Sprinkler System Basics

The three main components of every automatic sprinkler system are the controller, station-control valves and sprinklers.

The controller is the brain of the system, telling the control valves when and how long to supply water to the sprinklers. The sprinklers direct and control the water applied to the lawn and plants.

Each valve controls a specific group of sprinklers called a watering station. The stations are generally laid out and installed according to the type of plant material to be watered, the location of the plant within the landscape and the maximum amount of water that can be supplied. Each valve is connected to a numbered terminal within the controller, identifying it as Station 1, Station 2, etc.

The controller operates the valves in order, one at a time. In other words, one station would water completely before another station would turn on. This is called a watering cycle. The information stored in the controller memory that determines when and how long the stations will water is called a program.

What is a watering program?

A watering program requires three basic instructions to operate automatically:

  • What days to water - called watering days
  • When to water - called a program start time
  • How long to water - called station run time

Why do some controllers have multiple programs?

Many yards have plants with different water requirements (i.e., lawns that require everyday watering, shrubs that only require watering every other day, etc.). Therefore, the lawn stations can be assigned to a different program than the shrubs. With a single program timer, all stations would have to water on the same days.

Water seeps from one sprinkler. Is there something wrong with the sprinkler?

No. Water will drain through the lowest head until the pipe empties. If the seepage does not stop, the problem is with the valve that controls that sprinkler zone. The problem could be as simple as a small piece of debris inside the valve. Warning: Shut off the water supply before disassembling the valve.

One zone continues to water after the cycle is complete. Is the controller broken?

Probably not, but to make sure, pull the power cord from the wall, removing power from the controller. If the water continues to run, the problem is with the zone valve. If the water stops, the controller is at fault. Double-check the programming.

Sprinkler Systems

General Questions

Before you start: 
Check local codes and permits by calling your local water company or the proper municipal for information on building codes or permits required for the installation of underground sprinkler systems.They can also tell you about local codes for the backflow prevention required to protect your water supply from contamination, as well as advise on where to locate the backflow device in the system.

Check with your local utility companies before you dig to identify any buried cables or natural gas lines.

During installation, you will need several accessories and a variety of pipe fittings. Other materials you may need during installation include:

  • PVC pipe cutter
  • Screwdriver
  • Pipe wrenches
  • Hammer
  • Trenching shovel
  • Line marking paint
  • 1" pipe clamps (poly only)
  • Teflon tape
  • Tape measure
  • Solvent, primer, rags (PVC only -- do not use pipe dope on plastic-threaded fittings.)
  • Toro flow and pressure gauge
  • Marking flags
  • Grease caps
All of our Do-It-Yourself irrigation products have a Limited One-Year warranty (see your manual for details). Toro will repair or replace the product if it is found to be defective.

To obtain the warranty please return the defective part to the place of purchase or send it postage prepaid with a dated, proof of purchase to the Toro Service Center, 21350 Cedar Avenue S, Lakeville, MN 55044.

To request a replacement Timer, Rotor or valve Owner's Manual, you will need to the model number or name of the product.

To determine what is causing the valve not to shut down  properly, follow the steps listed below:     
Disconnect one of the valve wires.  Does the valve shut off?
  • Yes,  the valve shuts off, the problem is with the timer. (Please refer to the timer section in your Owner's Manual for details.) 
  • No, the valve does not shut off, check the bleed screw to make sure it is not loose or broken.
Is this a new installation? 
  • Yes, low flow may prevent the valve from closing, compare the GPM (gallons per minute)/LPM (litres per minute) requirements of zone to valve specifications. 
  • If the GPM/LPM is not within the specifications, add more heads to increase water flow or select a valve that works well at low flow rates.
  • No, turn off the main water supply
  • Remove valve cover and diaphragm. 
  • Turn water back on and flush out for 15 seconds. 
  • Inspect diaphragm for holes/tears replace if necessary.


For complete step-by-step instructions on how to program your controller, consult your Owner's Manual or view Toro's interactive manual online by selecting your controller below: 

  • ECx (comes with optional outdoor cabinet)
  • ECx Outdoor ( 9" H x 14" W )
  • Older ECx (gray face)
  • Lawn Master

General Programming Guidelines: 
  1. Set the current time and day of the week - Without this information, the controller/programmer will not perform the required functions.
  2. Set Run Times - Run times are assigned to programs and tell the controller how long to run each zone. As a general rule, Toro recommends a run time of 5-10 minutes for fixed spray sprinklers and 30 minutes for rotary sprinklers
  3. Set Start Times - Start times tell when to start each program. The controller will run each zone sequentially, one after another, based on the run times selected. When one zone is finished, the next one will start. If you want the same series of valves to run more than once in the same 24 hour period, you must assign a second start time to that program. Remember a second start time does not start the next zone, it starts the same cycle over again.
  4. Set Active Days - Depending on the controller being programmed, there are three ways to set the active days. Some controllers offer all three methods (Odd/Even, Interval and Calendar), while others only offer only one or two.
As noted above, every controller is different and will offer different features. To program those additional features, refer to your Owner's Manual. Examples of these types of features include: 

  • Season Adjust - Allows user to make adjustments to the watering schedule by program instead of zone by zone. This is a big time saver.
  • Rain Delay - With this feature, the user can set a 1 to 7 day watering delay. At the end of the programmed delay, the controller will resume normal operation.
  • Non-Volatile Memory - In the event of a power failure, the controller will remember the set program even without an installed battery.