10 Things to Consider in a Smart Irrigation Controller

By Ben Jamison

The cost of water in today’s challenging economic times is increasing at a dramatically accelerated rate across the United States and throughout the world. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, more than half of the United States will suffer water sustainability issues by 2013. Everyone is looking for ways to save money on their energy and water costs and the resources required to maintain these systems in their businesses and homes.

Increasingly, businesses and consumers are turning to Smart irrigation controllers as a way to save significant amounts of water and money. Being educated on the pros and cons of different Smart irrigation solutions can make a huge impact on how much money you can ultimately save by installing a Smart irrigation controller. Here are 10 things you should consider when you’re deciding on which Smart irrigation controller and software to use:

  1. Monthly or yearly fees — Although most Smart irrigation controllers can save money on water use, in many cases these savings are offset by the requirement to pay monthly or yearly fees for weather data and/or communications charges. Look for a system that does not charge fees for weather data and uses existing communication infrastructures such as the Internet that are already present and operating at your business or home.
  2. Ease of use — Most Smart irrigation an evapotranspiration (ET) model along with weather data in order to determine how much to water irrigation zones. These ET parameters are applied in the irrigation controller’s software and are usually complex to set up and manage, often requiring the user to specify up to 20 different parameters in order to correctly set up the system and apply the proper amount of water to each irrigation zone. Look for a system that uses basic information such as plant type, sprinkler type, amount of sun, amount of slope, and soil type along with software that can determine the rest of the information required and automatically recommend an optimal wateringr schedule.
  3. Automatic failure alerts and notification — Look for a Smart irrigation system that provides automatic fault detection and notification of problems in the irrigation system like broken sprinkler heads, faulty irrigation valves and solenoids. These notifications should include automatically shutting off a zone if a broken sprinkler head is detected as well as sending a notification to the user via e-mail and/or text message telling them where the problem exists in their irrigation system.
  4. Remote access via smartphones — Look for a system that can access and manage irrigation from any Internet-connected computer as well as a smartphone.
  5. Warranty — Investing in Smart irrigation is typically done with the intent to use it for many years of service life before replacing it. Look for a system that has at least a five-year warranty.
  6. Accurate weather data and information — Smart irrigation depends on having the most accurate weather information possible in order to function properly. Look for a system that utilizes an extensive network of weather stations and the most accurate weather information available.
  7. Ease of installation — Look for a Smart irrigation system that can easily be installed to replace an existing irrigation system without requiring a significant amount of additional wiring and infrastructure in order to operate. Controllers should be able to use the existing wiring that is already in place in their irrigation system and watering schedules should be able to be set up and modified at ant time either on site or remotely using an Internet-connected computer.
  8. Central irrigation management using Web/Cloud based technology — A Smart irrigation should provide the ability to access and manage irrigation sites without requiring a dedicated computer. Look for a system that can manage an unlimited number of sites and controllers and be accessed from anywhere in the world using any Internet-connected computer. Users should be able to make any changes to their irrigation schedules, apply manual watering zone runs and holds from the computer, as well as be able to view reports on the overall operation of the irrigation system. They should also be able to view reports that detail the ongoing operation of the system as well as water consumption.
  9. Low total cost of ownership and rapid payback of your investment — Many Smart irrigation systems offer the promise of significant water savings. However in many cases these savings are more than offset by the requirement to purchase expensive on ongoing data and communications fees and software maintenance agreements. Look for a system that not does have these fees. Also look for water conservation rebates that may exist in your area and choose a system that qualifies for these rebates. Check out the EPA’s new Watersense program at www.epa.gov/watersense/ or the Irrigation Association’s SWAT (Smart Water Application Technologies at www.irrigation.org/SWAT/ to see the latest in water conservation products and rebates for Smart irrigation.
  10. Consumption reporting — Knowing what’s going on with your irrigation and how much water you’re saving is an important part of any smart irrigation system. Unfortunately many Smart irrigation systems only make this information available for an additional charge. Look for a system that provides information about water usage and savings as a standard feature in their irrigation software. Also make sure this information can be exported to an external spreadsheet program for long-term management and storage.

If you consider these factors when you’re considering the purchase of a smart irrigation system, you’ll be able to find a system that will not only save you a significant amount of money and water but will also dramatically reduce the time and manpower it takes to manage your landscape irrigation and will pay for itself in a very short period of time.

Ben Jamison is VP sales and marketing at Cyber Rain.

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