Internet-Based Smart Irrigation Systems

Internet-based smart irrigation system technology is rapidly expanding throughout the industry, particularly for residential usage.web-based

Internet-based smart irrigation system technology is even featured in Forbes magazine, “Tired Of Wasting Water With That Dumb Sprinkler? Meet The Smart Sprinkler Controller.” This irrigation system technology allows residential users to control and monitor their sprinkler systems from anywhere in the world using a web browser or iPhone/Android app. It also uses the homeowner’s wireless internet (wifi) to access a live stream from nearby weather stations.  As a result, residential users are provided with real-time weather data, without the need to install a personal weather station or rain sensor.

lawn1Using adaptive algorithms to generate custom and dynamic watering schedules from this weather data, the smart controller automatically determines the optimal watering schedule for the irrigation site. The system automatically adjusts watering cycles, duration and frequency for optimal results in any weather condition. Some smart controllers will even take into consideration local watering restrictions.

swat_logoWeb-based irrigation systems are certifiable through both the EPA’s WaterSense program and the Irrigation Association’s Smart Water Application Technologies (SWAT) testing.  For a comparison of WaterSense and SWAT testing protocols, click here.

Let’s take a look at some of the web-based irrigation systems currently available…


Skydrop

Skydrop’s WiFi-based smart controller entered the market in September of 2014. The company is based in Lehi, Utah, and promotes its product as helping residential users to abide by local watering restrictions. (“Don’t be a lawn bandit, and don’t risk hefty fines.”) According to Skydrop, the typical homeowner can install and set up its controller in less than 30 minutes.

Malibu-GardenIn addition to using real-time weather data, the Skydrop smart controller also measures soil moisture to determine how much water the landscape is losing.  Like most other internet-based systems, the Skydrop device is programmed by zone according to soil type, plant type, sprinkler type, slope and shape. The  Skydrop controller can also be integrated with other smart home systems such alarm controllers, solar heating/cooling, and outdoor lighting.

logo-90The controller includes a “cycle and soak” feature to eliminate or reduce runoff when landscapes are sloped. The company claims that watering each zone separately and only when required results in an average reduction in water usage of 35%. The Skydrop smart controller has qualified for the EPA’s WaterSense® Certification, yet the company does not plan to pursue SWAT testing at this time.

The Skydrop controller operates eight zones plus a master valve/pump, and is expandable to 16 zones with an expansion unit. The retail price for the Skydrop 8-zone controller is around $300, and the expansion unit retails for $50.


Hydrawise (Hunter Industries)

flowerHydrawise was recently purchased by Hunter Industries. The Hydrawise smart controller provides interactive online reporting and alerts that allow the user to view water usage for each watering cycle or the water flow rate at any time. Email alerts notify the user of water flows (e.g., due to a broken pipe or faulty valve) when no zone is currently running. Alerts can also be configured when the water usage for an irrigation zone changes by more than 10% (such as, from broken spray heads or faulty wiring).

Hydrawise2ColorTrim260Hydrawise is one of the products which does not require port forwarding on the user’s router in order to control the irrigation system from anywhere in the world. Rather, wireless functionality is provided inside the controller; the user enters a wireless password on the controller itself.

hydrawiseAccording to Chris Foster, Midwest Sales Manager for Hunter, the Hydrawise system utilizes Cloud technology, allowing the residential user and support technician to “meet in the cloud,” thereby preventing any potential security risks.  “Hydrawise is fourth-generation technology,” he said.

The Hydrawise controller is available in 6- or 12-zone models; expansion modules allow an individual system to be expanded up to 36 zones. The product is WaterSense certified and was the winner of  The Australian Backyard Innovation Challenge in 2015. Hydrawise has not been SWAT tested. Pricing is available through a Hunter distributor.

According to Michael White, Vice President of Turf & Landscape Sales for Automatic Irrigation Supply, one of the best features of the Hydrawise system is the professional support that is now available through Hunter Industries.


Cyber Rain

The Cyber Rain smart controller is manufactured by Israel-based Galcon, which is owned by Kibbutz Kfar Blum.  According to the company, Cyber Rain was the very first central irrigation product to earn the EPA WaterSense certification (in 2012). It also claims that the Cyber Rain controller can reduce water costs by up to 40% annually. Cyber Rain is SWAT approved.

LogoCyberRain1Cyber Rain supplies a small device called an “Access Point” that is plugged into a router so that the controller can access the internet using Cloud technology. The Access Point communicates with an unlimited number of Cyber Rain controllers through its own two-way wireless network. The standard radio can communicate up to 200 feet, while the longer-range radio can reach up to two miles with the optional antenna.

downloadCyber Rain offers a Smart Scheduling Wizard to set up the water-wise irrigation schedule customized to the particular landscape. For zones with dense soil or on a slope, for instance, the Cyber Rain smart controller offer a cycle and soak feature to avoid run-off.

Controllers are available in 8-, 16- and 24-zone models. (The optional antenna can be attached to increase range.) Prices for the residential systems range from $500 to $600.  Professional installation is not required for the residential systems, but appears to be recommended.


Rachio

Rachio introduced its first product (“Iro”) in 2014; Iro is an intelligent irrigation controller that is powered by Rachio’s cloud-based software.  It an be rachio-logo-for-web-300px (1)controlled either through a web-based dashboard or through an intuitive Android or iPhone app. During setup, the homeowner’s smartphone sends a signal to the Iro, connecting it to the internet through a WiFi network. It then communicates with Rachio’s cloud-based software. The company claims that installation and setup take less than 30 minutes with no special tools or expertise required.

The Iro will automatically check the local weather forecast and issue adjustments based on evapotranspiration and precipitation data to match soil moisture depletion. The Iro also learns from the customer’s adjustments over time. As a result, users can personalize the balance between water use and the level of plant health in each zone.

Irrigation-Flowers013Iro’s Smart Cycle will automatically schedule cycle and soak irrigation events to eliminate or reduce runoff when landscapes are sloped and/or the infiltration rate of the soil is less than that of the precipitation rate of the nozzle for the given zone. A virtual rain sensor will suspend irrigation events if rain is forecasted within the next 24 hours.

Iro controllers are available in 8-zone ($199) and 16-zone ($249) models. The Iro system has received the EPA’s WaterSense certification. Rachis is SWAT tested and has earned the prestigious EPA WaterSense label for irrigation efficiency.

Comparison of Residential Web-Based Smart Irrigation Controllers

 SkydropHydrawiseCyber RainRachio
SmartPhone CompatibleYesYesYesYes
Ipad/PC CompatibleYesYesNoYes
Android CompatibleYesYesYesYes
Uses Real-time Weather DataYesYesYesYes
Provides Online ReportingYesYesYesYes
Uses Cloud TechnologyYesYesYesYes
WaterSense CertifiedYesYesYesYes
SWAT TestedYesNoYesYes
Do-It-Yourself InstallationYesNo
YesYes
Professional SupportNoYesNoYes
Interfaces with Other Home SystemsYesYesNoYes
Includes Cycle and Soak FeatureYesYesYesYes
No. of Zones Available8, 166, 12*8, 168, 16
Price$299.99-$348.99 $260.00-$310.00$499.00-$599.00$199.00-$249.00

*May be expanded up to 36 zones.


The Future

Having recently attended a trade function focused on what water management will look like in the year 2065, Automatic Irrigation’s Michael White firmly believes that the web-based systems are crucial to allowing homeowners to be better stewards of water resources.  “Twenty-five years from now, water will cost much more than it does today,” he said. Consequently, “These new systems are good for the consumer and they’re good for the industry.”

(Editor’s note: Rachio’s data was corrected and updated from the original post based on additional information provided by the manufacturer.)


Sources:

U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Reclamation, “Weather- and Soil Moisture-Based Landscape Irrigation Scheduling Devices”

EPA WaterSense® – Friend or Foe

WaterSense® – Is it Working?

As reported by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC), “America’s consumption of the public water supply continues to increase.” Our use of water can be improved, and in many cases, at little or no cost. Water efficiency can be effectively achieved through education and the implementation of conservation strategies such as the use of non-potable water in the landscape.

The Need for the WaterSense Program

EPA WaterSens LogoCommercial and residential outdoor water use in the United States accounts for more than 7 billion gallons of water each day, mainly for landscape irrigation. As much as half of that is lost or wasted due to evaporation, wind, or improper irrigation design, installation, and lack of consistent maintenance.[1]

From all of the controversy centering on landscapes being a waste of water and natural resources, the EPA developed the WaterSense program to foster water conservation and the efficient use of water both indoors and out.

The program is designed to help protect the future of our nation’s water supply by promoting water efficiency and enhancing the market for water-efficient products, programs, and practices.[2]

Jeff Carowitz, an long-time industry veteran, is hopeful that the EPA’s WaterSense Program will enjoy the same success as the ENERGY STAR® Program

User Feedback on the WaterSense Program

The EPA’s WaterSense program has the potential to have a profound effect on the landscape irrigation industry.

 John Newlin, Quality Sprinkler Services, Likes the Program

John Newlin, owner of Quality Services, an irrigation contractor in Cleveland, Ohio shared his thoughts:

John Newlin, Secretary, Ohio Irrigation Association

“I like the program. The EPA has been very professional with their marketing materials. This helps me promote my business. The information and marketing materials provided by the WaterSense program are excellent. The best part is that it does not cost me anything.”

Newlin says the EPA is doing an excellent job of developing consumer awareness toward water conservation. WaterSense is helping to modify behavior without resorting to restrictive legislation.

“I am not sure I liked it when the EPA opened the door for irrigation certification to companies like Rain Bird and other associations. I think the Irrigation Association should be certifying irrigation contractors, but I like the certification requirement.”

Overall, Newlin likes the EPA’s WaterSense program. Newlin says, “By continuing to raise the standards for performance in the landscape irrigation industry, it will make the industry stronger.”

 

Kurt Thompson, Training & Technical Director – Irrigation for Massey Services in Florida sees both positive and negative effects of the EPA WaterSense program.

Kurt Thompson“I like the product labeling program and the professional certification program. The WaterSense program can provide good pull-through for manufacturers’ products. The certification standard helps to raise the level of professionalism in the landscape irrigation industry.”

Thompson dislikes the ‘one-size-fits all’ component of the WaterSense home program. “The data provided by the EPA does not allow for the differences in climate across the country,” says Thompson, “Because the data is based upon a fixed climatic condition, it cannot be an effective tool where those conditions are not typical. On the West coast it will do a great job. However, on the East coast it will not work as effectively.”

“I would like to see some provisions for irrigation system maintenance,” continues Thompson. “I see too many irrigation systems that have not been looked at since installation. The state of disrepair in these systems is disheartening. It is so easy to save water with a little bit of attention.”

Overall, Thompson says, “The beauty of EPA’s WaterSense program is that it is encouraging more people to be properly trained in correct irrigation practices.”

Brain Vinchesi, Owner of Irrigation Consulting, is a Proponent

Brian Vinchesi, consultant and owner of Irrigation Consulting, Inc. and winner of the EPA’s WaterSense Partner of the Year – 2009, is a proponent of the WaterSense program.

Brian VinchesiHe spends much of his time advocating for water conservation and promoting water efficiency throughout the industry. Vinchesi shares, “The public relations effort by the EPA’s WaterSense program is excellent for the industry. Generally speaking, the EPA’s attempt to look at water savings like energy savings is great.”

Vinchesi has reservations with the water budget inaccuracies in the technical data. Evapotranspiration in July is the basis for the water budget. There are wide variations in evapotranspiration rates across the country. July is not always the peak water-use month. The water budget gives too much water to drier areas of the country and not enough water to wetter areas of the country. In wetter areas, using July as the driest month will not save as much water. In wetter climates, more water savings could be achieved in other months. Additionally, in other parts of the country, Arizona for example, July is not the month with the highest level of evapotranspiration.

Vinchesi feels the WaterSense label campaign for products is working well. However, he feels that the WaterSense labeling for new homes is a little too prescriptive and the science behind some of the assumptions is lacking.

Vinchesi’s biggest concern for the future of the WaterSense program is that the limitation on funding has kept the EPA from doing more. “Overall,” Vinchesi says, “everyone at the EPA works very hard. The awards program is good and has been expanded. The EPA has done an excellent job.”

“The irrigation industry needs to see more products with the WaterSense label. The plumbing industry has more experience in working with government agencies and is more adept at consensus-based decisions. The irrigation industry is slowly learning how to work with this style of decision making.”

Vinchesi believes that in the future, the WaterSense program will need additional funding. “It is taking too long to get things done. The EPA is on-track with product labeling, but there needs to be better research and science behind the water budget and WaterSense labeling for new home construction. Commercial and institutional standards need to be developed.”

Tim Malooly – 2008 WaterSense Irrigation Partner of the Year

Tim Malooly, President of Water in Motion and 2008 WaterSense Irrigation Partner of the Tim MaloolyYear, has been involved with the EPA’s WaterSense program since its inception in 2005. He likes the program’s goal of achieving a 20% water savings without adversely affecting the lifestyle of consumers.

He feels that the premise of developing consumer awareness of our water resources through a strong educational effort is great. “It’s all about affecting behavior,” says Malooly, “There is a great deal of work to do in building consumer awareness. The consumer can have a huge impact on saving water by understanding the difference between a properly designed and installed irrigation system and a poorly installed irrigation system. Additionally, the consumer can save even more water by interacting and adjusting their irrigation controller on a regular basis.”

Malooly’s concern lies in the tendency of concentrating the agency’s efforts on developing a standard for a technological device like weather-based controllers that will reduce water usage when educating consumers can have a far greater impact.

“Picking SMART controller as the initial product for the first WaterSense labeled irrigation device was probably a mistake,” says Malooly, “There are other, more conventional devices, like rain sensors and spray heads with built-in pressure regulators, that could have been WaterSense labeled faster because of a wider level of acceptance within the landscape irrigation industry.”

Malooly is concerned that the WaterSense New Home Specification has some flaws. Developing a specification that is easily administered across the country is difficult. Malooly adds, “The water budget tool is workable but needs some refinement. There are regional differences that are vital to consider.”

“In the future, realizing that this is a living document and the specifications are subject to change is important. All of us in the landscape irrigation industry can play an important part in the development of this program,” says Malooly.

The EPA’s opinions carry a lot of weight in conservation organizations. Working with the landscape irrigation industry is important as the EPA moves forward in increasing consumer awareness of water conservation. “Hopefully, the International Code Council will assist in developing a standard for the irrigation industry,” concludes Malooly.

Judy Benson – 2010 WaterSense Irrigation Partner of the Year

Judy Benson EPA Award

Judy Benson, left, receiving the 2010 U.S. EPA WaterSense
Partner of the Year Award

 

Judy Benson, owner of Clear Water Products & Services and 2010 WaterSense Irrigation Partner of the Year likes the EPA’s WaterSense program. “The EPA WaterSense program is on the right track,” says Benson, “Although there is some room for improvement, this program raises the bar by requiring certification for performance standards. This helps to professionalize the industry. We need more contractors to get on-board with the program.”

While the WaterSense product labeling is a good idea, its implementation has been too slow for the irrigation industry. Benson would like to see more outdoor products with the WaterSense label, and adds, “The WaterSense New Home Specification needs some adjustment.”

Benson would also like to see a recertification program for older properties. “Too many irrigations systems are installed here in Florida and not looked at afterwards,” says Benson, “All irrigation systems require attention and maintenance to perform properly.”

“Overall, the EPA WaterSense program is on the right path. The program is more suggestive than prescriptive,” says Benson, “and that is a good thing.”

Jeff Carowitz, owner of Strategic Force Marketing, thinks the EPA’s WaterSense program is a good program. He sees a lot of changes facing the irrigation industry today, and believes the EPA’s WaterSense program raises consumer awareness. Carowitz exclaims, “In building business, it is up to the contractor to effectively use the program.”

Carowitz is hopeful that the EPA’s WaterSense program will enjoy the same success as the EPA’s ENERGY STAR program. The ENERGY STAR program, by creating a standard for energy efficiency, has helped create demand for energy efficient products. This helps consumers make more informed decisions on their purchases. Carowitz believes that the EPA’s WaterSense program can assist manufacturers, suppliers, and contractors in positively promoting water efficiency to consumers.

The U.S. EPA WaterSense Program is on the Right Track

From the interviews conducted for the landscape irrigation industry, the EPA is on the right track with the WaterSense program. Those familiar with the program appreciate the program’s ability to educate the public about water conservation and water efficiency. Concerns point to the program’s ability to create products and procedures usable in variable locations and climates, both nationally and internationally.

The EPA exerts considerable influence with the American consumer and throughout the world. With that said, the program’s product labeling campaign helps manufacturers increase product sales and gives consumers more information about a product’s water saving ability.

Most agree that water is a precious and vital resource; water conservation is readily accepted as something both consumers and industry professional must address. Creating programs that educate, standardize, and work effectively are no longer optional. The best solutions are often those that are created from a shared responsibility for a positive and effective outcome.


 

[1] http://www.epa.gov/WaterSense/pubs/cert_programs.html

[2] http://www.epa.gov/WaterSense/about_us/why_watersense.html

What is WaterSense®?

What is U.S. EPA WaterSense®?

EPA WaterSens LogoLaunched in June of 2006, the EPA’s WaterSense program created a goal to educate the public and consumers in the importance of water conservation. During the 2006 American Water Works Association’s Annual Conference and Exposition in San Antonio, Texas, EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson informed, “Commercial and residential outdoor water use in the United States accounts for more than seven billion gallons of water each day, mainly for landscape irrigation.” The EPA estimates over three and a half billion gallons of water are wasted every day from inefficient and ineffective landscape irrigation practices. More than fifty percent of irrigation water used in residential and commercial irrigation systems is wasted.

The EPA’s WaterSense Program is a program designed to promote water conservation and the efficient use of water through education, not regulation. There are four primary features of the program.

Consumer Education

WaterSense is working towards protecting our nation’s water supply by educating consumers and businesses in water efficient practices, programs, and products.

FixALeakWeekThe Fix a Leak Week campaign, held annually in March, is one of the ways WaterSense is bringing water conservation awareness to the public. The EPA reports that the average American home leaks over 10,000 gallons of water each year. Nationally, this represents over 1 trillion gallons of water lost.

We’re for Water” campaign was launched to encourage consumers to make simple changes to save water. The cornerstone of the campaign is a series of print public service announcements featuring Flo, the WaterSense spokesgallon. The public outreach campaign traveled the country passing out 500 WaterSense labeled aerator faucets in order to raise awareness about how easy water conservation can be at home.

We're for WaterAs part of the “We’re for Water” campaign, the “I’m for Water” program asks individuals to take a pledge and commit to checking off one or more simple tasks each month to save precious water resources. The program provides tips on how to use less water and spend less on utility bills.

Professional Certification Programs

EPA Watersense Product LogoIrrigation professionals can earn a WaterSense labeled certification by demonstrating expertise in water-efficient irrigation technology and techniques. The specifications cover three areas: irrigation system design, installation and maintenance, and system auditing.

Irrigation professionals can distinguish themselves from competitors through certification and a documented commitment to the program of water efficiency. Certified irrigation professionals are listed in WaterSense’s Directory of Certified Professionals, making it easy for consumers and businesses to find local irrigation experts.

The Irrigation Association’s certification program was the first certifying partner to be approved by the EPA. The following is a list of professional certification programs that have earned the WaterSense label[1].

Irrigation System Design

§  Certified Irrigation Designer (CID) (landscape/turf specialties only) – Offered by the Irrigation Association, available nationwide.

§ Irrigation System Installation and Maintenance

§  Certified Irrigation Contractor (CIC) – Offered by the Irrigation Association, available nationwide.

Irrigation System Audits

§  Certified Golf Irrigation Auditor (CGIA) – Offered by the Irrigation Association, nationwide.

§  Certified Landscape Irrigation Auditor (CLIA) – Offered by the Irrigation Association, available nationwide.

§  Certified Water Management Program – Offered by the California Landscape Contractors Association, available in California.

§  Qualified Water Efficient Landscaper (QWEL) – Offered by the Sonoma–Marin Saving Water Partnership, available in California, Utah, New Mexico, Florida, Wyoming. Available for adoption nationwide.

§  Texas Certified Landscape Irrigation Auditor Program (TxCLIA) – Offered by Texas A&M AgrilLife Extension Service, Texas A&M School of Irrigation, available in Texas.

§  Watershed Wise Landscape Professional (WWLP) – Offered by G3LA, LLC, available in California and west of the Rocky Mountains.

Product Labeling

Products that carry the WaterSense label generally demonstrate a 20% water savings over conventional products. WaterSense labeled products are tested by independent, third party testing and certification agencies. The certification process is rigorous, assuring consumers that a WaterSense labeled product will deliver exceptional performance and water savings.

WaterSense has issued final product specifications and technical clarifications for the following product categories[2]:

WaterSense New Home GraphicNew Home Specification

The WaterSense New Home Specification is designed to reduce residential water use, both indoors and outdoors, when compared to a conventional new home. The program focuses on hot water, as well as water use in the bathroom, kitchen, and landscaping.

American homes average 75 gallons of water use per person per day. The EPA claims that compared to an existing home, a WaterSense labeled home could save more than $200 per year on water and energy bills. The WaterSense New Home Specification works well with other green building programs like ENERGY STAR, LEED®, and the National Green Building Standard.

The water we use everyday is vital and limited. We as an industry have both an opportunity and a responsibility to increase our water conservation efforts. The EPA’s WaterSense program has proven we can increase water efficiency and develop practices that help preserve this precious resource. To find out more about the benefits of a WaterSense labeled home and the latest in program news, read the WaterSense Blueprint, a quarterly update dedicated to news and events related to WaterSense labeled new homes.



[1] http://www3.epa.gov/watersense/outdoor/cert_programs.html

[2] http://www3.epa.gov/watersense/partners/product_program_specs.html