Tom Suddard
Tom Suddard Director of Marketing & Digital Assets
6/23/22 9:15 a.m.

When I bought my house, I knew one of the first things to replace would be the lawn sprinkler system. It randomly wouldn't switch zones, it leaked like a sieve when it did manage to apply water pressure, and it's generally terrible.

That was nine years ago, and I never fixed it. Today it finally died, and no amount of jiggling the handle will make it switch zones.

Here's what I have, and I have zero interest in repairing it. I think this is a good excuse to upgrade to a modern sprinkler control system, with electronics and a rain sensor and an app and all that. I've never messed with sprinklers before, but I have tons of experience with household and low voltage wiring. How hard could it be? 

I think all I need to do is buy a controller, buy four electronic valves, then plumb/wire them all together to form a happy family, right?

Here's my wishlist:

  1. Not insanely expensive. I'd love to complete the whole project for less than $3-400
  2. Some sort of app or web interface so I'm not messing with programming on a 2" screen or swapping pins around.
  3. At least vaguely aware of the weather to water more when it's dry and less when it's wet. Bonus points for accounting for changing seasons. 

Does anybody have any recommendations?

Tom Suddard
Tom Suddard Director of Marketing & Digital Assets
6/23/22 9:18 a.m.
Tom Suddard
Tom Suddard Director of Marketing & Digital Assets
6/23/22 9:20 a.m.
jgrewe HalfDork
6/23/22 9:27 a.m.

It looks like you are on the right track. That Orbit controller looks pretty slick. Does your system have a manifold with a rack of valves all in one location or do you have valves out buried in your yard?

Tom Suddard
Tom Suddard Director of Marketing & Digital Assets
6/23/22 9:34 a.m.

Okay, I may have jumped the gun but I had a coupon... there's a Rachio 3 on its way to my house for $109. I'll return it if it doesn't work out. 

As far as I can tell, the device in my second photo is my manifold and valves. It seems to swap zones when it loses pump pressure, so I'm assuming there's a little ratcheting mechanism inside. I think my sprinklers are basically Bosch mechanical fuel injection. laugh

stuart in mn
stuart in mn MegaDork
6/23/22 9:39 a.m.

It appears what you have now is an Intermatic mechanical timer.  They're kind of stone age simple, but are still used in many industrial applications.  They're also basically just on/off and I'm not sure how it would be used to control multiple zones - does your whole system run at the same time?

Tom Suddard
Tom Suddard Director of Marketing & Digital Assets
6/23/22 9:47 a.m.

In reply to stuart in mn :

No, it definitely has four distinct zones. The timer only controls pump on/off. The zone switching magic seems to happen in the round black thingy that connects the single pump outlet to the four pipes leading to different zones, and seems to be triggered by applying, then removing, water pressure. 

Edit: Some quick Googling tells me I have an indexing valve. Neat bit of tech, but probably not the right choice for what I'm trying to accomplish.


ChrisTropea Associate Editor
6/23/22 9:51 a.m.

Looks like yes your current system is mechanical. The timer turns off and on at each zone change to release pressure and move to the next zone on the circle. 

Going to the electronic system will take a little bit of engineering at that manifold to get an individual feeds to each electronic valve from the pump vs the single feed you currently have to the mechanical one but should be easy enough to convert it.  

jgrewe HalfDork
6/23/22 10:11 a.m.

Now I see there are 4 pipes coming out the bottom. That makes things easy. The electric valves will need a manifold and you'll need an assortment of PVC fittings to spread your pipes out to match them up.

Slippery PowerDork
6/23/22 11:02 a.m.

You have a four zone valve. If the system is not "balanced" properly it will have a hard time switching zones.

By balanced, you should have the same amount of sprinklers (or flow if using different heads) in each of the zones. They usually start having issues switching once you have leaks in the system, like a sprinkler head missing or clogged.

With that being said, I removed mine and switched to a rachio with a pump relay and electric valves. It was around your budget for a 6 zone system and now I get to turn on any zone I want and not have to cycle to all the other ones to get to the one I need. It also knows if it will rain and skip the day.

Slippery PowerDork
6/23/22 11:04 a.m.

If you go to electric valves, I think I used Rainbird from HD (see below), you can open and remove the guts from that 4 way valve and just install the electric valves on the pipes coming down. Just install them at different heights so that the valves do not interfere physically with each other.

Hasbro (Forum Supporter)
Hasbro (Forum Supporter) SuperDork
6/23/22 11:15 a.m.

You have Florida Irrigation Supply right there in your town (I designed irrigation systems for them out of college). They can set you up with everything you need. Buy the best valves etc. that you can afford.

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
6/23/22 11:40 a.m.

Yup, we had that same system on our house. Turning on and off the pump changes zones. And sometimes the index valve hangs up and doesn't work as planned. 

We now have electrical valves operated by Skydrop. 

frenchyd MegaDork
6/23/22 12:04 p.m.

I installed my own system direct from the lake.  I mechanically select the zones the few times a year we need to water.  
   When we water we also spread fish pee and poop at the same time thus avoiding the need to fertilize. In addition I don't spread the chlorine and fluoride that is used in city water systems. 
   In the fall I fire up both compressors and blow each zone dry.  

hobiercr UltraDork
6/23/22 5:45 p.m.

I've got a 4 zone rain bird timer and 4 of the CP100 valves shown. Simple system and other than my old timer failing after 20 years it has been really reliable. I looked at a Wi-Fi controller but didn't feel the added cost was worth the benefit. 
Put the timer somewhere easy to access so you can just switch off if there is rain in the forecast. We can currently run sprinklers twice a week due to restrictions, so I time zones accordingly, mostly before sunrise.

If you haven't run the system for awhile, take the time to pull and test the heads to make sure they activate normally and that the built on filters aren't full of crap. If you have any zones that do  just planter beds, consider switching out the heads for good soaker hoses.

Datsun310Guy MegaDork
6/23/22 5:59 p.m.

I thought........

My dad was a fire protection engineer designing sprinkler systems for 50 years.  Maybe I can.....

estimate 1000's of cigars sat in his sprinkler ashtray.   

MattGent HalfDork
6/24/22 1:35 a.m.

Many moons ago I designed and installed my own system from scratch, with an electronic controller and a similar Pimco (?) indexing valve.  Lots of people use them because they are cheap and reliable.  Building the entire system was a pain in the butt, and paying retail for hardware it isn't much cheaper than hiring it out, but you will likely get a better system.

This website was super helpful:

Rain sensors are often required by code and will keep it from running when you don't need to.


Tom Suddard
Tom Suddard Director of Marketing & Digital Assets
6/25/22 9:08 p.m.

My controller hasn't gotten here yet, but I made great progress today. One zone only had two sprinklers on it, so I added about 60' of pipe and five more heads to cover a dead zone in the yard. 

Tom Suddard
Tom Suddard Director of Marketing & Digital Assets
7/1/22 9:16 p.m.

Success! I just finished installing everything. 

Overall this wasn't a terrible project, and in total I spent right at $400. (PVC fittings aren't cheap). The controller seems to be watching the weather and adjusting accordingly, and I got rid of an ugly flaky leaky system. Woohoo!

grover Dork
7/1/22 10:21 p.m.


That old system would have worked, it just would have worked a lot better with an electronic zone head rather than the mechanical.  

Looks like you are all set and not a terrible price all things considered.  I'm sure the smart controller will help quite a bit with saving water.  I just had a rain sensor attached to ours.  I'm sure it's possible to have some sort of soil moisture monitor but I'm guessing it's pricey!

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