How to Choose an Irrigation Timer

Last Updated on October 2, 2023 by Kyle Whitley

how to choose an irrigation timer

We will show you how to choose an irrigation timer so you can schedule and become as efficient as possible at watering your lawn. Having an irrigation timer these days is more and more important when you need to water your lawn or garden.

There are many timers to choose from, from simple devices to advanced computers. I will help you identify the different types of irrigation timers, what programs they offer and what features are available in modern irrigation timers.

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So how do you choose an irrigation timer?

Before you can choose an irrigation timer you need to take several things into consideration.  You need to determine the type of irrigation timer you might be looking for.  Are you more of a manual set it and forget it type, or do you want the ultimate control of a smart irrigation timer?

Do you have multiple zones or multi areas that might need more or less water?  Another thing to consider would be if you have an inground traditional sprinkler system or are you using multiple garden hoses hooked to external hose bibs.

I have personally had to struggle with questions in the past.  At my previous home, I didn’t have an in-ground sprinkler system, so I was manually moving sprinklers from area to area to water my lawn and small garden.  While this wasn’t a major issue, it definitely determined what type of irrigation timer I added to my home, which was a simple manual timer that turned on and off different hoses based on a timer.

Jump forward a few years at my current home and I have an inground multi-zoned sprinkler system with a smart irrigation timer that I control from my iPhone.   This smart controller wasn’t the first-timer at my current home, I had an electric timer that had many features and was light years ahead of my manual timer.  Let’s take a look at the current crop of irrigation timers to help you determine what irrigation timer you should choose for your home.

Irrigation Timer Types

The three most common types of irrigation timers are mechanical, electronic, and hybrid.

Mechanical Irrigation Timers.

A basic mechanical timer must be set manually, but it is very economical. It allows you to control your sprinklers with the turn of a dial, and they do come with some nice basic features.

Most mechanical irrigation timers have easy-to-set dials or knobs that allow you to change watering times.  They usually have a “day of the week” dial that lets you choose which days of the week you want to water.
Generally, mechanical timers have simple hour and day settings which you have to adjust based on weather and watering needs manually.  You need to monitor your lawn closely and adjust watering times as needed with any mechanical timer.
You most often find mechanical irrigation timers attached to hose bibs, but you might find mechanical irrigation timers in older home irrigation systems.

Electronic Irrigation Timers

Electronic irrigation timers provide many more options and features, as well as some basic watering programs.
They can also be wireless, making it easier to change settings on the go and make adjustments quickly via the internet or a smartphone app.
Most electronic timers allow you to make many adjustments and changes, including programming watering times and durations, turning off certain days or months, and adjusting days when you want your timer to water with rain sensors.
The smart electric irrigation timer I have at my home also has a feature that checks the local weather based on your zip code and determines when and how much the irrigation system should water.

You can use timers to run multiple zones simultaneously or have them run the multiple zones on a schedule. Many of the modern electric irrigation timers can control, regulate, and drip irrigation systems.

Hybrids: Best of Both Worlds

Hybrid irrigation controllers combine features of mechanical and electronic timers. They are easy to use and offer more features than mechanical timers, including internet connectivity.

Hybrid controllers can be set up automatically or controlled manually. Some models have automatic rain sensors to turn off the system when there’s enough moisture in the soil already.
I found the higher-end models offer a rain sensor, access to smartphone apps, water-saving programs, weather monitoring, and internet accessibility.

Zones and Programs

Why Have Irrigation Zones?

Irrigation systems run on a set number of zones or areas of your property.
Each zone is often run by an individual timer, which means you must have a separate timer for each zone. You can even buy multiple timers so you can run more than one irrigation zone at the same time or at different times.
More modern electric irrigation timers can control multiple zones from a single controller.

Zones are sections of your yard that share the same irrigation lines and valves.   Zones are used to distribute water more evenly around your lawn or garden, which is more often needed.

I personally have 3 zones at my current home, one for the front yard, backyard, and side yard.  I water the zones differently based on the slope, hours of sunlight, and area (size of the lawn).  For instance, my front yard zone typically runs for 20 minutes based on a smart schedule. In comparison, my back and side yard zones run 15 minutes.

Irrigation Programs

Watering schedules determine when and how frequently your system is activated.  These water schedules are often called programs.

Single program timers can be used to water all zones on the same day and are best for basic watering.

If your yard has multiple zones, you will need to use a timer with multiple programs—each program cycles through a specific zone to ensure adequate watering.

Choose an electric irrigation timer with options such as rain sensors which will turn off when it rains and after a certain amount of rain.  Also, irrigation timers with sunlight sensors and smart calendars that water based on weather and days of the week will make irrigating your lawn much easier.

Location of your Irrigation Timer

Irrigation can be located in two main areas. They can be permanently mounted somewhere in and around your home, or they can be located near your home’s outside hose bibs.

Permanently Mounted Irrigation Timers

Usually, electric irrigation timers are placed in a couple of places in your home.  Irrigation timers are put in garages, basements, and outside near the irrigation pumps and valves.
My irrigation system controller is located in my basement, where it is easy to access and safe from the outside elements.  Controllers mounted in a garage would have similar protections from outdoor elements.
If your irrigation timer is located outside, it should be protected in a weather-resistant or even waterproof, to protect the electronic components.

Hose Bib Timers

These, of course, are located directly at the hose bib and are, of course, weather-resistant or waterproof, depending on the manufacturer.  These can also be moved from one hose bib to the next or even to another home very easily.

Irrigation Timer Key Features

Below are some features you should look for in your next irrigation timer.

  • Skip button – which allows you to skip a certain zone without having to reprogram or create a new program for the skipped zone
  • Watering Intervals – where you can set the number of days between watering.
  • Calendar – which would allow you to choose which days you want to water. If your specific area is under any water restrictions, this is very helpful.
  • Sunlight  and rain sensors – which adjust watering duration based on the amount of sunlight and if it is currently raining or not
  • Rain Delay – this allows you to delay watering schedules based on if it is expected to rain or is currently raining.
  • Odd/Even Setting – this setting allows you to either water on odd or even days based on area watering restrictions

Smart Irrigation Timers: The future of Irrigation

Smart irrigation timers from Orbit, Rachio, and Rain Bird are the future of irrigation timers.  These systems have set a new level of customization and ease of irrigation control for the average homeowner.

With the smart timer and controllers, you can really have ultimate control over your lawn and garden irrigation from anywhere you have an internet connection.

Here are few great features of smart irrigation timers and controllers:

  • Smartphone, tablet, and computer access to completely customize and control your home irrigation
  • It is possible to adjust watering schedules based on the weather, seasons, and water availability in your area.
  • It is possible to save water and money by using specific yard details and advanced watering schemes.
  • Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant compatibility so you can easily control your watering from other smart home devices.  Hey, Alexa, water the yard.
  • Notification of watering status sent in real-time to your smartphone app or email.
  • Ability to provide water usage information to determine if you are over or under watering

I had an Orbit electric irrigation timer, but it lacked any smart features but had most of the desirable features listed above.  I just wanted more control over the irrigation that that model had.

I personally own the Orbit B-Hyve 4 zone smart irrigation controller/timer and absolutely love it.  I installed the unit myself, and it was a pretty straightforward replacement. It is great getting notifications of when watering has been completed or when a water delay has been activated.

orbit 4 zone irrigation controller

It is also great to make changes to the automatic smart watering via my smartphone instead of having to go to my basement and manually adjust the timing.  I have way more control over my irrigation, and it was well worth the investment.

Irrigation Timers: Your Watering has Completed

Irrigation timers have changed the game for homeowners. Hopefully, with the information we provided,  you will easily choose an irrigation timer that meets the needs of your home lawn or garden.  With increased customization and ease of control, these systems are a must-have for anyone looking to save time and water!