Let’s face it. Most in-ground sprinkler systems are anything but smart, and it’s not uncommon to observe these underground labyrinths of PVC pipe and legions of sprinkler heads running at full-tilt during a driving rainstorm—wasting many gallons of precious water as they dutifully execute their programs. Certainly, those technologically inclined can assuage many of the water-wasting problems inherent with these systems by installing an intelligent irrigation controller setup. But for the roughly 50% of homeowners in the U.S. relying on garden hoses and above-ground sprinklers for irrigation, there have been few such smart-home tech solutions to help with mitigating water consumption in the landscape.
Update Spring 2019: The Zilker smart water valve system is now shipping.
You can order direct from the company or from Amazon. Look for an in-depth review of the product soon on Digitized House.
Startup AustinDevices aims to appeal to those who may be feeling technologically disenfranchised by their irrigation choice through the development of the Zilker smart water valve system. Obviously much more than an elegant water timer, Zilker automatically adjusts its watering delivery based on real-time data from an Internet cloud-based weather server, and does so through two main components: The Zilker Valve, an electro-mechanical device that resides between the hose bib and garden hose; And the Zilker Bridge, an indoor, puck-like device that wirelessly connects to a home WiFi network and communicates with the Zilker Cloud through the home’s existing broadband router.
There is one caveat, however: You can’t purchase Zilker yet. John Hanna—the prime mover behind the Austin-based company—has spent the last two years engineering the product, and its Kickstarter campaign launched on Earth Day 2016 with the intention of getting the product in-market by Spring of 2017. A starter kit, consisting of one Zilker Bridge and one Zilker Valve, will have a suggested retail price of $159 while additional Zilker Valves will be $89. Up to 8 Zilker Valves can be associated with each Zilker Bridge.
Behind the sleek green housing of the Zilker Valve is an integrated flow meter in the form of an axial turbine, which is unique in that it can measure and control water flow in cumulative gallons or inches—in contrast to the simplistic interval timer-based settings available on the typical controller for in-ground irrigation systems. A low-power latching solenoid and integrated circuit technology enable the Zilker Valve to operate for up to a year on a pair of AA batteries.
The Zilker Bridge communicates with each Zilker Valve by using a high-powered 915 Mhz radio, which facilitates a range 2.5 times that of normal WiFi. So, if you have a larger home with a hose bib and sprinkler on the far side of your garage, Zilker should be able to easily telepath its data back and forth.
As one would expect with modern smart-home tech, there will be anywhere, anytime access to Zilker through a mobile app, for the purposes of configuring the system, displaying alerts, graphically viewing water usage history by zone (each Zilker Valve equates to a zone in irrigation-speak), and more—though the software will run only on Apple iOS devices at launch.
Taking advantage of smart software and access to live local weather data, Zilker can, for example, reprogram itself based on the weather or warn you if freezing weather is approaching. Also, by virtue of its ability to meter water usage in gallons or inches, Zilker could be set to deliver an inch of water to, say, a section of turf through a rotary sprinkler, or 10 gallons to a small garden through a series of drip emitters. And by constantly and intelligently processing information, Zilker can alert you if a given garden hose has sprung a leak or the fact you forgot to open the hose tap.
Make no mistake, though: Zilker is designed to help you conserve water every day, by applying water only when and where in your landscape it is needed. Ultimately, that will reduce your monthly water bill and contribute to the overall sustainability posture of your homestead.
Tom Kolnowski is the Chief Content Officer & Founder of Digitized House Media, LLC, the publisher of Digitized House | Guide to the Connected Home. When he isn’t writing about smart home technology, sustainability, and high-performance architecture, you’ll find him exploring faraway destinations with his family.