A Smarter Sprinkler System

Credit: Courtesy Rachio

Being smart about how much water you use every day has never been more important, especially in the drought-ridden West. In some places — such as California and Texas — it may even be the law. One easy way to cut down on water use is with an inexpensive irrigation controller for your current sprinkler system. One of our favorite — and most high-tech — new controllers is Rachio’s Iro, which turns your sprinkler system into a remote-control weather machine.

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The system is simple to set up and run: We mounted the Iro on the wall next to the existing controller, then ported over each of the eight zone’s wires, which is similar to hardwiring audio components. Once you pop on the cover and power it up, you download Rachio’s free app. That sends your smartphone’s screen flashing in a pattern that, when held to a sensor on the cover, syncs Iro to your network. We expected to see waterworks after that, but had to wait (we mistakenly plugged the white control wire into the wrong port — a fix that was remedied by a quick YouTube search).

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You could spend a few minutes setting up a profile, naming each zone, and choosing settings. Or do nothing and Iro uses your location to set up a watering schedule that learns over time from your tweaks. It monitors your zip code’s weather and sends notifications to let you know, based on the rain coming soon, that it’s shutting down the scheduled watering for that day, or vice versa. Rachio also has a water restrictions setting, which is perfect if you're in an area where water conservation is required. And what’s really cool: If you have clay soil, tell Rachio that, and it will water in short bursts (say, two 5-minute-long cycles instead of one at 10 minutes), so that the water has time to absorb into the soil, and it wastes less as run-off.

The system can be operated from anywhere; we strolled the yard, smartphone in hand, setting off zones to check for bad sprinkler heads. The only thing we wish it did was notify you about a busted sprinkler head, which wastes gallons of water when it goes off at 5:00 a.m. — though Iro sends monthly reports detailing the system’s water usage, so we could eventually figure it out. 
[$250; rach.io]