The folks at Rachio sent me their newest irrigation controller and intelligent water flow sensor to try out. I installed their previous-generation system last year and was eager to see how the upgrade would perform.
Unboxing and Installation:
Rachio puts a lot of focus on their brand, which shines through in their packaging. Irrigation isn’t a historically sexy industry, and they’re trying to make it cool through their clean package design with easy-to-understand documentation. Both the Rachio 3 and Wireless Flow Meter drive customers to their web site or to an app store instead of including bulky paper documentation.
The instructions prompted me to begin with hardware installation. Since I already had a Rachio Pro Gen 2, I hoped the mounting pattern might be the same. Success! Swapping in the new unit took less than 5 minutes and I noticed a few key improvements. The wire connections are now stab-style friction fit and the panel cover is magnetic vs. the old snap-on cover. Rachio also added more manual controls on the front for traditional irrigation vendors afraid of the “smart” aspects of the controller.
I powered up the new controller, fired up the app, and followed along as the wizard prompted me to add the new system. This process sailed along as I expected it would. Instead of having to enter anything manually, a barcode scan within the app captures all the needed settings and helped to finish things up smoothly. Rachio anticipated customers upgrading their systems and offers to migrate settings from old controller to new. Anyone who has had to re-program anything will recognize the 1-to-2-hour time savings this offers. After re-confirming where your controller is located, you’re shown a congratulatory screen, and that’s the end of the process. Very simple and impressive. The controller prompted me to do a firmware update, which failed initially, but soon resolved itself and all was well.
While installing and upgrading to the Rachio 3 was easy and seamless, the real reason driving my journey came next: Rachio’s new Wireless Flow Meter. This appears to be an industry-first product that delivers even more intelligence and potential cost savings. The Wireless Flow Meter promises to monitor water usage and generate alert notifications if it detects any leaks in the system. In addition, by measuring actual water usage per zone vs. guessing, Rachio promises to further refine watering schedules to cut down excess watering. To illustrate, Rachio scheduled 8000 gallons of watering over the last 30 days, but only used 5000 because of its cloud intelligence.
As with the Rachio 3, the packaging and unboxing of the Wireless Flow Meter drove me to the Rachio Web site for installation instructions.
Since everyone’s irrigation system is different, Rachio starts by asking which type of pipe you have. I clicked through and immediately saw a list of required PVC fittings needed to complete the work. This part is the only real friction on my journey. The parts Rachio recommends on their Web site aren’t readily available at ANY local hardware stores in my area, and I ended up ordering them from Amazon (a slightly different SKU that I prayed would work). My journey for the perfect fittings taught me a lot about irrigation work, and I would highly recommend ordering online vs. trying to hunt around for shark bite PVC fittings. You’re welcome!
No joy at Lowe’s or Home Depot, but we did have some fun trying to MacGyver together solutions.
Once I secured the elusive 1-inch PVC couplings (pictured above and available to order online with Amazon), the rest of the process was pretty straightforward. I gathered the needed tools, strapped on my headlamp, and headed to the crawl space. Rachio provides very good guidance on cutting dimensions, and it was easy to shut the water off, mark the cuts, measure again, and snip away. Once I’d removed the length of pipe needed, I pushed on the Wireless Flow Meter Assembly and made sure the fittings were snug.
I turned the water back on and prayed for no leaks. Thankfully everything went smoothly and I began calibrating the Wireless Flow Meter in Rachio’s app.
I immediately noticed the ability of the Wireless Flow Meter to detect gallons per minute intelligently across different zones. After taking average readings, this enables Rachio to push leak notifications to customer phones and tablets. I love this peace of mind.
What About Integrations?
I covered Rachio’s existing integrations in my article about the Rachio Pro Gen 2. My own setup has an Alarm.com integration (based on login/password authentication). I noticed this integration drops offline intermittently, and it didn’t pick up my new Rachio. I needed to log off and log back on using Alarm.com’s dealer services and the Alarm.com app itself. After I did that, all went back to normal. I suspect other control systems will experience similar issues.
I give the Rachio 3 + Wireless Flow Meter an solid A. This is a great company not trying to spread themselves too thin, and they’ve disrupted an industry (irrigation) sorely in need of it. Do I recommend running out and becoming a Rachio Pro? If it fits with your business model, go for it. If not, there are other profitable lines better suited to traditional integrators, but there’s a huge gap between what homeowners are willing to take on themselves and what traditional irrigation companies are willing to touch (no different than the HVAC industry and smart thermostats). Maybe there’s room for you in the gap….
Stay frosty and see you in the field.