Waiting in line at Starbucks the other day I couldn’t help notice several people, myself included, using the Starbucks app on their smartphones to purchase their drinks and pastries and this reminded me that it’s time again for me to nag the manufacture reps in my industry regarding the speculative release date for their WIFI products. With greater frequency, my customers are asking me for my Wi-Fi irrigation controller reviews.
Let’s say you were about to go out of town for a highly anticipated two-week vacation in July, and your painter called to let you know your lottery number finally came up on his scheduling book and they are starting this week. So now you have the dilemma that the exterior of your house is being painted just when you hit the road for the airport and of course your painter requests that you not water the flower beds up against the house due to the ladders sinking down in the soil and making a mess.
Immediately you worry about your prized hydrangeas, azaleas, perennial flower beds and lawn turf suffering or dying with no water once the painters leave and you are still out of town. What you need is the ability to easily turn off the zones that water around the foundation and when the painter is done turn those zones back on for scheduling or even water them instantly from an app on your smart phone from anywhere in the world.
Would that be great?
Over two decades in the irrigation industry in Birmingham, AL, I’ve lived through irrigation system manufacturers’ successes and failures towards providing better landscape watering products. We meet with the reps to explore the usual stuff, durability, new-fangled features, and water conservation. Here lately, our customers are showing increased interest toward in-home automation goodies and that sent me back to update my Wi-Fi irrigation controller reviews.
New product releases that appear beneficial to our customers are diligently tested in our test lab (our office or home) before adopting any new product into the Blue Sky Rain line of professional-grade products that we offer. The new kid on the block in the irrigation industry is WiFi Smart Controllers that have the capability to be controlled from any smartphone, tablet or computer. Monitoring the progress made in this home technology sector for three years to provide Wi-Fi irrigation controller reviews for our customers, I’ve come up empty-handed, until now.
Before we offer new bells and whistles to our customers, we have to determine that the one service an irrigation controller must provide, which is to water the turf and landscape according to schedule, is fully functional and dependable. With the money our customers invest in their landscapes and the periodic droughts in Birmingham, AL, the bottom line is simple; any irrigation controller we provide must be dependable. So the key to technology is that it does not overly complicate things and better yet that it simplifies things. In my search to provide Wi-Fi irrigation controller reviews my goal was to locate the product that would work on our customers’ smartphones and test them to determine reliability and ease of use.
Naturally my first step was to contact the reps whom I’ve known for many years from the two largest irrigation supplies manufactures, Rain Bird and Hunter. Both of these companies are working on manufacturing an irrigation controller that can be controlled from a smart phone utilizing wifi networks. Neither of them have their first release of such a product. Both seem tired of being asked that question.
The products that I researched in 2016 seem to be all over the board for price as well as functionality. The only thing that came close to meeting the needs of our customers was manufactured by a company out of Denver, Colorado called Rachio, but initially, I thought it had limitations that were not going to work. I was almost ready to just throw in the towel and wait for Rain Bird’s or Hunter’s first release of smart controllers when I came across the Generation 2 Smart Sprinkler Controller that Rachio just released on February 2nd, 2016. Their second release filled the gaps that bothered me about Gen 1. After a $7.1 million round of funding in November, it appears their 2nd generation controller is more user friendly and has some really nice features worthy of my Wi-Fi irrigation controller reviews.
The Rachio WiFi controller is compatible with the automated irrigation system that is already installed in your yard.
I immediately purchased the Rachio Gen 2 smart controller.
Step 1: First, I test the WiFi connection in my house to determine if there is a significant WiFi signal for running it. Check mark, so far so good.
Step 2: Next I installed the Rachio on the wall of my garage in place of my existing controller.
Step 3: I wired it up with my existing irrigation wires. The wiring is comparable to Rain Bird or Hunter and took about the same amount of time.
Step 4: Then it was time to begin linking it to my I Phone. After plugging the controller into the power outlet, downloading the Rachio app and creating a username and password the system was operational within minutes of creating a Rachio account on the app.
Step 5: I programmed the controller. The programming was much more involved than Rain Bird or Hunter controllers, but I suspect with a little practice, this will speed up. The Rachio requires more information such as labeling zones by description, soil types and slope of the yard.
Testing: I began to walk around the landscape with my I Phone turning each station on one at a time to test it all out. The speed of the response from my phone was very impressive, just as fast as pressing a button on the controller, but I was pressing a button on my phone.
Wow! It was impressive!
Programming the Rachio took longer than a traditional controller, but a lot of the programming is a one time task. It wants to know the name of the zone, type of plant, soil type, sun exposure, sprinkler type, slope, etc. Since it is February in Birmingham and going down to 24 degrees tonight, there is no point in running the system now except for testing purposes, so I merely swiped a button on my I Phone to put the controller in Standby mode so that it will not water. Very simple.Rachio claims a 30% or more savings on your water bill. #WaterConservation @_rachio Click To Tweet
How does it do that? By putting a customized amount of water on each zone according to the weather forecast.
The Rachio controller automatically updates weather forecasts, so that it can adjust watering times and days based on your yard and the current weather. It has fully customizable features for fixed watering days or flexible days depending on how much control you want to let Rachio have. You can even pick the closest weather station to your home from a map within the app that shows all the weather stations in your area as well as the distance in miles from your location. It all updated and operated seamlessly during setup.
The Rachio also supports the use of a Rain Sensor and I still highly recommend this as the rain sensor will interrupt watering and/or delay watering if the sensor at your home is wet. This is worth repeating; you need to keep your Hunter Wireless Rain Clik rain sensor. If you don’t have one, you need to get one.Don’t be the guy who runs the sprinkler system in the rain. #waterconservation #irrigation Click To Tweet
With 57% of Americans now having smartphones, it seems a logical progression that there will be an app to control almost everything in our home. I recently had to replace a garage door opener at my house and in my research I found a garage door opener that was wifi enabled to a smart phone. The installation was simple and straight forward and works beautifully with my I Phone.
The most common fear customers experience with their irrigation controllers is knowing how to program and control it and then worrying that something may be mis-programmed and will waste water and in turn money or miss watering a zone and losing plants or turf material.
If you are more comfortable using your smart phone than your irrigation controller, the new Rachio will make your life easier.If you are more comfortable using your smart phone than your irrigation controller, the new… Click To Tweet
Rachio claims that customers will save approximately 30% to 60% on their water bills, because of the real time weather based functions of the controller. Since I’m only 2 days into my testing and it’s not yet the growing season in Birmingham, AL, I will have to report my water savings data to you a little later in the year in my next Wi-Fi irrigation controller reviews article.
So stay tuned, as I use, test and blog about the new Rachio Gen 2 Controller. I will be putting it through the paces, so that I can continue to consult with our customers on the best irrigation products that could make life a little better and help conserve our precious resources.
Oh, one more thing about Wi-Fi irrigation controller reviews…
The Rachio Gen 2 can communicate with the Amazon Echo, Alexa. With that addition you could be in your kitchen and simply say something like “Alexa water the back lawn for 20 minutes” and within seconds zone 5 in your back yard would be watering your back lawn for the duration of 20 minutes. We may be testing that too. If we do, we’ll send it out to you. Please subscribe to our newsletter for instant updates in your e-mail and not too many either.