Recently I got the idea of replacing an ancient irrigation controller at my house. The existing irrigation controller was a Rainbird ISA408 (photograph at right) which dates from before the Internet happened. In today’s world of course we all have the idea that anything around the house, no matter what it is, should somehow be connected to the Internet or to our smart phone, or should in any event be very high-tech. Taken to its extreme we would have the Internet of Things. How might one go about selecting a new irrigation controller? In this article I talk about the new irrigation controller that most people choose these days, and what I think might be a better choice for some people.
I surfed around and learned that the irrigation controller that just about everybody buys nowadays is from a company called Rachio. This controller does not really have a screen or keyboard. You drill holes in the wall, screw the controller to the wall, connect wires to the controller (for example wires to power and to zone valves) and then when this is all done, the instructions say to download an app to your phone and “create an account”. Which involves agreeing to some terms and conditions, of course.
One of the selling points for this Rachio irrigation controller is that when you set it up, you tell them the address of your house. Before running an irrigation cycle, their system will look up the weather at your address in a pinpoint way with Weather Underground. If their server sees that it is raining at your address, then it will know not to run the sprinkler cycle that day. Likewise if it sees that the temperature at your address is close to freezing, then it will know not to run the sprinkler cycle that day. I see in the news that Rachio has struck deals with some municipal water systems that the water system will give a homeowner a rebate on their water bill if they swap out their old controller for a new one that saves water.
Another irrigation controller that I found is the SmartStorm. It costs about the same as the Rachio. This is the one that I eventually selected and installed at my home.
This information allows ad networks to, among other things, deliver targeted advertisements that they believe will be of most interest to you.
At this point I returned to the technical specs of the SmartStorm controller. It has a built-in web server, which does not rely on a cloud server (as does the Rachio controller). Nothing about the SmartStorm controller requires you to share any personal information with anyone else. You never have to give any personal information to the company that makes the SmartStorm controller.
The way that you control the SmartStorm controller is simply to visit a web page (that is inside the controller itself) using your smart phone or your desktop computer. A tech-savvy homeowner will do some port forwarding and some DDNS in the home router to make it easy to check the status of the controller and to make changes or adjustments while traveling. (Oh, yes you will need to run an ethernet cable to the place where you will be installing the SmartStorm controller. The Rachio controller does wifi, while the SmartStorm controller requires a wired ethernet connection.)
But wait! What about the feature of avoiding running a cycle when it is raining, or when it is near freezing? It turns out that even before the Internet happened, there was a way to do that. The way that you do it is that you purchase and install a $16 sensor like the one in the photograph. You mount this sensor somewhere outdoors and run a wire to the controller. It senses rain, and it senses the temperature, and it sends a signal to the controller to to tell it to skip a cycle if it is raining or if it is too cold.
And yes you can get the same rebate from the water company if you install this sensor, rather than installing the Rachio controller.
A few other questions come to mind. Suppose you purchase one of these Rachio controllers, and suppose you get to the part of the process where you are asked whether you agree to the terms and conditions. And suppose you decide that you are unwilling to agree. Can you then return the controller to the place of purchase and will they give you your money back? Will they pay somebody to fill the holes in the wall that you drilled to mount the controller to the wall?
Have you recently upgraded your irrigation controller? How did you go about selecting your irrigation controller? Please post a comment below.