Rachio R3e Sprinkler Controller

$149.99
4.1

Features

3.5/5

Design

4.5/5

Performance

4.5/5

Ease of Use

4.5/5

Value

3.5/5

Pros

  • Full-featured Rachio App
  • Smart Cycle water soaking
  • Weather Intelligence
  • Per-zone watering recommendations
  • Lowest-priced model

Cons

  • Bland, gray-colored enclosure
  • No future software features
  • No integration with wireless sensors
  • No Apple HomeKit support
  • Slightly pricier than other brands
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Smart Sprinkler Controllers

Do you have a sprinkler system at home? Does it frustrate you that you have to occasionally adjust its settings with every season change or when it rains? How about investment properties whose watering you want to adjust but do not want to drive to just for that? How much water is being used? That is where Smart Sprinkler Controllers come into play.

Through a 2017 energy-saving rebate program that was offered to residents of the city I reside in, an 8-zone Rachio (Generation 1) Smart Sprinkler Controller was installed for me at no cost. I fell in love with it. Since then, my brother and I had purchased two Rachio Generation 2’s to help manage the water usage of our own homes and investment property.

The R3e model, released in 2020, is the newest entrant in the 3rd-generation Rachio family. It is a lower-cost, weather-based, smart sprinkler controller version of Rachio’s flagship, the R3. In this review, I will share my thoughts on the new product and how it compares to Rachio 2 and 3.

Disclosure: This product was received through Amazon Vine, an Amazon invite-only program offered to its most helpful reviewers for an honest, unbiased, unpaid opinion. Vendors cannot influence the review, neither a positive nor negative evaluation affects membership, and item’s value may be taxable income. YuenX is independent of Vine. Learn more

In A Nutshell

Rachio, perhaps in an effort to appeal to a wider range of customers, introduced the lowest-cost version of its Rachio 3 line. It does so by stripping some functions and excluding future software features, such as Weather Intelligence Plus, Flex Daily, Yard Map, Apple HomeKit support, and integration with other, wireless devices like rain sensors and Rachio’s own Wireless Flow Meter. If you are looking for a less expensive, smart sprinkler controller for use at, perhaps, an investment property, then the R3e serves its purpose well. The unit still provides app-based, wireless remote control with historical data, weather-based irrigation, and smarts based on soil and plant types — all in a bland, gray enclosure for $80 less than the R3. The included, standard Weather Intelligence service helps provide more efficient water usage and saves on long-term water expenses by skipping watering when rain, wind, freezing temperatures, and/or saturation levels are predicted.

If you do not need any of the newer features, including Weather Intelligence Plus, Yard Map, and Apple HomeKit, you may want to consider the older Rachio 2 flagship. It costs about the same as the R3e and provides Flex Daily scheduling.

What’s Good? What’s Bad?

Credit: Rachio

Credit: Rachio

Some notes before going into the details:

  • To take advantage of the smart features, a WiFi connection and Rachio account are required
  • The Rachio is powered by an AC transformer with a 6′ cord
  • Dimensionally, the R3 and R3e are identical at 9.1″ x 5.5″ x 1.4″ and 1.05 lbs

Pros

  • Remote control of sprinkler controller
    • Great for investment properties to help manage water usage from a distance, including automatic skipping on rainy or windy days
    • Multiple Rachio app installations can manage one or more controllers
  • Weather Intelligence
    • Skips watering due to predicted rain, precipitation values, high wind, freezing temperatures, and/or saturation level
    • Seasonal Shift: adjusts watering length with each season
    • Uses a single National Weather Service or Personal Weather Station to adjust watering schedule
      • If a station becomes unavailable, you have to choose another
    • Rachio 3, in contrast, uses Weather Intelligence Plus
      • Adds satellite, radar, and other data to more accurately predict weather
      • Automatically chooses another, local weather station as one is unreachable for a specific amount of time
  • Easy installation
    • Hook-up was quite easy, if you already have an existing sprinkler system to move from
    • Wires are installed via push instead of screw terminals
      • 14, 16, and 18-gauge wires supported
    • Cover is magnetically attached to the base but may not stay on securely
  • Support for up to 8 zones
    • Each zone waters specific areas and is controlled by an irrigation valve
    • Rachio 3 can go up to 16 zones

Each zone waters specific areas and is controlled by an irrigation valve

  • Rachio App (iOS, Android) to wirelessly operate and configure the controller
    • Wizard-driven setup of Zones, each with their own schedules, start times, and water cycles based on soil and plant (tree, grass, bush, flowers) types, coverage area size, sun exposure level, and more
    • View historical data, including water usage and scheduled runs
    • View weather forecasts and monthly watering schedules
    • Sharing of Rachio controllers with others
      • Allows friends, family, and property managers to control each unit remotely
    • One-time Quick Run for zones for a specified amount of time
    • Allows for identification of each Zone with a name and photo
    • Watering tips for different types of soil and plants
  • Flexible watering schedules
    • Schedule Types
      • Fixed: which days to water on and for how long
      • Flex Monthly: automatic watering based on Rachio recommendations
        • Recommendations are re-evaluated monthly
        • Per-Zone recommendation is made based on soil and plant type, sun exposure level, and more
      • Rachio 3 also supports Flex Daily to allow for the daily re-evaluation of schedules

Base Unit with 8 Zones

Per-Zone recommendation is made based on soil and plant type, sun exposure level, and more

    • Start and End Times
      • Start after sunset or end before sunrise
        • Only one of each can be set up per controller
        • You cannot schedule multiple zones to start after sunset, for example
      • Start at or end by specific time
    • Cycle Types
      • Manual: how long to water for
      • Smart Cycle: perhaps one of the most powerful features of the Rachio. See TIPS section for more detail
        • Set watering length and the controller automatically irrigates, let soak, and repeats during that time period
        • Allows for more efficient watering
        • Allows for water to more deeply penetrate the soil down to the roots without over-saturating
  • Lowest price among the Rachio 3 family
    • At the time of this writing, the R3e is $80 less than Rachio 3
    • Check your local area for any available energy rebates (search the web for “Rachio energy rebate”)
  • Voice control support for Alexa, Google Assistant, IFTTT (If This, Then That), and more
  • Support for 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz WiFi radio frequencies
    • 2.4 GHz is slower but its signal can communicate from a greater distance
    • 5 GHz is faster but its signal cannot travel as far as 2.4 GHz
  • On-unit Run, Pause, and Skip buttons for when WiFi is unavailable
    • Rachio 1 and 2 do not provide this functionality

Cons

  • Comes in a bland, gray color. Rachio 3 comes in White
    • Cover is magnetically attached to the base and may not stay on securely
  • Unlike Rachio 3, the R3e does NOT support:
    • Weather Intelligence Plus for more accurate, fault tolerant weather prediction
    • Integration with other, wireless devices, such as rain sensors and Rachio Wireless Flow Meter (used to detect leaks, blocks, and low-flow)
    • Yard Map. Exclusive to only certain models, can use Rachio Wireless Flow Meter to precisely water zones for a given area
    • Flex Daily scheduling (see Pros section for more details)
    • Apple HomeKit
  • Pricier than sprinkler controllers by other brands
  • No outdoor enclosure yet available

Tips

Installation

After I learned from the Rachio-authorized installer how he replaced my Orbit controller with the Rachio 1 in 2017, he helped me realize how simple it was. If you have an existing controller, all you have to do is map the wires from the old one to the Rachio. Below is when a Rainbird was replaced by the Rachio 2 at our investment property:

  1. Most importantly, identified the COM (Common) wire. In the above example, it is white
  2. Plugged it into Rachio’s “C” terminal
  3. Identified the wires for each Zone. In the above example, Red is Zone 1, Green (2), Black (3), and Orange (4)
  4. Plugged each wire to the corresponding Zone number on the Rachio
  5. From within the Rachio App, name each Zone, provide an optional photo of it, and configure the watering based on soil and plant types, sun exposure, etc.

Soil Type

I had no idea what type of soil I had. The Rachio-authorized installer told me at the time that it was Sandy Loam and was covered by Crabgrass. The GREAT news is, Rachio Thrive (found on Rachio’s website) helps you with that for free. It does so by asking you:

  • To provide your zip code
  • What your yard goals are (ie. lawn for kid play, pet safety, gardening, water efficiency, curb appeal, new landscaping, etc)
  • What your address is (so you can visually outline your lawn to calculate square footage)

The resulting analysis provides estimated lawn size, typical weather for the area, and soil data. In my case, our home’s soil is low base organic, mildly acidic, sandy loam, and holds water ok. Who would have known?

Smart Cycle

Smart Cycle is where the controller waters for a specific time period, pauses to let the water soak into the soil, then repeats until the schedule is complete. This allows the water to fully penetrate the deeper parts of the ground without excess water running off. How does that come into play with lawn care or trees? Read on.

Smart Cycle allows water to fully penetrate the deeper parts of the ground without excess water running off

Crabgrass

As I had mentioned, my back yard was completely covered by crabgrass. The Rachio-authorized installer said that he actually liked that type of grass. It was low maintenance, grew fast, and gave him many fond, childhood memories. Fast-forward 4 years, and I came to learn that crabgrass is like weed. It takes over your yard and does not let anything else grow. It does not feel good to walk on barefooted, and (in our opinion) is not ideal for kids to play on. It also grew thicker and thicker, eventually spilling over onto the prized areas, such as the precious fruit trees and vegetables. Rachio’s app (and website) said that Crabgrass, because it is like weed, obtains its water from the top soil. Its roots cannot penetrate very deep. So, all you have to do is make sure the lower levels of the soil are moist and not so much at the top. How do you do that? Smart Cycle.

CURRENT SCHEDULE: Late in winter in California, when crabgrass was dormant and dead, I started pulling them out from the backyard lawn. I then set up Rachio to run once a week for 15 minutes, starting after 5:30am, on a Smart Cycle soak. New grass seeds were sprinkled across the lawn over the spring, and a few weeks later, beautiful, lush, green grass grew. Because the soil was dry (but moist deep underneath), the nice grass continued to grow, starving the crabgrass from water and surface area to establish itself on.

Credit: Rachio

Trees

I was very frustrated by our trees in the early years of home ownership. They kept getting sick, did not produce fruit, and just did not visually look appealing. At the time, I read that watering less was better for trees, and so I shortened the watering length and increased the frequency. That did not work because although the top was moist, the deeper soil was dry. The tree roots were thirsty deep below, and weed and flowers were thriving instead. I adjusted for longer watering with less frequency. That did not work either as the soil could not absorb the water rapidly enough. As a result, excess water simply ran off, the tree roots were still thirsty, and weed and flowers continued thriving. I was constantly battling with the trees being sick, thirsty, and producing few or no fruit. The solution: Smart Cycle.

CURRENT SCHEDULE: The fruit trees are now set to Flex Monthly, starting after 5am with a total duration of 50 minutes, and on a Smart Cycle soak. The watering is allowed to happen on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday only. I do not water on other days so that the gardener can do his work on Thursdays, and my kids can play on the weekends.

Note that any overlapping schedules will simply queue up. In the above examples, the trees start at 5am (for 50 minutes), and even though the backyard lawn is set to start at 5:30am, it begins right after the previous one completes.

WiFi Security

As a general rule of thumb, any device that is not a computer, phone, or tablet (such as the Rachio sprinkler controller, security cameras, thermostat, and TV), I put them onto a separate “Guest” WiFi network. Check your WiFi router’s manual for details on how to do that.

A “Guest” network places those devices onto a separate area of your home WiFi so that if they get hacked, the attackers will have a harder time intruding your computers and steal data.

Final Thoughts

The Rachio R3e is the company’s lowest-cost model of its current-generation sprinkler controllers. It provides for basic, weather-intelligent, remote controllable watering that should appeal to the majority of customers, although I am not a fan of the gray-colored enclosure. Rachio’s full-featured, mobile app is very well designed, providing a wealth of data and insight to help with plant care and management of remote lawns. The Weather Intelligence service is very useful and can help save a lot of water (and cost) over the long run. If advanced features and future software functionality are desired, including integration with rain sensors and Rachio’s Wireless Flow Meter, you should consider the flagship Rachio 3. However, the R3e should undoubtedly work for a long time and is a perfect match for where no frills are needed now or later. In that same sense, you may also want to consider the previous-generation Rachio 2 flagship that does nearly everything the R3e does and adds back Flex Daily.

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