The simple act of watering your lawn is not always so easy. In hot climates, for example, you might use a timer that’s hard-wired into an irrigation system to trigger sprinklers all over your yard at optimal times. But while these systems seem advanced, there’s often no way to disable one remotely—say, during a rainstorm, or if watering restrictions are put in place. Also, if you do have to adjust your settings, one glance at the control panel on an Orbit or Rain Bird system, with its multiple knobs and switches, is enough to make you want to go back to watering by hand with a hose.
The Rachio Iro is a device that aims to greatly simplify things by allowing you to set up and tweak complex lawn irrigation schemes via a mobile app. It’s a $250 box you install, and it takes the place of your existing controller module, so the only requirements are that you have an electronically controlled system already in place, and that you have an iOS or Android device to run the show.
I installed my test unit “blind,” without any prior knowledge of how sprinkler controllers even work other than the obvious (e.g., there are zones arranged across a yard). Installation could not have been easier. Most sprinkler controllers are connected by wires to the sprinkler system itself. At a home in California, I unplugged an Orbit unit, disconnected the wires, and pulled it off the wall by pushing up off the screws. The Iro lets you screw through the unit itself directly into the wall, which saves you the trouble of matching up screw holes. For wiring, it was easy to see the main “common” wire that controls the water valves. The three other wires (black, red, and green) I quickly deduced were used to control the three existing zones. I connected the common wire and the zone wires into the Iro. The install guide is well-written, and everything on the unit was clearly labelled.
Now for the challenging part. Once you finish installing any wirelessly-enabled hardware in your home, it can be tricky to add it to your wireless network. How do you connect securely when there’s no LCD screen? Well, Rachio solved this issue using BlinkUp, a pairing technology made by a company called Electric Imp. During the setup, I found the home Wi-Fi network in the Rachio app and typed in the password, then held my phone up against a small opening in the Iro. My phone flashed quickly for about 15 seconds, transmitting the network information.
After a few seconds, the app connected to the Iro controller and I was ready to setup my zones. In the app, you trigger a zone and wait to see if the sprinklers start running in that area. Once they do, you label the zone–say, “front yard” or “bushes.” Within 15 minutes, I had a working app-controlled sprinkler system.
Right away, I was able to manually trigger sprinklers for a set period of time. I watered each zone for three minutes. (The Iro does this in succession.) I also set up a watering schedule to trigger the sprinklers at noon each day. One day, a notice popped up in the app that said there was a “rain delay” and the watering would be postponed. The Iro had checked weather reports and postponed sprinkling automatically. I never had to configure this.
You can also employ a rain sensor from companies like Hunter and Toro, which will also discontinue watering even if the Iro doesn’t delay sprinkling due to a weather report. The sensor attaches into one of the ports on the Iro next to the watering zone ports.
Rachio offers apps for iPhone and Android, and there’s a beta for a web app. All the apps offer charts to break down your water usage by hours/minutes, gallons, and cubic feet. It’s a great way to monitor how much watering you’ve been doing. The company also tells me it plans to offer additional insights about watering, including data from other Rachio users in your area who are sharing their reports. Conceivably, a neighborhood could water on set schedules.
Rachio does have some competition. The Rain Machine (not to be confused with the band started by Kyp Malone from TV on the Radio) also costs $250. It’s easy to install and has a front panel touchscreen, but the rain sensing data is hard-coded based on historical weather patterns (e.g., it rains more in the spring). The Sky Drop ($300) has a mobile app, rain-sensing features, and a touchscreen controller, but it costs a bit more.
Having an LCD screen on the device might seem like a smart idea, since it would let you easily trigger your sprinklers and set schedules. But in practice, if you know you can use an app on your phone, why would you walk over to the controller box? It’s easier to do it from the sofa.
The Rachio Iro is a good value because it simplifies the process of sprinkling your lawn, and it reduces wasteful watering practices. There are no confusing knobs or switches, the setup worked smoothly, and the weather-related delays for scheduling worked as promised. Overall, it’s a smart irrigation ally.