By Alfred Dilluvio, Aqua Turf Irrigation Systems LLC
Irrigation System Management has remained relatively unchanged for many years. There’s a visit in the spring to check components and reprogram the “clock,” maybe a checkup in the summer, and a shutdown in the fall to protect the system from freezing temperatures. Although this approach has worked for many years, new technology is giving contractors the ability to be “on site” for the entire duration of an irrigation season. While we have already reported on different smart irrigation controllers and the ways in which they are saving water, we want to highlight a device that has been working wonderfully for us, and call to attention it’s especially contractor friendly features.
I want to take a moment to introduce Hydrawise, the manufacturer of a smart irrigation controller that goes by the same name. This singular device has been the most popular controller we have installed this year. After taking a moment to peruse the website or handle the controller, it becomes clear why this is the case. With a web dashboard that is remarkably easy to use, applications that are well designed and continuously updated with new features, and a physical controller with a traditional interface, Hydrawise has given its users something to be very excited about. Also, with an extremely well designed contractor portal and customer management system, Hydrawise is sure to become popular with irrigation professionals.
A home automation product, or any product for that matter, must be both functional and user friendly. Aside from working exactly as described, the control system must be easy to understand and operate. After creating a free web account, users can login to their web dashboard from the Hydrawise main page. This web account is then linked via serial number to a Hydrawise controller. The same login information can also be used to manage the system from a web enabled smart device (phone, tablet, etc.). Both the web dashboard and the application look almost identical and allow users to see each zone, rainfall data, forecast weather, calculated water savings, and the main menu. From the dashboard, users can make changes to watering start times and station run times, adjust the controller’s responses to local weather, configure sensors (flow meters or moisture sensors), view reports, and manually run their system. While Hydrawise was previously a predictive watering system, with user defined run times, it now has the ability to automatically generate watering schedules for each zone based on landscape profiles. While the Hydrawise was already saving large quantities of water with its predictive watering, smart watering features are sure to show users even more savings. This new feature is available on the web dashboard now and should be available on applications within a week. Add to this the ability to send email and text messages in the event that a controller goes offline (in our experience only due to power outage or router failure), and you can feel confident in the controller’s ability to manage what’s going on. Additionally, in the event of wifi outages, the controller will still continue to deliver a fixed irrigation schedule. I personally think that the Hydrawise dashboard is the best designed control platform I have seen for smart irrigation controllers.
In addition to the user friendliness of the software, let’s take a moment to discuss the unit itself. One thing that we have found time and time again is this: In order to inspire confidence, an irrigation controller needs to have a control interface on the actual box. Sometimes we have homeowners and property managers who want a wifi controller installed but do not have wifi in the home yet. Although you can always manually run a system using the valves themselves, this controller’s offline mode is very user friendly and the controller is comparably priced to all the big name traditional units. Once the wifi is up and running, the Hydrawise becomes smart and the web app becomes the main control platform. There are several other reasons why controls on the box are a very necessary part of any irrigation controller. Consider if there was a wifi outage on the day an irrigation contractor was scheduled to do a spring startup or a winterization. Without an interface like the Hydrawise has, they would have a huge problem! Like I said, running zones by opening valves is always possible, but consider trying to winterize a large irrigation system with many valve boxes all in different areas. Having the backup of always being able to run the system without wifi connectivity will always ensure that a job can be completed. Also, although the following can be remedied with education and some training, some technicians are not willing to switch to a totally web based controller. The interface on the box will help these technicians feel comfortable with the new technology, and eventually they may be more likely to embrace it. Additionally, although I don’t find the appearance to be super important, the controller is elegant and stylish, and can be installed outside if placed inside an outdoor box (see image below)
Last year, when we started to install smart controllers, we immediately identified some challenges in the whole process. The contractor portal, coupled with the support provided by Hydrawise, has addressed these challenges beautifully. What follows is a discussion of contractor account, and how Hydrawise has made installation of this controller a positive experience for both customer and irrigation professional. Hydrawise has created a way for irrigation contractors to contact their customers and request access to the irrigation management account. The serial number on the controller is linked to both accounts so both the homeowner and contractor can see what is going on and make amendments to the system. This powerful method of communication allows contractors to provide around the clock irrigation system management, and diagnose potential issues with the system. It also allows the contractor to manage the account without the homeowner having to share their login information. From the contractor’s standpoint, having the ability to make changes remotely as the season changes or landscape changes are made is a very powerful tool. Also, if a customer has a special event, they can contact their professional and they can schedule a suspension. While a customer can certainly do this themselves, Hydrawise has given contractors a unique ability to respond to customers immediately. With a controller like the Hydrawise, superior responsiveness and service is very easy to provide. Couple the regular Hydrawise controller with a flow meter, and now a contractor can diagnose potential issues such as leaks or damaged pipes. Without using a smart controller, issues like these could go undetected for an entire season, especially on a larger piece of property.
I have written several pieces that comment on smart irrigation and how new technology is changing the game. I believe very strongly that controllers like these will eventually take over and be the standard for all residential and commercial irrigation installation. We are excited to be working with Hydrawise to bring this technology to our customers, and we are confident that it will help us manage irrigation systems more effectively.
Note: The Hydrawise unit has been showing us serious savings in a short amount of time (much less water used to keep things healthy and looking great). Water conservation is an important part of what the Hydrawise does! However, this post was meant to highlight the ways in which the unit has created a management tool the likes of which the irrigation industry has never seen before. We will be doing another blog post to showcase the ways the unit responds to weather data and how it generates ideal watering schedules.
Thanks to Cameron and Andre of Hydrawise for being responsive and always providing support 24/7. Great product from a great team!