Under control

Advancements in irrigation technology have made WiFi-based controllers a popular option.

It’s a technology-powered world in so many ways. Homeowners want a piece of the action when it comes to products to irrigate their lawns and landscaping.

“It seems like half of my customers prefer WiFi irrigation products,” says Kyle Taylor, owner of Kyle Taylor’s Landscape and Irrigation near Los Angeles. Many homeowners, he adds, like the recommended water schedules based on weather patterns, soil conditions, and sprinkler types the technology provides. “They love having the ability to check the irrigation zones without having to run back and forth to the location of the irrigation controller.”

New homeowners are usually open to anything that will make getting settled easier, says Jennifer Greathouse, co-owner and CEO of GreatWater Irrigation in northern Texas. “We also have realtor partners that are big fans of the smart sprinkler controllers and often recommend them to clients selling their homes as an easy, affordable upgrade that makes their listing more appealing.”

Get smart.

According to Erich Short, irrigation division manager for Baker Commercial Landscaping in Orlando, many management companies are investigating options for sustainability, and water conservation weighs heavy into their thinking. “Some of our residential customers are also embracing new technology, i.e. smart houses, as they become aware of the benefits of conserving water. Some are into the conservation and sustainability. Some just like the convenience.”

First-generation technology, Greathouse says, was a “harder sell” a few years ago. “Now that we are on the second and third-plus generations of smart controllers, their reliability and usability are superior to standard controllers. It’s still a ‘new’ concept for most of our customers. But this kind of technology is so prolific in the rest of our lives they instantly see the benefits of an app-based interface for their system versus a confusing box located in a hot garage or closet.”

There are many tech products out there, “more than I can list,” says Taylor, and they have many similarities. “The products are more expensive than a simple irrigation controller, but not unaffordable for most households. Many feel they are worth the price with the additional control they have over their water usage and landscapes,” he says.

Eric McCall, branch manager for Smith Turf, says the desire for control and information dictates which device he offers customers. The cost of upgrading a controller to be WiFi enabled, for example, can range from $75 to $300 in addition to the cost of the controller.

Worth the investment.

While advanced irrigation products cost more up front than a standard controller, Greathouse says, most will generate “significant” water savings, which in the end saves the homeowner more than they paid for the upgrade. “Our climate in north Texas can vary an extreme amount from one year to the next,” she says. “A smart controller that can keep up with these changes and make adjustments in real-time is much more water-efficient.”

Although they may be a bit overwhelmed with the newest technology at first, an app guides the customer through the use of a controller via WiFi, “and it’s usually very easy for people to understand,” Taylor says.

“Most of my customers prefer to do it on their own. The only time things get a little difficult is when the WiFi signal is weak or they can’t remember their WiFi code.” But this typically “is not a major issue” and it’s usually resolved within a few minutes.

Greathouse says “most everyone” can realize benefits from using an irrigation smart controller. “If they have WiFi, which is almost a given at this point, we think it’s important they know all their options. In our experience, it’s just a matter of educating the customer about how they work differently than their usual controller,” she says. “Generally, once a customer understands how much easier a WiFi controller is to use, they will make the upgrade.”

“Without a doubt, the industry will continue to see irrigation devices become more ‘connected’ for the end user,” McCall says. “My hope is that the industry does a better job teaching the end user on the advantages of ‘connected’ systems. I also hope that we continue to see the reduction in cost of both the ‘connected’ controller and the ancillary accessories.”

The author is a freelance writer based in Connecticut.