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Smart Home

ETwater's sprinkler concierge will set your watering schedule for you

For a monthly fee, ETwater uses local weather info to smarten up your sprinkler schedule.

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ETwater

ETwater promises to maintain your lawn and garden without wasting water. It's as much a service as a single device, but essentially, ETwater attaches to the existing controller for your home's irrigation system, monitors the weather and schedules watering times accordingly.

By using cellular 3G and 4G signals, ETwater promises more reliability than Wi-Fi. The service is available for businesses as well as consumers, and ETwater can also plan around local watering restrictions. The company, also called ETwater (the ET stands for Evapotranspiration), backs up its device by replacing and repairing hardware during your term and offering all customers 24/7 "concierge-level" service to help you use the system and schedule watering appropriately.

ETwater doesn't have a dedicated app yet, but you can use the Web interface to interact with your smart sprinkler yourself or simply let the system take the reins. It'll track how much you're saving and watch for leaks based on water flow. According to the site, you can install the controller yourself, but care specialists will help if necessary to make sure the system is working to its fullest.

Rent or buy

A sprinkler controller that can monitor the weather and react accordingly is certainly a great idea that might save you money in the long run, but it's an idea shared by a number of other devices. At $35 per month plus a variable installation cost, this is by no means a cheap service. Perhaps the professional care offered by ETwater really can make a difference. Otherwise, I have a hard time seeing the value in what it's offering.

The $250 Rachio Iro, the $200 Blossom Smart Watering Controller and the $250 GreenIQ Smart Garden Hub are all consumer-ready products that do essentially the same thing as the ETwater service without monthly fees.

With smart home security, I understand the debate between buying a do-it-yourself product such as SmartThings and paying for a service such as ADT. The former is a one-and-done cost with essentially the same gadgets, but the latter offers professional monitoring and the ability to call 911 when you can't. With a smart sprinkler system, the benefits of a professional service aren't as clear to me.

An ETwater spokesperson said, "At the heart of the service is a learning system that is constantly changing and getting more insights and capabilities." ETwater takes pride in the number of data sources it uses to customize your lawn care and improve it over time, but since the other options also use local forecasts, I wonder how much of a difference all the extra info can tangibly make.

You can expect some fees whenever you use a cellular signal, but still, $35 per month seems like a lot. GreenIQ actually offers 3G as an option, and you'd pay a fee for it, but you can forgo the fee and use Wi-Fi with GreenIQ if you choose. Blossom backs up Wi-Fi with power-line, using the wires in your home to transmit the signal over longer distances, and neither will cost you. Rachio only has Wi-Fi for connectivity, but does have an IFTTT channel, letting you use it as part of your larger smart home.

Outlook

With the installation costs taken into account, you'll end up paying several times more for ETwater than you would for any of the three DIY options. You'll pay a $250 initial cost for ETwater with a one-year service contract. With a two-year deal, you only pay $100 up front, and if you sign up for three years, you don't have to pay anything initially. For 12 months of service at $35 per month, the first option will end up costing you $670 for a year, the second will cost you $940 for two, and with the third you'll pay $1,260 for three years. Again, if this was your only option for a way to smarten up your sprinklers, it might be worth it to help the environment and save on your water bill. As it stands, ETwater better have one heck of a concierge service.

ETwater looks to be aimed more at businesses than consumers, but either way, the service approach to lawn care is a unique one. I'm just skeptical that it can prove more worthwhile than DIY devices given the monthly service cost. That said, I'm happy to use the CNET Smart Home to try it out this spring, and give ETwater the chance to prove me wrong.

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