Lawn Care Tips

Benefits of a Smart Irrigation Controller

The purpose of an irrigation system is to maintain a consistent moisture level in the soil.

While your irrigation (sprinkler) system is a complex system composed of check valves, and pipes, control valves, main lines, lateral lines, different zones, rotor heads, spray heads, bubblers, drip lines and everything in between–the single most important piece is the controller. Your controller acts as the brain of the operation and tells the rest of the system exactly when to apply water to the soil.

“The Controller acts as the brain of the operation.”

Did you know that your Irrigation System also protects your home’s foundation?

Your home is probably your biggest investment and its foundation needs a consistent moisture level in the soil. Too much water causes the soil to over-expand and can slough the foundation; on the other hand, too little water causes the soil to dry out and separate. Both of these factors can lead to foundation shifting, cracking, and failure. And going back and forth between periods of over-and under-saturation is very problematic.

If you notice any of these signs, it is important to contact a professional foundation company to be sure your soil moisture level is correct.

What is a Standard Controller?

A standard controller, otherwise known as a “clock” to irrigation professionals, is just what the name implies: it is simply a digital clock that holds a fixed schedule and run times. A standard controller typically has a rain sensor that will prevent the system from operating during a rain event. The owner can manually adjust the schedule and run times to meet their needs.

Drawbacks of a Standard Controller

A standard controller is excellent at watering at a fixed time and for a fixed length, but if your goal is to maintain a consistent moisture level in the soil, then there are many drawbacks to using a standard controller.

  1. The most obvious drawback is weather. A fixed schedule cannot take into account periods of drought or excessive rains. So a standard controller on a fixed schedule will always be under-watering in a drought and over-watering during rains.
  2. “But,” you say, “you told me earlier that a standard controller has a rain sensor.”

    Yes, however, most rain sensors are simply an on or off switch and do not have any kind of memory, so if it rained hard overnight and into the late afternoon, but the sensor did not detect any rain when it was scheduled to water tonight, guess what? Your fixed schedule will run, and now you have over-watered.

    Did you know that rain sensors are the number one cause of irrigation system failures and service calls?

    Rain sensors commonly get clogged up with leaves and animal droppings, which causes the controller to incorrectly sense that it is raining around the clock, and the entire system stops operating altogether.

  3. Slope and Soak Times. A standard controller cannot understand the slope of your lawn. So if your back lawn is nice and flat, but your side lawn is steep, and you have each zone set to run a fixed amount of time, well, the zone in the back is likely getting optimal soil saturation since it is flat, and the water has time to permeate the soil. But the water on the side zone that is steep is just running off its intended area, wasting water and not delivering moisture deep down to your lawn’s root system where it is needed.

  4. Vegetation Types. A standard controller cannot understand the type of vegetation it is watering. Grasses, plants, bushes, and trees all have different rates at which they consume water. This process is called plant transpiration. A lot of weather data is involved in determining a plant’s transpiration. Vegetation pulls much less water out of the ground on moderate and overcast days and a great deal more when it is hot and sunny, but your fixed schedule cannot account for that.

  5. Soil Types. Your vegetation is planted in soil. Different soils store and release moisture at far different rates. Sandy soils store very little moisture and release it rapidly, whereas clay soils are excellent stores of water, but release the moisture slowly and prove more difficult for plants to grow in. Standard irrigation controllers have no idea what we are talking about.

Enter the World of Smart Irrigation Controllers

Computer programs are excellent at processing data and performing repetitive tasks. Smart irrigation controllers are simply computers that become the “brain” of your irrigation system. When they are first installed, each zone in your system is programmed so the controller knows the precise location of the zone, how much sun the zone receives, how much slope is in the zone, the vegetation type that the zone is responsible for watering, and the soil type.

“Smart Irrigation Controllers are simply computers that become the ‘brain’ of your Irrigation System.”

Using this precise zone information, a smart controller will actively monitor nearby weather stations and local weather conditions to proactively fine tune your watering schedule based on each specific zone and the actual amount of rainfall, air temperature, amount of sun, and cloud conditions to maintain a consistent moisture level in the soil. It will automatically water more during drought conditions and water very little if at all during periods of heavy rains, and of course it adjusts to care for every condition in between.

Another great feature of a smart controller is that they can be managed remotely. But you said they manage all of this automatically, so why would I need to manage my system remotely? What if, for example, you are on vacation, and your neighbor calls to let you know that one of your sprinkler heads is shooting straight into the air? You would simply open the app, disable the zone, and be done. Then a call to your irrigation specialist to fix the issue, and you can provide them remote access, and they can operate the zones without requiring physical access to the controller. Once the sprinkler head is fixed, enable the zone, and done. Back to vacay.


There are various tools and meters available to test soil moisture levels and determine soil compositions. So it is certainly possible for a knowledgeable homeowner versed in this with time in their schedule to monitor these variables and manually adjust the fixed times on their standard controller to maintain a consistent moisture level in the soil. Of course, remote repairs would never be possible without physical access to the controller. Short of that, it can be managed.

However, if you are not comfortable managing these variables yourself or do not have the time in your schedule, then the value of adding a smart irrigation controller is without question. You will save countless hours of manually adjusting your irrigation system and improve your home’s value as well.