The folks at Rachio sent me one of their snazzy new irrigation controllers to evaluate. What follows is an epic tale of unboxing, installation, testing, and an integration shootout between Control4, Alexa, and Alarm.com.
Full disclosure: Rachio sent me a demo unit for evaluation. I didn’t receive any compensation from them beyond that nor did they try to influence my review. My review is based on my experience and represents my candid opinion.
First off, what the heck is Rachio? Like many of you, I’ve watched this category from afar over the past few years. Smart irrigation control has existed at the theoretical level for years (as in, you could program your traditional control system to operate sprinklers). My company had decided that while irrigation was something we could integrate, we would avoid it.
Rachio came along in 2014 and introduced its first product, promising to save homeowners big money on their water bills by automatically adapting watering schedules based on internet weather forecasts. The product took off, was generally accepted as a winner, and Rachio began selling them like hotcakes on Amazon. Fast forward to last year, and Rachio introduced its Gen 2 controller with companies like Control4, Alarm.com, Crestron, and Amazon developing drivers to integrate Rachio into their platforms.
The question I had was simple: Does it really work? Thanks to the demo unit I received last week, I was about to find out.
Unboxing and Installation
First things first, Rachio created a dedicated pro channel along with its own pro SKUs. If you do their training, (I did and it’s pretty straightforward and well done) Rachio will double the product warranty as long as it’s installed by a certified Rachio Pro.
As with my previous product reviews, I was interested in the total time it takes to install. If we’re going to offer it at Livewire, installation has to take a reasonable amount of time or else we’ll lose money.
Note the “Pro” designation.
As you can see, the packaging is simple and well designed. It’s very easy to open up and the box is clearly marked “Pro” (easier to differentiate in a price shopping scenario).
I planned to upgrade a nine-zone Hunter irrigation controller. The instructions included in the box are easy to understand and I was able to physically swap the units in less than 10 minutes. Here are my job progress photos:
It’s aways a good idea to take a photo of what the wires looked like before you begin work.
Very clean looking compared to the old unit.
Setup and Configuration
After I installed the unit, I downloaded the Rachio app from the App Store and followed along. So far so good!
I created an account in the app, and it discovered my new controller immediately. After finding my Wi-Fi network, it automatically configured itself and landed me on a wizard, asking to set up each of the zones based on type of soil, amount of sunlight and type of irrigation head. I went from knowing nothing about any of my irrigation zones to becoming a pocket expert in a few minutes. I gave each of the zones friendly names and, more importantly, took photos of each that serve as easy indicators in the app. My old irrigation system had a lousy paper map.
It’s very easy to manually turn on a zone for a few minutes.
Note the photo indicators showing exactly where the zone is. Great feature!
The setup process took about 20 minutes, and I hadn’t experienced any friction yet. That’s very unusual for technology and a really good omen for Rachio. I was beginning to see why they’ve been so successful. Standalone installation was one thing. The next big test was integration. How would it do with Alarm.com, Alexa, and Control4?
Alarm.com: I enabled Rachio in our Alarm.com dealer account and then logged in with my Rachio username and password. Done. Total process took less than five minutes. The Alarm.com support article worked perfectly.
Control4: I discovered the only way to integrate Rachio is to buy a $199 driver. I decided against spending $199 to tie in the Rachio because I couldn’t think of a compelling use case scenario for it to justify the expense. The Rachio itself retails for around $200. Crestron decided their driver is free.
Alexa: I logged into the Alexa app, searched for the Rachio skill, and enabled it by logging into my Rachio account. Very easy and took less than 30 seconds.
Other integrations include Nest, IFTTT, and many more. Check out Rachio’s exhaustive list here.
I’m struggling to figure out why Rachio needs integrating into a traditional control system. The only benefit I saw in my testing was the ease of seeing the dashboard alongside my other subsystems in the Alarm.com app. I don’t anticipate controlling the Rachio through third-party control (the Alexa skill seems like a nice parlor trick, but not very practical). The real benefit appears to be the ability to set and forget it. After initial configuration it appears to run on its own and does not need much in the way of interaction. It’s eye opening to see how much water an irrigation system uses (we’ve used over 3,000 gallons this week) and I’m sure we’ll be more mindful of our water usage armed with this dashboard.
The Rachio is very simple to configure and it’s great to see them developing a dedicated pro channel. I can see a gap where traditional lawn care folks might have a hard time understanding how to use the Rachio during system startup and shutdown each year. Some easy instructions inside the top cover aimed at Luddite lawn pros would go a long way toward closing that gap.
Will Livewire begin installing Rachio systems? We will pilot a few installations and most likely partner with an irrigation company and get them trained to be Rachio Pro certified. There are a lot of opportunities for finger pointing if something goes wrong, and we like to delineate products like thermostats, light switches, and irrigation controllers with professionals certified to take care of those systems end to end. Rachio permits pros to manage multiple systems from a single dashboard, so props to them for anticipating industry shifts toward remote management.
Is Rachio right for your company? Order one for yourself and check it out.
Stay frosty and see you in the field.