Homeowners like money-saving benefits of smart irrigation controllers

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GAINESVILLE, FL -- Smart irrigation controllers, technologies used to decrease landscape water applications, are catching on in Florida. Incentivized by governmental agencies and water utilities in an effort to reduce public-supply water demand and conserve water resources, the controllers are becoming more popular with homeowners in this high water-use state. A new study evaluated homeowners' satisfaction with evapotranspiration (ET)-based and soil moisture sensor (SMS)-based smart technologies, and recommends strategies to promote consumers' use of the controllers.

Maria C. Morera, corresponding author of the study (HortTechnology, August 2015), said that most research on smart controllers for urban landscapes has focused mainly on the technology's performance. 'To successfully promote smart irrigation controllers, feedback from end-users is critical,' she explained. Morera and colleagues surveyed homeowners who were part of a pilot project conducted in Orange County, Florida.

The researchers said the survey results point to four main findings. 'First, a majority of survey participants with smart irrigation technology were generally satisfied with their controllers and planned to continue using them. A second finding is that a significantly greater number of survey participants with SMS controllers experienced challenges, dissatisfaction, and scored lower on tests designed to gauge familiarity with the workings of their devices than did survey participants with ET controllers.'

Survey results also showed that a five-minute tutorial provided to some homeowners did not seem to be sufficient to increase their knowledge of the devices, or their comfort levels in operating them. The authors said this was likely because the tutorial was too brief. 'Familiarity with the installation and functioning of the devices increased the likelihood that homeowners would continue using them,' they added.

According to the report, the features homeowners liked most were the controllers' capacity for saving them money and irrigating efficiently.

The authors said that promotion efforts emphasizing the economic benefits of smart irrigation controllers - along with disseminating best management practices to homeowners and contractors - may most effectively encourage initial and long-term adoption of the water saving technologies.

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