Melnor RainCloud Smart Water Timer: Product Review
A nice alternative to manual clock watering systems as long as you’re within Wi-Fi range.
Available on Amazon
Have you ever had one of those “duh” moments when you realize hours later that you left the hose/sprinkler/drip system running? Most of us have. The problem is that it wastes water and sometimes harms the plant you meant to help.
The Melnor RainCloud Smart Water Timer 4-Valve System lessens the chance of human error (in a couple of ways) and makes watering much easier, especially while you’re at work or on vacation. The Smart Water Timer is designed to give you control of watering from anywhere and is an excellent solution for those who have edibles or other spots in the garden that need consistent watering. And with four valves, you have plenty of options for adding watering zones in your garden.
I tested the Melnor RainCloud on two areas of our garden. I hooked up a soaker hose to water an area with several small plantings and also connected a garden hose with a wand set on low to water a tree.
Easy to Set Up and Use
The RainCloud system comes with a valve unit and control unit that are simple to install and operate, as well as power and network cords. Both the control and valve units are made of heavy plastic; the valve unit has a metal faucet connection and four plastic hose connections.
The valve unit requires four AA batteries (not included) and screws onto your existing faucet.
There are easy-to-follow, step-by-step instructions that walk you through the installation steps. Note that you’ll have to go online to set up the cloud-based software before you can start using it, so be sure you’re near a computer and modem.
To get started, I set up my user account online, then connected the control unit to my Internet modem.
This required hard-wiring the unit to the modem with a network cable (included) and plugging the unit into an outlet with a power adapter (also enclosed in the box).
Aside from a few more steps online to make sure the control and valve units communicate, all you have to do is decide when to water with the drip, sprinkler, or soaker hoses attached.
The included instructions were easy to follow and the process was smooth, taking about 15 minutes.
Cloud-Based Watering Control
The system’s valve unit gets its watering orders from the partner control unit, which sends signals to the valves through your home Wi-Fi network. Activating and managing the RainCloud requires logging into Melnor’s cloud server.
Once you set up your account, you program and manage the RainCloud system from your computer or a free smartphone app (available for both iOS and Android devices). I tried both and they worked well, although the app screen mirrors the computer version, which means the writing and buttons on the app are pretty small.
There is no fee for cloud-based management of the RainCloud system.
Editor’s Note – As with any cloud-based technology, there can be outages if there’s a problem with Melnor’s server. Some users have experienced outages because of this, resulting in watering programs failing to run, incorrect information showing on the app or computer, and not being able to manually override the system.
Flexible Watering Programs
The watering program is really flexible: you can set a number of combinations of start days, times and length of watering. Each of the four valves can be set to water for up to 240 minutes.
An optional eco mode sets the unit to water for, say five minutes, then goes off for 10 minutes, and repeats. This is an excellent feature, allowing the water from your sprinkler or soaker hose to penetrate the ground slowly, which is the best way to water.
I had never used a cloud-based smart controller before, and I found it easy to operate or change the schedule. For example, if the weather forecasts rain you can easily turn the irrigation off that day and have it resume normal operation afterward. It’s a great alternative to older programmable systems that come on as scheduled regardless of the weather outside.
And even though I don’t have the greatest Wi-Fi signal, the unit worked continuously. The app home screen tells you whether both components are online or offline so it’s easy to tell if the system is working.
However, if you remove the system for winter (which I would advise in areas of the country with freezes) or have an interruption in power or Internet signal, the control unit likely will cycle through for a few minutes to locate the valve unit before coming back online. At that point, it should re-enable your existing settings. After an outage, I went to the setup page and found that it had retained all of my registration and program information. I hit the “Complete Setup” button to make sure the control unit found the valve unit and re-started the watering program.
Benefits of the Melnor RainCloud Smart Water Timer
Both the computer program and app come in handy. I had an easier time seeing and maneuvering the setup and home page from my computer, but the app was great for being able to turn off the system if it rained while I was away, or to activate watering if forgotten before leaving for vacation. You can control your watering from virtually anywhere with the app.
The unit also suggests additional automation for rainy days with an accessory AquaSentry Soil Moisture Sensor that detects soil moisture and adjusts the watering schedule accordingly.
The valve unit has four outlets, which means one control box can handle four separate stations with their own schedule, such as by day of the week to meet watering restrictions or to schedule longer or more frequent watering for plants that require more water. Between the number of stations and ease of changing the schedule, the RainCloud is really handy for boosting watering during hot summer months or for establishing a new plant, and then later lowering watering time or frequency.
The valve unit hooks up directly to the faucet, which is convenient. Concerns I had about using the faucet manually to fill a water pail or wash something off were overcome easily. Buttons right on the unit (and in the program) make it easy to override the program temporarily and access water right away. And with four outgoing connections, you can leave one open to turn on manually whenever needed.
Each valve can be manually activated for up to 60 minutes. This is handy if you want to run a zone outside of the normally scheduled time, and you don’t have to worry about turning it off.
Drawbacks of the Melnor RainCloud Smart Water Timer
Although Melnor RainCloud is a lot less expensive than a programmed in-ground sprinkler system, it requires use of above-ground hoses. This works great if the faucet hook-up and bed fall in the right location. For example, the beds I watered required running the hose along our patio. I could also see it working really well around the perimeter of a yard.
Wi-Fi reach might raise another location issue for some homeowners. Our faucet is on a well and just out of reach of the Wi-Fi signal. But it was easy to run a hose from the faucet into the top of the valve unit at a location closer to the Wi-Fi modem; the program still worked.
You have to leave your water system on continuously for the Melnor RainCloud to work. So, if you forget and turn off the faucet, the program won’t activate. You also run the risk of some sort of leak or problem while gone. I would recommend checking the valve unit and faucet connections every few days to a week, just to make sure everything is tight and working.
I would recommend the Melnor RainCloud Smart Water Timer for those who want to save water by controlling the system when at home or away. Four watering stations seem like more than enough.
If your Wi-Fi is strong or your faucet located within range, this is a great solution, especially for people who travel or work long hours. However, if you have spotty Wi-Fi coverage in your home, or at least outside at the faucet, this product won’t work for you.
I only tested the system for a few weeks before Mother Nature provided way more water than our plants needed, and the unit seemed sturdy, although I can’t verify that it lasts through a year or more of weather.
Where to Buy
The Melnor RainCloud Smart Water Timer is available at retail outlets such as Home Depot for $135.38, Target for $134.99 and online at Amazon Prime for $131.99 or Walmart for $137.74. You can extend the system with an extra 4-valve unit, which costs about $110, and the AquaSentry Moisture Sensor which runs about $29.
Don’t forget to use good quality rubber hose washers when you connect the system to the faucet or hoses to the valves. We like these Gilmour rubber hose washers.
Editors Note: We tried the RainCloud’s predecessor, the Melnor AquaTimer. We went through two transmitters and could never get the system to work reliably. Customer service at the Melnor engineering level was stellar; they helped us along the way as we tried to make the system work as designed. The AquaTimer was Melnor’s first attempt at a Wi-Fi delivered watering system. The early unit had a lot of bugs to be worked out but the new RainCloud seems to have solved those problems.
|According to Melnor on Monday 6/11/18, “This weekend (Saturday 6/09/18 and Sunday 6/10/18), some users experienced issues with their RainCloud Smart Water Timer. The rapid increase in RainCloud’s popularity created challenges for the server. The capacity of the server has been upgraded to avoid this problem in the future.
We apologize for any inconvenience and thank you for choosing Melnor”.
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