Smart HomeOwner staff
Here’s the hypothetical situation: You’re planning a two-week vacation and need to make sure the lawn and garden are properly watered in your absence. The irrigation system can be programmed but you’re not sure where to set the watering level. How much rain did the area get this time last year? What if the forecasted storm doesn’t materialize, or what if it lingers longer than expected?
For maximum efficiency and water conservation, you can either ask a neighbor to make daily checks on your irrigation system or you can connect it to a home weather station, which will take into account all the historical and current details of your yard’s microclimate and adjust the water as needed.
A home weather station can save water, electricity, time and money not only when you’re on vacation, but for the life of the system. The automated system won’t be caught watering the lawn after a rain, when there’s too much wind or if it’s too cold — and it will do its job without any additional programming changes required on your part, beyond the initial setup.
Measuring a microclimate
A variety of weather stations with a range of capabilities are available to homeowners. Generally, weather stations are available in three grades: research grade, used for scientific purposes and usually the most expensive; industrial grade, which have special software and home automation interfaces; and consumer grade, geared toward the general public and usually the lowest-priced systems.
Some of these less-expensive stations won’t necessarily interface directly with a home automation system but still can help you make informed decisions, so you can program the system yourself via the Internet or simply by manually setting it.
Most home weather stations measure outdoor temperature, relative humidity, wind speed and direction, barometric pressure and rainfall. Some also calculate the ultraviolet index, solar radiation, soil temperature, humidity and water temperature in lakes, rivers and streams. The equipment used to gather this data is commonly housed in a single unit, often called a sensor suite, which is either mounted on the exterior of the home or in the yard.
The information gathered by the system’s sensors is relayed (both wireless or wired options are available) to an indoor digital console, which displays the various readings and often will generate a forecast. In addition to interfacing with a home automation system, some of these consoles will interface with a home computer, where the data can be stored and shared. Just like that, you have all the details about the microclimate around your home.
If you opt for a WeatherHawk station or a similar unit that can integrate to a home automation system, you can lower your water bill and benefit in a number of other ways as well. Heating, ventilation and air-conditioner systems could run at optimal levels, given the outdoor conditions. Storm shutters could close automatically in the event of extreme weather conditions. Window coverings could respond to the amount and type of sunlight, opening for passive solar heat and closing to protect furnishings from damaging ultraviolet light.
The system could also activate driveway and walkway heaters, melting fresh snow or ice before the family arrives home at the end of the day. Even heaters for pools and spas would respond to air temperatures.
But it’s the irrigation industry that seems to be putting weather stations to the most use. The ET System weather station from Hunter Industries, for instance, is available as an add-on accessory for the company’s irrigation systems. The ET stands for evapotranspiration, a term that describes water lost from soil through evaporation and water loss from plants by transpiration. The system takes into account the type of plant life that is being irrigated, microclimate details and soil information, and then regulates the existing irrigation system to its optimum level. By watering plants only when they need it, the system can reduce water bills by as much as 30 percent, according to the company.
The Weather Reach Water Management System, from weather station manufacturer Campbell Scientific and its subsidiary, Irrisoft, uses a different approach to data gathering. It connects wirelessly to a network of local weather stations, which measure evaporation and rainfall, and also takes into account local water restrictions, which can prohibit watering at certain times of the day. The system then carefully manages landscape watering. It works with most sprinkler controllers and can result in water savings of 20 to 50 percent, according to the company.
Tracking the weather
Even if a home doesn’t need an irrigation system or have practical use for weather-related control systems of any kind, weather stations may still be enticing to a certain segment of the population: the weather junkie. Chances are we all know someone who sets his or her home Internet page to Weather.com, who dreams in Doppler or must watch the last five minutes of the local news.
With their own home station, weather fanatics can do more than just critique the local news when it comes to accurate forecasts. They can share their gathered information with the rest of the world, on an online operation like the Citizen Weather Observer Program, which in turn will share data with the National Weather Service and generate a personal Web page dedicated to the readings from an individual’s weather station.
A homeowner in Bermuda uses his Vantage Pro2 station to estimate rainfall, which comprises the majority of his drinking water. The National Hockey League used a weather station when building a temporary outdoor rink in Buffalo, N.Y. Winemakers can use stations to determine when to spray their crops. NASCAR teams use them to get precise readings for temperature, humidity and barometric pressure to maximize performance during a race.
But for your average homeowner, there are several questions to be asked when buying a home weather station. A major one is what will it be used for — simple data collecting or to help control the home’s systems? If it is to be integrated with the systems, you need to know if it can seamlessly connect to the desired systems or the Internet, if that’s an option for controlling your systems.
You should also find out about support from the weather station company or the home automation system contractor. How many calibrations and how much maintenance will be required? What are the architectural requirements in your neighborhood for mounting a station on your home? How easy is the system to set up, what is its transmission distance, how many variables are being recorded, how often is the information updated and how easy is it to read the display?
Whether you want to be a care-free landscaper or an amateur meteorologist, there’s a weather station for your home.