The summer season is upon us and we dutifully turn our attention to the wonderful world outside of our homes. We take in deep breaths of crisp, clean air. We gaze upon the beautiful blue skies, hear the sweet music of the chirping birds and then recoil in horror at the state of our lawns.
Yup, time to turn on the sprinklers (unless you're in drought-stricken California, of course).
We head outside to tackle that task which we dread doing every year - setting the schedule on our sprinkler controllers (because for some reason, we have to do it every year). As we fiddle with the knobs and buttons of that archaic device, we sweat and curse knowing full well that while a watering schedule will help get our lawns in tip top shape, our wallets will bear the brunt of that achievement.
A standard sprinkler controller
Home Automation to the rescue. You heard that right! Home Automation isn't relegated to inside the four walls of our homes anymore. It is now making the process of watering our lawns an automatic, thoughtless (but much more thoughtful) process. A process which we occasionally check in on, not one we fight with all summer long.
The Iro from Rachio is a next generation sprinkler controller which promises to bring smart water scheduling to our lawns. How smart can watering the lawn get? For starters the Iro will automatically determine a watering schedule based on the types of plants and soil you have plus your geographic location.
Not impressed yet? If your community has a watering schedule you need to adhere to, Iro will take that into account as well. Have a rain sensor? Iro will accept that data point as well. Don't have a rain sensor? Thats OK, too. Iro checks weather reports for your local area to determine if rain has happened in the last 24 hours or is expected in the next 24 hours. If so, Iro wont water your lawn again.
Unboxing the Iro. Simple and elegant
Iro is so much better than us at watering our lawns, Rachio states most users are getting over 30% in water savings. And its not just because Iro will actually check the weather and adjust the watering schedule automatically (I confess I have NEVER done that), it's because Iro determines the watering schedule based on your unique lawn composition.
Have very hard soil (a.k.a. clay)? Iro knows that this type of soil will not absorb water quickly, so it splits the watering schedule into 2 (or 3) sessions, with an appropriate break in between to give the soil a chance to absorb the water properly.
I mean, these two concepts alone are so simple they're brilliant; it really isn't rocket science. I know I shouldn't water my lawn in the morning if its going to rain that evening (or if it rained last night). I understand that hard soil wont absorb water as quickly as loose soil will. But I would never actually act upon this information.
Why? Because who has the time (or desire) to fiddle with the watering schedule on a daily basis? It's just simpler to let the thing run and hope for the best (and I completely accept that this line of thinking has lead me to coming home during a thunderstorm to find my sprinklers dutifully following their schedule, wasting water and money). This is EXACTLY where home automation shines. It excels at taking very simple ideas and doing them automatically, routinely, so that we don't have to think about them.
So have I convinced you to take a closer look at the Iro? Bravo! You wont regret it. I know what your next question is: how hard is it to install and set up? I will answer the second question first. Setup is a breeze. The hardest part is knowing what type of soil and plants you have. If you don't already know, this information can easily be had by asking your friendly neighborhood gardner.
The Iro app (available in the App Store) will guide you through setup which entails testing each sprinkler zone, naming each zone (front lawn, backyard, etc) and entering the soil and plant information for that zone. Depending on the number of zones you have (in my case 3) it will take you about 30 minutes. Iro will ask you for your zip code, check the weather in your area and set its watering schedule, taking into account any watering restrictions you may have.
That's it! Notifications can be enabled to let you know when the schedule starts, stops or is skipped and why. Think the Iro made a mistake skipping a particular watering cycle? No problem. The notification email for skipped watering cycles includes a big green button that lets you instantly run that schedule. You don't even have to launch the app!
Iro app home screen
Next: Installing Iro Sprinkler System
Page 2 - Installing Iro Sprinkler System
Installing the hardware is a bit more complicated than that, but still completely DIY if you are handy with a few tools and OK working around electricity. My old sprinkler controller was outside of my house so I had two choices for installing the Iro.
I could purchase (and mount) a waterproof box for the outside of my home and install the Iro in there. But that would mean having to install a waterproof outlet in that box as well since the Iro uses a standard plug for power. And then I would have questionable WIFI signal (Iro uses WIFI for its weather lookups and for connectivity to the app). Plus I would have a big ugly box on the outside of my house.
The guts of a standard sprinkler controller
Nah, I decided I would install the Iro inside my house, in the garage. I have plenty of outlets already available and the WIFI signal in the garage is strong enough. All I needed was to drill a hole from the outside of the house into the garage to bring in the sprinkler control wires. I did ask for help with this since I didn't have a drill bit long enough to do the job. Luckily my very handy brother-in-law was able to drill a perfect hole in about 5 minutes (thanks Mark!).
The guts of the Iro
Once we ran the sprinkler controller wires through, we sealed up the whole with masonry repair caulk (to keep out water and bugs) and that was it. I mounted the Iro to the wall using a few screws and connected the sprinkler control wires as instructed in the accompanying Iro pamphlet.
NOTE: It is an ABSOLUTE must to take many pictures of where each wire is connected in the old sprinkler control box to make sure you get everything hooked up correctly on the Iro. (See above.) Plug in the Iro and follow the instructions in the app. If you are not comfortable with any of these steps, a contractor or sprinkler installation company should be able get this job done in an hour.
Iro fully installed inside the garage
Of course Rachio didn't stop with simply managing our lawn watering schedules. What fun would that be? They made Iro an official 'Works with Nest' device. Why would you want your sprinklers to work with your thermostat you ask? Well, you wouldn't. Iro works with the Nest Smoke and CO detectors. If the smoke detectors detect smoke in your home, the Iro will begin a watering cycling to wet down the outside of your home. This is done in an effort to mitigate fire spreading from your home to your neighbors. Absolutely necessary? Probably (hopefully) not, but it shows how amazing these devices can be when they work together.
Keep home automation devices separate and they are impressive items that dutifully perform their tasks as instructed, without intervention. Connect them all together and we have devices that work in concert to make our homes smarter and safer than we ever could on our own. The interaction above exemplifies exactly what can be achieved with home automation, primarily because it's something I would never think to do on my own - "My home is on fire! Let me go turn on the sprinklers to protect my neighbors!"
For me, this simple interaction signals that a truly smart home is well within our grasp. That is simply exhilarating.