Home sprinkler systems haven’t really advanced much in recent decades. Unfortunately, the controllers are still as cumbersome and tedious to program as a VCR (for those who remember). A few months ago, a single attempt at running the sprinklers resulted in a complicated process based in trial and error. Sorting out which setting would begin which zone and for how long was maddening. I’ve tried to program it many times over the years, only to have it either not save or revert to factory defaults. It’s confused everyone who has tried to use it, and as a result, the sprinklers are rarely ran and the lawn often looks like the Klopek’s lawn in The Burbs.
The research and competition
In the end, that sprinkler controller had to go. I began by researching “smart” sprinklers, I knew, in a world with Nest and Ecobee thermostats, August and Kwikset smartlocks, and Philips Hue lighting systems, there should be a market for a smart sprinkler appliance. A quick check on Amazon revealed the following smart sprinkler controllers:
- SkyDrop 8 Zone Wifi Enabled Smart Sprinkler Controller
- Lono Connected Smart Home Irrigation System with up to 20 Zones
- Rachio IRO Smart Wifi Enabled Irrigation Controller 8 zones
- Blossom 12 zone Smart Watering Controller w/ WiFi + Powerline Connection – Self Scheduling
Of the selection, there were a number of common complaints, such as:
- Existing sprinkler system wires wouldn’t fit, either the holes were too big or too large for the gauge of wire being inserted.
- Controller was cheaply constructed.
- Controller wasn’t “smart” and would run the sprinklers at the most random of times, often, with the user being unable to turn them off via the app/interface, aside from unplugging power to the controller.
- Controller had a monthly fee.
- Mobile app was terrible, or the user interface was equally as terrible.
In the end, I selected a wifi enabled, touch screen equipped, sprinkler controller with an iPhone/Android app and some sort of automation in it’s place. One of my requirements was also that the controller not be connected to a cloud service and was only controllable while on my local network.
The RainMachine Touch HD-12. We had to wait for it to be in stock on Amazon and endure a mild backorder, but, after a few weeks, it finally came.
From the RainMachine Website, the specifications for this beauty are:
- Supports up to 12 zones, 6 zones per common wire
- Weather aware through NOAA climate data and weather modelling
- 6.5″ ultra bright touch screen
- Forecast spatial resolution up to 1.5 Km
- Freeze and heat wave protection
- EPA WaterSense Certified
- Wifi 802.22n, 2.4 Ghz
- 2 year warranty
- Apps for Android and iPhone
- And a host of other neat features.
The device itself runs a highly customized form of Android, which I’m not thrilled about, but it seems to be locked down. There’s no App screen, just the weather for the next few days as you can see in the image above. But, this makes it easy to use. Incredibly easy.
Installation was a breeze. The key was finding the owner’s manual to the sprinkler system we already had to determine which wire was what. Once we knew, plugging our system into this was a 20 minute job. I was terribly nervous about whether the sprinklers would come on afterwards, but, they did!
Post-installation setup was a breeze. Once the unit booted, we were asked to register it to an e-mail address (for use with the app), connect to WiFi, and it auto updated it’s software and the weather predictions. During setup, it asked for our home address and used a form of Google Maps to ensure we had it configured to the right location. I suppose it scans radar data for our area/location and determines if the sprinklers will be needed…. in the event of a pop-up rainstorm, or similar event.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about this sprinkler controller is that the software is configured to connect to NOAA and download fresh weather forecast data periodically, which it uses to gauge how much water your lawn will actually need. The intent of this function is so you don’t under/over water or water on days that it’s going to rain. It’s spatial forecast feature also knows what’s going on around your home in a very close radius.
Here are some images of the app for iOS, and it’s weather features.
I programmed our RainMachine via my smart phone, and have included a small gallery of program options below. It’s really easy, so I figured I’d demonstrate the process via the app option. 🙂
As you can see, the options for configuring your program is very powerful, and the noted weather option takes into account weather data the RainMachine has downloaded, so it knows if to rain, how long, which zones, etc.
If you’re the type who doesn’t trust sprinkler programs and automation, you can control the running of each zone, and how long it runs from the zone section of the app. The RainMachine responds instantly to on/off commands for zones, and it was really quite impressive. Gave me a powerful feeling!
In summary, I’d definitely recommend this product for people who don’t want a cloud connected sprinkler system, but want one that is weather aware, and has a solid app.
Find it on Amazon here.
Any questions or comments, let me know!