Smart Irrigation with Rachio
We have been in the market for a smart irrigation solution for our yard and garden for some time. We are in a gated community that provides our front yard maintenance and when we planned our backyard we hoped to make it as low-maintenance as possible. There is no backyard lawn, but many plants and trees, and for the last few years, a raised bed vegetable garden. We also have a small garden in our entryway with potted plants. All of these are running from one irrigation system that also waters our front lawn and plants.
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A few years ago, our homeowners association contacted us and asked us if we wanted to install a new watering system that would be connected to a weather station. Well, of course we would, we are geeks after all. So they installed a state-of-the art RainBird system. It works fine, for the most part, but it is really difficult to program and sometimes hard to tell if it is working correctly. When we started connecting up things in our home, controlling the sprinkler system seemed like a natural thing to automate, especially as we enter our fourth year of a severe drought. One of the things we were hoping for was a product from RainBird, maybe something we could add to hook it up to wi-fi and a companion app. Unfortunately it seems as if RainBird has no interest in the smart home market. They appear to have some apps for industrial and golf course management, but their home products are all still green screens and dials.
Lucky for us there are a few companies that have created smart sprinkler systems. After doing some research, we decided to try the Rachio Smart Sprinkler. We hesitated a bit because we were not sure how the homeowners association would react to us taking out the RainBird – but as it turned they were very supportive and just asked that we report our progress. When we contacted Rachio, they stated they do have the ability for a homeowners association maintenance department to monitor and control all the Iros in the neighborhood, something we have yet to try out.
For us, the installation was a bit more complex because we had to replace our system that was outside in a locked, weatherproof box, so it took a little more than an hour. We removed the old box, the RainBird, the power supply and all the wires for the irrigation valves, labeling them so we could remember the zones. We replaced the outside weather safe box with a new one from Orbit that fit the Rachio and included an outlet. We then installed a 110 power supply to the outlet, mounted the box to the wall, and mounted the Rachio base plate inside the box with some very strong velcro. Then we hooked up all the wires to the base plate of the Rachio, attached the Rachio plate, plugged it in, and powered it on. To connect the system to our network, we downloaded the Rachio app on the phone and paired it to wifi via the phone using the blinking light from the iPhone method. After Wi-Fi was setup, we closed the door and locked it, because we likely won’t need to go in there again. If you were to install this inside your garage, set up would probably take 30 minutes or less.
With the hardware installed we used the Rachio app to set up each zone providing the soil type, slope, how much sun, the type of sprinklers, and the type of plants. We then set the watering times, which is simple, you tell the app which zone to time, and the app figures it out, including setting soak cycles automatically. This feature is fantastic, especially if you’ve ever had to program your “Dumb” controller. The app uses your location to recommend a weather station that is used to adjust schedule as conditions change, and to even turn off the watering if it rains. Turns out there was a personal weather station just up the road from us.
We now have complete control of our sprinklers from the phone. Now that planting season is here, it has already come in really handy. While standing at our raised bed garden we could open the app and turn on the drip irrigation to soak our newly planted vegetables. For another zone, when we saw leaking in the yard, we easily turned on and off the system while standing in the zone to help isolate the broken line. If we are not home, we can make watering adjustments from anywhere. If you have a gardener, you can guest them an account so they can run the zones manually to fix any broken system devices.
One of the things that made us pause when we were considering the Iro is that unlike some its competitors, it does not have a display on the unit itself. After having it for two months, it is obvious that the screen display is totally unnecessary. Once it is installed everything can be controlled by the app or via the web. For us it would have been a liability since we are have it installed outside. If you were installing it for someone else who doesn’t have a smartphone it can also be controlled via the web, and once it is programmed it pretty much runs itself.
As an added bonus, we got a $100 rebate from our water company for installing our Rachio. It will be hard to tell how much water we save since we were already on a pretty efficient system but every bit counts in a drought like ours. We can set the watering days, so as California changes our allowed days, Rachio recalculates the schedule and amount of time to compensate.
The Rachio integrates with Wink, Nest and IFTTT. So far we have tried integrating with Wink specfically, and this allows us to run the manual watering, which doesn’t really seem to add anything. For now, the Rachio app gives us everything we need and we are looking forward to a smarter growing season this year.