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Smart Controllers Save Irrigation Costs, Water and Plants

Irrigation Smart Controllers Are Smarter Than You Know

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Smart controller irrigation saves water and landscaping By Laurence Budd, CLT, CLIA
Certified Landscape Irrigation Auditor

Irrigation Smart Controllers Are Smarter Than You Know

There is a lot of buzz in the irrigation and conservation worlds about smart controllers. Do they work? Are they reliable? What makes them so smart? Are they smarter than my cousin who can name all fifty state birds?

In a word, yes.

Smart sprinkler controllers are quickly proving to be the single best thing a city, multifamily community, or homeowner can do to save water. How do I know? I have installed dozens of them, in all types of applications. And they are working like proverbial coon dogs after a possum. They work so well the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California has bought and distributed 1600 of them. Here’s a short primer on why I have great confidence in them.

Irrigation Smart Controller Features

Most of the current smart controllers have the same basic settings that basic controllers have, such as zone time, days to water, multiple start times, multiple programs for lawn or beds.

The features that really count are settings for each zone based on soil type, slope, sun/shade, plant or turf type, application rate of the system.

For example, I can tell the controller that zone #2 is cool season turf, with a 5% slope, mostly shady, clay, and being hit by 30 foot rotor heads. The controller can then create short soak cycles by itself, and I can tell it where in the country it is. Wow.

Satellite vs. Weather Station Controllers

And here’s where the technology really takes off-- all of this class of controllers use either satellite real time weather info or onsite weather monitors to constantly measure weather conditions.

These monitors tell the controller how much water was needed in the previous few hours for the turf to be happy. This is the Evapotranspiration coefficient [ET], which I won’t go into here (visit Basically, it tells the controller the grass needed .21 inches of water to be happy yesterday, and the controller knows how to put just that much on. No one’s clever cousin knows how to do that.

But there are two opinions on this -- which is better, satellite or onsite monitor? The satellite feed costs about $10 per month. Not a big thing, but in a test in Las Vegas, 27 of the 30 homes in the test had stopped paying the fee after two years. This meant the controllers were no longer smart.

For this reason, Hunter and Weathermatic have gone with the onsite weather station concept, which has no monthly fees.

For the satellite type, see

Another company has gone with a chip inside the controller with historic Et info for that location. I have not installed any of this type, I’m doing so well with the onsite monitors, but here’s their website:

The results have been better than I could have hoped for. I installed a smart controller at a church, serving several hundred heads. I had to leave the next day. I came back in two months and the lawn looked perfect, their overwatering and runoff problems were gone. No one had touched the controller. This means they are ideal in sites where there are no people for long periods, such as parkway medians.

These controllers are now using the correct amount of water for the site. Here’s the big payoff-- most properties with irrigation systems use 2 to 3 times too much water. Most sites grossly overwater in the Spring and Fall. Honest, I’m not making this up, it was the primary finding of 43 experts and two years of research by the California Urban water conservation council (

Now, all that extra water is still in the reservoir –- where we really need it for tomorrow's necessities.

To find out more, visit, the Metropolitan Water District's Southern California conservation site, or drop me a line with any questions --


Laurence Budd
Certified Landscape Irrigation Auditor

Copyright 2007, Urban Water Conservation

Edited by Carolyn Allen
| irrigation | water conservation | greenscaping |


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