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The new smart sprinkler controllers are making old irrigation timers obsolete. When connected to the internet and combined with a companion phone app or web user interface, a smart sprinkler controller gives you total control over your irrigation system from anywhere. The ability to access the system with your phone makes scheduling and monitoring the watering of lawn and landscape beds easy and convenient. Smart watering technology automatically adjusts watering based on local, and even hyper-local, weather forecasts, so there's no more lawn watering on rainy days!
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In early winter 2016, I built a smart controller that is integrated into my SmartThings home automation system. You can find the thread and the instructions that I followed posted on the SmartThings Community forum. A critical part the for the controller that I built, the SmartThings Shield, is no longer available so another community member created this controller that uses an ESP8266. If you are interested in building a controller, instructions can be found here.
This video is an example of how you can operate a sprinkler zone using a smart phone and smart controller.
Our #1 pick is Ranchio Smart Sprinkler Controllers. These systems are very easy to install, setup and use. They are also compatible with smart home systems including Nest, Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, and SmartThings. You don't need to own a personal weather station to get accurate forecasting, according to Rachio, the Generation 3 model uses Rachio’s Weather Intelligence Plus system which provides hyper local accuracy into the current and projected weather that’s not only in your area but right outside your door. However, if you have an accurate PWS, you can connect it to your controller.
The biggest complaint that Ranchio owners have is the lack of a user interface on the controller (there is limited manual control from the Rachio 3 unit), you must use the app to setup automatic watering programs and also for manual operation. This can be a problem if you need a landscaper or service technician to operate the system. However, there is an option to give them Shared Access and you can set the parameters without disclosing your account information.
There is also an active and helpful user community https://community.rachio.com and the new Rachio Thrive lawn treatment plan Rachio owners can subscribe to.
There are two features that set the Rain Machine apart from Rachio. The first is the user interface on the controller (which is a touch screen) and is also controlled by the mobile app. You can also operate the system from your computer, there is a nice user interface on the website. The other nice feature is the Rain Machine does not depend on cloud service to run so it will operate if your WiFi is out.
You also don't need a subscription for the weather monitoring feature. There are several weather services to choose from, or connect it to your PWS (weather underground PWS support). Rain Machine also supports smart home integration (Alexa, Smartthings, etc). There are models with 8, 12, or 16 zones.
Rain Machine Controllers Support only 2.4GHz WiFi so make sure you have a dual band router with this frequency. There are some negative reviews about the phone app as well as issues with wi-fi connections and updating the weather information. These controllers are not weather proof so needs to be protected in a waterproof enclosure to protect it if installed outside. Overall, this is a very nice unit that I would be tempted to purchase over the the Rachio.
The B-hyve retails for $100 to $120 less than Rachio. This is a nice indoor/outdoor timer that allows you to program with the phone app or at the controller. You can also access the controller through a web browser. This unit comes in a locking weather-resistant case so it can be installed outdoors.
The B-hyve's Weather Sense technology adjusts watering based on site conditions and the weather forecast. NOAA weather is the only service it connects to so (only service) so it is best to integrate your own PWS for better forecasting your micro-climate (but I’m not sure this is possible so need to check).
The manufacturer claims the unit can be installed up to 200 feet from your wi-fi router. 2.4 GHZ WiFi is the only band supported by this unit.
Amazon Echo is the only smart home system that currently integrate with the B-hyve, but they are working on Google Home Assistant and Homekit integration. This is a great controller for the price. Several reviews praise the good customer support. A customer on Amazon complained that you cannot use the Smart Watering feature AND set watering schedules. This is a big negative in my opinion. Also the Smart Watering feature seems to be unreliable according to several Amazon reviews.
There are several other good options to choose from:
NxEco **will work without an internet connection
The Yardian **built in wi-fi camera for security and includes motion sensor. Continues to work with temporary loss of internet service.
Spruce Smart Sprinkler Controller **soil moisture sensor integration