Rain Bird ESP-SMT Smart Controller

Discussion in 'Irrigation' started by JimLewis, Jun 18, 2009.

  1. JimLewis

    JimLewis LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 6,876

    All right. I'm ready for a heated debate. I've done my research. I've been involved with the beta testing of this new Smart Controller for the last 8 months. I was the first in Oregon to install one of the new 2009 units (just hitting store shelves next week). We have installed a few of these new units now. I've been through a few sessions of training on these. I'm pretty comfortable understanding how this system works in comparison with the competion's smart controllers. I am more than convinced this is the best E.T. product anyone has ever come out with (for residential irrigation systems). I am ready for the debate. Bring it on, boys! What's your questions and critiques?

    Just to give a very basic overview of how this new SMT controller works; You install a mini weather station mounted near the gutter line or roof line of the house. This unit measures ACTUAL RAINFALL. It is not a rain sensor. It has tipping bucket inside to measure rainfall precisely. It has a temperature sensor. It keeps track of high and low temperature every day. With those on-site measurements, it adds those to other historical E.T. data based on a zip code. You enter the zip code of the location and then the unit instantly knows the historical values for the last 10 years - by month - of relative humidity, wind speed, and solar radiation. You further perfect this by entering in more details like elevation if you want.

    Next, you enter in every detail about each zone in the landscape. You tell the controller what type of plants you have or which type of turfgrass you have in that zone. You tell the controller how much sun it gets (e.g. full sun, 75% sun, 50% sun, 25% sun, full shade), you tell the controller what type of soil you have (6 types available), you tell the controller how dense the plantings are, whether they are established or new. There is an option to set a temporary watering-in time for zones that have newly planted lawns or shrubs or trees and then after 15 or 30 or 90 days the system reverts to weather-based control. You enter in several other factors like slope, etc.

    Once you're all done programming the system (the first time you'll really need to read the manual and it will take you a good 30 minutes or more to program. After you've done a few, you can actually program all of this very quickly. Last week, I did one 8-zone system in less than 15 minutes. It gets very easy once you understand it all) then the system takes over and operates as a COMPLETE weather-based system. What I mean by complete is it doesn't just turn on or shut-off your set times like other E.T. units do. It actually adjusts your time up and down on each zone, as needed - every day! So day one it may water all zones. Maybe it's hot outside and so the zone 1 (lawn) gets 10 minutes that day and zone 2 (plants) get 5 minutes of watering that day. Zone 3 (Vegitable Garden) gets 7 minutes at 5:00 a.m. and another 2 minutes at 8:00 am. And so on..... Maybe tuesday is a little cooler so zone 1 (lawn) only gets 2 minutes that day. And zone 2 gets nothing. While the garden (zone 3) gets only 3 minutes. It adjust up and down -- or off -- with every zone, every day - all depending on current weather conditions.

    Just as an example, I have a 12 zone system at my house. On Monday, it watered only my front lawn and my garden that day. AND it adjusted the minutes those zones ran for. AND since my front lawn is at a 4 degree slope, it created a cycle/soak and ran 2 different times.

    The next day, the system did something totally different. It watered some of the same zones and still others didn't need water yet. It adjusted my times. Installed cycle/soak where needed, etc.

    It's a pretty slick system. Way more than I can go into right now as far as it's functions. But I haven't seen a unit that goes this far and takes this many factors into account AND automatically adjusts each zone up and down or off every day according to conditions.

    Incidentally, it's also scored higher on the SWAT tests than most all of the other E.T. based units in it's price range.

    Price point is pretty good too. I think the list price is for them is $425 for an indoor unit. That means most irrigation contractors should be paying around $200-$250 for this unit, including the weather sensor. That's not that much more than what the total list price is for a ESP-Mi and Rain Sensor / Combo. You'd typically pay $100 or so for a ESP-Mi and Rain Sensor combo. Now you'll pay a little more than $100 more for this unit but you will save your customer a LOT of unnecessary watering.

    On the inside, the unit is just like an ESP-M. Up to 13 stations. Weather sensor hooks up to a different connection though. But all the other wiring is the same as usual.

    And one of the coolest things is that there is a RETRO-KIT available. So you can just order a retro kit for like $175.00 or something and just switch out the faceplate on an existing ESP-M controller. Then, of course, you add the weather sensor.

    So I am ready for all you nay-sayers. Go ahead pile on. Tell me all about why you think the E.T. system your favorite brand makes and why you think it's better. I'm ready for that debate....

    But first,

    Here is a website about the unit;


    And here are some photos;


    Last edited: Jun 18, 2009
  2. DanaMac

    DanaMac LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 13,226

    I have 5 WM Smartlines and their weather "stations". All sitting at the shop. Haven't pushed real hard to sell them, but those that I did talk to said nay. Most HOs won't know how to use it. But they will try. And they will fail at trying. It is their product and they want to use it, no matter what Mike Leary says about locking it so they can't.

    The one SL I installed last year, and installed the weather station this year, is having a problem. It keeps showing a fault, and that it hasn't received info from the station. It's done this twice now and I'm tired of going back.
  3. Tom Tom

    Tom Tom LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,281


    Will it vary the days it waters?

    I.E. water every other day in the heat of the summer and then every 3 to 5 days during the spring/fall?
  4. SoCalLandscapeMgmt

    SoCalLandscapeMgmt LawnSite Silver Member
    Messages: 2,154

    I'm with you on this Jim. I've been field testing 5 units since last Sept or Oct and they have performed FLAWLESSLY. I think that this is hands down the best light commercial/residential ET controller on the market now. I already have 20 or so units tentatively sold to clients.

    Rain Bird knew that the stakes in this game were high and that they could not afford to fail so they took their time and did it right. I would put this controller up against the Weathermatic S/L any day. The ET values that this thing calculates are within .001 of the values that the $10K Campbell Scientific weather station on the Maxi-Com at my house calculates. Before any of the naysayers/Rain Bird haters chime in I will say that from what I understand there may be the possibility that this controller will be able to go up to 24 stations in the near future. The firmware already supports it from what I understand and it's just a matter of workign out larger expansion moduels. There is also the hint of a wireless version of the weather station as well. Now if Rain Bird would just put the functionality of this controller into an expansion cartridge for the ESP-LX Modular (instead of the ET manager cartridge) then nobody would be able to stop them!

    This controller is proof that Rain Bird can still engineer world class products that are far superior to anything that the competition can come up with.
  5. bobw

    bobw LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 807

    To my uneducated eye, the RB product looks to be an evolutionary step over the WM Smartlines, but not a revolutionary step.

    I installed a Smartline for my own house and have been pretty happy about its performance... still not sure what my payback period will be for it though.
  6. JimLewis

    JimLewis LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 6,876

    Yes! Exactly how it works.
  7. JimLewis

    JimLewis LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 6,876

    Dude, it's a really simple up-sell. I've sold 2 in the last week. I just explain to the customer how they work, what the cost benefit is in terms of water savings they will get each year, and then go over the price. I haven't found upselling these to be a problem at all.

    As for the customers getting their hands on them, I agree it's best if they keep their hands off and let us program most of the stuff. I tell them that too. But Rain Bird thought of this too. They made the dial so that the Blue sections of the dial are more advanced stuff that you can leave to your irrigation contractor and the other (gray) areas of the dial are just minor adjustments you can make as a homeowner if you see a certain zone isn't getting quite as much water as it needs. So you just tell the homeowner to stay away from the Blue areas, unless they want to spend a lot of time learning how the system works. And just let them adjust the gray areas. Most of the gray areas are just review stuff anyway with a few places to make some minor adjustments.

    Most of my clients don't want anything to do with their controller anyway. They prefer us to handle all the programming. So for those kinds of people, this works great. For the others - usually engineers - I just make sure they take the time to read the manual first. And it's a fairly big manual.
  8. Tom Tom

    Tom Tom LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,281


    Hopefully a local supplier will have them soon.

    I'd like to ditch my irritrol smartdial (as the yearly fee is due soon)
    and try the RB smt.
  9. SoCalLandscapeMgmt

    SoCalLandscapeMgmt LawnSite Silver Member
    Messages: 2,154

    I've become increasingly dissatisfied with the Hydropoint/Smart Dial controllers after working with the Rain Bird ESP-SMT and the LM Modular with the ET manager cartridge. The Rain Bird controllers seem to be much more predictable in their operation whereas the Hydropoint controllers seem to be a bit erratic in their scheduling and performance. That and now Hydropoint is marketing and selling directly to our clients and cutting us out of the deal so I can't support them by purchasing their products.

    Messages: 18,668

    Jim posts at 5:34 Dan posts at 5:48. Nonetheless I want RB to have a vibrant ET product so I'll lay down my guard and follow closely. My one and only question is:

    Did they use screw terminals for both the zone wires and 24 volt adapter so its easy to put remote pigtails on? If they used that plug in 24 volt adapter they have on that box store controller they need to get that corrected.

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