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Mechanical Switches Solve Sprinkler Control Problem

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Jon Titus
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Total cost, about $30
Jon Titus   7/11/2012 5:22:31 PM
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I have a well-stocked supply of electronic "stuff," so this project won't cost more than about $US 30. I have bi-color (green-red) LEDs, small toggle switches, a few resistors, and wire on hand.  I just ordered a heavy-duty case and some contact strips.

This primitive blog tool won't let me post a schematic diagram of the simple circuit, so I have put it here: http://www.hendrielane.com/Sprinkler.jpg

Charles Murray
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Re: Total cost, about $30
Charles Murray   7/11/2012 7:03:26 PM
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Jon: The dilemma you cite -- putting all the bells and whistles in software -- is one that has confounded the auto industry, too. Doing such things in software, you end up with a series of nested menus and a manual in your lap.

Jon Titus
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Re: Total cost, about $30
Jon Titus   7/11/2012 7:07:23 PM
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True.  In a few years we'll probably look for a new car.  I hope to find one without all sorts of confounding electronics.  I like gadgets as much as anyone, but they shouldn't stand in the way of getting things done as easily as possible.

Rob Spiegel
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Re: Total cost, about $30
Rob Spiegel   7/11/2012 9:07:49 PM
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Good luck finding a car without confounding electronics, Jon. Some of those electronics, though, can be pretty handy. Some are annoying, though. My Taurus locks the backdoors when I turn off the ignition. If I have passangers or packages in the backseat, I have to remember to unlock the doors before exiting the car.

Cadman-LT
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Re: Total cost, about $30
Cadman-LT   8/2/2012 5:13:46 PM
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Jon Titus " I like gadgets as much as anyone, but they shouldn't stand in the way of getting things done as easily as possible." I agree. I went all out on a thermostat for my house...all programmable. Well last winter the unit screwed up on me and refused to let me raise the temperature in my house when it got really cold.  Luckily I had kept my old unit and just put it back in place. Sometimes all the tech just gets in the way!

Jon Titus
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Switch on; switch off
Jon Titus   8/8/2012 1:02:36 PM
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Hi, Cadman-LT:  A good solution.  Lucky you kept your old thermostat.  The control signals for heating and air conditioning are just on or off.  I suppose a switch would do in a pinch.  Turn on the heat when you need it and turn it off when you're comfortable.  Not practical at night, though!

naperlou
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Re: Total cost, about $30
naperlou   7/12/2012 9:37:15 AM
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Well, Chuck, the UI can be better.  I have the same brand of sprinkler system.  I find it interesting that the controller box in the picture looks fancier more colorful, but is EXACTLY the same as the one I have.  I guess that in a business like this, the core competency is not the controller, but the system parts.  There are lots of controller electronics and displays that would make this easy and do what Jon wants.  On the other hand, Jon's solution is a good one.  We have exactly the same problem.

JRThro
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Re: Total cost, about $30
JRThro   7/12/2012 10:09:01 AM
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Charles Murray, you're absolutely right about that.

I own a 2008 Saturn Astra, and I'm completely unable to set the clock without referring to the owner's manual. I can never remember the steps required to get to the clock controls via the car's "Board Computer" and display, because it's not something I need to do very often.

I also own a 2011 Kia Sedona, and it's very simple to set the clock: push the "Hour" button to increment the hours, and push the "Minute" button to increment the minutes.  That's the *right* way to design the controls for a car's clock.

Chipmonger
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Re: Total cost, about $30
Chipmonger   7/11/2012 7:10:02 PM
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I did almost the same many years ago by placing a single switch in the common lead to the sprinkler valves.  Where I live, we frequently have a few consecutive days of morning showers. During those days I open the switch thus disabling the valves. During the drier days, I close the switch and watering resumes as programmed. I located the switch indoors to make it convenient. More recently, I replaced the switch with a relay. The relay is connected to a low-power embedded web server. I can now control it from my iPad.

Jon Titus
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Re: Total cost, about $30
Jon Titus   7/11/2012 7:30:06 PM
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That's cool.  Contact Design News editor Rob Spiegel about submitting it as a Gadget Freak:  rob.spiegel@ubm.com.

ricardo
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KISS
ricardo   7/12/2012 5:32:58 PM
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What's wrong with MOVs that interupt the actual flow of water in the lines?  They are easily understood by even the dimmest of the unwashed masses.  They work even during power failures.

MOV: Manually Operated Valves aka taps.

Jon Titus
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Manual sprinkler values?
Jon Titus   7/12/2012 6:04:10 PM
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Hi, Ricardo.  Most of the solenoid-type valves I'm familiar with include a means to open or close the valve.  So we don't need power.  Most of the time this manual valve renains closed and the solenoid valve simply bypasses it.  Twist on the valve knob and the valve opens.  I have 11 zones and don't want to go to three different control boxes in the yard to manually turn sprinkler zones on or off. Also, I like to water the lawn and plants at night when the sun is down and heat won't evaporate the water.  We have high water pressure at night.  Darned if I'll get up every 20 minutes starting at 2:00 AM to open and close valves.

OLD_CURMUDGEON
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Re: Manual sprinkler values?
OLD_CURMUDGEON   7/18/2012 8:54:41 AM
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Jon, I read your post about watering @ nite. Here in Fla. the local water authority recommends AGAINST watering at nite on the basis that it can breed lawn fungus. They recommend that sprinkler systems be set for early morning watering only.

Jon Titus
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Lawn fungus?
Jon Titus   7/18/2012 2:27:56 PM
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Not much fungus to worry about here in Utah where we have low humidity almost year round. The dryness and heat usually causes the lawn to dry completely within a few hours.  Of course the local stores sell fertilizer with a fungicide in case someone thinks they have a fungus problem. (I couldn't find a map of lawn-fungus prevalence in the US.)

 

OLD_CURMUDGEON
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Re: Lawn fungus?
OLD_CURMUDGEON   7/18/2012 2:37:49 PM
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Jon,

With average humidity here hovering in the range of 60% to 99.99% from mid-March thru mid-November, I can assure you that "fungus is among us"!!!  In fact, IF you've seen some news reports, concerning weathre conditions in the "Liquid" Sunshine State, you're probably aware that our current patterns make us more akin to the monsoon season of S.E. Asia, than the U.S. of A.  It's rained very hard at least twice a day now for the past two weeks.  And, when I mean very hard, I mean VERY HARD, blindingly teeming rain that lasts for hours, not seconds or minutes!

streetrodder
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Re: Total cost, about $30
streetrodder   7/12/2012 10:11:24 AM
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Nice mod, Jon.

I work for a large healtchcare system and one of our ongoing challenges is helping nurse users struggle through multiple layers of menus to set up medical equipment.  The equipment is designed by people that love technology for people that don't really care about how 'cool' it is; they just want to take care of patients.  Simply put, nurses are people focussed, we tend to be equipment focussed.

Perhaps we can all learn a lesson in user interfaces from this.

mrmikel
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Iron
Sprinkler troubles
mrmikel   7/12/2012 4:57:57 PM
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The issue is appropriate technology.  Sometimes that means very little technology at all.  If these companies had a brain, they would provide something simple at the same price as now and sell their complicated unit at an additional price.  They would limit support issues and make more money.


Engineers are not immune to the "See How Clever I Am" syndrome.

hbiss
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Iron
Switches are a step backward
hbiss   7/26/2012 12:40:47 AM
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The latest are "smart controllers" that take information like your location, soil type and what plants are in each zone then, based on weather information received via a satellite link, decide when and how long to run each zone.

I don't need that "smart controller" stuff though. All I want is a network enabled controller that I can store, recall and create new schedules through a GUI on any computer or control with an iPhone, iPad or Android mobil device.

I can't understand why Hunter, Rainbird or Toro haven't made that available yet. Seems like a logical step between a manual controller and those "smart controllers". 

flywizard
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Iron
A solution
flywizard   7/12/2012 9:54:09 PM
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Hi Jon,

Great article. Orbit has a timer that I think will do exactly what you want. It is part number 91012. I'll send you one to try out. You can then let us all know what you think.

OLD_CURMUDGEON
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Platinum
IDIOT SPRINKLER CONTROLLERS.
OLD_CURMUDGEON   7/18/2012 8:51:20 AM
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This post of the RAIN BIRD controller really hits home in a big way.  We had a HARDIE controller that performed well for about 15 years before finally giving up the ghost.  It had six zone control with a processor, several switches, AND a big dial.

The "beauty" part of this HARDIE controller lied in the fact that even though it had two independently settable ON times (A & C, on one of the switches), you could override this at ANY time or day!  So, here in west central Florida, where we are on water restrictions for once per day, once per week, IF the lawn care specialist applied the chemical treatment on an "off" day, it IS permitted to water in per their recommendation.

After the HARDIE unit failed, I purchased a RAIN BIRD @ the local LOWES, installed it & "programmed" it for the time, day, length, etc.  However, it is far more "intelligent" & more "sophisitcated", so I cannot OVERRIDE it to accommodate the example described above.  When I called the RAIN BIRD hotline, described the revised operation mode, I was politiely told, "Sorry, you can't do that!"  IF ONLY I had my HARDIE again!!!!  Wish I bought TWO of them 15 years ago!!!!!!  I might just throw this one in the garbage & buy one of those "old-fashioned" time clock style sprinkler controllers.  No brains!, but they did work forever!!!!

 

Jon Titus
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Orbit Controller Arrived; Looks Good
Jon Titus   7/18/2012 2:34:22 PM
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Earlier this week I received an Orbit 12-station slide-switch sprinkler timer from Orbit, a company in North Salt Lake City. It lets people set independent zone times with a slider control for each zone and a slide switch turns each zone on or off.  I plan to use it to replace my RainBird timer this weekend and will report back with the results, probably in a separate blog. In the meantime, you can find more information here: http://www.orbitonline.com/products/Timers/02/01/10/700/

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