Rachio Iro

The Rachio Iro is no watered-down connected irrigation controller

Do I really need my sprinkler system hooked up to the Internet?

That point was about to become moot as I picked up the screwdriver and removed the basic timer that had served both myself and my lawn well for the past 10 years. Nothing frilly — just your basic monochrome LCD display that controlled the half-dozen zones and their numerous sprinkler heads.

Water turns on, water turns off. If it rains, and I remember to do so, I could manually turn everything off. Every spring I'd try to remember how to manually cycle the system to make sure everything still worked. Simple enough.

But we have to connect all the things these days. And when Rachio announced the Iro Smart Sprinkler Controller, well, why the hell not. We asked them to send us one to test out, and they obliged.

And in the heat of the July summer in Florida, down came the trusty old timer, and up went white Rachio Iro. We're using the $249 eight-zone model. A 16-zone Iro is available for $299.

Where to buy the Rachio Iro

You can order either size Rachio Iro from Amazon, The Home Depot, or directly from Rachio itself.

Installing the Rachio Iro

Installation of Rachio Iro

I like to do a little bit of homework before potentially upsetting something that so far has been working perfectly. A quick trip to Rachio's site and a few minutes of video later, and I had the gist of what was about to happen. I'd just undo the old time unit, plug everything into the Rachio Iro, set up the Wifi though the Rachio app, and be on my way.

Seemed simple enough. And for the most part, it was.

A reminder: The Rachio Iro is a connected device. And as such, it needs access to the Internet. And for that you'll need a Wifi router within range of wherever you're mounting your Iro. Our pals at Connectedly have a great guide for picking a Wifi router.

Out with the old Rain Bird

Out with the old Rain Bird

All I needed to do was make a note of where all the wires were plugged in on my old timer unit, and plug them into the right spot on the Rachio Iro once I'd mounted it on the wall. I managed to reverse my zones — they now turn on in the opposite order of what I'm used to — but that's not a big deal at all, and I could just change the order of the zone wires if I was so inclined.

Plug in the AC adapter and you're on your way.

Installation of Rachio IroInstallation of Rachio Iro

How difficult was all this? Easier than putting in a Nest, mostly because the low-voltage wires with a sprinkler system are of a smaller gauge and easier to work with. If you do any sort of basic home improvement-type stuff, you should be fine here. Just take your time, read the instructions and watch the videos.

Next you'll fire up the Rachio app and register an account (we'd really love to see some single sign-on action here), answer a couple questions, then feed the app the Wifi information you want the Iro to use. You then hold the phone up to a sensor on the bottom left of the Iro. Your screen goes into a strobe-light mode, which conveys the Wifi info to the unit. It's called "Blink Up." It's strange, but it works.

Rachio Iro

But one word of caution here: It took me a few tries to get Blink Up to work, as there was too much light coming into the garage. Closing the garage door helped with that. I then repeated the process a couple more times to make sure I had all the screenshots I needed for this post. But for the next half-hour or so, my LG G3 display kept strobing. That is, there was a flicker on any screen that had color on it, in any app. It cleared up after a spell, but not before a period of brief panic on my part. I'm not sure if that's a thing with the G3 and its new QHD display — a couple hard resets didn't change things — or if you'll possibly experience the same thing. But all is well now.

Bottom line? I'd try to get Blink Up to work on the first try. You can do it in a dark room before mounting the Iro on the wall, if you're really worried.

Using the Rachio app

Rachio Iro app

There's something pretty familiar about using the Rachio app. If you've got a Nest, you'll notice it.

Setup is pretty simple. You'll tell the Iro your general location by ZIP code (if you want it to have an idea of the weather), and you'll set up all your zones. You can give each zone a specific name, and the Iro asks you a few questions in an attempt to find the best watering duration. It'll ask what you're watering — grass, shrubs, flowers, etc. It'll ask what sort of soil you have, and how much shade the zone receives. It'll also ask if the ground is sloped or level, and what kind of sprinkler nozzle you're using.

There's a little bit of trust involved here. I'm moving from a very binary system. On or off. My sprinklers were all set to run for 20 minutes in each zone. The Rachio Iro has significantly decreased the run time to 3 or 5 minutes every three days. I'll have to see how the lawn responds, and how much money I end up saving. (And being in Florida, the weather plays a major factor. There have been years where I hardly had to water during the summer.) You can set the schedule to be whatever you want — but for now I'm letting the system control things just to see how it works.

Once you're up and running, you'll be presented with an image of the Iro box. On it are options to manually start a cycle, activate the rain delay (which puts things off for 24 hours), and a refresh-type button.

There's a slide-out drawer on the left, where you can add and select which Iro to use (if you have more than one), as well as help information, and your profile.

An overflow menu in the top right lets you set location info on your Iro, see your usage history, and edit the zones and watering times you implemented at setup. You also can set an extended "sleep mode" for long times away, and control a master valve, and rain sensor, if connected. (I had neither of those.)

Down at the bottom you'll find an overview of the water schedule. Tap a day to see more detail, including predicted weather.

All in all, pretty intuitive stuff.

Do you need a connected irrigation system?

We asked at the outset whether any of this is really necessary. A sprinkler timer is (and should be, really) a mostly hands-off ordeal. You shouldn't want to have to mess with it.

But I love the idea of saving water, and saving money. I love the idea of a system that has some idea of how much water needs to be used on any given day. It's not an exact science, especially because I don't have a rain sensor installed. But the Rachio Iro is very cool. And starting at $249, it's an easy way to get yet another part of your home connected.


Reader comments

Reviewed: Rachio Iro lets you water your yard from anywhere


My biggest problem with things like this and the nest is they rely to heavily on "the cloud". I would rather things stay local to the box and I set up a port forward. If this company goes belly up...that box becomes a paperweight. On the flip side I am surprised nest hasn't bought this company.

Hopefully the water time dynamically changes with the daily high and low temps too.

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Yet another product you can't really own since it requires a "service." Welcome to the world where you pay forever for everything and other people have access to and control all your data because you cannot host it yourself. Fees change. Rules change. And if/when they go belly up, your devices are useless.

I am not saying services are always bad- sometimes they are completely appropriate. But it seems that more and more products are being designed to INTENTIONALLY be tethered to what is otherwise an unnecessary "service", just so they can keep charging perpetually. Reminds me of home security systems where it is very difficult to get decent systems which do NOT tie into expensive monitoring contracts in a day and age of cell phones, Email, SMS, video clips, etc.

I have a raindrip weather smart pro that I bought locally at 50% off. I ended up paying about $45 out the door. It received local weather broadcasts via antenna and adjusts the system dynamically based on historical weather patterns and those broadcasted signals. I've saved about 70% water this year by comparison to last year. The product listed here is tempting, but I'll wait for 4th or fifth generation version at one fifth the price. Hopefully, Google doesn't snap them up too.

Guys, don't report on connecting things to the Internet unless you cover security. How does your phone authenticate to the sprinklers? Are communications between the phone and the sprinklers secure? If the communications are encrypted, does each customer have a unique key? Does the company have a security staff? Can they push firmware updates when vulnerabilities are discovered? Are there passwords for service technicians that are the same on every sprinkler? If the manufacturer doesn't provide this information, assume that the sprinklers will spend most of their computing cycles mining BitCoins for a guy in Kuwait.

Worrying about security of your data and equipment is not "tin foil hat". If you want to put your head in the sand and never worry about anything, that is your business. But you shouldn't tease or criticize people for being diligent. Yeah, it's just a sprinkler, but one thing after another adds up. And it isn't just about security, it is about control over what you own. His comment about firmware is a perfect example of something not even security related- HP released a firmware update we loaded on printers at work to fix some stability problems. Instead, it HORRIBLY broke certain aspects of printing and THERE WAS NO WAY TO LOAD THE OLD FIRMWARE BACK. After two years, they have still not fixed it. At least we had the choice to load it.

I purchased the Rachio and so far I am a fan. I can't state if I have saved any money on water since the bill is on a 3 month cycle. I figured if its under 210 for the 3 months I have saved some money.

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I would be interested in an update say 3-6 months later on how things are going with this system. Is the grass getting enough water, are you saving money, does it actually change the schedule based up on the weather or is that just a gimmick?

I like my Rachio. I set it and forget it. Works great she I have to test system. I don't have to run back to the unit to turn it on/off. Haven't seen the savings yet since I have had it for the last two month. It's cool that it ask you for the type of soil, grade of landscape, etc when setting it up. I had to bring the unit inside the house in order for it to see my router. Then I put it in its permanent location.

For anyone seriously considering one of these you should look at the competition. There are several companies making these type of devices. My recommendation after closely looking at them all is the one from Hydrawise. The benefit of Hydrawise is in their software where I feel it is the most polished and most feature rich. There is a new model of the Hydrawise coming out in August, and I've seen it and it is beautiful. This new model is the 3rd generation and they have been around for a few years. The old model was ugly (exposed connection terminals) and black and white screen with physical arrow buttons. The new one coming out has a color touch screen. Your lawn care person won't have to deal with a smartphone. But for you you get the benefit of the best software with the best reporting. Also for those that want to write your own apps you'll be happy to know that it has an open API. Setting it up is super easy also and you don't have to mess with your router opening ports. Price is going to be $329 for a 12 zone I think.

Phil, I just set one of these up yesterday and I know you said you have your zones reversed, but I noticed in your wiring photo that you're connected to zones 3-8 instead of 1-6 (1 is on the left).

Also you did not mention one of the biggest benefits (IMHO) of the Rachio. With the different soil types, the system is smart enough to know the best watering period to use. We have clay soil, so it will only water each zone a maximum of 5 minutes, then it lets it soak until 30 minutes for a zone has past, then it waters again - until the desired watering time has accumulated. If it's already been 30 minutes when the last zone is watered, there's no delay and it fires up the first zone when the last one is finished. This saves water runoff and maximizes the depth the water gets to.

Also, for the blink up, I just pressed my phone up against the sensor - which blocked out the ambient light. I did have to do it twice though since I could not see the screen to know when it was done and I pulled it away too soon. It's best just to watch the wi-fi indicator light.

They've been pushing out updates from time to time, so I expect a lot more features coming in the future.

I may have missed it, but does this automatically adjust watering times based off the weather?

I have a Rain Machine which is basically a super cheap Chinese tablet with sprinkler leads connected to it. The app is horrible and barely usable. The cool part is you really never need to use the app. It connects to NOAA and adjusts watering times based off projected and actual rainfall.

What is also nice is it is entirely self contained, no cloud to worry about.

There is a setting to turn on/off "Seasonal adjustments are made to my watering schedule". I haven't seen any changes in the time I've had it, so I don't know what the threshold for an adjustment is yet. I have it set to email me whenever an adjustment is made.

I'd like to see something like this with the idea of an expandable sensor network in mind. Something where I can add in solar/battery powered soil sensors for different zones. It would be great if the sprinkler controller polled data from the sensors to determine how well your soil is handling absorption, how quickly it dries out, etc. Now that would be worth $200-$300. I have soil that is very different from one zone to another (manure amended lawn and bushes, fully mixed garden, un-amended backyard). I don't want to put in a general soil type and hope the standard assumptions work, I want my sprinkler controller (or the servers to which it connects) to gather the required data and analyze it all for me. If a surround sound receiver can autoconfigure the speaker levels based upon room acoustics, then my ridiculously expensive sprinkler controller better do the same thing for my yard.

One benefit I haven't seen discussed is if you have a rental property which I do. The contract with my tenant specifically states they cannot change the sprinkler settings, but this could be a big help with keeping the landscape properly watered.