Best Smart Sprinkler Controller - Rachio Smart Sprinkler Review

Best Smart Sprinkler Controller

Chip Lawn Care, Outdoor Leave a Comment

Are you looking for the Best Smart Sprinkler System?  I’ve reviewed many different smart irrigation systems to find the best smart irrigation system for your lawn.

The Best Smart Sprinkler Controller

If you want the answer, the best Smart Sprinkler Control on the market is the Rachio Smart Sprinkler Controller. Read how I discovered the best smart sprinkler control in my review of the latest and greatest smart irrigation systems.

What is a smart sprinkler controller?

Why would you want an automatic sprinkler system? It sounds funny at first, but it’s genius. Better yet, it saves you money. In fact, it cut my water bill in half (more on that in a second) and paid for itself in less than three months.

If you have a sprinkler system, you probably have one of these “beauties” in your garage:

Rachio Smart Sprinkler Review

Do you have one of these “dumb” smart sprinkler controllers?

This Hunter Sprinkler Controller looks like something from the 1960s they portrayed as “the future,” right next to flying cars. As you know, this is a smart home blog, and I love technology.

However, this standard sprinkler system controller was impossible for me to control. My watch (an Apple Watch) has infinitely more tech built in. It seems crazy that a dumb device controls one of my most expensive bills during the summer months. We don’t second guess a Nest Thermostat but don’t think we need a smart sprinkler controller.

Back to our dumb controller: The small LED screen was VERY confusing, and the system did nothing to help me. One “futuristic” part of the system was the Rain Sensor. However, this controller would only skip a watering if the rain sensor was wet. What if it was going to rain an hour later? This poor little Hunter didn’t know what was going to happen. I also didn’t know what was going to happen – how do you program this thing?! Odd days, even days, how long, what times? I had no idea and thought there had to be a better option.

I went on the search for ultimate control over watering my lawn, shrubs, and trees. I knew there had to be a smarter solution.

The Best Smart WiFi-enabled Sprinkler Controller

As I was building my home, I knew they wouldn’t put anything “smart” in the house without paying a pretty penny (they even put in the junky CFL lights that took minutes to warm up – no LEDs here). I knew I’d have to buy my own smarter controller (don’t worry, you can sell your old Sprinkler controller on eBay for $30-50).

It turns out there are several other Wi-Fi, Smart Sprinkler systems. I looked at:

The Rain Machine Smart Sprinkler Controller

Rain Machine Smart Wifi Sprinkler

Rain Machine Smart Wifi Sprinkler

The Rain Machine wasn’t the best Smart Sprinkler Controller, but it was a close second choice for me. I decided I didn’t want a complicated screen on the device, controlling via the app was plenty.

B-hyve Smart Indoor/Outdoor 12-Station WiFi Smart Sprinkler System

B-hyve Smart Indoor/Outdoor 12-Station WiFi Sprinkler System

B-hyve Smart Indoor/Outdoor 12-Station WiFi Sprinkler System

The B-hyve Smart Controller wasn’t the best, either. Then, I obviously looked at Rachio – the 1st and 2nd Generation.

Rachio: the Best Smart Sprinkler Controller System

When I buy something like the Rachio, I do a lot of research. I wanted something that was easy to understand, easy to use and was set and forget. Rachio met all of those criteria for me. I also loved they had a vibrant community where many Rachio employees interacted with passionate users of the product. I felt confident that if I had any issues with the product or set up, they would help.

The Rachio reviews on Amazon were also amazing.

So, I dove in and sold my Hunter Controller on eBay and set up the Rachio.

How to set up the Rachio Sprinkler Controller

Physical setup of the Rachio is pretty easy. You simply remove the wires (make sure to keep track of which wires go to which zones spot! I took a photo to make sure I got the wiring right) from your old controller and put them in the same spot on the Rachio. It’s that easy.

The more difficult part of the Rachio is the setup of your zones and schedule. The app walks you through a really great setup feature when you first set up your zones:

Rachio Set up

 

It will then turn on the first zone and tell you to find it:

The app counts down from 5 and turns on zone 1.

It’s really intuitive. From there, you can even take photos and fill in more details your different zones. Here is a screenshot of how my Rachio is set up:

How my Rachio is set up.

Where I got confused was in Schedules. What do I need to do? How do I control it? Do I need to control it? I made this quick video to show you how to set up schedules within Rachio:

The key to setting up Rachio to work for you is to set it up correctly once and then forget it. Once you understand the concept of filling the bucket, it’s easy. Once again, from Rachio’s great community:

First, let’s understand how we pick the duration and why that can stay fixed while the interval changes. It’s easiest if we think of your yard as a bucket. There are attributes like soil type and root depth (based on plant type) which determine how big your bucket is. The bigger the bucket, the longer you need to water to fill it. Based on your sprinkler head and the size of your bucket, we determine exactly how long it takes to go from an empty bucket to a full bucket.

We always wait until your bucket is half empty to water. In irrigation terms, this is called Management Allowed Depletion. Watering deep and only when the bucket is half empty promotes deep root growth and makes your plants more drought resistant.  When we do water, we want to completely refill the bucket, but not let it spill over (i.e. runoff).  This is called watering to Field Capacity; or soil saturation. 

It took me a while to find that concept on their website, but it makes sense. Fill the bucket of your lawn and Rachio will figure out when it needs to be refilled, automatically. BAM! It only lets the bucket get half empty before a refill.

If you want to get, nerdy Rachio spells out all the nerdy variables it uses. The most interesting me was the Crop Evapotranspiration variable. In short, it means how much water is taken from your “bucket” given the weather. The Much more nerdy definition here.

I have a separate schedule set up to water my shrubs every 4 days, which is what their awesome customer support recommended.

Bonus tip: Many different municipalities have free Sprinkler Audits. They will send a team of people to your home to have you adjust the flow of your sprinkler system, show you inefficiencies and help you optimize. They will, most likely, also provide you with details about your flow rate for your sprinklers. You can use the Custom Nozzles feature to fine-tune.

How does the Rachio know the weather?

Weather Integration was one of my biggest complaints about Rachio when I first got it. At first, the Rachio did no integrate with BloomSky, which is my personal weather station. It’s important to use a VERY close weather station in a climate like Northern Colorado, as it could rain an inch at my house and nothing half a mile away. Once again, Rachio’s community provides a GREAT solution to use BloomSky with Rachio.

Don’t have a BloomSky? Don’t worry, Rachio uses a lot of different weather stations to get weather information. If you are in a semi-populated area, there is a good chance there will be a suitable weather station nearby.

The best part about the local weather is that Rachio not only keeps track of rainfall, but it predicts when rainfall is going to happen. For example, this morning, there was an 80% chance of .4 inches of rain in my neighborhood. The Rachio skipped watering (you can tweak this setting) because it would rain later on in the day. There isn’t a dumb controller than can do that! If it doesn’t rain that day, Rachio will pick up the slack the next day.

Does Rachio really save you money?

First of all, Rachio has a rebate in many areas. Simply enter your Zip Code on the Rachio website to see what rebates you get.

I bought the Rachio on sale on Amazon and got a $100 water credit from my local utility provider. Even at retail, that’s 50% off right away. Then, you’ll save even more money with Rachio because it will cut down on watering.

Can you guess when I bought Rachio?

Can you guess when I installed the Rachio?

You guess it! I started in April in that graph. Pretty amazing, isn’t it?

The Rachio App also shows you how much you saved that year in using Rachio (the above picture is from my utility company).

Rachio Water Savings

Rachio Water Savings: The app shows you how much you saved.

Pretty cool, huh?

What don’t I like about the Rachio?

My biggest complaint, not working with Bloomsky, was my biggest gripe. That’s been solved.

The concept of the bucket was a bit confusing, but hopefully, this video helps sort it out.

I really don’t care if the Rachio integrated with Amazon Alexa or Wink or Google Home. I don’t have any need for that – especially since it is set it and forget it.

I overseeded my grass last year and I do wish that Rachio had an automatic setting to let your grass water less and less and move to a normal flex schedule. I have no doubt that Rachio will come out with more and more features and this will someday be addressed.

I do have a problem with the neighbor’s cat pooping in my yard. I might set up a Wink Robot to turn on the sprinklers for 1 minute when a motion sensor I place out there detects motion. That’d be pretty funny (and hopefully would work!).

Should you buy a Rachio?

The main point of a Rachio Smart Sprinkler Review should be to give a recommendation, right? My recommendation is so strong that the Rachio is the #2 Best Smart Home Product I own.

There aren’t many products that live up to the hype of:

  1. Rachio will make your life simpler.
  2. Rachio will save you money.
  3. Rachio will do a better job than your current sprinkler controller.

Simpler, cheaper and better. That’s a pretty ringing endorsement. Not only is Rachio the best smart sprinkler controller, it’s one of the best smart home additions you can make.

Here’s where I’ve found the best deal on the Rachio controller.

Which Rachio Controller Should you buy?

There is the First Generation Rachio Controller and the Second Generation Rachio Controller. The price difference isn’t very large and I’d recommend the Second Generation because it appears to be more future proof. Your only other option is how many zones you need. Simply buy the right number for your lawn – do you only have 5 zones now and only going to add a couple more? Then the 8 Zone Rachio will work for you. If you’ve got more or want to add more zones, you can buy the 16 Zone Rachio. They are identical except the number of zones they can handle.

What do you think? Are you going to buy the Rachio? Was this Rachio Review Helpful?

Will your wife approve of Rachio Smart Irrigation Controller?

This is a new area I’m adding to all my reviews. There’s no sense in a Smart Home product that isn’t wife-approved.

In short – as long as you set it up right and your lawn looks good – she will. There are no complicated controls, nothing to “not work.” My wife approves whole-heartedly of the Rachio Smart Irrigation Controller.

What else works with the Rachio Smart Sprinkler Controller?

Rachio works with a lot of different devices – Amazon Echo, Wink and more. However, it does not work with Apple’s HomeKit (read products that work with Apple HomeKit).

Whatcha think? Have a question or comment?