Everyone loves a nice-looking yard, but dragging those hoses and sprinklers around to keep everything watered can be a real chore — especially when you add in the different watering cycles required by some communities and the adjustments that are often necessitated by seasonal weather changes.
If you’re thinking about an easier way to get the lawn and flowers watered, it might be time to consider a sprinkler timer. There are sizes and styles that will work with anything from a complex underground system to a simple hose and sprinkler, in both electric and battery-operated models.
If you typically use a hose and sprinkler and are simply looking to be able to turn it on and off at preset times, a battery-powered hose timer will do the trick very nicely. Hose timers consist of a small control box with a female fitting above it that screws directly to an exterior faucet, and have a male fitting below the control box that the hose is attached to. A 9-volt battery provides the necessary power to activate the controls, so no electrical wiring is needed.
The typical hose timer has a small LCD display panel and simple controls that allow you to set the day and time, as well as the desired watering times. Most will allow you to set the duration of the watering time in one-, five- or 15-minute increments, typically up to 12 hours in length. Some of the lesser expensive models will repeat that watering sequence every day, but the better models work on a seven-day calendar schedule that allow you to set which days of the week you want to water — a real plus if you live in a community that restricts outdoor watering to certain days.
Hose timers allow a manual override of the program, which lets you use the hose in the same manner as just turning on the faucet. Better models will have a program override as well, which let’s you shut the timer off during periods of rain without affecting the program in its memory.
Hose timers are very easy to install and can typically be programmed in just minutes. They are also waterproof, so they can be attached to any outside faucet whether it’s sheltered from the weather or not. There are also dual-hose timers that allow you to operate two different hoses on two different cycles from the same faucet.
If you have underground sprinklers that you are currently turning on and off manually, or if you’re considering installing a sprinkler system, an electric sprinkler control timer is the way to go. They are a little more complicated than the simple hose timer, but really allow you to get the most from your system in terms of convenience and watering efficiency.
Electric timers utilize 120-volt power to run the timer circuits, and low-voltage power to operate the sprinklers themselves. The timer is connected to the sprinkler system by wires, not hoses or pipes, so it can be placed in a remote location for easier installation and access. Most are housed in weatherproof enclosures, so they can be mounted outdoors if desired.
Most of today’s electric sprinkler timers utilize an LCD display and electronic circuitry for programming and operation. Each timer is capable of operating a certain number of individual sets of sprinklers — called stations — and the timer you select should have enough stations to handle your current sprinkler layout plus a couple of extra for future expansion. Electric timers that employ a rotating mechanical timer wheel instead of electronic circuits are also readily available.
The timer is first programmed with the current day and time, as well as the date — electronic timers will automatically compensate for the number of days in the month. Then, each station is programmed individually for what days it will come on and how long it will come on, as well as a watering "budget" that lets you increase or decrease the amount of water being used by a specific station. Most timers allow for multiple start times each day as well.
All of these controls give you tremendous flexibility. For example, you may have several stations programmed to come on every third day for one hour to water an established lawn, while another station comes on every day for 20 minutes to water specific garden areas, and yet another set of stations come on three times a day for 10 minutes each time to properly water that patch of new lawn that’s just getting established.
Better electric timers offer standby modes for rainy days, so you can skip watering without affecting the clock or the program, as well as battery backups to hold the program in memory in the event of a power outage.
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