Irrigation technology has come a long way in the past decade, resulting in smarter and more effective sprinkler systems. One of the best ways to make sure that a well-maintained sprinkler system is operating efficiently is to select a WaterSense labeled smart irrigation controller.
A smart controller, also known as a weather-based irrigation controller, is an internet-enabled device that adjusts how long and how often your irrigation system runs based on how much water your landscape needs. Rather than simply running your sprinklers on a preset, fixed schedule, smart controllers use local weather data to automatically adjust how much your system waters based on temperature, rainfall, and other data. Smart irrigation controllers act like a thermostat for your sprinkler system by automatically telling it when to turn on and off.
Products range in price from $50 - $300 an are available as stand-alone systems or plug-in devices that can be added on to a standard clock controller. Some water providers offer smart controller rebates to their customers to install qualified controllers.
Benefits of Smart Controllers
- Helps Keep Your Landscape Healthy and Beautiful: Smart controllers help landscapes flourish and stay healthy by watering only when plants need it, preventing under- or overwatering.
- Potential Cost Savings: Efficient water use may lower water bills during the summer, the time of year when the Portland metropolitan area uses the most water.
- Regional Water Supply Management: Using water efficiently at home promotes regional conservation efforts and helps water providers manage the region's water supply.
- Convenience: In order to work efficiently, standard irrigation controllers need to be manually adjusted throughout the watering season. Smart controllers automatically adjust the amount of water applied as conditions change.
- Connectivity: Many smart controllers have special features like apps that allow you to manage your irrigation system completely from your mobile device. Many can even send alerts in the event of a system malfunction or leak.
A WaterSense labeled smart controller can save the average U.S. home 7,600 gallons of water per year1. That's enough for 260 loads of laundry2!
Look for the WaterSense Label when Purchasing Your Smart Irrigation Controller
WaterSense labeled smart controllers have been independently certified for efficiency and performance. They come in a variety of models that range in price, complexity, and capacity. Models range from those that are intended for small residential landscapes to those that can control the irrigation systems of large commercial landscapes.
Standalone controllers can replace an existing controller or be installed in a new irrigation system. They provide scheduling capabilities when connected to an on-site weather station or a weather data network via remote signal such as Wi-Fi or cellular data.
Add-on and plug-in devices connect to standard clock timer controllers. These devices can be installed to upgrade an existing irrigation controller, providing the weather-based water functionality to an existing system.
A list of all EPA WaterSense labeled smart controllers can be found here. For more detailed information on labeled controllers, their benefits, and function, read the WaterSense Weather-Based Irrigation Controller Mini Report.
Tips for Installing and Properly Maintaining your Smart Controller
- Install is yourself or hire a pro? When a smart controller is installed, it must be programmed carefully and wired correctly to achieve water savings. If you plan to do the initial setup yourself, be sure to read the manual and follow the manufacturer's instructions. If you'd rather hire a professional than do it yourself, be sure they are a licensed landscape construction professional in Oregon, and that they are familiar with how to set up and operate smart irrigation technologies.
- Make your controller "smart" by giving it the correct information. Regardless of who installs your new controller, it will need to be carefully programmed in order to work properly. For this step, you or your licensed landscape professional will have to add the following type of information for each zone that is programmed: sprinkler type, plant type, plant water needs, soil type, ground slope, and amount of sun or shade.
- Do a periodic walk-through. Your irrigation system needs regular check-ups just like any other system in your home. One of the best things that you can do to make sure that your sprinkler system us working efficiently is to turn it on and physically walk through your landscape every so often. This is particularly important before installing a new controller, in the first few weeks after installation, and in the middle of summer when your landscape has the greatest water needs. Regardless of when you are doing your walk-through, look at your watering system for leaks, broken or damaged sprinkler heads, and sprinklers that are watering areas that do not need to be watered. Look for signs of over- or underwatering in your landscape by noting where soil is always wet, lush plant growth, or plants dying back.
- Get seasonal sprinkler maintenance tips. Whether its the dog days of summer or the first hot day of spring, make sure your sprinklers are in tip-top shape by checking for ways to maintain your sprinklers all year-round.
1 EPA WaterSense (2017)
2 Residential End Uses of Water, Version 2 (2016)