How do you safely set up irrigation on a power-deprived median without cutting up the surrounding asphalt or dealing with a plethora of permits? What’s the best way to establish temporary irrigation in a newly built housing development or set up an automatic watering solution for a homeowner’s hydroponic garden? How can you manage a specialty irrigation project like a green roof or wall?
When locations are difficult to access, lack electrical power, or demand cost-prohibitive wire runs, battery-powered controllers can make irrigation safe, effective, and affordable. Unlike traditional irrigation systems, they save time and money because there’s no need to run wire, obtain construction permits, or lease equipment to tunnel under concrete or other hardscape elements. Since these systems are less intrusive, they can also help you win bids where specifications are strict about AC power requirements.
For projects that require a green solution, some battery-powered controllers can be converted to solar energy using a built-in or add-on solar panel. By running on sunlight, they eliminate the need for electricity and minimize environmental impacts. Solar-powered systems also require less upkeep. This means you can schedule maintenance visits further apart, saving time and money. Some models even offer all three power options in one unit, allowing you to choose between AC, battery, or solar power for ultimate installation flexibility. Installation is easier too, since battery-powered controllers don’t require wiring and there’s less trenching involved. This also makes it possible to place controllers in a variety of locations for greater impact.
How Battery-Powered Controllers Work
So how do these controllers work? A battery-powered controller operates an irrigation system by sending a pulse of energy to the solenoid, which causes it to unlatch. This opens the valve and allows water to flow through. When the station run time ends, the controller sends another pulse that latches the solenoid and stops the flow of water. Using the control panel, you can set watering schedules, check station status, view the next start time, and more.
For added convenience, next-generation models include Bluetooth® technology for quick, easy connection and remote site management. Battery-powered controllers are often installed in roadway medians and areas with high vehicular traffic. Bluetooth connection allows total irrigation management from a safe distance without crossing the road or impeding traffic with a service vehicle. You can even manage multiple sites without having to manually check each individual valve.
Battery-powered controllers run on disposable batteries that must be replaced about once a year. Solar-powered controllers function using energy from the sun.
Advanced Features That Make Your Workday Easier
Many of today’s battery-powered controllers come packed with advanced features that speed up site management and reduce the need for maintenance. As a result, you can save time by avoiding frequent and costly site visits.
Durable, Weatherproof Construction
Battery-powered controllers are usually installed outdoors, so it’s important to purchase a durable model designed to withstand the harshest conditions. Choose one that’s IP68 certified, which means it’s dust-tight and water-resistant in 12' (3 m) of fresh water.
Controllers used in desert regions, for example, must be able to withstand extreme heat up to 140°F (60°C) without melting or breaking. Conversely, they must also be able to handle subzero conditions in cold-weather climates. High-quality controllers can accommodate both extremes.
Non-Volatile Memory and Program Backups
To prevent the loss of vital programming data, non-volatile memory is a must. Without it, you’ll lose all your programming if the batteries run out. Non-volatile memory retains your programming, so you won’t have to waste your precious time re-entering water schedules or date and time data after battery replacement.
When considering conventional battery-powered controllers that don’t use an app, look for models that offer easily retrievable program backups. This allows you to restore the full irrigation program in case someone alters the original programming without your consent.
Pro Tip: When establishing a temporary irrigation schedule, set the long-term schedule as a backup. Then create a temporary schedule for the seed germination period, which usually requires frequent watering to promote plant growth. Once the seeds have sprouted, restore the settings to the long-term schedule. By setting up both schedules on the front end, it will save you programming time when the germination period is over.
Pro Tip: After a temporary irrigation project is completed, reuse your battery-powered controller for another temporary project or as a demo unit. It’s a great way to save money and extend the life of your controller!
For maximum flexibility and convenience, a battery-powered controller with Bluetooth capability is essential! This powerful, wireless technology allows you to manage sites remotely with your smartphone. Through an easy-to-use app, you can map controllers by location, get battery change reminders, access controller logs, and more.
Some Bluetooth controller models allow you to take a preconfigured schedule from one controller and apply it to another using a simple copy-and-paste process. Just create the original schedule manually by selecting start times, run times, and water days. Then send it to multiple controllers with your smartphone using a repeating “connect and send” command for each subsequent device. This process saves a huge amount of time by shortening the setup to two steps. It also prevents mistakes, which are likely to occur if you have to program numerous controllers manually using a multistep approach.
Pro Tip: Save hours of setup time by using the copy-and-paste method for medians or other landscapes that require identical watering parameters.
Sloped landscapes and hard-packed soils require a special approach to watering. If a system delivers too much water too quickly in these types of applications, it can lead to runoff and water waste. Setting up a cycled schedule breaks up irrigation run times, giving the soil enough time to absorb the water and prevent runoff. Systems that offer this feature allow you to enter a mist time followed by a wait time, allowing the water to soak in.
Some controllers allow you to insert a gap between the end time of the current station and the start time of the next one. This is useful when you have slow-closing valves or a pump that needs extra time to recharge.
During extensive periods of inclement weather, controllers with a suspended irrigation feature can pause watering for a user-specified number of days. This keeps the controller in off mode temporarily, conserving water during rain events when irrigation isn’t needed. Once the designated period ends, the system resumes its normal watering schedule — no return site visit required!
Monthly and Seasonal Adjustments
Precipitation varies depending on geographic location and the time of year. To eliminate site visits for reprogramming controllers when the seasons change, many battery-powered controllers allow for quick adjustments to irrigation run times using a percentage scale. Set the system to 100% during warm weather months and reduce the percentage as needed to shorten run times during cooler months. By modifying the entire system at once, you won’t have to adjust each individual station in the program. This allows you to conserve water and keep plants from getting saturated.
Weather Sensor Compatibility
To deliver maximum water savings, consider a battery-powered controller that’s compatible with weather sensors. These devices promote efficient water use by triggering a system to halt irrigation when soil moisture is adequate or inclement weather conditions are present. Sensors that detect rain, wind, and freezing weather are an excellent way to double-check when you should and shouldn’t be watering.
Another valuable feature to seek out is controller mapping. After installation, you can use your smartphone to drop a pin on a map to identify and save the location of each controller. If you visit a site infrequently, the landscape can become overgrown or look different during various seasons. This can make it difficult to remember exactly where a controller is located, especially on large properties or sites where leaves have covered the valve box. The mapping tool makes it easy to find the locations on your next visit because your phone can show you exactly where they are. You can even share locations with new crewmembers who may be unfamiliar with a site.
Even when programs are scheduled, weather sensors and system issues can alter what a controller actually does. Event logs track the controller’s performance for months at a time, so you can see exactly what actions occurred. You can also tell if someone ran a manual cycle or changed the schedule. By accessing your controller’s history, you gain important diagnostic insights about manual activations and changes to sensor status, programs, or schedules.
Variable Mounting Options
When it comes to installing the controller, make sure it’s possible to do so in a variety of ways. Newer applications like green walls and green roofs may require you to be creative, so being able to mount the controller in various orientations will make installation easier.
Extended Power and Battery-Change Reminders
Some battery-powered controllers may not last an entire season on just one battery. That’s why it’s important to look for a unit that has the capacity for a second battery. This extends the power cycle and saves you time by reducing site visits.
Be sure the controller you choose also provides battery change reminders. Alerts are usually delivered through a smartphone app. While they may not be able to tell you the remaining battery percentage, they do serve as a helpful reminder to return to the site after a designated time period.
Choosing the Ideal Controller
With so many models and features to choose from, it can be difficult to decide on the one that’s right for your project. Working with a landscape architect to design an efficient system that complies with regulatory and municipal requirements is a good place to start.
It’s also helpful if you understand the differences between DC and AC systems. For example, DC-latching solenoids work differently than solenoids in AC systems. Also, wiring distances between battery-powered controllers and valves are much shorter than wiring distances used with AC solenoids.
As you plan the project, answering the following questions may also direct you toward a particular controller:
- What is the project application?
- What kind of weather occurs at the location throughout the year?
- Is automated watering a requirement?
- What type of power is available?
- Is the site difficult or dangerous to access?
- Are there any special watering considerations?
- How frequently will maintenance be needed?
- Is vandalism a concern?
- Is running wire cost-prohibitive?
The Benefits of Wireless Controllers
Battery-powered controllers are an excellent solution for isolated sites and power-restricted areas like medians, roundabouts, greenhouses, and gardens. They allow irrigation to occur without the need for an electrical connection, preventing costly wire runs.
Models with Bluetooth capability offer even greater advantages. When paired with a mobile-friendly smartphone app, these wireless controllers make it easy to remotely program full irrigation schedules, suspend irrigation, configure sensors, and check battery status — without ever opening the valve box.
Bluetooth-enabled units even make it easy for new crewmembers to find controllers on sites they’ve never managed before. Since these controllers usually last an entire season on just a battery or two, making a site visit to replace the batteries is a simple annual task. Add a solar panel to eliminate it entirely.
Need Help Choosing?
If you’re struggling to automate your irrigation in remote, power-restricted locations, or if you need a temporary irrigation solution, Hunter offers several high-performance controllers that deliver power without the plug. Explore our product pages to learn more about NODE-BT, XC Hybrid, and the rest of our proven lineup of best-in-class battery- and solar-powered controllers. Or to keep the conversation going, visit your local Hunter distributor.