The Good: Conserves water by only watering when necessary and knowing how much water is needed. Uses free NOAA weather information updated every six hours for accurate weather forecasts. Uses real time temperature, wind and rainfall data to adjust watering schedules. Easy to use setup and interface for Android and iOS devices. Allows you to add multiple weather data sources. Ability to set extra watering for hot days or automatically protect against freezing on cold days. You can restrict the unit from watering during certain hours, days or months. Easily start or stop watering any zones or programs via the app or control unit. Can set temporary guest login for contractor access.
The Bad: This unit only works with eight zones, customers with more than eight zones will need multiple units or more expensive larger versions. The app can be overwhelming at first. No Andorid or iOS widget for quick access to turn zones on or off. App always loads to Devices screen even if you only have one device. Not waterproof and should not be mounted outside without an outdoor enclosure.
Overall: After a year of use I have very few complaints about the RainMachine Mini-8. It generally sells for less than its competitors and it is packed with virtually every feature available. As a total novice, the setup of the control unit including removing my old unit took 15-20 minutes. After that setting up the zones and schedule took another 10 minutes. If you are worried about losing physical controls on the unit, the RainMachine Mini-8 allows you to manually turn zones on or off with a digital display. The app provides a metric ton of information, including current and forecast weather, water saved, daily water needed, temperature, rain amount and watering history. If your sprinkler controller is in an inconvenient place, this makes manually controlling your sprinklers via the app a breeze. The RainMachine Mini-8 is a set it and forget it appliance. Once you set up your zones and schedule, you can leave the unit alone to manage your watering without worrying about watering in the rain or over/under watering.
Whoever installed my sprinkler system was either a masochist or really enjoyed exercise. My sprinkler controller is installed in my basement, the entrance to which is in the center of the house and the controller is in the farthest corner of the basement. Manually controlling the sprinklers usually required multiple trips up and down the stairs, muddy footprints throughout the house and my wife telling me I’d better clean up my mess when I was finished. If the sprinklers happened to come on while we were using the yard, it involved a lot of cursing and a mad dash to the basement to shut them off. More often than not, I would forget to turn the sprinklers back on for weeks and only be reminded by a big, brown section of lawn. Also, like many people, I have no idea what I’m doing when it comes to watering a lawn. Sometimes I was over watering, other times I was under watering and I always seemed to be the only person on the block watering in the rain.
Enter the RainMachine Mini-8. This little (4.5″x4.5″x1″) sprinkler controller is a life saver. The best feature for me is that there are no more needless trips to the basement. This season I replaced eight sprinkler heads across all six of my zones. Being able to toggle the zones on and off without ever leaving the yard easily saved me a ton of time and frustration. That convenience alone makes the RainMachine Mini-8 worth it for me. If you’re not the type to work on your own sprinklers, you can create temporary access for your gardener or sprinkler repair company to connect to your sprinklers via the RainMachine app. Otherwise they can toggle zones on and off from the unit itself.
As I mentioned, I have no clue how much or how little water a lawn needs. In previous years I had tried simply setting all of my zones to run for an hour every other day. This resulted in a swampy lawn which began growing copious amounts of mushrooms. Then I tried watering less frequently or for less time, which usually resulted in large patches of dead grass. This is where the RainMachine really shines. You set a watering schedule and walk away. Then the RainMachine takes into account a number of factors including rainfall, evaporation, transpiration (the amount of water grass and other plants absorb), and temperature. If it has been exceptionally hot and dry, the system will water more. If it has been raining a lot, the RainMachine will water less, or not at all. I have found that in the spring and fall, if I have each zone set to water for an hour, the system may water for only ten or fifteen minutes. The one downside to this is that I have a handful of heads that rotate 360 degrees, and it takes them about six minutes to complete one full rotation. This means those areas will only get one or two passes, while other areas may get four or five. I have yet to see this cause an issue because I do have some overlap with my coverage in these areas, but it is something to note.
The app can be a little overwhelming at first, especially if you’re switching from the knobs and switches of old controllers. The first time you run the app you will have to connect to the RainMachine by joining its wifi network, then inputting your home wifi information. Once connected, you may be prompted to upgrade your firmware, which is a good idea to do with any device. Then you will have to set a password, which can be saved and name your RainMachine. You will also set your location, which is to say your actual home address and not a general locale. At this point, if you have a rain/freeze sensor, you can choose to activate it. There’s really no point to using a rain/freeze sensor with the RainMachine, but some people love their old timey gadgets, so if you have one, have at it.
The next thing you will do is set your zones. This is also a good time to test to make sure you wired all of the zones to the correct places. One complaint that I have seen is that the RainMachine does not come with stickers to label your existing wiring while you are installing it. This is easily remedied with some masking tape and a pencil. By default, the zones are named “Zone 1” through “Zone 8.” You are free to rename them whatever you choose. This was another great feature because I was the only one in my house that knew which zone was which, and the Post-It explaining them to my wife kept falling off of the old controller or mysteriously disappearing.
With your zones properly configured, you can set one or more programs. Each program can be enabled or disabled independently. You can also choose to use or not use weather data, although I don’t know why you’d buy this to ignore the weather data. There are a ton of options for watering frequency. You can choose daily, odd days, even days, every X days, or selected days of the week. You can also choose the start time as a time of day or X minutes before sunrise. Each program shows when the next planned run date will be. Another cool feature is the ability to set programs as “cycle and soak,” meaning instead of watering all at once, the program can be split into multiple cycles with X minutes in between cycles to allow the water to soak into the ground. This is great for hard, compacted soil, and allows the water to soak into the ground instead of pooling up or running off. Finally, you can set a delay in between zones and select which zones will be part of the program as well as the watering time per zone.
If you really like to analyze your watering, you will love the dashboard view. It shows how much water you’ve saved, when the next watering cycle is set to start, the last weather update, how much water is needed daily, the past, present and future temperature, the amount of rainfall you have had, and how much of your scheduled program is set to run on each day. These charts can all be configured for the week, month or year, and give you the ability to look back at previous dates.
Finally, if you’ve been hoping that you can integrate your RainMachine with other devices, you’re in luck, kind of. There is a RainMachine IFTTT channel which will allow you to create recipes with your RainMachine. I happen to be the creator of the “GET OFF MY LAWN!” recipe which turns on my front sprinklers when I shout “Alexa, trigger get off my lawn!” So yes, RainMachine will work with Amazon Echo, but not directly. One odd thing is that my Echo sees each of my RainMachine zones as disconnected Wemo switches in the Alexa app.
If you’re lucky, you can occasionally find the RainMachine Mini-8 on sale for around $100, which makes it one of the cheapest smart sprinkler controllers on the market. Despite its comparatively low price point, the Mini-8 packs most of the features of its more costly competitors, and has more than enough features for most users. If you have eight zones or less this is a powerful and money saving addition to your smart home.