All About Irrigation Controller or Water Timer

All About Irrigation Controller or Water Timer

Mar 15th 2024

The irrigation controller, also known as the water timer, is an electromechanical device that turns your irrigation system on and off based on your watering schedule. The controller acts as the brain of your irrigation system by controlling the water application to your landscape. An irrigation timer controls when the irrigation valve will open or close and determines how long the valve will stay open, which sets the average watering time for each valve.

Irrigation controllers can be manual or automatic. They water your garden or landscape with the additional features of adjusting the watering schedule based on plant type, local weather, type of soil, and other factors. The smart controllers can also connect to the internet and allow you to set your irrigation timer from a smartphone. You can set a timer to turn your irrigation system on at a set time, so you will not have to turn it on manually daily.

Want to discover more about these smart devices and how they can keep your plants healthy while saving you money and time? Read on to find out!

In this guide, you'll learn everything you need about irrigation controllers, from how water timers work and how they significantly benefit homeowners to choosing the right timers for your landscape.

How Does Your Lawn Sprinkler and Irrigation Timer Work?

Irrigation timers direct when and how long your irrigation system will run. The timer allows you to program your irrigation system for multiple tasks, such as water duration and start times per day, and you can program the days of the week for your watering times. The Smart controllers can be used with rain and moisture sensors to adjust your watering schedule.

Electronic timersuse volts to turn on sprinkler valves in the irrigation system. The irrigation controller is connected to a 110-volt outlet that powers the controller's transformer. The transformer in a timer turns 110 volts to 24 volts. The 24 volts are then responsible for controlling your irrigation system's time, program, and duration. The voltage opens and closes the valves in the system to allow the water to flow to a particular zone. When a specific zone is activated, the timer sends 24 volts to that valve.

Wiring connects the sprinkler valves to the irrigation timers. The timer sends signals to the valve to control the water flow. When the water timer reaches a start time, it signals the valve to open. Water then flows through the irrigation pipe to that zone. Water pressure activates the lawn sprinkler to pop up and start watering your lawn. When the off or stop time is reached, the timer signals the valve to close.

Features of Irrigation Controller

Some controllers have basic features, while others are fully equipped with intelligent features for efficient operation. Here are some important irrigation system terms and key features available on a controller.


A valve is a physical component of an irrigation system that the controller opens and closes to release water to each zone. Sometimes, several valves are grouped, called manifolds. Valves are either DC battery operated or AC Electric valves.


A zone is an area in your yard or garden that is watered, such as a lawn sprinkler zone or tree drip zone. You should set up each zone for plants with similar water needs.


A station is a circuit on an irrigation controller that controls the valve that releases water to a particular zone in your yard. Each valve controls a specific sprinkler group, known as a watering station. For efficient watering, you should put plants with similar water requirements on the same station.

Start Time

This feature sets a time of the day when a valve will open to water a zone.

Run Time

Run time, also called station duration, is the time during which a specific valve stays open to water a zone.


A program is where all your timer settings are stored, including specific start times, run timer, and set days for the stations or valves you choose to include. Controllers have Programs A, B, and C, allowing you to run different valves on different days.

Rain Delay

This feature lets you turn off your irrigation system for specific days when rain is predicted. By activating it, the system will start watering your yard again when the rain delay expires.

Seasonal Adjust

The seasonal adjust feature adjusts the amount of run times by percentage. It allows you to increase or decrease the watering time according to weather conditions without needing to reprogram. For example, if the regular watering time is programmed for ten minutes and you set the seasonal adjustment from 100 to 150% during hot summers, the program will run for 15 minutes.

Benefits of a Water Timer or Irrigation Controller

The irrigation system with a controller can save you water, money, and time. Here are the key benefits of irrigation controllers.

Saves Money by Reducing Water Waste

Proper use of an irrigation controller can save tons of water per season and reduce water waste. The controller allows you to increase or decrease the amount of water distributed across your landscape and adjust according to each plant you are watering or your yard's soil.

Some controllers also offer weather adjustment features to adjust the watering according to the daily weather conditions in your location. This minimizes the risk of overwatering and lowers water bills. All these water savings can help you save a lot of money.

Offers Convenience and Control Over the Irrigation System

When you install a water timer in your irrigation system, you will no longer have to worry about having someone to water your garden. The timers allow you to run errands or vacation freely without worrying about your landscape.

Once you have set the time on your controller, it will follow the instructions and give your plants the right amount of water at the right time. Irrigation controllers can also be programmed from your smartphone, allowing you to run the system from anywhere at your convenience. You can access your controller and adjust it while you are away from home, which is a great advantage for busy folks.

Enhance the Beauty and Health of Your Landscape

Over and underwatering can damage your plants and grass, leading to landscape loss. The irrigation controller in your system can adjust the watering based on plant and soil types in your yard so each plant gets optimum water. These smart controllers create a customized watering schedule to match your plants' watering needs.

The system can also detect the ideal watering time for your soil to absorb water more effectively rather than evaporating or running it off. Most smart controllers have rain sensors that detect the rainfall and prevent your sprinkler system from turning on when it should not. Effective water distribution improves the health of plants, leading to an enhanced landscape and lush, green lawn.

Customizes Irrigation Zones for Yard

If you have different irrigation zones in your yard, such as one zone for shrubs, one for established grass, and one for newly planted grass areas that require frequent watering, you must set up an irrigation timer.

One of the many benefits of an irrigation controller is that it can be customized to water different irrigation zones. The timer will irrigate different zones of your landscape on different schedules as per their need. Customizing irrigation zones conserves water while pampering each area of your yard.

If you are wondering what irrigation zones are and how to set up zones in a timer, keep reading to learn about irrigation zones in detail.

What are Different Irrigation Zones? Why are they Needed?

Your yard is divided into multiple sections, each equipped with different sprinkler heads to ensure that water is efficiently applied to the whole area. These sections are known as irrigation zones. Setting up zones for your irrigation system means each area of your yard receives the necessary water and nutrients, so there will be no overwatering in one area and underwatering in another.

Different areas of your garden may have different watering needs. Irrigation zones are set up, so each area gets the ideal amount of water under its zone without waste. Irrigation systems usually have nine zones or less. The number of zones your yard requires depends on your water source, the lawn size, the vegetable patch size, or the plants' special watering needs.

How to Program Your Water Timer and How to Set up Different Zones in a Timer?

Here is the general process to program your timer and set up different zones in it.

Depending on the timer you choose, you should follow the manual to find information on how to program the timer.

  • Set the time and date on your timer by following the manual.
  • Timers usually have 3 programs, represented by letters A, B, C, or 1, 2, 3. Programs allow you to water zones at different times and days. Use Program A for your main watering schedule and use B for adding extra days to water flower and grass zones or areas that require more water.
  • If you are adjusting program A, set the program dial to A.
  • Set the start time, the time you want to start watering.
  • Set a watering time or schedule. These are the days on which your program A will run. Use the + or - button to enter the information.
  • Next, set the zone or station time for all of your zones. Each zone you want to water should have a watering time duration set. You need to consider the type of heads in every zone to set zones accordingly. Spray heads apply water faster than rotors or impact heads. Set running times for all zones.
  • Repeat the above steps for each station you are controlling. Use Programs B and C for other zones that have different watering needs.
  • Now, turn the timer's dial to "Auto Run". If the system has a rain sensor, make sure to turn it on.

How to Choose the Right Water Timer?

Water timers range from simple devices with basic functions to advanced timers with additional smart features, so there are many options to consider. Consider standard timers if you only need basic functions such as start and end time, and your yard has a small to mid-sized irrigation system. You can enjoy the benefits of an automatic irrigation system without paying a hefty amount for features you don't need.

Moreover, due to advanced technology, standard timers can work even better with smart device capabilities. Smart water timers have more customized features and zones. These timers are a bit expensive but user-friendly and allow gardeners to customize and manage the irrigation system through a phone, tablet, or even a laptop.

They can be adjusted according to weather patterns, seasons, and water availability.

Smart timers can detect weather conditions and adjust automatically to ensure optimal hydration without over- or underwatering your plants and lawn. Choose a timer with a rain sensor, sunlight sensor, built-in calendar, or rain delay button for a convenient irrigation experience. These features save water and help follow local watering regulations.

When buying the water timer for your drip irrigation system or sprinkler system, you should consider the following factors.

  • Type of water timer
  • Timer Location: Indoor or Outdoor
  • Standard or smart timer with Bluetooth and Wi-Fi integrations
  • Features on timer
  • Number of irrigation zones and programs

Types of Water Timers or Controllers

Electronic Timers: Electronic water timers provide more features, run on electric circuits, and automate yard watering. It will require an electric power source.

Mechanical Timers: Mechanical timers are programmed manually and rely on gears and cams to open and close valves. Ideal for low-pressure systems.

Solar Timers: Solar timers are an environmentally friendly alternative to battery-operated or electronic timers. They are powered by sunlight and require no power source, making them perfect for remote gardens.

Battery Operated Timers: Battery timers are traditional irrigation controllers for areas without a power supply. They are hose-installed timers with basic essential features. Also, they are affordable, easy to install, user-friendly, and easy to operate.

Smart Timers: A Smart timer is Wi-Fi capable and can be programmed with an app on your phone, tablet, or laptop. While a smart sprinkler controller is more of an investment than a traditional controller, it can save money and water by increasing watering efficiency by irrigating in sync with the weather.

The Bottom Line

A water timer is a device that automates the irrigation system by directing when, how often, and how long it will operate. Timers are super effective for gardeners, landscapers, and farmers. The timer will save you time and water. Installing an irrigation timer with your irrigation system is an excellent way to keep your landscape healthy. You can set up a standard or smart timer depending on the features you need and budget.

Are you looking for a high-quality timer for your irrigation system? DripWorks carries a wide range of timers, including electronic, battery, solar, and windup timers. No matter which type of timer you choose, it will automate your irrigation system and turn the water on and off when needed, saving you lots of water, time, and money. Explore our collection and find the best irrigation controller or timer that suits your system layout and budget.