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”

Specifications for Soil Moisture Sensors Being Developed by EPA WaterSense

Soil Moisture Sensors – The Most Effective Way to Irrigate

Rain Bird Soil Moisture SensorSoil moisture–based control technologies water plants based on their needs by measuring the amount of moisture in the soil and tailoring irrigation schedules accordingly. Studies suggest that soil moisture sensors can result in water savings of at least 20 percent, potentially saving millions of gallons of water across the country. Soil moisture–based control technologies that earn the WaterSense label will take the guesswork out of watering and help improve irrigation system efficiency.

As an alternative to convention irrigation controllers, soil moisture-based control technologies make irrigation schedule adjustments by automatically tailoring the amount and frequency and timing of irrigation events based on the moisture content of the soil in the landscape.

WaterSense has issued its Notice of Intent to develop a specification for soil moisture–based control technologies. If you are interested in participating in developing the specification for  soil moisture-based control technology Click Here to send your comments to the EPA WaterSense Program.

Approved Weather-based Irrigation Controller Specification

Watermark Soil Moisture Control SystemSoil moisture-based control is designed to work in conjunction with the WaterSense Weather-based Irrigation Controller Specification. Replacing a standard irrigation controller with a WaterSense labeled irrigation controller can save an average home nearly 8,800 gallons of water annually. If every home in the United States with an automatic sprinkler system installed and properly operated a WaterSense labeled controller, we could save $435 million in water costs and 120 billion gallons of water across the country annually from not overwatering lawns and landscapes. That’s equal to the annual household water needs of nearly 1.3 million average American homes.

Earning the WaterSense Label

To earn the WaterSense label, landscape irrigation controllers must be able to adequately meet the watering needs of a landscape without overwatering. As with all other WaterSense labeled products, WaterSense labeled controllers will be independently certified to ensure that they meet the WaterSense criteria for efficiency and performance.

About the EPA WaterSense Program

EPA Watersense Product LogoWaterSense, a partnership program by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, seeks to protect the future of our nation’s water supply by offering people a simple way to use less water with water-efficient products, new homes, and services.

WaterSense brings together a variety of stakeholders to:

  •  Promote the value of water efficiency.
  • Provide consumers with easy ways to save water, as both a label for products and an information resource to help people use water more efficiently.
  • Encourage innovation in manufacturing.
  • Decrease water use and reduce strain on water resources and infrastructure.

The program seeks to help consumers make smart water choices that save money and maintain high environmental standards without compromising performance. Products and services that have earned the WaterSense label have been certified to be at least 20 percent more efficient without sacrificing performance.

Upgrading to more efficient WaterSense labeled products can help us to save billions of gallons of water in the country every year. Something as simple as twisting on a WaterSense labeled aerator and upgrading to a WaterSense labeled faucet could save a household 11,000 gallons over the life of the faucet. Learn more about how you can save water and help WaterSense preserve and protect our nation’s water resources.