Best smart lawn sprinkler controller systems 2020

A smart sprinkler improves your lawn watering, responds to weather conditions, automates schedules and adjusts to specific amounts of water.
Nowadays, many watering systems can be completely automated via app or smart home device.
Nowadays, many watering systems can be completely automated via app or smart home device. Rachio; Getty Images
By Whitson Gordon

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I used to dread futzing with my sprinkler system. The onboard controls were clunky, and it required regular tweaking to keep up with the seasons — or external accessories like rain sensors to avoid watering the lawn on days that were already wet. Much like smart thermostats, smart locks and other home tech, though, a new controller can make the entire process easier and automated — but navigating your options can get overwhelming.

A smart sprinkler controller allows you to adjust your lawn watering schedules from an app on your phone, using a more intuitive and streamlined interface than any onboard buttons could hope to give you. You’ll also get connected to local weather stations so your sprinklers won’t run if rain is expected, and you can even set it to automatically adjust your schedule as the seasons change. (Being able to run a cycle with your voice using Alexa or Google Assistant is nice, too.) In other words, you can automate the entire watering process, increasing the efficacy of each drop that hits your lawn, as well as save money with a smart system that reduces water waste. To give you an idea of the best smart sprinkler controllers out there, we compiled some of the top options.

Best overall smart sprinkler controller: Rachio

1. Rachio 3rd Generation 16-zone controller

Rachio’s 3rd generation controller is widely regarded as the best smart sprinkler timer thanks to its easy setup, fantastic app and myriad of smart scheduling options. It uses a system called Weather Intelligence Plus to get finely-tuned weather reporting for rain, wind and freeze skips in your specific location. It also integrates with a number of other smart home products. You can hook it up to your existing system and run it as-is or buy a number of other Rachio add-ons like a flow meter or lawn treatments. It’s available in both 8-zone and 16-zone variations, so you can pick the right one for your sprinkler system and lawn size — just know you’ll need a weatherproof enclosure if you plan on putting it outside.

Best affordable 8-zone sprinkler controller: Rachio

2. Rachio 3e 8-zone controller

If you want something a bit less expensive than the Rachio 3, the company’s Rachio 3e gets you most of the goodies in a more affordable package. The Rachio 3e only comes in an 8-zone model and loses a few advanced features like Flex Daily schedules, Apple Homekit support, a yard mapper and the hyperlocal Weather Intelligence Plus feature — you can still connect to a local weather tower for good-enough forecasts.

Best touch-screen alternative to a smart sprinkler: RainMachine

3. RainMachine Touch HD-12

The RainMachine Touch HD-12 has a more modern touch screen interface that allows for more advanced onboard controls when an app isn’t an option. It also relies on the internet less than other controllers, using internal storage to manage your sprinklers and only connecting to the internet for weather data. (Other controllers, like Rachio, will still run on your schedule if you lose internet connectivity but you won’t be able to adjust them.) Its app isn’t as good as Rachio’s, though, and its smarts aren’t quite as advanced — but for most people, it’ll still do an admirable job.

Best sprinkler controller with onboard buttons: Orbit

4. Orbit B-hyve Indoor/Outdoor Controller

While Rachio’s offerings have some limited controls, Orbit’s B-Hyve timer has an LCD screen and old-school buttons that yard care veterans will find familiar. Available in 6-zone and 12-zone models, the Orbit B-Hyve can handle the basics of smart sprinkler controls, like automatic schedules and recommendations based on weather. It does not, however, integrate with as many other smart home products, and many reviewers find its software clunkier than Rachio’s — though that may be a fair sacrifice given its lower cost (especially considering it comes bundled with a weatherproof box).

Best affordable smart sprinkler system: Orbit

5. Orbit B-hyve Indoor Controller

If you’re on a strict budget and don’t need onboard controls, Orbit’s 4-zone and 8-zone indoor controllers cost less than their larger, more feature-filled brethren. The app is the same as Orbit’s more expensive offering. If you want to put it outside, though, you’ll need to buy an outdoor enclosure separately.

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