How To Set Your Irrigation Controller

How To Set Your Irrigation Controller

Incorrect controller settings are the biggest culprit of residential water waste and high water bills. Luckily, scheduling it properly — and preventing water waste — is as easy as 1-2-3!

Many homeowners are intimidated by their irrigation controller and as a result, a lot of water is wasted. In fact, incorrect controller settings are the biggest culprit of residential water waste, high consumption and high water bills.

As a conservation consultant for SAWS, I (along with my colleagues) save thousands of gallons of water every single day simply by helping homeowners correct their automatic sprinkler controllers and teaching them how to use them efficiently. It’s much easier than it appears. Here, we’ll work on it together.

First things first, we need to make sure the controller is set to the correct date and time. This step is critical because if the time and/or date is incorrect, it could land you a citation depending on your city’s watering rules.

Next, we need to set the schedule and this is as easy as 1-2-3.

You only need to tell your controller three things to set it correctly.

1- What time you want it to start.

2- What day you want it to turn on.

3- How long you want it to run each zone (station).

1 - Start time

This is where you specify what time you want your controller to start its watering cycle. Most homes only need one start time. For example, if you set your controller with a start time of 7 a.m., it will come on at 7 a.m. and run ALL ZONES one after the other. Now imagine you accidentally set your controller with start times of 7 a.m., 8 a.m., 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. That means the system will run the cycle four times, essentially quadrupling your water bill. Unfortunately, this is a very common mistake because many homeowners think the first start time is zone 1, second start time zone 2, etc. This is not the case; each start time runs through all programmed zones.

2 - Day

This is usually the simplest setting as you just specify the day you want your system to run. Make sure you’re in compliance your city’s watering rules. Most yards do not need more than a once-a-week deep watering in the summer whether your city is in watering rules or not, so do yourself a favor and set it to one day a week on your designated watering day and you never have to change it.

Also, just because you can water once a week does not mean it’s absolutely necessary. Your irrigation system is only there to supplement in the absence of rain. So turn it off as often as possible and skip weeks. This will add up to significant savings over time.

3 - Run time

This is where you need to specify how long you want to run each zone. In most cases, this is not the same for every zone. Some zones are grass, some are beds, some are full sun and some may be shade. Alter the run time according to each zone’s unique conditions — and use as little water as necessary to maintain a healthy landscape.

This basic irrigation schedule, which is based on many years of experience programming irrigation system controllers, works well for San Antonio’s unique climate.

As far as setting your controller, that’s it!

Just a couple of other things to know about your controller that’ll make your life easier. Your controller likely has a seasonal adjust feature — and it’s one of the best features on your controller. In our Irrigation Controller Basics video, Marty shows how to set it.

Also, make sure you don’t have any duplicate programs programmed on your controller. Your controller likely has the ability to schedule multiple programs (usually labeled A/B/C). You really only need one. If there are others programmed in your controller just erase them because all programs that are set will run, regardless of what program is showing in the controller display.

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Heather Ginsburg

About our expert

Heather Ginsburg

Heather Ginsburg is passionate about helping homeowners and San Antonio save water. She brings experience as a landscape designer and horticultural therapist to each consultation she has with homeowners in her role as a conservation consultant for SAWS. Heather is an idealist and believes every homeowner can have beautiful low water-use gardens and functional outdoor spaces to interact with nature in a positive, life-enriching way. Heather is an urban farmer who works hard to teach her children to tread lighter on the earth.