Smart sprinkler controllers are a great way to save water and keep your yard looking great. They are able to detect when and how long to water for, and even take local weather forecasts into consideration to automatically skip a cycle if windy weather or a hard freeze is expected.
In actively working to save water, these devices can also save you money on your monthly utility bills. Their ability to fine-tune your watering cycles, based on weather forecasts and soil conditions, means your lawn will receive the perfect amount of water only when needed, and that it’ll always stay healthy and green. It’s just one less thing to worry about.
Smart sprinkler controllers are also terrific because once you install them, you can manage everything from creating and editing your watering schedule to viewing past water usage right from the mobile app, so you’ll never have to trudge out to your garage to putter around with settings again. (Unless you want to, of course.) And because each of the controllers we’re recommending are EPA WaterSense certified, they’re eligible for rebates as well, which is just one more hard-to-argue-with reason to make the switch.
What to Look for in Smart Sprinkler Controllers
These systems are primarily designed to save water while keeping your lawn beautiful and green. However, each one offers its own variety of tools and features that makes the process easier or more accurate. Here are the most important features to keep in mind:
- Ease of Installation & Use: These controllers are designed to be incredibly easy to install, taking under 30 minutes (or in some cases, under 15). They can replace old systems, and let you set up a schedule either on the device or on its companion mobile app. The systems can connect to your internet via Wi-Fi, but only a few still maintain at least basic offline functionality if your internet goes out. We favor devices that have a weatherproof design for outdoor mounting, or that at least include a weatherproof casing so you can mount them in other places beyond your garage.
- Scheduling: The nice thing about these systems is their flexible set-it-and-forget-it scheduling tools. Some controllers are tapped into hyperlocal weather forecasts, which means they won’t overwater your yard, and can even delay a cycle if they detect any upcoming rain, high winds, or freezes. Also keep in mind that while some controllers can handle complex watering schedules, not all of them can, so be sure to choose a system that can support your scheduling needs.
- Zones: These devices tell you upfront how many zones they work with, which is typically anywhere from 6 to 16. And for what it’s worth, we like companion apps that allow you to name specific zones and upload a picture of them, so there’s never any confusion over which zone is which.
- Notifications & Reports: Good sprinkler controllers will notify you via push notification when they start running a cycle but most only tell you when a cycle ends. Unfortunately, these notifications aren’t generally the type of thing you can customize, but you could probably figure out a way to work up an IFTTT routine if you want to stay looped into things. Your system’s app should also keep a history of things like scheduled cycles and water usage that you can view at a glance.
Best Overall: Rachio 3
The Rachio 3 is our pick for the best smart irrigation system controller. It boasts easy DIY installation in under 30 minutes, and can replace the majority of existing sprinkler controllers. Though you can manage scheduling, cycles, and every other setting directly on the device, the Rachio also supports smart assistants and other integrations for hands-off management as well as its companion Android and iOS apps. From the app, you can start a cycle, view the weather forecast, check your schedule, and view convenient yard care tips.
One of the Rachio 3’s best features is Weather Intelligence Plus, which skips general weather forecasts and cuts straight to the most local predictions, so you’ll never end up running a cycle in the morning when heavy showers are predicted in the afternoon. It also looks for weather events like high winds and freezes, and automatically skips cycles when those occur so no water is wasted. Rachio also builds custom Smart schedules tailored to your yard’s watering needs, plant types, soil type, and sun exposure levels, saving you up to 50% on your water bill.
The 8-zone model is the one we’re recommending here, and it’s the one that seems to be the most popular on sites like Amazon, although there is also a 16-zone model you can buy. The Rachio 3’s superb ease of use, robust app, solid weather forecast access, and fair price make it a slam dunk for any household.
Best Premium Pick: RainMachine Touch HD-12
If you’ve got a little extra moolah to spare, definitely check out the RainMachine Touch HD-12. Although it’s a bit spendier than our other options, it’s packed with robust features, it has extensive access to local weather data, and okay, yeah, it’s gorgeous. It also covers a lot of the small details that other controllers tend to overlook like local data storage and a backlit display. We’re recommending the 12-zone model, but there is also a 16-zone option if you’re interested.
The RainMachine HD-12 has free direct access to multiple weather data sources, like NAOO.gov, Metno, NetAtmo, Wunderground Personal Weather Station, Forecast.io, OpenWeatherMap, and more. The system makes real-time weather adjustments throughout the day as it checks in with these services, and it calculates and updates the optimal amount of water your yard needs along the way.
This controller will also continue to work even if your Wi-Fi goes out. 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 display, while not waterproof, can resist a light splash.
The controller doesn’t need to connect to the cloud to work; 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 Budget Pick: Orbit B-hyve
The Orbit B-hyve is the most budget-friendly smart controller out there. And while it may look less modern and flashy than our other picks, it can absolutely still compete with the big dogs. It’s loaded with many of the same top-of-the-line features and functionality as the others, and you can control everything from Orbit’s companion Android and iOS apps. The Orbit B-hyve is even a cinch to install, with a swing panel for quick access to angled wiring terminals.
The B-hyve lets you set a schedule through the app or directly on the device, though you can also let its weather-based software automatically create one for you. Its Weather Sense technology adjusts how and when it waters your yard, but it’s worth noting that the B-hyve’s weather coverage access is much more limited than our other picks. This is its biggest downside. It does take other factors into consideration, however, like soil type, shade and sun exposure, and historical weather reports, and it can still access some live weather feeds.
This controller comes in a weather-resistant case, so it’s perfect for garage or patio installation. It even supports Alexa voice controls for hands-free command over a variety of watering and timer actions. Considering the Orbit B-hyve costs just a fraction of what the other’s cost, it’s practically a steal given what it can do. This model is for 6 zones, although there is a 12-zone option available if you need more coverage.
Keep Watch with An HD Camera: Aeon Matrix Yardian
Though its sleek modern design and name give it a futuristic feel, the Aeon Matrix Yardian offers genuinely great benefits like 8-zone coverage, a fast 15-minute installation, and an HD security camera. The Yardian’s 100%-automated Smart Program monitors weather forecasts in real-time so it knows how and when to water, as well as when to skip a cycle because of a potential rainstorm, freezes, or particularly windy day. It even has a proprietary water restriction database, which keeps you updated on local municipal watering rules and regulations. Of course, there is a 12-zone option available as well. Either can be mounted indoors or outdoors, and while no IPX rating is listed for the device regarding its water-resistance capacity, it claims it can handle any weather.
The Aeon Matrix Yardian is the only device in our list that does not have a touchscreen interface, so all scheduling, zone configuration, and other settings have to be managed through Aeon Matrix’s Android and iOS apps. The app is intuitive, however, and there’s even a dedicated page for viewing the live video feed from the built-in HD security camera. While a camera may seem like a wild feature for a sprinkler controller to have (and it certainly doesn’t have much of anything to do with your sprinkler system), just think of it as a nice extra. The Yardian also has a motion-detection setting, which can turn a zone of sprinklers on when an unwanted pest (or intruder) is detected.