Smart irrigation controllers have changed how we water our landscapes. Our yards, like our homes, are now smart. With smart irrigation technology we’re taking better care of our lawns and gardens, conserving water, and lowering our water bills and system maintenance costs.
Types of Smart Controllers
1. Weather-Based Controllers
Weather-based controllers are also known as climate-based or ET (evapotranspiration) controllers. Evapotranspiration is the amount of water used by plants or lost from the soil’s surface through evaporation.
All weather-based controllers calculate this moisture loss from plants and soil, and replace it by adjusting the irrigation schedule.
ET controllers get their information for these calculations from a number of sources, including site property information that’s programmed into the controller (e.g. water needs of specific plants, root zone depth, soil type, and application rate of the irrigation method).
Weather stations also provide certain data for ET calculations (e.g. temperature, atmospheric pressure, precipitation, wind speed, dew point, and solar radiation). The more accurate and timely the information, the more efficiently the controller can water for the actual needs of the landscape.
Based on the source of weather data, there are different types of ET controllers:
- Historical: Uses pre-programmed historical weather and water use information for your area to determine irrigation requirements.
- Historical with a sensor: Uses pre-programmed historical data but uses a sensor (usually a temperature one) to further adjust the irrigation time.
- Signal-based: The controller receives weather information through internet, cell, cable, radio, telephone, or pager technology from a local weather station or a central data provider. Usually there’s an annual subscription fee. The information can be very accurate if the weather station is nearby, or if historic data from a central database is well-managed for current conditions.
- On-site: These are sensor-based controllers that use information from on-site equipment, such as mini-weather stations, or rain, temperature, and soil moisture sensors to calculate ET values for irrigation adjustments.
2. Soil Moisture-Based Controllers
Soil moisture sensor (SMS) irrigation controllers use sensors buried in the root zone of lawns to measure soil moisture. The sensors then send readings to the controller, which compares this information to its programmed data (e.g. recommended moisture levels, soil type) to determine the watering schedule.
There are two types of soil moisture sensor-based systems:
- Bypass or suspended cycle: Systems consist of a soil moisture sensor attached to an existing controller. Start and run times for the days of the week are programmed into the controller, and the system bypasses the next watering cycle when there’s enough moisture in the soil. However, if the soil is too dry, the controller doesn’t add more watering time.
- Water on demand: Systems consist of a stand-alone controller with its own sensor or sensors. The controller is programmed only for start times and days of the week, with lower and upper moisture thresholds set by the owner. Irrigation is allowed to occur when the moisture level is low, and is bypassed when it’s within the set limits.
Smart Controller Benefits
- Smart controllers, if set up correctly, can save an average home nearly 7,600 gallons of water annually. This also means you’re saving money.
- The irrigation system can be programmed and controlled remotely from a smartphone, tablet, laptop, or desktop computer. With some models you can also perform these actions directly at the controller, but with others you can only use the app.
- You can program landscape conditions into a smart controller for each zone, such as soil type, plant types, degree of slope, and amount of sun or shade. Generally there are options for each condition, which gives the smart system the ability to customize and precisely water each zone.
- Some smart controllers offer different scheduling choices, ranging from fully automatic to allowing you to handle everything. You can be as hands-on or hands-off as you wish. In full automatic mode, the controller can still take into account any restrictions for watering days and times.
- The app is user-friendly, making it easier to program the required information for each zone, and to set up watering schedules.
- You have access to your system from your smartphone or tablet anytime, and anywhere there is cell or internet service.
- Even without a WiFi signal, you can connect directly to the controller through a hotspot using your smartphone as a remote.
- You can receive alerts for various problems so you can act quickly to prevent costly damage to the system and landscape. Problem alerts can provide information on electrical issues, such as short circuits.
- Your smart controller can keep you up to date on what the system is doing. For example, it can tell you:
- When your system is on.
- How long the system ran, and which zones were run.
- Scheduling changes because of rain, a rain forecast, cold temperatures, or high winds.
- Smart controllers work with digital assistants such as Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, and Apple HomeKit to allow you to start and stop your sprinklers with voice commands.
- You’re able to check your scheduled irrigation by day, week, or month with a quick glance at the calendar view in the app. Reports and charts are also available to help you track water usage for better scheduling management.
- For vacations, long absences, or just for convenience, you can authorize system access and monitoring for multiple users.
Making Your Standard Controller “Smart”
Compatible standard controllers can be upgraded to “smarter” versions with add-on sensors and equipment. For example, by adding a WiFi module you’ll have access to weather information, real-time alerts, off-site management, and advanced water management tools, all through your smartphone or tablet.
Call the licensed irrigators at Smart Earth Sprinklers at 512-694-1147 or contact us online for your sprinkler system inspection, repair, and maintenance needs.