you push down the lever on your toaster to brown your bagel and pop! The circuit breaker trips, shutting off the power in your kitchen.

The SafePlug Kitchenette outlet prevents this from happening by shunting power from one device to another to prevent an overload on the circuit. If both your refrigerator and microwave are plugged into the same outlet, for example, this device will cut power to the fridge while you’re using the microwave. When you’re done warming your food, the device will wait for three minutes and return power to the refrigerator. The delay is intended to prevent damage to your appliances. $72, www.safeplug.com/kitchenette-outlet.html.

Kill A Watt

Older appliances could be adding to your monthly electric bill in ways you wouldn’t expect. To find out how much energy your machines are using, plug the Kill A Watt device into an outlet, and then plug in the appliance you want to monitor. The computer inside Kill A Watt will help you study the numbers. Kill A Watt measures energy use in kilowatt hours, just as meters used by utility companies do. Kill A Watt has a forward-facing display. You can monitor energy use by the day, week, month or year. Armed with this information, you’ll have a better idea when it might be time to shop for more efficient appliances. From $24, www.p3international.com.

Zuli

Zuli is a small, sleek box that can give you more control of your home’s electrical products. Plug into an outlet, then connect a lamp or appliance that uses up to 1,800 watts. When you walk into a dark room carrying your phone, Zuli will turn the lights on. It also turns off the power when it senses that you are away. Use Zuli’s smartphone app to schedule a time for the lights to come on or to switch off other devices. Also use it to monitor energy use.

The Zuli system has built-in Bluetooth wireless technology. This means you won’t need to connect to your home’s network. Zuli is taking orders for the device, which is expected to be available early this year. $50, www.zuli.io/#home.

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