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