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Water Wednesday: Smarter home irrigation technologies

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Two new cloud-based applications offer homeowners and property managers the ability to adjust irrigation systems for plants, landscape characteristics and weather.

Contributor’s Note: This is an ongoing column in water sustainability, consumption and management issues. The rationale is simple: water is a more urgent priority for corporate social responsibility programs and becoming more so every day.

My husband and I are perfectly sympatico when it comes to the perennials and annuals we cultivate on our near-acre of New Jersey property for nine months out of the year. He picks them and plants them, I make sure they stay alive. Most of the time.

We actually only water new shrubs or plants that haven't established and stop short of sprinkling the lawn except on very rare occasions. As you might imagine, the latter isn't as green as it used to be, given all the hot, dry weather that wormed its way into the Northeast during July. Truth be told, though, we lose at least some plants every summer to the opposite problem: over watering.

Naturally, I read with interest some information I received in the past week from two companies seeking to provide smarter home irrigation technologies. These companies, Cyber-Rain and ET Water, have both recently released cloud services that provide guidance about when you should water -- and how much.

Cyber-Rain's application, called XCI Cloud, works in conjunction with the company's controller technologies to help residential users better control watering. The company lets you connect with the service, which integrates weather forecasts, via a computer or a free Apple iPhone application. Cyber-Rain claims that the system investment might be covered in certain places by water utility rebate programs. So far, it figures its customers have saved 120 million gallons of water.

Said Cyber-Rain CEO Diana Schulz:

"What we are providing is smart irrigation in the palm of your hand. XCI Cloud gives property owners and managers a graphical tool that lets them manage watering from any Internet-connected computer in the world ... and even through an iPhone app. Users can create efficient watering schedules that are customized to their landscape through an intuitive interface that is easy to use."

A controller that includes enough technology to monitor and manage 8 to 16 zones, along with access to the cloud application, starts at $499.

ET Water's GNOME "Smart Irrigation Calculator," which is billed as ET Water's first consumer application doesn't rely on any particular sensor technology. Rather, it uses information that you provide about your landscaping along with weather conditions and landscape profiles to figure out when you should or shouldn't water your yard. The weather information comes the WeatherBug service, which is interesting considering the investments that parent company Earth Networks is making in its predictive technologies.

GNOME helps adjust for the following:

  • Plant types
  • Soil composition
  • Slope of the soil
  • Sun exposure
  • The type of irrigation you're using (hose versus sprinkler versus drip lines, etc.)

GNOME is a free service (although you have to give up some personal information). The company figures that people using the application will save an average of 20 percent to 50 percent depending on their current watering habits.

Mind you, there are many smart irrigation technologies, but these cloud-based services will probably become more ubiquitous. I wouldn't be surprised to see more water utilities consider layering such applications into their web sites in order to encourage conservation in their local communities. After all, Pike Research predicts that there will be 32 million smart water meters in use by the 2016 time frame. That's a lot of ground to cover.

Heather Clancy

Section Editor

Heather Clancy has written for United Press International, ZDNet, Entrepreneur, Fortune Small Business, the International Herald Tribune and the New York Times. She holds a degree from McGill University. She is based in New Jersey. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure