A Review of the Rachio Iro Smart Sprinkler Controller

Update September:  Having used the Rachio IRO for three plus months now, I have seen marked improvements in the software.  The Rachio team has been busy.  They have released several new software updates for both Android and iOS throughout the summer.  Each update has brought improved performance.  The good news is that the organization is fully committed to the platform and to their existing customer base which will drive further loyalty.  The Rachio team has done a very good job of listening to their customers and making changes.  The web interface and addition of historical information are great improvements.  The weather data has also improved greatly. There is still much room for improvement, but the sprinkler controller has definitely saved me money and water throughout the summer. The charts in the web interface really do tell the story (see below):

Rachio Dashboard Report

Update June 2015:  I would change the title to read "Some homes with an in-ground Irrigation System might want to consider Rachio once they fix the bugs."  I have been using the Rachio Iro for over a month now and I can say it is not all it is cracked up to be.  The software is buggy, Rachio has released numerous app updates.  The most promising feature is the automatic weather adjustment which was disabled in one of the app releases.  Rachio has tried to be good about their communications, but they have sent confusing emails and have missed their implementation dates.

I do like being able to control my zones from my phone.  This is handy as I walk my property to re-align sprinkler heads, but $249 for that function alone is not worth the cost.  To make this product really valuable Rachio needs to do three things:

  1. Update their app to include the auto-weather adjust for all zip codes in the USA.  Might need to subscribe to NOAA Weather or another service to provide this functionality
  2. Add the promised web-interface that is currently absent.  See their apology letter here.  The lack of controls on the unit is really frustrating.  Windows Phone users are out of luck and if you don't have your phone with the app installed there is currently no way to control the unit.
  3. Create a personalized monthly usage report for each Rachio owner.  Show them the days they have watered and the time tables.  Estimate their water usage.  Proving the ROI to an owner is the best way to grow your customer base via happy existing owners.

Until the software is improved, I am tempted to revert back to my dumb, Toro sprinkler timer which at least gives me control without needing to launch an app.  I have no idea if I am saving money on my watering at this point.  Recouping $249 may never happen.

Rachio Sprinkler Controller

A green lawn is the goal of most homeowners, but at what price.  With the cost of water on the rise, Americans are finding that maintaining a green lawn can come at a very high price. Land irrigation accounts for about 37% of all fresh water usage in the United States according to the USGS.  With water restrictions becoming more prevalent throughout the US, water conservation is becoming more and more important.  So how can technology improve our watering efficiency?  Enter Rachio's Iro smart sprinkler controller.

Rachio, a Denver, Colorado based start up has designed and built a smart sprinkler controlled that will replace the old timer based controller that most in-ground sprinkler systems rely upon.  Below is a review of the 8-zone Iro which is available on Rachio's website and at Home Depot.

Unboxing the unit:

The Rachio Iro comes in a clean modern package free from shrink-wrap.  Inside the box are the mounting plate, the front cover, the power-pack, mounting screws and an installation brochure. Below is a brief unboxing video.

Hardware Installation:

The Iro unit has been built to replace an existing sprinkler timer/controller unit.  Rachio offers two versions currently, an 8 zone unit and a 16 zone unit.  For this review we installed an 8 zone unit.  To get started with the install, Rachio recommends that you first test the wifi connection at the existing controller.  This is an important first step as we found out.  In our case, the old Toro sprinkler controller was placed in a detached garage. Because the house is stucco and rather large, the garage had spotty wifi coverage.  So to complete our install, we first needed to install a wifi repeater in order to get a strong signal in the garage.  For most houses where the garage is attached, this should not be an issue.

Once we confirmed as strong wifi signal at the old sprinkler controller, we followed the Rachio instructions.  Rachio recommended taking a photo of the wiring of the existing controller before disconnecting it.  This was a smart recommendation.  One thing that would have been nice to include in the Rachio packaging would have been labeling stickers for the wires.  We made our own using sticky dots.  Once the wires were labelled, we removed the existing sprinkler controller and wall mounted the Rachio Iro backplate unit using the included wall plugs and screws.  A level bubble would have been a nice addition to the unit.  With the unit firmly mounted to the wall, we connected the common wire, the master pump wire and each of the zone wires.  The wire hookups were excellent.  Rachio used push pin connectors which make for easy connections without the need for tools.  With the wiring completed we snapped the front plate in place and connected the wall power pack to the unit and plugged it in.  The power light lit up and the wifi light flashed red, showing us that the unit was ready to be joined to our wifi network.

The rest of the install is completed with the use of the Rachio smartphone app which is available for both iOS and Android in the Apple iTunes Store and the Android Play Store.  Overall the hardware installation was quite simple.  The average homeowner should have no issues installing the unit themselves.

Software Setup:

Once the iOS or Android app has been downloaded to your phone or tablet software setup is straightforward.  A quick process of registering an account is required.  Rachio utilizes a cool service called Electric Imp to join the Iro to your wifi network.  Electric Imp uses a pulsing light to communicate from your smartphone to the Iro unit.  The pulsing light shares your network credentials and information securely with the Iro unit.  The process only take about 15 seconds to complete. The key is to make certain that your smartphone is on your wifi network and that both the phone and the Iro are in good wifi range.

The wifi light on the front of the Iro confirms with a flashing green light that the Iro has been successfully joined to the network.  Failure results in either a red flashing light or an amber light.

The Iro App is really cleanly designed with a nice visual interface.  The app shows local weather data which is utilized in the automatic scheduling function.  What really sets the Iro apart from the antiquated sprinkler timers of the past is the internet connectivity.  By utilizing localized weather data the unit automatically adjusts watering schedules.  If the unit is set to water on Wednesday but the forecast calls for heavy rain, Iro will automatically postpone the watering cycle.  Utilizing historical and forecast weather data, Iro builds a flexible watering schedule.  Never again will you be the wasteful neighbor with their sprinklers running in the rain.

When configuring each of your zones, the programming guide asks a series of questions about your lawn including:

  • What is growing in the zone?
  • What type of soil does the zone have?
  • How much shade does this zone get?
  • What kind of sprinkler are in the zone?
  • How flat is the ground in this zone?

By utilizing this data for each zone, the Iro can make better watering decisions on your behalf.  For instance a shaded zone will require less water than a zone in full sun.  Iro can tweak your watering based on the information about each zone.  This is a huge improvement over the old timer based sprinkler controllers.  In our case, we have very different zones ranging from full sun to full shade, grass to shrubbery, flat to sloped and fixed nozzle sprinkler heads to rotating heads.  Iro makes sense of all of this data.

Rachio App Screenshots

Using Iro:

So far it has only been a few days and the sun has been shining.  Iro has run my sprinklers on the automated schedule and it seems great. Additionally I have been able to walk around my yard and control the sprinkler zones from my phone.  This has been extremely handy as I found that several of my sprinkler heads needed to be adjusted.  Rather than having to run back and forth from the controller to turn it on and off, I can now remote control it from my smartphone.  When traveling I will have peace of mind that my sprinklers will be effectively watering my lawn and not inefficiently watering on rainy days.

It will take time before I can see the real benefits of the Iro in terms of reduced water usage and a greener lawn, but I am pretty confident that the results are going to be good.

Rachio has built a really nice well thought out piece of technology that will save homeowners money while maintaining a greener lawn.  As the Internet of Things (IoT) continues to permeate our lives, I look forward to seeing more innovations in the products we use on a daily basis. Nice work Rachio!  I look forward to sharing a follow up as I get more experience using my Rachio Iro.

Update:  As stated above, it has been a little over a month with the Rachio Iro and I am not satisfied.  Rachio has not lived up to their promises of set it and forget it.  I can't currently trust the reliability of the schedules.  I am still hopeful that Rachio works things out because the device makes a lot of sense if executed properly.  Stay tuned for more updates.

Update September:  I am much more pleased with my Rachio Iro after the software updates.  The web interface, historical data and the attention that the team is paying to their existing customers are all very positive.  The units are now available at Amazon as well which should drive further sales.  I can definitely see how the Rachio Iro will pay for itself in most cases within one year, so even at $249 it is a good investment.  More importantly with drought issues becoming more prevalent, the Iro is a good call for those who care about their lawn and the environment.  Nice work Rachio team on continuing to evolve your product.