Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Moving to the Rachio Sprinkler Controller

I am horrible with plants.  I've decided that I have a reverse green thumb - any plant I touch dies.  I don't know what it is but I have a past littered with the corpses of plants that had the misfortune of depending on me to take care of them.  My lawn is no different.  I have a good quality sprinkler controller and have scheduled watering but my lawn looked like was barely hanging on.  Obviously, I need help.  That's where Rachio came in.

A while ago a couple of the circuits in my sprinkler controller stopped working.  The result was that my front yard and a spot in my back yard stopped getting any water whatsoever.  I had to water them manually.  I tried to make it work for a long time but, as I stated above, my talents do not lie in that area.

I was on the web and I stumbled upon Rachio.  I don't remember if I found it on Amazon or read an article on a tech web site but I was intrigued.  Here was a controller that you could control from your phone, would adjust your schedule based on weather (it won't water if it's raining), and I could control it from my Amazon Echo.  This looked really cool but was it worth it?  Was it affordable?  Would it last?

I read the reviews and they were overwhelmingly positive.  This looked like the real deal.  Then I looked up what it cost vs what a replacement of my current controller would cost.  I found that they were about the same price except that Amazon was running a special that included a $50 Amazon gift card with the purchase of the Rachio controller.  I was still worried about installation and how to wire it up but my lawn was really not doing well and, after opening up my current controller and finding that the wiring was really pretty simple, I decided to try it out.  I ordered the Rachio controller for 8 zones and an outdoor enclosure.

Controller Wiring
Wiring from the original controller
Well, I guess my trepidation about wiring it up was well founded because that turned out to be the hardest part.  Power for my original controller was wired right to the electrical system so I couldn't just unplug it and plug the new one in.  No, I had to find the circuit breaker on my unlabeled panel and cross my fingers that I got the right one (fortunately I was right and was able to avoid any trips to the hospital).  Then I had to mount the controller to the wall.  This involved drilling pilot holes in the stucco mounting it very nicely and then finding the wires didn't reach all the way so I had to pull it out and mount it again but lower down the wall.  Not fun.  The wiring itself was really simple and it fact, I think I spent an hour getting the enclosure mounted properly and about 10 minutes wiring it up.

Wiring on the Rachio Controller
After that it was easy.  I plugged it in, turned on the power, and it started right up.  I downloaded the app to my phone and connected it to the controller.  The Rachio then tested all of the zones to ensure that they worked and then asked me about each one - is it a drip or sprinkler?  what kind of soil?  how much sun does it get?  Once it was all set up it gave me the option of setting the watering times, setting what days to water, or just letting Rachio set the whole thing.  I chose to water every other day and Rachio pulled the weather reports for Mesa and suggested the length of time each zone should run.  That was really cool!  Once that was set, I was done.  Well, almost.

I have an Amazon Echo and it's fun to give it voice commands for my connected home.  I wanted to add Rachio to that so I sat down at my PC and added the Rachio program to my Echo.  A quick test of "Alexa, ask Rachio to water zone 2 for 2 minutes" turned on my zone 2 sprinklers for two minutes.  Now that's fun!

The real test, of course, is how a machine does at watering my lawn.  The answer is great!  My front lawn is now green and thick instead of greenish brown and sickly.  My back yard is nice and green as well and the grass is coming back but it was a lot worse off.

It was also really cool to get an alert that due to rain (we had some good rain one weekend), the Rachio was skipping the regularly scheduled watering.  So it's bringing my lawn back to life, not watering when it doesn't happen and, at the beginning of the month, it automatically altered my watering schedule based on weather predictions for the next month.

Over all, I'm really impressed with the quality and usability.  I can set it and forget it or I can go in an manually tweak it.  All based on what I want to do.  Best of all, my lawn looks great!

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