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”

Irrigation Controller Tips to Reduce Customer Call Backs

With A Few Simple Steps for Irrigation Controller Programming You Can Reduce Your Customer Calls

 

‘I Just Want a Green Lawn’

Lawn Irrigation Spray HeadMost homeowners with an automatic lawn sprinkler system simply exclaim, “I just want a green lawn.” However, operating and maintaining a home irrigation system can be a challenge. Today’s solid state programmable irrigation controllers easily exceed most of our customers’ willingness to program them.

A far too familiar story when a client calls with a request for irrigation controller help, typically goes as follows:

I wanted to water my lawn more because it was turning brown. I went into my irrigation timer and set station one to run for thirty minutes starting at midnight on start time number one. I then went to station two and set that station to run for thirty minutes starting at 12:30 am on start time number two. I did this up through station number eight but when I get to station number nine I cannot find start time for number nine. What gives here? I thought this was a ‘smart’ timer and what is all this A, B, C, D program stuff?

It is easy to understand client frustrations with the wide range of options available on today’s solid state irrigation controllers. There is an over whelming number of choices. The simplest controllers come with a thirty-six page manual and a rapid start guide. The manuals of the more complex controllers have over one hundred pages.

Hunter Residential Irrigation Timer Rain Bird Residential Irrigation Timer It is easy to forget, most homeowner simply want a green lawn. They had an irrigation system installed to save them time. Their comfort level with automatic control systems starts and stops with the thermostat in their home heating and air conditioning system. It is not that they can not learn how to program a controller, it is that they do not want to learn how to program a controller.

Remember, most homeowners simply want a green lawn. They had an irrigation system installed to save them time and money. Their comfort level with automatic control systems starts and stops with the thermostat in their home heating and air conditioning system. It is not that they can not learn how to program a controller, it is that they do not want to learn how to program a controller.

Back to Basics

Toro Residential Irrigation TimerGoing back to basics is often the easiest way. Forget about complex programming, forget about water budgets, forget about programs A, B, C,and D. We simply want a green lawn. There are four basic elements present in all irrigation controller programs:

1. Rain Bird Residential Irrigation TimerToday’s date and time

2. A start time

3. A run time

4. Days of the week to water

Seven Steps to Setting Any Automatic Irrigation Controller

Step 1 – Set the current date.

Step 2 – Set the current time of day.

Step 3 – Select the program A, B, C or D.

(Select Program ‘A’ unless you have a more complex watering program. Program ‘D’ is usually reserved for drip zones.)

Step 4 – Set the cycle start time.

(An irrigation cycle is a complete sequencing of each station that has time set to run. Each program being used must have a cycle start time set.)

Step 5 – Set the run time for each station.

(Every station must have a run time set in order to water. Typically stations with spray heads are set to run ten minutes. Stations with rotors are set to thirty minutes. Setting a station’s run time to zero will stop any watering from occurring.)

Step 6 – Set the Days of the Week to Water

(Typically an irrigation system will run three times a week but you may live in an area that has watering restrictions, i.e. odd/even water days or you may live in an area with sandy soil that may require more frequent watering.)

Step 7 – Set the irrigation controller to Auto Run.

It really is that simple. If it rains, and the system is not equipped with a rain shut off device, turn the controller off for a couple of days.

Irritrol Residential Irrigation Timer

Keep It Simple

Technology does not save water; people save water. Technology does not want a green lawn; people want a green lawn. Keeping your controller programming simple and straight forward will save you time, money, and headaches.

For Additional Information

Here are links to the major irrigation controller manufacturers’ websites:

Rain Bird Residential Irrigation Timer

Hunter

Irritrol

Rain Bird

Toro

Weathermatic

What is an Irrigation Audit?

by Tom Barrett

Saving Water in the Landscape is Precisely What an Irrigation Audit is All About

 Water Conservation

An irrigation audit is a process that develops the maximum efficiency possible from an installed iLawn Sprinklerrrigation system.  Simply, an irrigation audit saves water.  How much water can be saved with irrigation system audit?  In many cases, after an audit, a landscape will use forty to sixty per cent less water than before the irrigation audit was completed.  Can you image saving over fifty percent of the water used in a landscape? This is a lot of water to save.

Saving water in the landscape is precisely what an irrigation audit is all about. Besides conserving water, an irrigation audit reduces fertilizer usage and water runoff. The net result is a better looking landscape. There are fewer wet or dry spots. The landscape thrives when properly irrigated.

It takes a trained professional, knowledgeable in irrigation and the audit process, to develop an effective irrigation audit. There are three steps in developing an irrigation system audit.  Step one is testing the system to be certain all the irrigation system components function properly.  Often, significant water savings are achieved by simply fixing and adjusting the existing irrigation system. The second step is to field test each zone of the irrigation system. Each irrigation zone is operated. The precipitation rate and efficiency of each irrigation zone is collected under actual operational conditions.  The final step in an irrigation audit is to calculate irrigation schedules that are based on plant type, soil conditions, weather patterns, and field test results.

Step One – Test the System

Irrigation Audit Catch Can

The first step in the irrigation system audit is to test the system. During this process the irrigation auditor will make sure all the components of the irrigation system function properly.  A site inspection worksheet is used to record the data. The following components are inspected and tested:

  1. Static Pressure – Test the static pressure of the irrigation system.
  2. Backflow Test – Pressure test the backflow preventer. On commercial buildings the backflow preventer is usually a reduced pressure principle backflow device.  On small commercial and many residential systems the backflow preventer maybe an atmospheric backflow preventer or an atmospheric backflow preventer.  It is important that a trained, professional test the backflow preventer for proper operation.
  3. Zone Test – Operate each station or control zone on the controller.  Visually inspect every sprinkler head to determine if the arc is properly adjusted and the proper nozzle is installed.  Additionally, inspect the sprinkler heads for clogging, leaking seals, missing sprinkler heads, tilted sprinkler heads. Finally inspect the sprinkler to insure that the landscape has not overgrown and is deflecting the spray pattern.  Also, look for sunken sprinkler heads.
  4. Controller Test – Record all current controller or timer settings.  The manufacturer, model, and location of the controller are noted on the site inspection worksheet. The current irrigation schedule is recorded.  The current irrigation watering schedule will be used to determine the amount of water savings achieved after the audit is completed.

Step Two – Irrigation System Field TestIrrigation Audit Image

The purpose of the irrigation system field test is to determine the precipitation rate and efficiency of each sprinkler system zone. During the field test, catch cans are systematically placed, in a grid pattern, throughout the landscape.

Catch cans are specialized water collection devices.  Each station or zone is operated for a specified time.  Usually each station or zone is tested separately. The water collected in the catch cans are measured and recorded.

The precipitation rate of each zone is calculated by measuring the average amount of water collected in each catch can.  The efficiency of the zone is calculated by measuring the variance of the water collected in each catch can.  The smaller the variance between catch can results the more efficient the irrigation system is.  Ideally, a properly installed irrigation system is between 65% to 75% efficient.

Last year we announced a  the release of the first electronic, hand-held catch can reader for irrigation audits. Click Here for more information

Step Three – Creating an Irrigation Schedule

Calculating the irrigation schedule, based upon the actual field information, is where sustainable water savings occur. In calculating the base irrigation schedule the following factors are used to create the most efficient irrigation schedule possible:

Evapotranspiration

Evapotranspiration is the amount of water used by a landscape.  Evapotranspiration is the water loss in the landscape due to evaporation and the water used by plants in transpiration. Evapotranspiration varies by geographic location, seasonal weather patterns, plant material, local site conditions, and soil type.

Soil

The type of soil effects the amount of water that can be stored in the soil.  Sandy soils will hold less water than clay soils.  The infiltration or percolation rate will vary by soil type.  The infiltration or percolation rate is how fast a soil type can absorb water.  This will vary based upon soil texture, structure, degree of compaction, and slope.

Plant Materials

Different plants have different water use requirements and different rooting depths.  The size, age, and location of the plants all effect water usage.  Location, exposure, and the active root zone depth all effect plant water usage and must be considered when creating the base irrigation schedules.

Sprinklers

The information developed in the Irrigation System Field Test is used to determine how long each zone needs to operate to apply the correct amount of water.  The more efficient the irrigation zone the less time the zone needs to apply water.  Lower precipitation rates will result in longer run times and potentially less water runoff.

Baseline ScheduleGolf Course Catch Can Test

A baseline irrigation schedule is then developed for each irrigation zone. The landscape water requirement is adjusted based upon the efficiency of the irrigation system as determined by the field test information.   The soil type is used to determine how much water to apply.  Additionally, since most sprinkler systems can apply water faster than the soil can absorb water, a maximum run time is developed for each irrigation zone.  This prevents water from running off the landscape.  The soil and root depth determine how long to run a zone. The amount of time between irrigation cycles is also determined by the soil type and rooting depth.  Allowing the water to soak into the soil to the proper root zone depth without saturating the soil for long periods of time is an important feature of an irrigation audit.  Most irrigation systems will never reach this level of efficiency without an irrigation audit.

The objective of a great irrigation schedule is to apply the correct amount of water necessary for the optimal growth of the plants in the landscape.  When properly developed, this prevents over and under watering the landscape.  When the irrigation schedule is not properly developed, shallow rooting occurs with short frequent irrigation cycles or run off occurs when water is applied faster than the soil can absorb the water.

Finally, after the base schedule is developed, the irrigation zone run times are adjusted for seasonality.  Additional adjustments are made throughout the season based on visual inspection to compensate for local factors.

Irrigation audits are an essential part of any water conservation program.  An irrigation audit is a very sophisticated process used to create an optimized irrigation schedule.  Most irrigation systems apply more water than needed to maintain a healthy landscape.  The savings in water is worth the time and expense of an irrigation audit.

Irrigation Association Landscape Irrigation Auditor Seal

The Irrigation Association

An irrigation system audit is a complex process and requires the services of a trained expert.  The Irrigation Association’s internationally recognized Certified Landscape Irrigation Auditor (CLIA) program and examination is widely acknowledged as the industry standard.  To learn more about the Irrigation Association, the Certified Landscape Irrigation Auditor program, and the other irrigation industry certifications contact them at:

Irrigation Association

6540 Arlington Boulevard

Falls Church, Virginia 22042-6638  USA

(703) 536-7080
(703) 536-7019 fax

Click here to email

 

Author’s Biography

Tom Barrett PortraitTom Barrett is an accomplished corporate growth and change agent with over thirty years of industry experience.  Tom is the owner of Green Water Infrastructure. Green Water Infrastructure is a consulting company that integrates water resources for sustainable site development. Tom’s leadership experience, holding executive level positions, drives corporate revenue growth through change and innovation for business start-up’s, corporate expansions, and divisional turnarounds.  Tom has been delivering dynamic presentations and training for over twenty years.  These presentations empower people to become masters of change rather than victims of circumstance by developing tools for transformative thinking.

Tom can be reached at Green Water Infrastructure, Inc., 317-565-9964 or Click Here to Email