Setting a Plug Timer: Learn How to Use Mechanical and Digital Switches

  • To establish a schedule for your devices, position a mechanical plug timer indoors or outdoors and insert the pins at the desired times. This will ensure that your lights turn on at the same time every day.
  • If you prefer more flexibility, program a digital plug timer by specifying the days and times for your devices to receive power. You can set different schedules for each day of the week.
  • Remember to keep your devices powered on while they are plugged into the timer.

  1. Set the current time on the timer by adjusting its dial. Mechanical plug timers can be used both indoors and outdoors. Locate the arrow on the front of the dial on your mechanical timer. Rotate the dial clockwise until the arrow is pointing at the current time. Since most timers are divided into 30-minute intervals, it is not necessary to be precise down to the minute, as long as the arrow is roughly near the correct time.
    • For easier setting, it may be convenient to align the arrow with one of the hours on the dial.
    • Many timers have distinguishable light and dark markings on the numbers to differentiate between AM and PM hours. Others may display the hours in military time format.

  2. Insert the timer pins according to your desired schedule. The small gray buttons around the outer edge of the dial function as the timer pins. Begin with all the pins pulled out as far as they can go. Determine the times on the dial when you want your lights to turn on and press down on all the pins within that range. Keep the pins pulled out for the duration you want your devices to remain powered.
    • If the dial has 2 pins for every hour, each pin represents 30 minutes. Some timers feature 4 pins per hour, with each pin indicating a 15-minute interval.
    • In case your mechanical timer does not have built-in pins, it will include separate pins that need to be inserted. Push the pin into the slot on the inner circle of the dial to determine the activation time, and add a pin to the outer circle to indicate the deactivation time.
  3. Switch the manual switch button to the "Timer" setting. Examine the top or side of your outlet timer for a gray or white switch. If the switch is currently in the "On" or "Off" position, switch it to the label that indicates "Timer" instead. This will ensure that anything you plug into the timer turns on in accordance with the preset intervals.[1]
    • If necessary, you have the option to manually override the timer settings by switching it to "On." If you don't want your devices to remain off even when the timer is operational, you can use the "Off" setting.

  • To avoid water damage and short circuits, make sure to position your plug timer at least 2 feet (0.61 m) above the ground when using it outdoors.
  • 4

    Locate the outlet nearest to your device. Identify the outlet that is closest to where you intend to plug in your lamp. Simply insert the timer directly into this outlet without any intermediate devices.[2]

    • Avoid using extension cords or adapters with your plug timer as they may overheat when your devices are in use.[3]
  • 5

    Connect your electrical device to the timer and activate it. Insert your device's plug into the outlet located on the front or side of the timer. Toggle the switch of the light or device to the "On" position so that it automatically turns on when the timer reaches one of the set intervals.

    • In order to prevent fires, avoid connecting devices such as irons, heaters, and cooking appliances to your timer.
    • Check the electrical rating of your plug timer and compare it to the power requirements of the device you intend to plug in. If the device requires more power than the timer can handle, refrain from plugging it in.
    • To test if your timer is receiving power, switch the manual switch to the “On” position. Your device should immediately power up.
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  • 1

    Press the “Reset” button to clear previous settings. Locate the small “Reset” button on the front or right side of your digital plug timer. If the button is a standard one, simply press it with your finger to erase all the saved time intervals. If the button is small and difficult to press, use a toothpick to press it instead.[4]

    • If you are setting up a new digital timer fresh out of the box, you can skip this step as there are no saved settings.
  • 2

    Adjust the clock to the current time. Begin by pressing the "Clock" button located on the front of the timer and hold it down until the screen flashes. Utilize the "Hour" and “Minute” buttons, or the up and down arrows, to set the clock to the correct time. Then, press the “Week” button until the timer displays the accurate day of the week.[5]

    • Refer to the instructions specific to your plug timer model as you may need to press or hold down different buttons to program the clock and time intervals.
    • Double-check that you have set the AM or PM correctly on your timer to avoid it turning on at the wrong times.
    • Digital timers contain a small internal battery, allowing you to program them without plugging them in initially.
  • 3

    Program the desired times and days of the week for your timer to activate. Typically, you can set up to 8 different cycles for when your timer should turn on, although this may vary depending on the timer model. Follow the instructions provided with your timer. Generally, to program a timer, you will: [6]

    To initiate the first program, begin by pressing the "Timer" button until the display indicates "1 ON" or a similar prompt.

    Continue by selecting the "Week" button until all the desired days for program activation are illuminated. Alternatively, you may encounter specific options such as "Weekdays" or "Weekends" for activating the cycle only during those times.

    Utilize either the arrow buttons or the "Hour" and "Minute" buttons to configure the desired time for your devices to power on.

    Press the "Timer" button once more to establish the days and times when you want your devices to power off.

    If you wish to include an additional program, press the "Timer" button after completing the entry of the time range. This will unveil the next program for editing.

    Next, set your timer to "On-Auto-Off" mode. Locate the "On-Auto-Off" button either below the display or on the side of your timer. Continuously click the button until the display shows "On-Auto-Off," ensuring that your lights and devices solely activate within the programmed intervals.

    When using the "On" setting, your devices will activate automatically but will not deactivate on their own, mimicking the scenario if they were directly plugged in without a timer.

    In "Off" mode, your devices will not automatically activate during the specified intervals.

    Proceed by plugging in both the timer and the devices you intend to control. Identify an outlet in close proximity to the lights or devices you wish to operate during the designated times. First, connect the timer to the wall outlet, and then establish the connection between your device and the outlet located on the front or side of the timer. Switch on the device you have plugged in to allow the timer to automatically power it on during the programmed intervals.

    Ricardo Mitchell

    If you are currently within one of the time ranges set for the timer to be operational, your device will power on immediately. Press the "On-Auto-Off" button until "On" illuminates on the display to test the functionality of your device.

    For added security, you have the option to utilize the "Random" feature, which activates the lights at varying times. If you want to create the illusion of someone being home when you're away, press and hold the "Random" button until it becomes illuminated on the display. Any lights connected to the timer will turn on for random durations throughout the day, thereby misleading potential intruders and enhancing the security of your residence.

    Note that if your timer does not have a designated "Random" button, consult the instructions as you may need to simultaneously press two buttons to activate this feature.

    If you have any further questions about how outlet timers operate, feel free to add a new question.

    Ricardo Mitchell, as the Chief Executive Officer of CN Coterie, leads a fully licensed and insured construction company in the heart of Manhattan, New York. With expertise in various fields like home renovation, plumbing, carpentry, electrical work, and furniture restoration, CN Coterie provides top-notch services to its clients. Additionally, the company specializes in resolving violations issued by the OATH/ECB and DOB. Ricardo himself boasts a decade of experience in electrical and construction work, while his partners collectively possess over three decades of relevant expertise.

    Regarding plug timers, they serve as a remarkable tool for conserving energy and reducing utility expenses. By setting a predetermined time frame, these timers allow you to effectively control the power consumption of outlets. However, it's essential to prioritize safety when utilizing plug timers. To ensure maximum safety, it is advisable to dedicate a specific circuit for the timer's usage. Furthermore, mechanical timers offer superior safety compared to outlet timers. Always remember to avoid using plug timers outdoors as they may be affected by unpredictable weather conditions and temperature fluctuations, potentially compromising the wiring.

    In the ongoing debate between built-in timers and outlet timers, the clear winner for safety and efficiency is the mechanical timer with an individual circuit. These timers provide reliable functionality and give you peace of mind when it comes to energy management in your space.

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    About the Authors

    This documentation was collaboratively composed by Ricardo Mitchell and one of wikiHow's staff writers, Hunter Rising. Ricardo Mitchell functions as the CEO of CN Coterie, a fully licensed and insured construction company specializing in comprehensive home renovations, electrical work, plumbing services, carpentry, cabinetry, furniture restoration, and resolving OATH/ECB (Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings/Environmental Control Board) as well as DOB (Department of Buildings) violations. Situated in Manhattan, New York, CN Coterie is certified by the Lead EPA (Environmental Protection Agency). Having amassed a decade's worth of knowledge in electrical and construction pursuits, Ricardo's partners collectively boast over three decades of relevant experience. This article has been scrutinized by 13 esteemed co-authors.

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    Last Updated: July 23, 2023

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    • "I procured multiple mechanical timers in the prior year. Although I vaguely recall having stored the instructions, locating them proves challenging, and I cannot recollect whether to orientate the pins upwards or downwards to activate the device. This article proves invaluable, serving as the precise resource I required. Most likely, I will reapproach this platform next year with the identical inquiry."... additional information
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