Time to Upgrade to a Smart Sprinkler Controller

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!

Some of the links in this article are affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission at no extra cost to you. All opinions remain my own. PLEASE READ MY DISCLOSURE FOR MORE INFORMATION.

Five Reasons to Upgrade to a Smart Sprinkler Controller

  1. Convenience.  Smart sprinkler controller phone apps allow you to use your phone to monitor and control your irrigation system.  Turn your sprinklers on or off remotely and receive phone notifications and alerts when the system runs or watering is delayed due to weather.  Another benefit is the ability to activate individual zones while you’re in the yard.  This makes maintaining your system easier because you can control zones with your phone instead of running back and forth to the manual controller.     
  2. Simplicity.  Smart Controllers are easier to program watering schedules than the old irrigation timers.  I find the old dumb controllers unintuitive and miserable to operate while programming smart controllers is more simple and more straightforward.
  3. Save Water While Keeping Your Lawn Looking Great!  Smart sprinkler controllers connect your irrigation system to local weather forecasts through the internet and optimize watering based on the forecast using real-time weather data.  Some smart controllers support connecting to a personal weather station.  Controllers such as Ranchio use weather data to make smart adjustments to your watering schedule. The apps feature flexible and smart scheduling (so your lawn will only water during dry periods) and greater control and flexibility over your irrigation system.  Water savings! Physical rain sensors are not reliable.  Many traditional systems are either equipped with a sensor that is not reliable or doesn’t have a sensor and is on set and forgets so the automatic timer runs the irrigation on a set schedule, even when it’s raining.
  4. Smart Home Integration.  Smart sprinkler controllers make a great addition to your smart home.  Several models support integration with popular smart home automation systems.  Voice control with services such as Amazon Echo, Siri, or Google Assistant is a neat feature.
  5. The Technology is Cool.  Impress your friends with your ability to water your yard with your phone from anywhere.  

Installation and Operating Tips

  • You will need a WiFi connection where the unit is installed so if you have poor coverage at that site, then I recommend upgrading to a mesh wifi system such as Google WiFi to eliminate dead spots around your home.
  • Also be sure to check your WiFi network before purchasing, some of these units might not be compatible with your Wi-Fi network if you don’t have dual-band router compatibility (2.4GHz and 5GHz).
  • A smart sprinkler controller can’t see your lawn so make adjustments to your watering programs if your lawn looks dry.  When these controllers are first installed, they need to be monitored and adjusted to ensure the system is operating as it should.  All of these units require a bit of tweaking to get them working efficiently.  You need to find access to a personal weather station close to your property or install your own PWS.  Once set up these are easy to use. 
  • Why would you want to integrate your smart sprinkler controller into your smart home?  Smart home integration adds flexibility and uses.  One example of a use case is setting up motion sensors to make unwanted animal or human visitors leave.  Voice control with Siri or Alexa is a convenient feature…Say “Alexa, water the lawn.”  Pause the system automatically when you arrive home or turn it off when you open a door such as the back door or delay watering when presence is detected.  
  • As with all irrigation systems, they should not be set and forgotten.  Your system should be consistently monitored and adjusted to ensure they are operating efficiently.  
  • Non-tech people beware.  These controllers are not idiot proof so you will need basic tech skills to install and operate.  As with any smart device, there might be bugs or problems such as WiFi disconnections that will need to be solved at times.  A lot of issues can also be fixed with firmware updates so contact customer service if you are having issues such as the unit dropping WiFi connections.  One of the biggest complaints that people have about these controllers is they drop WiFi at times.  
  • Installation tip: take a picture of your wiring on the old timer before beginning installation.  There are also several how-to-install videos on YouTube that will guide you through the setup process.

DIY Smart Sprinkler Controller

Xzoysia grass growing range
A single mole can dig 100 ft. or more of new tunnels a day hunting food.

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 of 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 smartphone and smart controller.

Our Picks for the Best Smart Sprinkler Controllers

Ranchio 3

Our #1 pick is Rachio Smart Sprinkler Controllers.  These systems are very easy to install, set up 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 also right outside your door.  However, if you have an accurate PWS, you can connect it to your controller.

The biggest complaint that Rachio 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 set up 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.   

Rain Machine

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) which 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 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 weatherproof so need 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 Rachio.

Orbit B-hyve

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 integrates 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.

Links to more Smart Controllers

There are several other good options to choose from:

Gro from Scotts 

Netro Sprite

NxEco **will work without an internet connection

The Yardian **built-in wi-fi camera for security and includes a motion sensor.  Continues to work with temporary loss of internet service.

Rain Bird WiFi Smart Irrigation Timers


Spruce Smart Sprinkler Controller  **soil moisture sensor integration


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