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    is smart irrigation controller worth it?

    Hey all! I am new here, so I am not sure if this is the right place to post. I live in California, and I have been considering if I should get a smart irrigation controller recently. Is it really worth the money?


    I stumbled upon this article about the benefits of smart irrigation controllers today, and now I'm scratching my head wondering if it's really worth the investment. Any input would be greatly appreciated.


    FYI, I have 8 zones. If you have any brands to recommend, please let me know! Thank you.😅

    #2
    From a monetary perspective, the smart irrigation has a payback if there is day to day (week to week) variability in the sunlight and rainfall. This is common in the Northern climates, but not the case in the desert climates. With weather variability, consider if the variance is region-wide or localized. Most mass-market irrigation smart irrigation systems use internet-based forecast and weather data that will be same for a city or larger areas.

    Convenience is another reason for smart systems. Irrigation timers could be installed when access is not convenient, and the timer dials are not that intuitive. If you do it once and never again look at it then it does not make much difference, but if you want to interact with it every once in a while, or even when not at home then the smartphone access is good.

    Simple timer systems have been in service for a long time with proven reliability. Smart systems have not had the test of time and with most electronics they do have additional failure modes. Even when the controller still functions, you are also depending upon the sensors and how the sensor data is delivered. Will the source still be in business in a year or two? Is the data reliably delivered? Even if you have your own weather station, the weather station needs to be maintained.

    In my case I use a computer-based system for my location in Western Washington and a simple timer for my Southern AZ location. While convenience of remote access to AZ site would be a plus, I want a system that has the minimum chance of a failure where the implications of a failure are significant. All modern smart controller hardware is based on similar technology and there is not that much difference from a water-saving perspective. Don't believe advertised 25% savings vs. 50% savings as a basis to choose. Do be careful of those that want monthly fee. Hunter and Orbit have a long presence in the industry, but are new to the consumer market for smart irrigation. There are several entrepreneurs that have started with group funding, but most have gone out of business. Rachio is one that looks to have survived.

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      #3
      Wow! Thank you so much for the insights.

      Comment


        #4
        We wanted a little more control than a timer only solution provided. Basically to take into account the soil moisture level and that day's weather forecast. As a result, I made my own valve box controller using an ESP32 based MCU running Tasmota, some momentary buttons, and relays to run drip irrigation in gardens and for our flower pots on the deck and patio. While I started out controlling this with mcsSprinklers, I found it to be more than I needed. My desire was only to run a zone for X minutes unless a soil moisture sensor was above a given % (half are in flower pots) and the weather forecast did not meet specific conditions for chance of rain and projected rainfall. I already had the weather and sensor data coming into HomeSeer so I currently use events such as the one shown below. This is for the Deck pots. I have 2 Virtual Devices. The first is used for all of my drip events and if off (such as during winter) none of the events run. The second is specific to the deck, and is the only zone I have with a second virtual device. We typically water the gardens longer than we do the deck.

        I purchased everything over time. After putting it all together, I was surprised that the control box ended up costing me close to $75 USD. It provides power for the MCU and valves, and can control up to 6 valves. Only 6 because I knew I would have 5 zones and added for one more. I could have more zones and the additional cost would be minimal since it would only consist of additional relays and momentary switches.

        In the end, I would say that unless you are comfortable with and desire a DIY approach, you are likely just as well off with a commercially supplied controller.

        I would agree with Michael McSharry in that I am not saving water with this setup, unless you compare a dumb timer watering on a rainy day vs mine. Frankly, I may be using more water as I am watering more plants than I may have manually. What I do have is the convenience of the watering being done for me. It took a lot of testing and experimentation to figure out soil moisture levels If you have something that is working, I would keep it as-is.

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        Karl S
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          #5
          Check the Rachio Rebate Center. It might cost you nothing in California?

          ​​​​​​https://rachio.com/rebates/

          Comment


            #6
            I've been using mcsSpinklers Pro for 12 years using rain8Net devices which I replaced the standard timer and have no regrets with it. Sure, I had to lay out some cash up front from the controllers and plugin, but I chuckle to myself when I see it raining outside and the neighbours systems are watering their lawns before the spong switch finally gets wet enough to stop. Most take some time... As well, I also enjoy the ease to walk around my lot in the spring with my cell phone testing the 36 sprinkler heads at startup or giving a zone an extra blast as I see fit. I'm sure the system has saved me water and electricity - I'm on a well. Saying that, each application is specific to the end user needs
            HS3PRO 3.0.0.500 as a Fire Daemon service, Windows 2016 Server Std Intel Core i5 PC HTPC Slim SFF 4GB, 120GB SSD drive, WLG800, RFXCom, TI103,NetCam, UltraNetcam3, BLBackup, CurrentCost 3P Rain8Net, MCsSprinker, HSTouch, Ademco Security plugin/AD2USB, JowiHue, various Oregon Scientific temp/humidity sensors, Z-Net, Zsmoke, Aeron Labs micro switches, Amazon Echo Dots, WS+, WD+ ... on and on.

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              #7
              I'll just quickly echo what others here have said.

              When I finally got an irrigation system put in place it came with a typical digital controller, one of those with a LCD single line screen, a rotary knob and bunch of buttons. There is sometimes a RS232 serial port where the irrigation company can plug a terminal in for slightly easier programming. And that's the thing, programming one of these types of controllers means getting out the manual so that you know where to turn the dial, how many times to push buttons, etc. The most intelligence these things have is a rain sensor switch.

              While I haven't proven the water savings costs yet, using a smart controller is a joy. You no longer need to find the manual since everything is laid out on web screens. You can see historical water usage easily. Weather intelligence allows you to save money ahead of time. And it's easier to program *everything* like soak and cycle times to accommodate your soil type and ensure water is not running off and being wasted. The thing I love the most is that once I setup my zones, durations, soak and cycle, etc., I then simply tell it "I'd like this all to happen before sunrise" and it automatically does the math to know when to start the zones on a continuous basis.

              I blow out/winterize the lines myself, so being able to stand outside with the air compressor and start the zone I need from my phone is again a great convenience. Same for checking the sprinkler heads/zones, rather than having to run back and forth to the controller.

              If the wife puts some new flowers in, or I overseed the lawn, I can quickly enable a different schedule to accommodate those conditions. In the past, I was never successful at getting new seed to take, now it's a piece of cake to setup a schedule to keep the top layer of soil wet throughout the day with short periods of watering.

              So yeah, totally worth it.

              Comment


                #8
                Originally posted by TC1 View Post
                I'll just quickly echo what others here have said.

                When I finally got an irrigation system put in place it came with a typical digital controller, one of those with a LCD single line screen, a rotary knob and bunch of buttons. There is sometimes a RS232 serial port where the irrigation company can plug a terminal in for slightly easier programming. And that's the thing, programming one of these types of controllers means getting out the manual so that you know where to turn the dial, how many times to push buttons, etc. The most intelligence these things have is a rain sensor switch.

                While I haven't proven the water savings costs yet, using a smart controller is a joy. You no longer need to find the manual since everything is laid out on web screens. You can see historical water usage easily. Weather intelligence allows you to save money ahead of time. And it's easier to program *everything* like soak and cycle times to accommodate your soil type and ensure water is not running off and being wasted. The thing I love the most is that once I setup my zones, durations, soak and cycle, etc., I then simply tell it "I'd like this all to happen before sunrise" and it automatically does the math to know when to start the zones on a continuous basis.

                I blow out/winterize the lines myself, so being able to stand outside with the air compressor and start the zone I need from my phone is again a great convenience. Same for checking the sprinkler heads/zones, rather than having to run back and forth to the controller.

                If the wife puts some new flowers in, or I overseed the lawn, I can quickly enable a different schedule to accommodate those conditions. In the past, I was never successful at getting new seed to take, now it's a piece of cake to setup a schedule to keep the top layer of soil wet throughout the day with short periods of watering.

                So yeah, totally worth it.
                Which smart controller did you buy? I've been looking at various brands, and most of them have reviews with complaints from users about reliability. Either the WiFi signal to/from the controller is unreliable* (challenge of getting WiFi to the box outside) or long-term reliability is poor. Rachio in particular seems to fail after some months and users report poor service from Rachio. The company is apparently on their third revision and it's still having problems.

                *Yes, I know these are average consumer homeowners without the skill or interest in building a commercial-grade WiFi system.

                My Hunter controller with its annoying little LCD screen and weird sequences off rubber button presses and knob turns is a pain to remember how to change, but it's rock-solid reliable.

                Comment


                  #9
                  I am using OpenSprinkler. Maybe it's our climate but the whole 'rain-delay' doesn't work. There are rain forecasts but it usually doesn't materialize and if it actually does it's neglectable. The system still thinks there was rain so your grass and flowers die. The only advantage I see is that I can pull out my phone and start a zone for a short time to make sure everything is still working ok (no leaks, etc). Otherwise I haven't found a benefit yet. It might be different if I had some weather monitoring device that measures real rain amounts.

                  Comment


                    #10
                    Originally posted by mulu View Post
                    I am using OpenSprinkler. Maybe it's our climate but the whole 'rain-delay' doesn't work. There are rain forecasts but it usually doesn't materialize and if it actually does it's neglectable. The system still thinks there was rain so your grass and flowers die. The only advantage I see is that I can pull out my phone and start a zone for a short time to make sure everything is still working ok (no leaks, etc). Otherwise I haven't found a benefit yet. It might be different if I had some weather monitoring device that measures real rain amounts.
                    Yeah; that's what reviewers often say: their lawn/shrubs died because the controller didn't do what it should have done. Sometimes simpler is better.

                    Comment


                      #11
                      Originally posted by SteveW View Post

                      Yeah; that's what reviewers often say: their lawn/shrubs died because the controller didn't do what it should have done. Sometimes simpler is better.
                      Yes, keep it as simple as possible while achieving the task. Simple sprinkler systems are more reliable (unless you have fault tolerant soil moisture sensors or some other reliable system). Another example is home audio distribution. It's a lot easier to just use Spotify and cast music to whatever speakers you want. No home automation required. Topping off a fountain with water? No need for adding a water sensor and controlling a valve (my first approach). Just use a mechanical device that controls water to the fountain. But if you have the time...

                      Comment


                        #12
                        Originally posted by SteveW View Post

                        Which smart controller did you buy? I've been looking at various brands, and most of them have reviews with complaints from users about reliability. Either the WiFi signal to/from the controller is unreliable* (challenge of getting WiFi to the box outside) or long-term reliability is poor. Rachio in particular seems to fail after some months and users report poor service from Rachio. The company is apparently on their third revision and it's still having problems.

                        *Yes, I know these are average consumer homeowners without the skill or interest in building a commercial-grade WiFi system.

                        My Hunter controller with its annoying little LCD screen and weird sequences off rubber button presses and knob turns is a pain to remember how to change, but it's rock-solid reliable.
                        I am in fact using a Rachio 3 8-zone controller. Which was their 3rd generation model when I bought it a few years ago. Zero complaints with it, but it is located in a utility closet on the interior of an exterior wall. So any complaints about Rachio's earlier models wouldn't apply here. And the thing about Rachio's is that once the schedule is in the unit it should still work even if you temporarily lose Internet access.

                        Comment


                          #13
                          Originally posted by TC1 View Post

                          I am in fact using a Rachio 3 8-zone controller. Which was their 3rd generation model when I bought it a few years ago. Zero complaints with it, but it is located in a utility closet on the interior of an exterior wall. So any complaints about Rachio's earlier models wouldn't apply here. And the thing about Rachio's is that once the schedule is in the unit it should still work even if you temporarily lose Internet access.
                          Good to hear it's working for you.

                          Comment


                            #14
                            I have a simple setup with a couple of Sonoff 4CH Pro modules re-flashed with Tasmota. A word of caution and a couple of suggestions. Be careful with relying on soil moisture sensors. Here in the bay area I've found the soil dries out on the surface long before the roots of the plants need water. This is particularly true if you use any kind of polymer soil moisture amendment. I've found that deep watering at and below the root system works best in our climate. There's a lot of good videos on how to implement deep-watering pipes on YouTube.

                            To further that, I use flow rate drip irrigation devices from Jain (formerly Pepco). (https://jainsusa.com/store/quadra-bubbler/). These devices deliver a fixed amount of water at a fixed rate in Gallons per Hour.

                            I also have a rain sensor and a rain gauge that tells me what's going on at MY HOUSE, not just in the general area. The bay area is made up of numerous microclimates so relying on the internet is hit-or-miss.

                            Since ornamental lawns are now banned in Santa Clara county I can't say much about watering a lawn.
                            "if I have seen further [than others], it is by standing on the shoulders of giants." --Sir Isaac Newton (1675)

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