We just built our new home, and being the geek that I am, I’ve been equipping it as a “smart home”. I can open and close my garage doors from the internet, I get an alert if there’s a water leak in the basement, my exterior lights are programmed to turn on and off automatically, and I even have a plug that will turn the TV off with a tap from my smartphone.
The whole process started when I picked up a Nest Learning Thermostat for our previous home (we’ve got two in our new home). If you’re unfamiliar with the product, it’s a thermostat that’s connected to the internet via your WiFi network and is designed to save energy – and save you money. Since it knows what the forecast is, it knows when to turn your HVAC system on and off to optimise your heating or cooling based on the exterior conditions. (It does a lot more, but that’s what’s relevant to this article.)
I purchased a smart sprinkler controller in preparation for putting in the yard at our new home, and wrote up an article about it for Pocketnow. Since the new house doesn’t have a yard (yet, I’m still in the planning and acquiring mode), I haven’t been able to install that controller – let alone put it to use to report on its features and utility.
After publishing the article at Pocketnow I was inundated with people asking why I’d chosen that one to review, rather than Rachio. Even a relative in Colorado took me to task for not reviewing Rachio.
Aubrey with Rachio even reached out and asked if I’d like to review their second generation Rachio Smart Sprinkler Controller. Of course I wanted to, but it was going to take a while to get the yard in. Knowing that it would take a while, Aubrey still wanted me to try it and sent one out to me.
My mom is in her eighties and lives about 90-minutes away from me. Before Dad passed away, he was the guy who took care of the yard. After his passing, a lot of that responsibility has fallen to me.
Mom has a pretty big yard – something like an acre-plus, and has been getting some dry spots over the last few years. Dad would spot-water with a sprinkler on a hose to help mitigate the issue, but Mom has a hard time pulling the hose around the yard.
To help out, I replaced her old, mechanical sprinkler timer with a fancy electronic one from Toro. It did the job and was easy enough for Mom to turn on and off, but the process of making seasonal adjustments is difficult for her to understand, and the controller was in the cellar, which isn’t easy for her to get to.
Rachio to the rescue!
One Saturday I made the trek to my childhood home, Rachio in-hand, and set out to replace her “old” controller with a new one – a smarter one.
Per the instructions, I took a picture of the wiring on the old controller, unplugged it, then took it down.
I was able to reuse one of the screw holes from the old controller, so I only needed to mark and drill one hole. Once that was done, two screws held the main panel of the Rachio to the cellar wall. (It should be noted that the cellar is an interior space. If your location will be exposed to the elements, you’ll need to pick up a weatherproof box.)
From there I matched up zones with the picture that I’d taken previously, and using a small flat-head screwdriver to push down the spring-loaded zone connectors, and inserted the several wires. Once that was done, I plugged in the power, and switched over to “programming”.
I hate programming sprinkler timers – with a passion.
Identifying zones means making several trips from the cellar to the yard or recruiting an additional person to holler back and forth. The controller I had previously wasn’t terribly difficult to program, but it was a pain.
Rachio first has you set up an account through their iOS or Android app, which then walks you through pairing the controller to your account. This was my only area of frustration – not because it was hard, but because it took a while. Installing the app, creating an account, and pairing the controller took me about 10 minutes. That’s really not a long time – unless you’re stuck in a dank, hot cellar with spiders crawling down your neck.
Once I had the controller paired I hightailed it out of the cellar and started configuring everything. The app asks you to identify and name each zone (you can even take a picture of the zone to help identify it on), and runs the zone for a minute. It asks what you’ve got growing in the zone (trees, shrubs, flowers, and what kind of grass), what kind of soil you have, and even the slope and solar exposure of the zone. Lather, rinse, repeat for each zone.
Another part of the setup process is telling the app where you are and picking a nearby weather station. These weather stations report temperature, solar exposure, wind, and rainfall. Taking all these into consideration, Rachio can intelligently schedule your watering. If it’s extra hot or extra bright, Rachio might give your yard more water. If it’s windy, Rachio might postpone watering to help reduce evaporation. If it’s raining, Rachio might skip the watering completely. Our old sprinkler controller had a rain sensor input (so does Rachio), but we didn’t have a rain sensor, so occasionally we’d end up watering during rainstorms (Utah doesn’t get a lot of rain in the Summer, so this wasn’t a big faux pas, but it was wasteful nonetheless). Rachio gets information from weather stations and predictive models via its internet connection rather than expensive in-yard sensors.
- After running the system on the old controller for half the Summer, the regular dry spots were starting to die off. Since switching to the Rachio for a month or so, those dry spots are going away. I’d consider that a major win!
- We’ve had one substantial rainstorm since the installation – Rachio automatically postponed watering for quite a few days following the storm. Another win.
- Mom has a local boy mow for her, and he complained that the grass was too wet to mow on Saturday mornings. Apparently Rachio was watering early in the morning on Saturdays, making mowing troublesome. Mom called me and within a few minutes, from almost 100 miles away, I was able to adjust the schedule to stop watering on Saturdays to accommodate his mowing schedule. Without Rachio that would have taken me 3 hours of driving, plus 15 minutes of re-programming. With Rachio it took only a few moments and it was done. That one instance alone would be worth the purchase of this smart sprinkler controller!
Rachio comes in 8-zone and 16-zone configurations, and has an optional weather-proof box for exterior installations. All three are available on Amazon (affiliate links throughout this article) and from other online and brick-and-mortar resellers. It’s designed and built in the USA, and has met or exceeded all of my expectations so far!
If you’re putting in a new sprinkler system or upgrading a pre-existing one, you’ll definitely want to give Rachio some serious consideration!
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