I am always looking to simplify my life. Unfortunately, there are a lot of devices out there that consume to much time and effort, and just leave you frustrated in the end. For me, my sprinkler control box is one of those. Every year I had to go through the system to fine tune it so it didn’t water to much or not enough and to break up the times into intervals was a headache. In the end, I just ended guessing and hoped for the best. In the middle of July when my lawn started turning brown, that was the sign that I needed to increase the time. At the end of August when I was having to mow 2 times a week because of growth, I knew it was time to cut back the water.
Then I was turned onto the world of smart sprinkler controllers. I started with the Blossom controller but soon realized it didn’t have much control over the schedules and ended up removing it and putting on my old controller. It just wasn’t a system ready for prime-time.
I was about to give up hope on the ideal solution when I came across the Rachio. The water company that I get my secondary water from was doing a rebate if you would install one. I did my due-diligence with this system to make sure it met my requirements and it actually received some good reviews. There were some complaints about there first version of the system, which actually seemed minor like getting the wiring hooked up was hard because of the space and it didn’t allow you to control the system without a mobile device. With the 2nd generation Rachio they addressed both of those issues and continued to build out the software to be very simple and flexible to what ever needs you had.
At this point I was sold and quickly bought the system on Amazon (to get the 2-day shipping with Prime). I went with the 16 station system since I needed to control 10 stations but they also have a smaller one with 8 stations.
Installing the system took about 10 minutes. Nothing more than removing the wires from the old system and connecting it to the Rachio, then plugging it in.
At this point, you need to download the Rachio app and start the setup process. It was very easy and took about 30 minutes to connect the system and get all of my stations added. There are some advanced controls that you can mess with but the defaults would probably do just find. You do need to give the system some quick information to try and get the best results for you. Those include: What are you growing, what is the soil like, is the ground flat, how much sun does the area get and what kind of sprinkler heads do you use.
If you want to get really precise, you can give it the area size, root depth, allowed depletion and other settings that make you say, “Huh?”.
Luckily for me our water company, as part of the rebate requirement, came out and tested some of the areas in my yard and gave me those more advanced settings. All I had to do was plug them into the system.
Once you get all of your stations set up the next item to do is set up your watering schedules. Pick the zones that you want to use, set the schedule type (Fixed or Flexible) and when you want it to start and end.
The fixed schedule is a little more predicable and the flexible schedule is more about the savings.
Then come the smart features which is what makes the system cool. You can turn on the Smart Cycle which brakes the station times up to prevent runoff and the Weather Intelligence which connects into the local weather forecast to turn off the system if you get enough rain.
For my system I have four schedules, one for the main stations that get all of my grass, one for my drip line for shrubbery around my house, one for my garden area and the fourth one (don’t laugh) is set up if there is a fire at my house.
The Rachio can be used through IFTTT and connect to my thermostat. I have a recipe that says if the temperature gets to 115 degrees, turn on the sprinklers. I realize this isn’t going to help put out a fire but if it could at least help stop it from spreading, then why not?
The Rachio system also connects to the Amazon Echo so you can turn your stations on or off. It seems cool but I have never found a reason to use the Echo to start of stop my system, the Rachio schedule does it well enough. It is great to know that the Rachio platform is open to integrating with other smart home systems.
Because I’m a UX designer, whenever I use a system I’m always looking at whether the system is intuitive, especially in the on-boarding experience. This is important on the physical product and the digital product side, which the Rachio has both. The physical product is beautiful. They removed all the controls from the box because they aren’t needed. They realize that you don’t want to run back and forth from your control box because you can do it right from you mobile device. This really helps you get started quicker by eliminating un-needed controls. The control box allows you to operate the stations but it is out of the way and it does the basic operation of turning on and off each station. This would be used by someone that needs to test your system but you don’t want to give them complete access.
The digital side of the product is also very well done. With the amount of information you need to put in it is easy to get through and control. Some of the menus and controls could have been thought through a little better. You sometimes get stuck in nested menus that you wonder how to get out of it. Overall, the interface is great. From the main screen you can get a quick glance of the system, weather, a calendar of when the waterings will happen and a break down of each station. The website interface is basically the same as the mobile interface so once you understand the one, you can quickly know how to use the other. From using the app, it shows that Rachio has put a lot of thought into the usability of the app.
I have been using the Rachio Smart Sprinkler Controller since the beginning of the watering season and I am in love with it. I would highly recommend getting one, especially if you pay monthly for your water. It will give you great insight to the amount of water you are using and help you lower the cost. Plus, now you never have to be frustrated with your old controller again.
Also published on Medium.