How To Set Your Irrigation Controller

Wonky controller settings are the biggest culprit of residential water waste and high water bills. Luckily, taming your unruly timer — and preventing water waste — is as easy as 1-2-3!

Are you intimidated by the sprinkler system controller? There’s no need to be. Operating it is much simpler than it seems.

Plus, when you are in control of the controller, you significantly reduce the chances of water waste, high consumption and high water bills.

First things first, 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 is setting 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.

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.

That’s it, you’ve just set your controller!

Just a couple of other things to know that’ll make your life easier. Your controller likely has a seasonal adjust feature — and it’s one of the best features. Watch the “Irrigation Controller Basics” video to learn how to set it.

Also, make sure there aren’t duplicate programs programmed on your controller. Your controller likely has the ability to schedule multiple programs (usually labeled A/B/C). But you only need one. If there are others programmed, delete them because all programs that are set will run.

Finally, 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.

Picture of Heather Ginsburg
Heather Ginsburg
Heather is a Texas tradeswoman through and through! With three state water licenses under her belt, she brings a unique perspective, background and expertise to the SAWS Education team. Heather’s deep understanding of and passion for sharing water knowledge makes her perfectly suited for coordinating and leading SAWS’ education tours. Prior to joining the SAWS family, Heather worked in the private sector as a landscape designer where she spent countless hours helping homeowners create beautiful, water-saving landscapes. Heather, along with her husband Brett and their two children, all strive daily to be kind humans who give back to Mother Earth.
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