Why Do My Sprinklers Continue to Cycle Over and Over? Part Two – Basic Programming

A common irrigation problem is sprinklers continuing to cycle over and over.  The answer often lies in an improperly programmed controller. 

In this article, we will look at basic programming.

Programming Steps

Here are the basic controller programming steps. Various models and brands have different controls and features (e.g. dials or digital), so always check your owner’s manual for specific instructions.

  1. When a controller is first set up, the current date and time must be entered. Check to make sure it’s correct whenever you program the controller. 
  2. Select a program from the choices of A, B, and C. 
  3. Select “start time” and specify the time you want the irrigation to start, such as 6 a.m. One start time will activate all stations sequentially in that program. If you want to schedule a second start time in the evening at 8 p.m, remember that the second start time is in the same program you set up for the morning watering. All the zones in this program will be watered a second time. Multiple start times in a program can be used for separate morning, afternoon, or evening watering cycles. 
  4. Set the run times for the stations you want to use in this program. Station run time is the amount of time each station will operate, or the length of its watering period. These can be set from one-minute increments up to several hours. Some controllers can be set in seconds. Remember that the run times are set for each individual station, and not for the entire program. Don’t set run times for those stations not included in the program you’re setting up. If a station does not have a run time set, it will be skipped, and the next consecutive station with a run time in the program will start watering. 
  5. Set up your watering schedule — the specific day or days the program runs. For example: Monday may be your day to water according to your address. Scheduling options vary with different controllers, such as a 365-day calendar, a weekly calendar, every other day, every third day, or odd/even days. Remember the watering days apply to the entire program, not the individual stations. 
  6. For additional programs, select a different one (A, B, or C) from any already set up, and repeat the programming steps. Set any station run times to zero for the stations already assigned to another program. Typically, stations are only set for a single program, so only add run times for the stations you want to include in the current one you’re setting up. For example, stations 1, 3, and 4 might have run times in program A, while stations 2 and 5 are set to zero. Stations 2 and 5 are available for setting up run times in program B, and you would then leave run times for stations 1, 3, and 4 at zero in the B program. 
  7. Set the controller to the “run”, “auto”, or “auto-run” position when you’ve finished programming.


The Reason why a Controller Repeats a Cycle Over and Over

The answer is usually there are too many programmed start times — program start times are being confused with zone (station) run times. 

Some controllers have up to eight start times per day to a single program (e.g. A). So people think they have to set up a “start time 1” at 6:00 a.m., and a “start time 2” at 6:10 a.m., all the way up to “start time 5” using ten-minute intervals. They believe they’re inputting station run times of ten minutes each for five zones. 

Only “start time 1” is needed, and all five zones will run one after the other. If five different start times are programmed ten minutes apart, the controller is going to run the whole program five times. It’s important to remember that multiple start times are there in a program to be used for separate morning, afternoon, or evening watering cycles.

Because of something called “stacking”, the controller doesn’t get confused if a program is running at the time another start time was programmed. It will start the next program as soon as the first one is finished.

You can correct the programming to just one start time by going to the start times under the program and switching all but the first start time to the “off” setting. You’ll find this setting on some controllers when advancing the time button between 11:45 p.m. and 12:00 a.m. You may have to press the minus (-) button one more time when you’ve reached 12:00 a.m.

For help with your sprinkler system, call Smart Earth Sprinklers at (512) 694-1147 for all your repair and maintenance needs.

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