Best Smart Sprinkler Controllers of 2021
Count on these CR-tested models from Orbit, Rachio, Rain Bird, and RainMachine to help keep your lawn lush and green
With summer in full swing, you've probably spent more time than you care to admit thinking about—and handling—yard work. And if you want to make your lawn the envy of the neighborhood, you might want to consider giving your sprinkler system an upgrade. How? Swap out the system controller for a smart model.
Smart sprinkler controllers connect to the internet and use real-time weather data to adjust the frequency of watering so that you don’t overwater your grass, say, during an afternoon shower, or underwater on a dry, hot day. Smart controllers can save you money on your water bill, too.
Below you’ll find ratings and reviews of the best smart sprinkler controllers from our tests. One crucial factor sets these top-performers apart from the rest of the pack.
“The ability of these smart sprinkler controllers to make fine-tuned watering adjustments greatly depends on the robustness of their weather data,” says Larry Ciufo, CR’s test engineer for sprinkler controllers. “You’re going to want a controller that uses a lot of forecast data to make its adjustments.”
In CR’s tests of smart sprinkler controllers, we evaluate, among other features, how easy it is to wire the controller to the sprinkler system’s water valves and whether the controls are simple to use. To gauge a system’s watering accuracy, we collect actual rainfall data from a rain gauge, then evaluate how much a controller overwaters or underwaters based on that data.
All four models below, listed in alphabetical order, feature smartphone app controls and are certified under the Environmental Protection Agency’s WaterSense program.
CR members can click on each model name for detailed ratings and reviews. For results on all the smart sprinkler controllers we test, see Consumer Reports’ smart sprinkler controller ratings.
CR’s take: The Orbit B-Hyve 57950 looks like a traditional sprinkler controller but is plenty smart. It earns an Excellent rating in our tests for convenience because of its easy-to-use controls and weatherproof casing, plus it’s a cinch to connect to the internet. Its weather responsiveness isn’t quite as good as the competition’s because it uses more limited weather data, though it still beat out many other models in our tests. It features manual controls with an LED screen and voice control via Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. This model works with up to 12 sprinkler zones; a six-zone version is also available.
CR’s take: The Rachio 3 8ZULW-C is a solid sprinkler controller that's easy to connect to WiFi and is highly responsive to local forecasts, receiving a Very Good rating for that capability. It lost a few points because its wiring instructions are unclear, and it lacks a backup battery and weatherproof casing. (A weatherproof enclosure is sold separately for $29.) In addition to app controls, this Rachio also features manual controls on the device itself and voice control via Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit, and Google Assistant. This model works with up to eight sprinkler zones; a 16-zone version is also available for larger systems.
CR’s take: The Rain Bird ST8-2.0 earns a high spot in our ratings, but it does have a few shortcomings. It receives a rating of just Good for weather responsiveness, meaning its watering adjustments aren’t as accurate as some of the other models here. It can also be difficult to connect to the internet. But once it’s up and running, the Rain Bird is very convenient to use. There are manual controls with an LED display as well as voice control via Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, and it comes in a weatherproof enclosure. This model works with up to eight sprinkler zones.
CR's take: The RainMachine Touch HD-12 is a stellar controller that’s capable of handling 12 zones. It receives an Excellent rating for weather responsiveness and is very convenient to use. Its WiFi could be a bit easier to set up, though. Unlike the other models here, it connects to WiFi only through the controller itself; you can't connect via its smartphone app. The RainMachine features a 4.3-inch touch-screen display for manual control and voice control via Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit, and Google Assistant. A 16-zone version is also available. This model isn't weatherproof; RainMachine recommends using an Orbit controller box, $35, for outdoor installation.