A smart sprinkler controller has the power to be your own personal lawn care expert. As a class of products, I think smart sprinklers are one of the most effective and useful smart products you can buy today. They have the ability to help you minimize your water use while simultaneously maximizing your lawn’s curb appeal.
So, instead of trying to comb through web searches to learn the finer points of lawn care myself, I would rather just “hire” my very own lawn care expert in the form of a smart sprinkler controller.
What follows is what you need to know to find a smart sprinkler controller that will fit your needs.
What is a smart sprinkler controller?
A smart sprinkler controller is like a normal sprinkler controller, except it connects all of the controller’s features (usually by using WiFi) to your smart home.
From a very basic point of view, the smart sprinkler controller answers two questions:
- Should I water my lawn? Yes or No
- If yes, how much should I water my lawn?
Everything a smart sprinkler controller does is designed to answer these two questions.
But, it does more than just turn a valve on or off. Depending on the model, it can also control multiple zones, irrigation pumps, or even landscape lights.
Why bother with a smart sprinkler controller?
So what’s the big deal about a smart sprinkler controller over a regular controller? Following are three benefits a smart controller offers you that regular controllers can’t.
1. Smartphone control and configuration
Instead of having to walk to where your controller hangs and punch in the details on a clunky LCD screen, you can control everything from your phone.
You can be in bed, at the office, or in a whole other town and still manage your lawn’s watering schedule. If you want to stop or pause your sprinkler for any reason, it’s just a tap away (instead of trying to call your neighbor and convince them to do you a favor).
2. Schedule best watering times
The biggest advantage a smart sprinkler controller has over a non-connected controller is that it can retrieve local weather data to create the perfect watering schedule.
I used to get up real early and go for a run. I would always run by this particular bank at about 5:30 am. And every day during the watering season, the sprinklers would be on.
It didn’t matter if we just got a couple inches dumped on us from an early morning thunderstorm. The sprinklers were still on, soaking the already wet grass.
However, that won’t happen with a smart sprinkler controller.
Based on the time of year and current weather conditions, a smart sprinkler controller can decide the best time to water your lawn.
For example, depending on the brand you get, your controller can be smart enough to know not to water your lawn if it’s already raining or about to rain.
3. Won’t overwater your yard
You want to have a beautiful green lawn while using the least amount of water necessary. Using a smart sprinkler can lower your water bill and put less strain on your local water supply, while still keeping your lawn green and healthy.
The larger your lawn is, the more money and water you can save, and the more a smart sprinkler makes sense. Plus, you can program it to work with your local water restrictions so you’re never caught in violation of them.
NOTE: Another way to minimize watering costs is to make sure the grass isn’t cut too short. Short grass allows moisture to evaporate quickly. A robotic mower can help keep the grass looking good and at an optimal length (its also a crazy cool gadget to have roaming around your yard).
7 questions to ask before you buy a smart sprinkler controller
1. How many zones can it handle?
A zone in an irrigation system is a set of sprinkler heads that are connected together. Each zone can be turned on/off independently from other zones. So you could set your system to water two zones of your lawn, while leaving the third zone unwatered.
If you already have a sprinkler system with a controller, take a look at the old controller to determine how many zones your new smart sprinkler controller will require.
If you plan on installing a smart sprinkler on a new irrigation system, I recommend consulting with a professional to determine the appropriate number of zones.
2. Can it be customized to your yard?
Different yards (and therefore, different zones within your yard) have different slope angles, are larger or smaller than others, and have different types of vegetation (grass, flowers, etc.) on them.
Depending on the model you buy, you can ensure each zone gets exactly the amount of water it requires depending on its specific needs. Some smart controllers can customize the watering schedule for each zone depending on the type of vegetation it has, the amount of sun it gets, and the amount of shade it receives.
3. Does it auto schedule?
Nobody wants to have to go through the hassle of changing their watering schedule every month or two, so most people don’t. Instead, they just leave the same watering schedule for their lawn year-round. The problem is that optimal watering times shift with the seasons. A good controller can setup your schedule by itself and automatically adjust as the seasons change.
4. Does it require internet to work?
If the internet goes down, you want to make sure your smart sprinkler controller is still in the game. Obviously, it won’t be able to retrieve your local weather data, so if an unexpected rain shower pops up, you’ll have to manually turn it off (but remember, you can do so from within your home by using your smartphone).
However, some controllers are able to store the regular watering schedule it has even without Internet.
5. Does it work with soil sensors?
Soil sensors measure each zone’s soil moisture. A good irrigation controller will work with standard soil sensors to know how wet the ground already is (or isn’t). So instead of using weather data and complicated algorithms to make an educated guess on the condition of your soil, they can measure it directly.
6. Does it work with local weather stations?
Most connected sprinkler controllers will use local weather to make watering decisions. The question to ask yourself before buying one is just how local do they go?
Well, with the right controller, the answer can be “your own backyard” local. If you’re an amateur meteorologist and have your own connected weather station, some controllers can be configured to retrieve data from your own weather station.
If not, they’ll retrieve the data from the nearest weather stations around.
7. Does it qualify for a rebate?
Most smart sprinkler controllers are WaterSense certified and qualify for any available rebates. The WaterSense certification is an EPA certification. Check here to see if you qualify for a rebate. If you do and a rebate is available to you, the rebates come from your utility provider.
5 Best Smart Sprinkler Controllers
Best Overall: Rachio 3
With the Rachio, you can customize your zones according to things like plant type, how much sun each zone gets, and how steep any slopes are. Once you punch in those details, Rachio will automatically calculate exactly how much water each slope needs.
You can also use the app to pick which style of spray head you want to use on each zone, in case you want one zone to be watered with a mister and another with a rotary nozzle. It can handle up to 16 zones.
You can schedule which days and times you want each zone watered and keep track of when they were last watered. And the watering schedule automatically adjusts as the seasons change, so your yard isn’t left parched or overwatered.
While you can control everything from your smartphone, the Rachio also includes a full set of controls on the actual unit as well.
The Rachio 3 supports many smart home integrations including Apple HomeKit, Alexa, Google Assistant, IFTT, Smart Things, and Nest.
As for it’s “weather intelligence,” it monitors more than a quarter million data points (from satellites, radar, and weather stations) about your specific neighborhood, so that it adjusts its schedule depending on the weather.
It also has several “skips” so it doesn’t water when it shouldn’t, such as a rain skip, saturation skip, freeze skip, and wind skip. So when rain is on the way, the ground is already saturated with water, it’s going to freeze, or high winds are coming, you don’t waste your water (or money) by sprinkling your lawn.
Best Value: Orbit B-hyve
The Orbit, like the Rachio, also determines how much water each zone needs based on its slope, soil type, and sun exposure.
It has smart scheduling so that you don’t have to manually schedule which days and times you want each zone to be watered (although if you prefer to do it yourself, you do have that option). It’s compatible with Alexa and Google Assistant and lets you control everything from your smartphone.
But if you prefer, the large LCD screen on the unit comes with all of the necessary controls as well.
The Orbit B-hyve also draws from local weather data to know when it should stop sprinkling your lawn and is WaterSense certified. So even if it’s scheduled to sprinkle your lawn at a certain time, if it detects that rain is on the way, it’ll hold off on watering your lawn.
It will also notify you in real time about what’s going on with your lawn, such as when it stops watering or if the timer is having issues, as well as taking care of any watering restrictions you’re under.
The RainMachine has 12 zones it’s able to water. When it comes to actually watering your lawn, it’s able to function without being connected to the internet. It only needs the internet to get updates on weather patterns using several different data sources and it downloads weather information every 6 hours.
If it’s about to freeze or a heat wave is about to come rolling through, the RainMachine is specially designed to take that into account, so you can tell it to water more than usual on the extra hot days or hold off on watering during the extra cold days.
There are no limitations to how you want to schedule your lawn. However, one downside is that you have to manually schedule your watering calendar yourself, as it doesn’t have the ability to smart schedule, although it is compatible with Alexa and Google Assistant.
Depending on the model, the BlueSpray can work with up to 24 different zones. It operates even if the Internet goes down because everything is saved onto the device itself, rather than a cloud. It automatically shuts off when it detects a leak and adjusts according to the weather as well.
You can control BlueSpray from your laptop, desktop, smartphone, or tablet (no app needed). However, I didn’t see any options for being able to automatically create a watering schedule, so you’ll probably have to do so manually.
The BlueSpray is the only controller I’m aware of that can be setup to automatically close your garage door when needed. This can be a handy little perk you may want when you’re leaving your house or if the sky starts raining and your door is open.
Scotts Gro Controller
This used to be the Blossom controller, but Scotts bought the company and retooled the product.
They offer several different models and kits of smart watering controllers and they’re specifically designed for gardeners. Scotts’ controllers factor in weather data, how wet your soil already is or isn’t, and the types of plants, flowers, and grass you have in order to figure out your best watering schedule.
You can install a drip sprinkler in certain pots or a spray sprinkler for your lawn and configure it all from your smartphone. It manages up to 7 zones and works with Alexa and Google Home. The controller itself is not weatherproof though, so be careful to place it in a safe place indoors.
Overall, a good smart sprinkler controller helps keep your lawn green, healthy, and flourishing by customizing the watering schedules of each zone. It factors in several things, such as plant type, sun exposure, and local weather data to optimize watering times. It also lets you keep your lawn watered even if you’re out of town and can’t be there to manually turn your sprinkler off and on.
A smart sprinkler controller can be the best lawn expert you’ll ever have (and maybe all you’ll ever need). There are many similarities between the best ones out there, but pay attention to key differences, such as how many zones each one is able to manage and how well they can integrate into your smart home ecosystem.
So before you decide which controller to purchase, take a look at your individual needs and preferences and make a choice based off of those. After all, there are plenty of options to choose from.