Now that it’s finally, really, almost spring where I live in Minneapolis, it’s time I got serious about my yard. Experts have told me that watering consistently is the only way to get a lush, green lawn. As I planned a tech-enabled automated watering system, I had visions of walking across my property like Jason Day evaluating his next putt at Augusta, not a single weed in sight.
Iris Smart Home Watering System
Comparatively low cost for the connected hub and the faucet timers. Incredible flexibility with the types of sprinklers you can use, where you can water, and how often. Easy install—no digging or mounting.
Some dripping from the faucets will waste water. You might ask a plumber about water pressure issues and how many sprinklers you can run at one time. Additional Iris hardware may be required to shore up your network.
There are several devices you can use to schedule regular, consistent waterings. The most effective is an in-ground sprinkler system. The exorbitant cost—around $2,000, including equipment and labor—gets you a system that stays hidden and is very efficient. You can also get an Internet-connected controller box that can be set by an app on your phone. The controllers like the ones from Rachio, Skydrop, and Blossom can even gather weather data and pause your watering schedule on rainy days.
There are ways, however, to get the benefits of a connected sprinkler system without spending thousands of dollars and digging trenches through the grass. I decided to put one such method to the test. By pairing Iris by Lowe’s Smart Home Hub with two Orbit Iris Hose Faucet Timers, I aimed to create an Internet-connected above-ground system that allows me to water my lawn using regular hoses and movable sprinklers, all controlled by taps on an iPhone screen. Total cost: well under $200.
The hub and controllers are all part of the Iris smart home platform. It’s a Lowe’s product (yep, the hardware store), and the company sells dozens of devices made by different manufacturers that can all talk to each other. The hub acts like a traffic cop, relaying your commands and keeping everything working together. You can install things like smart power outlets, smart door locks, and motion-sensing security alarms, connect them to the hub, and control your entire house through the Iris app. The tiny Iris hub ($60) is required, and so is the free Iris app—though downloading the correct app is important. There’s a first-generation version of the Iris app and a new version, but both are in the store. It’s hard to tell the difference; both apps use a similar Iris logo, but one app is clearly marked first-gen. You want the new one.
The Orbit faucet timers ($40 each) have an in nozzle, an out nozzle, and a dial for setting watering schedules manually. You connect your sprinkler hose to the out nozzle, then turn on the faucet and leave it on. The timer regulates the flow from there.
To get them online, you connect them to the Iris hub using ZigBee, a short-range wireless protocol that’s very similar to Wi-Fi. You plug the hub into your Wi-Fi router using an Ethernet cable, install the app on your phone, then, after registering for a free Iris account, start building your network of devices. The hub beeps three times each time you connect something new.
If you have a large house or, like me, you’re trying to talk to devices outdoors, you may need a $30 Iris Smart Plug. This acts as connected outlet that you can switch on and off with your phone, but it also doubles as a repeater, creating a stronger ZigBee connection so the hub can talk to devices further away.
Let the Watering Begin
If your lawn is dry like the surface of Mars, you can click a button to water manually for a set duration—say, 15 minutes or four hours. Manual watering is not what I had in mind; I wanted automation. The Iris app has “cards” for things like your lighting, or your lawn and garden maintenance. I would have preferred the app asked about watering schedules as soon as I paired the faucet timers, but after some scrolling and poking, I figured out how the cards work. I set up a schedule for watering in the early morning and again at night. (The most efficient way to water your lawn.)
Amazingly, the timers worked perfectly and right on schedule. At 7 am, all of my sprinklers erupted right on cue. At 7PM, it happened again. Then, it happened all week. Over a period of about two weeks, my lawn started taking on a darker, healthier hue. The total cost for all of this was under $200.
My only minor complaint is that it’s a little weird leaving the faucets on at all times. They tend to drip a little, and I wondered if it wasted water. An in-ground system connects into your water lines directly and shuts off the flow. In some ways, automated sprinkling with hoses and sprinklers is a bit old-school, but it does provide extra flexibility. I ended up repositioning my sprinklers a few times. I also experimented with different sprinklers, including the kind that spray everywhere and the kind that offer spot coverage.
Then I hit on an idea. I set one faucet for lawn watering and another for my garden. I went back to the app and configured the garden watering schedule to be a little more aggressive—one full hour two times per day. The water pressure in my home was barely enough to make this all work, but it achieved my goal. I never had to hire someone to install an in-ground system, yet the results in my yard were remarkably similar. I even drank lemonade on a patio and watched it all happen.
I should note that the user reviews for the next-gen Iris system are extremely poor. Many customers are complaining about compatibility issues with their older Iris gear, and some have even decided to go back to solely using first-gen hardware and software. I was focused on automated sprinkling using new gear, so I never had any issues with the Smart Hub or Smart Plug or the Iris app. Even the lemonade was perfect.