Okay, I'll come clean. I'm not totally onboard with making homes totally "smart" quite yet. I'm also suspicious about whether smart devices are really undercover agents for Google.
On the other hand, I see value in smart devices, especially devices that do a better job than a human can reasonably accomplish. So let's get our feet wet investigating a smart device that starts paying for itself as soon as it is installed: the smart sprinkler controller (sometimes referred to as a "irrigation controller").
What makes a smart sprinkler controller more valuable than a "stupid" one? Consider these features:
- Smart sprinkler controllers have the ability to modify their watering schedule based on not only upon recent rainfall, but also on predicted upcoming rainfall. Not only does this feature save water, but it also protects your landscape from drying out because you forgot to turn the controller back on after a storm. Many controllers comport with a federal standard ("WeatherSense"), but the Rachio 3 takes it a step further with "hyperlocal" weather information.
- Controlling the system from your phone allows you turn on zones as needed while you are away from the location of the controller. So if you are planting flowers in the front of your home and your controller is in the garage, you can just use your phone to set the appropriate zone to water 10 minutes after you are finished planting without a trip to the garage.
- Some smart sprinkler controllers take into account local water restrictions.
- Seasonal adjustments can often be made so that watering is reduced or paused during cooler times of the year.
- Most smart sprinkler systems integrate with a virtual assistants, such as Alexa (Amazon Echo), Siri (Apple), or Google Assistant (Nest Hub).
Some considerations you may want to take into account in purchasing a smart sprinkler controller?
- Some smart sprinkler controllers have few or no buttons and, therefore, can only be accessed through a smart phone or computer. While this reduces the cost of the controller, it may render the controller inoperable if the web apps or phone apps become obsolete. I would only purchase a controller without an onboard interface if it comes from a company with a long history in the market (such as Rachio, Orbit or Rain Bird).
- The ability to access weather information and your other smart devices is dependent upon have a suitable connection to the internet through your router. Since the controller is often place at an outside facing wall of the garage, you may need a wifi extender or mesh network to provide a strong signal. Some controllers have stonger wifi capabilities than others.
- If you are already invested in a virtual assistant, you should verify that it will work with your new controller. Also, if you have an older smart phone, make sure that the controller works with your version of iOS or Android.
- If you are thinking of adding zones, perhaps for a drip mist system, purchase a system that supports more zones than you currently have. While
Some top choices for smart irrigation controllers:
Rachio: Rachio has been a leader in the smart sprinkler controller market since 2012. As of the date of this post, the current model is the Rachio 3. The Rachio 3 has dazzling capabilities, including access to "Hyperlocal" weather information (within 38' of the installation location). An Android or Apple smart phone is required - the Rachio 3 has very limited input controls (using a 4-way button, a user can choose a zone and then start, stop, and pause watering). There are no subscription fees. The Rachio 3 comes in 4-zone, 8-zone, 12-zone and 16-zone models. You can purchase the Rachio 3 from Amazon (product page will open in a new tab), Walmart or other online retailers.
Orbit b-hyve: Orbit has been a leading sprinkler controller manufacturer for decades. Their smart controllers are sold under the mark "b-hyve". There are three different models: a basic model, in 4-zone and 8-zone models (indoor mounting only), which must programmed with a smart phone or web app, an intermediate model, in 6-zone and 12-zone models, that can be programmed either through onboard buttons or a smart phone/web app, and more sophisticated b-hyve "XR", in 8-zone and 16-zone models, which is similar to the Rachio 3, but with some onboard displays and a single button which performs a variety of functions. The basic model is considerable cheaper than the Rachio, and still has many of the most important features. The XR unit is slightly less expensive than the Rachio.
Wyze: Wyze makes a number of smart devices, including a sprinkler controller. Wyze's niche in the smart device market is making quality smart devices at reasonable prices. It should be noted, however, that the Wyze sprinkler controller has advanced programming that is only available to those who pay the $10 annual subscription fee.
All of the models above get excellent reviews, but the Rachio is clearly the king of the mountain with regard to weather accuracy, features and ease of programming, followed closely by the b-hyve XR. Keep in mind that while all of the controllers discussed above save water consumption by skipping or reducing watering based on weather data, it is equally important to have the most accurate weather data to ensure that your landscape is not under-watered because of local rainfall that didn't quite make it to your home.
You can check out the current prices below: