Getting the Best Smart Sprinkler Controller

The “Internet of Things” has given us home automation by way of talking personal assistants, remote doorbell cameras, wifi bathroom scales, and now your lawn’s sprinkler system.  You may not think much about your old time-dial sprinkler controller, but upgrading to a smart sprinkler controller is easy to do and has plenty of benefits.

A smart sprinkler controller connects to your home’s internet signal to access seasonal information, meteorological forecasts, and local weather conditions.  It processes this data to water your lawn in the most efficient and responsible way possible.  Installing a smart sprinkler controller will save you money on your water bill and keep your lawn as green as healthy as can be.

Your existing sprinkler system consists of several watering “zones” of sprinkler heads piped back to a central point.  This convergence has electrically controlled valves that open and close depending on the sprinkler system head unit’s programming.  When upgrading to a smart sprinkler controller, the only part that needs to be upgraded is that head unit.  The sprinkler heads, pipes, even the valves can all remain the same and be used with the new smart sprinkler controller.

Up until now, sprinkler controllers were stand-alone units that turned the water on and off using a timer.  Older control units may have been simple dip-switches on a dial, newer units may have been programmable by day and hour but the one thing they had in common was their isolation from outside data.  The closest they came to external control was that rain gauge that was supposed to keep your sprinkler from turning on if it was raining outside, and I’ve never seen one of those work as expected…

Enter the Smarter Sprinkler Controller Option

Your new smart sprinkler controller connects to your wifi signal and becomes an integrated piece of your home automation.  In many cases you can ask your automation assistant (Alexa, “Hey Google”, etc…) to water the lawn or to turn off the water simply by issuing a voice command from your living room couch.  This may save the back yard barbecue from getting wet while before you would have had to run to the garage to turn off the sprinklers.  Or if you are away from home, you can pull up the app on your phone and control your sprinklers from anywhere in the world.  Although with the smart sprinkler controller operating your watering schedule, there shouldn’t be much need for you to intervene.

Setting up the smart sprinkler controller is a matter of defining your location and allowing your new controller to pull the local information from a cluster of weather databases.  It incorporates the latest forecasts, historical patterns, current temperature, humidity, winds, pending adverse conditions such as freeze warnings, and even the solar conditions into a schedule to water your lawn as efficiently as possible.

The system also takes evapotranspiration into account when calculating your lawn’s saturation.  Evaporation is the common and understood knowledge that ground water turns back into vapor and is sucked back up into the atmosphere.  Transpiration is slightly lesser known, being the process by which water is absorbed by the roots of a plant, used for nutrients, and then released from the plant into the atmosphere.  Basically, plants sweat and that is transpiration.  Enter your lawn’s landscaping configuration into the program and the science of evapotranspiration will be paired with the rest of the weather data to make sure it waters with surgical accuracy.

Why Make the Switch?

If your conventional sprinkler system is still working just fine you may be asking, “Why should I upgrade to a smart sprinkler controller?”  We have those answers and you’ll be glad you asked.

It all comes down to saving water.  The Environmental Protection Agency monitors our environment and the usage of our natural resources.  Fresh water is a peak commodity especially in areas like southern California where there is no natural water source and all their water comes from afar.  The EPA estimates we use nearly 9 billion gallons of water each day to keep our lawns green and much of that precious water is wasted through inefficient application.  Use of an EPA approved “WaterSense” smart sprinkler controller can cut that number down drastically, saving the average homeowner nearly 8000 gallons annually.

Being a conscientious environmental steward is only the bonus, the real benefit hits us much closer to home, in our wallet.  Those wasted 8000 gallons of water are costly, and you can cut that right off the top of your utility bill.  Efficient watering keeps the lawn healthy and green while keeping more green in your wallet.  In addition to the saved water cost, some local utilities offer rebates for installing a smart sprinkler controller.  Just by using an EPA approved smart sprinkler controller we can save 100 billion gallons of water, and more than $1 billion in costs per year.

Now that you have seen that a smart sprinkler controller can save the environment water and save you money, you need to know what to look for when shopping for your new unit.

Nearly every new unit will be simple and easy to install.  We are replacing just the head unit, the master control box.  Your pipes and sprinkler heads won’t have to change at all, so ease of install is an easy factor to check off the list.

For this endeavor to be worth it to you, make certain the smart sprinkler controller you purchase has the EPA’s “WaterSense” seal on it.  Any app-driven controller can run your sprinklers but for you to get the most out of this investment you’ll want a unit that adheres to the EPA’s guidelines on conserving water and watering efficiently rather than simply limiting water use.  An upgraded sprinkler system isn’t much good if the lawn goes brown or if it doesn’t save you water and money.  Get a WaterSense certified system.

Finding the Best Smart Sprinkler Controller

You want smart sprinkler controller that is actively responsive to the local weather conditions and forecasts.  The more accurate data your system can access, the more efficient your new system will be.  If possible, the system should have highly adaptable programming that can draw from the closest weather stations.  After all, you want your system to turn the sprinklers off if it’s raining at your house, not because it’s raining in Peoria, Illinois.

Any tech product comes with additional bells and whistles at additional costs.  If you want to “set and forget” your system, maybe the lower cost units are appropriate for you.  If you want customizable notifications and alerts, full activity logs and usage reports, maybe you want the higher cost model.  Smart sprinkler controllers are available in a wide range of functionality and form, you can install the unit that best fits your needs.

Rachio Smart Sprinkler Controller

Installing a smart sprinkler controller couldn’t be any easier than with the Rachio 3.  This sleek and stylish controller will be a nice addition to your growing home automation family of appliances.  The available weatherproof enclosure will allow you move your sprinkler controller form the dusty garage to your outdoor watering area.

Available in either 8 or 16 zone models, the Rachio 3 uses their “Hyperlogical Weather Intelligence Plus” system to calculate the best possible way to keep your landscape watering sufficient while remaining efficient.  Using this smart sprinkler controller will save you between 30% and 50% on your monthly water utility bill.

This sprinkler is compatible with common home automation assistants and seamless integrates with your smart home.  Entering your landscape data will allow you to program specific watering schedules for differing zones across your lawn and the “skip” feature will avoid wasting water during rain, freezes, or heavy winds.

Pros

  • Inline flow meter (purchased separately) shuts off zone and alerts you when an uncontrolled leak is detected.
  • Capable of using either the 2.4Ghz or the 5Ghz bands of wifi for reliable connection.

Cons

  • If you do have a problem, online reviews about the customer support are pretty scathing.
  • Expensive unit and rapidly being eclipsed by less expensive competitors.

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Rainmachine Smart Sprinkler Controller

Quickly becoming a favorite smart sprinkler controller among those that want full control and access to their watering schedules, the RainMachine Touch HD-12 is a beautiful controller that gives you plenty of options right at your fingertips.  Recently updated to give you more for your investment, this unit has improved connectivity and compatibility with your smart-home assistants.

Whether you are replacing a small residential 4-zone unit or if you are expanding into a larger 12-zone (16 available) gardening project, this smart sprinkler controller gives you versatility and reliability in the same package.  Instant communication with multiple weather databases and able to connect to your own personal weather station ensures the RainMachine has the best possible data available when calculating your watering schedule.

This model is programmable and functions from the convenient app or right on the touchscreen unit itself.  The face of the unit displays the connection, the forecast and the watering needs rather than just lighting up an LED by zone.  This smart sprinkler controller is truly a controller.

Pros

  • All the landscaping and yard data you enter is kept locally on the unit so even when the wifi is down your RainMachine waters efficiently.
  • Hundreds of options make this a gardener’s dream with split functionality enabling you to micromanage your irrigation plans.

Cons

  • Any highly detailed and computerized system is susceptible to software hangups and glitches.
  • The adjustable sensitivity for wind/sun coverage is across the board and not zone specific.

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Orbit B-Hyve Smart Sprinkler Controller

For those looking for a smart sprinkler controller that is simple, efficient, and reliable but won’t break the bank, the Orbit B-hyve 57915 may be the unit you are looking for.  Only a small step below the more expensive units but a league above the old fashioned timer units, the B-hyve is an excellent compromise between tech and cost.

Direct replacement of your standard-issue home builder 4-zone timer or expansion into an 8-zone yard is a simple matter of moving wires from the old unit to the new one and mounting it to the wall.  An external rain sensor can be wired in right to the terminal board eliminating the need for in-series wiring breaks.

For such a small model, the B-hyve is still an impressive smart sprinkler controller with in-app programming for your lawn’s zones and soil saturation percentages and other yard-specific data culminating in an efficiently watered landscape.

Pros

  • The least expensive model on our list while still being a worthy unit.
  • Simple to install and use, a “set it and forget it” model.

Cons

  • The programming does not take the seasonal changes into account so you will have to edit the programming between summer and winter.
  • More than one review has reported glitchy software watering on days programmed as “off”

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Gro Smart Sprinkler Controller by Scotts

Simple design and simple operation can sum up the Scotts Gro 7-Zone Controller.  Renown for their deep roots in the lawn and landscaping industry, the Scotts company brings us this easily installed and even easier programmed smart sprinkler controller.

Just don’t let that lower cost confuse you with “cheap”, this simple controller does a magnificent job at minimizing water usage while calculating your plants needs and keeping your lawn healthy and green.  Seven zones allow you to expand from the conventional 4-zone home into a greenhouse garden or split a large area’s zone into two.

Real-time weather data tells the system what to expect for rain, sunlight, wind and other weather data that will impact your lawn.  The Gro 7 takes that data along with any local inputs and calculates the best watering time and duration for each zone you program.

Pros

  • Available wireless water sensors report soil moisture and plant specific watering needs to the unit.
  • Simplified schedule programming makes this ideal for most homes with no need for micromanaging their lawn’s watering.

Cons

  • Wifi connection is notorious for dropping unit out of range. Latest firmware update has addressed this concern.
  • No dedicated rain sensor terminals on board.

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Rain Bird Smart Sprinkler Controller

Chances are if you already have an existing conventional sprinkler timer in the corner of your garage, it’s a Rain Bird brand.  Upgrading to the Rain Bird ST8 2.0 will be one of you better decisions when it comes to your lawn care.

Rain Bird’s smart sprinkler controller is a vast improvement over the old dial and click models.  This fully programmable model is weatherproof and can be mounted outdoors for easier landscaper access or mere convenience when watering your lawn.

This app heavy controller can do nearly everything the bigger and more expensive controllers can do with the flip of a few screens and the click of a few buttons.  Adjusting seasonal percentages and scheduling alterations take place in the palm of your hand with instant access to see when your next scheduled watering event takes place.

Pros

  • Small on-board LCD screen for local manual operation without having to access the app.
  • App access is available local to unit even if wifi is down.

Cons

  • Can drop your programming when the system resets requiring you to enter your scheduling preferences and lawn data more than once.
  • App is slow to load as it searches for nearby unit before connection.

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