5 Features That Make Smart Controllers Smart

The power of smart controllers comes from using the “smart” features as a tool to manage water. I remember the first time I looked at an Excel spreadsheet I asked a colleague what is all the fuss about? It just looks like a sheet of graph paper to me.  I couldn’t believe there wasn’t some type of template already embedded so I could easily manipulate data.  As I learned more about Excel I started to better comprehend the power. Understanding the value of “what if” opened a whole new world to me.  I now understood the value of Excel was not as a product, but as a tool to use to analyze data.  Today many users of smart controllers are having this same experience.

Thankfully smart controllers are not set it & forget it

For a controller to be truly smart it has to be able to perform five basic functions.

  1. Ability to adjust watering run times based on weather data or soil moisture data on a daily basis. Most controllers are adjusted four times a year. Increasing the adjustments to 365 days a year amounts to thousands of gallons of water saved over a year.
  2. Ability to view and make changes to a controller from my computer, tablet or smart phone. For contractors managing multiple properties the ability to monitor and manage controllers without having to drive and touch each controller saves time and money. More importantly because they can evaluate data and make changes from the office the evaluation process happens more frequently.
  3.  It has to have the ability to sense flow. This allows users to see real time how much water is being used. It also provides the ability to measure the flow of water for better water management and access to make changes easily.
  4. It has to be able to sense high flow and shut a system down when high flow is detected and send an alert, either email or text message to a technician to let them know there is a problem.   Anyone who has experienced a high water bill as a result of a water line break that went unnoticed for days understands this value.
  5. The ability to generate reports so you can analyze data to make better decisions about water management. It is important to know how much water you used this month. It is better to be able to compare that with how much you used this same month last year. It is best to be able to make that comparison and include ET data for both months. Good reports allow you to make that comparison.

These five features provide data to make me a better water manager and a reason not to forget about your smart controller. The ability to adjust the amount of water applied on a daily basis should result in water savings but it also means I am going to have to make some adjustments to the programming because my irrigation system is not 100% uniform. For a few weeks after installation wet checks of the system as well as the use of a soil probe for moisture tests should be performed to fine tune the system.  I consider this maintenance of the controller.  The controller offers much more for water managers who will take time to learn how to use them properly.

The real power comes from reports

You can’t manage what you can’t measure is true especially in water management.  Installing a flow meter allows a water manager to see how much water is being used in real time.  Some smart controllers now provide a graphical view of the consumption or fiscal dollars compared with user-defined budgets. When integrated with a flow enabled central controllers, these reports provide daily measured and estimated usage consumption information to easily see the site’s budget status.  These also provide the ability to align measured and estimated usage consumption information with either the calendar month or the associated water bill service period. This allows users to clearly compare water bill information with measured and estimated usage for tracking and auditing purposes. Another option that helps take water management to a more sophisticated level is a monitoring report.  Users can check the status of a monthly or annual budget at a glance. This interactive interface allows a user to review information by account, budget type, actual consumption, unit, month and year. Water managers can see measured and estimate consumption usage aligned with either the calendar month or associated water bill service period. Having the ability to create reports with the water use graph and the budget monitoring helps water managers keep consistent track of water use. In addition, the ease of exporting the date to a pdf makes it easy to share the information with other water managers and customers.  Providing the data to others is what helps promote meaningful conversations about water. There are lots of discussions concerning the value of smart controllers and other water saving technology available to the landscape industry today.   Smart controllers and other water saving technologies are like the Excel spread sheet.  They are not very valuable by themselves but when combined with a person who knows how to use the technology they are extremely valuable.   A combination of good technology and a good water manager who understands how to use the tools will result in maximum water savings. I am sure some of you have additional features that make a smart controller smart to you and I would love to learn about them in the comments section. If you enjoyed this post please consider subscribing or following me on twitter @H2oTrends.


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