Smart sprinkler controllers are a great way to save water and let your garden look good. They can detect when and for how long they should water and even take into account local weather forecasts to automatically skip a cycle if windy weather or severe freezing is expected.
By actively working to save water, these devices can also save money on your monthly electricity bills. Their ability to fine-tune your watering cycles, based on weather forecasts and soil conditions, means that your lawn only gets the perfect amount of water when it is needed and that it will always be healthy and green. There̵7;s just one thing to worry about.
Smart sprinkler controllers are also great, because once you’ve installed them, you can manage everything from creating and editing your water schedule to seeing previous water usage directly from the mobile app, so you never have to push out to your garage to tinker with the settings again. (If you do not want to, of course.) And since each of the controllers we recommend are EPA WaterSense certified, they are also eligible for discounts, which is only one more difficult to discuss due to switching.
What to look for in Smart Sprinkler Controllers
These systems are primarily designed to save water while making your lawn beautiful and green. But each offers its own different tools and features that make the process easier or more accurate. Here are the key features to keep in mind:
- Easy installation and use: These controls are designed to be incredibly easy to install, taking less than 30 minutes (or in some cases under 15 years). They can replace old systems and let you set up a schedule either on the device or in its included mobile app. The systems can connect to your internet via Wi-Fi, but only a few maintain at least basic offline functionality if your internet shuts down. We prefer units that have a weatherproof design for outdoor mounting, or that at least include a weatherproof cover so you can mount them in other locations outside your garage.
- Scheduling: The great thing about these systems is their flexible set-it-and-forget-it scheduling tools. Some control units are used in hyperlocal weather forecasts, which means that they will not flood your farm and may even delay a cycle if they detect any upcoming rain, strong wind or freezing. Also keep in mind that some controllers can handle complex water schedules, but not all, so be sure to choose a system that can support your scheduling needs.
- Zones: These devices tell you in advance how many zones they work with, which is usually between 6 and 16. And for what it’s worth, we like complementary apps that let you name specific zones and upload a picture of them, so there will never be any confusion over which zone is which.
- Messages and reports: Good sprinkler controllers will notify you via push notification when they start riding a bike but most only say when a bike stops. Unfortunately, these messages are generally not the kind of thing you can customize, but you can probably figure out a way to develop an IFTTT routine if you want to keep an eye on things. The system’s app should also keep a history of things like scheduled cycles and water usage that you can see at a glance.
Best overall: Rachio 3
Rachio 3 is our choice for the best smart irrigation system control. It has easy DIY installation in under 30 minutes and can replace most existing sprinkler controllers. Although you can manage scheduling, cycles and all other settings directly on the device, Rachio also supports smart assistants and other hands-off management integrations, as well as its included Android and iOS apps. From the app you can start a bike, view the weather forecast, check your schedule and see practical tips for caring for your farm.
One of Rachio 3’s best features is Weather Intelligence Plus, which skips general weather forecasts and cuts directly to the most local predictions, so you will never ride a bike in the morning when heavy showers are anticipated in the afternoon. It also looks for weather events such as strong winds and freezes, and automatically skips cycles when they occur so that no water is wasted. Rachio also builds custom smart schedules tailored to your farm’s irrigation needs, plant types, soil type and solar exposure levels, saving up to 50% on your water bill.
The 8-zone model is the one we recommend here, and it is the one that seems to be the most popular on sites like Amazon, although there is also a 16-zone model you can buy. Rachio 3’s fantastic user-friendliness, robust app, solid weather forecast access and fair prices make it a slam dunk for all households.
Best premium choice: RainMachine Touch HD-12
If you have a little extra moolah to save, definitely check out the RainMachine Touch HD-12. While a little more exciting than our other options, it’s packed with robust features, it has extensive access to local weather information, and okay, yes, it’s wonderful. It also covers many small details that other controls tend to overlook such as local data storage and a backlit screen. We recommend the 12-zone model, but there is also an option with 16 zones if you are interested.
RainMachine HD-12 has free direct access to several weather data sources, such as NAOO.gov, Metno, NetAtmo, Wunderground Personal Weather Station, Forecast.io, OpenWeatherMap and more. The system makes real-time weather adjustments throughout the day when checking in with these services, and it calculates and updates the optimal amount of water your garden needs along the way.
This controller will also continue to work even if your Wi-Fi is turned off. You can access the settings with the Android and iOS apps or from the web interface. The display on the device itself is also beautiful and easy to use, with an LED screen and buttons that are easy to see even in a dark garage. Plus its capacitive touch screen, even if not waterproof, can withstand a light splash.
The controller does not need to connect to the cloud to operate; instead, data is stored locally and it only uses the internet to check weather forecasts. With its impressive access to multiple weather data sources, powerful interface and app and cool design, the RainMaster Touch HD-12 is a premium choice worth every dollar.
Best premium choice
Best budget choice: Orbit B-hyve
Orbit B-hyve is the most budget-friendly smart control unit out there. And although it may look less modern and spotty than our other choices, it can definitely compete with the big dogs. It is loaded with many of the same top features and functions as the others, and you can control everything from Orbit’s complementary Android and iOS apps. Orbit B-hyve is even a cinch to install, with a swivel panel for quick access to angled cable connections.
With B-hyve you can set a schedule via the app or directly on the device, but you can also let its weather-based program automatically create one for you. Weather Sense technology adjusts how and when it waters your garden, but it’s worth noting that B – hyve’s weather coverage is much more limited than our other choices. This is its biggest drawback. However, it does take into account other factors, such as soil type, shade and sun exposure, and historical weather reports, and it may still have access to some live weather flows.
This controller comes in a weatherproof case, so it is perfect for the garage or patio. It even supports Alexa hands-free command voice controls over a variety of watering and timer operations. Given that the Orbit B-hyve costs only a fraction of what the other’s costs, it’s practically a steal considering what it can do. This model is for 6 zones, although there is a 12-zone option available if you need more coverage.
Best budget choice
Keep an eye on an HD camera: Aeon Matrix Yardian
Although the sleek modern design and name give it a futuristic feel, the Aeon Matrix Yardian offers really great benefits such as 8-zone coverage, a fast 15-minute installation and an HD security camera. Yardian’s 100% automated Smart program monitors real-time weather forecasts so it knows how and when to water, as well as when to skip a bike due to a potential rainstorm, freezing or particularly windy day. It even has a proprietary water restriction database that keeps you up to date on local municipal irrigation regulations. Of course, there is also a 12-zone option available. Either can be mounted indoors or outdoors, and while no IPX rating is given for the device in terms of its water resistance capacity, it claims to be able to handle all weathers.
The Aeon Matrix Yardian is the only device on our list that does not have a touch screen interface, so all scheduling, zone configuration and other settings must be managed via Aeon Matrix’s Android and iOS apps. However, the app is intuitive and there is even a dedicated page for viewing live video stream from the built-in HD security camera. While a camera may seem like a wild feature for a sprinkler controller to have (and it really has little to do with your sprinkler system), just think of it as a nice extra. Yardian also has a motion detection setting, which can activate a zone with sprinklers when an unwanted pest (or intruder) is detected.
Keep an eye on an HD camera