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.