• December 25, 2014

‘Smart’ irrigation controllers get smarter

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Posted: Saturday, August 3, 2013 4:30 am

COLLEGE STATION — Just because you received rain in July there’s no excuse for being dumb about watering your lawn, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert.

July in Texas is usually one of the cruelest months when it comes to rain, but this July was unseasonably wet, said Charles Swanson, AgriLife Extension irrigation specialist, College Station.

Despite the rain greening up lawns and landscapes, and replenishing lakes and reservoirs, most of Texas still remains under drought conditions, and staying smart about home irrigation remains a good idea, both financially and environmentally, Swanson said.

And Swanson and his colleague, Dr. Guy Fipps, AgriLife Extension irrigation engineer, College Station, have just the prescription for smart irrigation: electronically “smart” irrigation controllers.

Smart controllers — also referred to as evapotranspiration or ET controllers — use weather data to calculate and automatically apply the right amount of water needed by landscape plants, Swanson said.

Studies have shown, Swanson said, that homeowners typically over water their lawns by 20 percent to 50 percent. Not only is this wasteful of a limited natural resource, it’s often not good for the lawn. By taking into account such factors as humidity, rainfall, heat and solar radiation, smart controllers turn on irrigation systems for the correct amount of time to apply only what the home landscape needs. Some controllers can also take into account the particular kind of turf or other landscape plants.

Conventional irrigation controllers are simply timed, and rely on the user to determine how much and how often to irrigate, often resulting in applying excessive amounts, Swanson said.

“We have learned a lot about ET controllers over the last five years,” he said. “We began our first year of evaluation with five products that were readily available in Texas. In 2012 we tested nine controllers, with an additional 10th controller being added to our 2013 evaluation. Word spread with each year’s report across the country, and additional manufacturers started contacting us, wanting to be included.”

Swanson and Fipps said they are not ready to make specific product recommendations at this time. However, the EPA has listed eight manufacturers and 125 models of controllers that have passed their tests and been given the agency’s “WaterSense” label. See the list at http://1.usa.gov/17TWeuQ .

Learn more about the AgriLife study at http://itc.tamu.edu/smart.php.

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