Rachio 3 Smart Sprinkler hands-on: Intelligent watering controlled by your phone

There are regulatory and environmental reasons to control the amount of water applied to your grass, flowers, and garden. The Rachio provides control for your home and business through your smartphone.
Written by Matthew Miller, Contributing Writer

We love our green grass here in Washington and some HOAs require a minimal level of water to maintain curb appeal and keep lawns from igniting easily. I've been watering my yard for the last couple of months while at home, at the office, on business travel, and while on vacation with the Rachio 3 Smart WiFi sprinkler system system and the grass looks great with a minimal amount of wastage.

Rachio 3 improvements

I previously took a look at the second generation Rachio system so the upgrade to this new version was performed in about fifteen minutes with a few cable connections and a couple of screws attached to my garage wall.

This third generation Rachio Smart WiFi Sprinkler provides the following features and enhancements over the second generation:

  • Premium Weather Intelligence Plus (hyperlocal accuracy, continuous monitoring, comprehensive data).
  • Supports dual band Wi-Fi (2.4 GHz & 5 GHz).
  • Easy-press connectors supporting 14-22 American Wire Gauge (AWG).
  • On-unit Run, Pause and Skip buttons.
  • Compatible with Rachio Wireless Flow Meter.

Connect and setup

After installing the Rachio 3, I connected it to my Google WiFi mesh network and setup my three zones through the app. The setup wizard walks you through setting up each zone. This process includes naming the zone, including an actual photo of the zone, choosing the zone type (grasses, shrubs, trees, various flowers, and garden options), spray head type (rotor, fixed, nozzle, mister, bubbler, emitter, and drip line options), soil type (sand, loam, clay, silt, and mixtures of these), sun exposure (6-8 hours, 4-6 hours, 2-4 hours, or 2 or less), and slope (flat, slight, moderate, and steep). Advanced settings include specifying square feet that the zone covers, root depth, efficiency, and more.

After your zones are setup and tested, it's then time to setup your watering schedule. Schedule options include fixed, flex monthly, and flex daily. The savings increases as you move from fixed to flex. You can specify what days you are allowed/desire to water from any, specific days, and even/odd interval. I also choose to have my watering completed before sunrise, which I have always done and is the recommended time from Rachio.

At the beginning of the season, I had fixed selected as my default for all three zones. I've been experimenting with flex monthly and flex daily in an attempt to move to flex daily. We like our green grass for the looks, but more for the comfort of bare feet in the yard so it is interesting to see what the balance between flexibility and desired savings can be.

Some areas have strict water restrictions, especially in years with drought present, so in these areas the fixed option lets you fully control and show proof of compliance. Thankfully, water is fairly plentiful in Washington State so we can let the intelligence of the software take control of the sprinklers. Even when a fixed schedule is selected, you can still choose to apply rain skip, freeze skip, wind skip, saturation skip, and seasonal shift options.

Cycle and soak options include manual cycle and soak, smart cycle, and no cycle and soak. I chose the smart cycle option that will water one zone for a bit and then move back to that zone to finish the full time after letting the water soak into the soil. The first week after using this option I was floored by the long period of time shown and thought my lawn was actually watered for much longer than an hour. This did not happen since the elapsed time included the pause time to let the water soak into the surface so don't freak out if you choose smart cycle and see long times in your history.

Rachio 3 Smart Sprinkler hands-on: in pictures

Daily usage and experiences

One of the primary new features of the Racho 3 is Weather Intelligence Plus. This means that the system provides forecasts within a 36 foot radius of your house so you get the most accurate condition applied to your home or office. Given the major differences between conditions just miles apart here in Washington, this hyperlocation technology is fantastic. Rachio uses comprehensive satellite, radar, and weather station data from more than a quarter million sources. I have yet to see an errant watering cycle and am curious how this performs in the late summer when more rain appears.

So far in July, I have saved 260 gallons of water over what was scheduled thanks to the Rachio software, which is nearly nine percent of the total used so that is a nice savings that would not have been realized without the Rachio. It is likely I am saving even more just due to having the Rachio 3 instead of the manual sprinkler system that was installed in my house four years ago by the builder.

You should be able to see enough cost savings on water usage in a couple of seasons, depending on your environment and water fees. According to the rates for my local water district, a reduction of 900 gallons a month works out to a savings of about $15 per month so the Rachio 3 could pay for itself after 15 months.

The Rachio 3 can be controlled via Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, Samsung Smart Things, Nest, IFTTT, Wink, Control4, Nexia, and others. With Google Home devices positioned around my house I find Google Assistant to be useful for controlling my sprinkler system. It is great to quickly turn on the back yard sprinklers when I see my family lying in the sun on the grass.

Rachio now also offers a leak detection sensor that can be placed in your sprinkler suppy line. Due to my specific line configuration, I was unable to test out this sensor so cannot offer any personal experience with it. The sensor monitors flow rates and detect leaks with sensitive Vortex Technology, instantly shuts off zones if a leak is detected, and provides leak notifications so that plants and grass receive the proper amount of water.

Pricing and availability

The Rachio 3 is available now for $229.99 for support up to 8 zones and $279.99 for 16 zones. The wireless flow meter accessory is priced at $119 if you buy separate from the Rachio 3 or $99 as a bundle add-on. An outdoor enclosure can also be purchased for $29.

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