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How To Choose An Irrigation Controller/Timer?

Choosing a Sprinkler Timer

How to select the best timer for your sprinkler system

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Sprinkler Timers come in a wide range of makes and models. It is important to choose your timer based on the size of the sprinkler system and any specific landscape requirements.

There are only three major factors that should affect your selection of a sprinkler timer:

    • Location do you want your controller mounted indoors or outdoors?
    • Zone/Station Quantity how many zones does your timer need to control? The timer you select must be able to operate at least as many zones as your sprinkler system is broken into.
    • Desired Number of Programs sprinkler timers come in single, two, three, or four-program designs. A minimum of two programs is recommended for programming flexibility; you may want more for increased flexibility. There is a big difference between zone capacity and the amount of programs a timer comes with; this is explained further below.

Note:There are many additional features and options, but these are a matter of personal preference, and are not critical to your sprinkler system functioning properly.


Sprinkler timers are available in indoor or outdoor models. Indoor timers are not weather-resistant, so do not install an indoor timer outside. Indoor timers are designed to be conveniently plugged directly into a 110-volt outlet; they include an external transformer as part of the plug-in cord that converts the standard 110 outlet volts to the 18 volts needed for the timer. Typical mounting locations for indoor timers are a garage, covered patio, shed, pump house, closet, etc.

Outdoor timers are weather resistant and durable, and typically need to be hard wired for power instead of plugged into a 110-volt outlet. This is because the transformer is located inside the protective weather resistant timer casing, and it is assumed that the electrical connection will need to be weather resistant also.

Outdoor controllers can be converted for indoor use with the addition of a pig tail (three-pronged plug and power cord) to the power wires. This is fairly common, as many outdoor timers have more features than indoor ones, and people enjoy the convenience of indoor sprinkler timers. A popular timer for making this change to is the Hunter ICC model, which is one of Hunter's top-selling timers.

Zone/Station Quantity

When a sprinkler system is installed, the landscape is divided into sections, called zones. Sprinkler timers use stations to control each zone one station per zone. Typically, residential systems use controllers with 2-9 stations, while systems for commercial or public properties have an average of 32 - 48 stations, sometimes more. When selecting a controller, it is important to know how many zones are in your system. It is also a good idea to choose a timer with a few extra stations, in case of landscape remodeling/expansion.


Sprinkler timers typically have between one and four programs. They are usually labeled as program A, B, C, and D. Most timers have at least two programs, although a few of the most basic designs have only one program. A program is a set of watering instructions for stations that will run on the same days. The more stations you wish to have running on separate schedules, the more programs you will need. When you set up Program A on the controller, you are setting the days you want to water, the time of day you want to start watering, and how long you want to water. This schedule will control your entire system, unless you have additional programs with different schedules set up. An example of when you might want more than one watering schedule would be a landscape with both a lawn and garden you might want your lawn to be watered every day, and your garden watered every other day.

Additional Features

After familiarizing yourself with the basic factors affecting your selection, it is a good idea to shop around and compare the different features available from each manufacturer for example, Hunter timers will have different configurations and programming features than K-Rain or Irritrol. Other than the key factors, some options to consider are:

Seasonal Watering Adjustment how detailed do you want your scheduling capabilities to be? More advanced timers have seasonal scheduling options, in addition to daily, weekly, and monthly scheduling.

Memory if you live in an area where power outages or brownouts are common, battery backup is highly recommended, or even non-volatile memory which will store programming indefinitely without power.

Self-Diagnostics some timers include short-circuit protection, or water fluctuation compensating diagnostic programs.

Rain Sensor a great water-conserving feature for sprinkler timers is a rain sensor, which suspends watering when precipitation is detected.

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