Are Irrigation Decoder Controller Better?

May 25, 2021 | Agriculture, Commercial Landscapes, Domestic Gardens

Are decoder irrigation controllers better than conventionally wired irrigation controllers?

Yes – For the right project, they are better
Irrigation controllers have improved exponentially over the last few years. Smart irrigation controllers that give you remote access to your irrigation system are not “run of the mill” and are getting more affordable.
Irrigation 2 wire or “decoder” systems have become more mainstream recently. Decoder technology, once limited to extensive irrigation systems, has advanced and is ready to revolutionize other areas, too. Imagine the possibilities beyond golf courses and large parks – decoder systems are now available for various applications. The technology was fantastic and even made sense on large systems. But when it came to small and medium size irrigation systems. There were no actual cost savings by choosing a decoder controller. As the hardware was costly back then, a decoder controller landed in the tens of thousands of dollars.
So what’s changed?
In recent times (let’s say over the last 10 years), decoder irrigation systems that are well suited to medium-sized irrigation systems have been released to the market. The methods that come to mind that suit smaller/medium sites are the
  • Hunter EZ decoder system – that connects with Hunter Hydrawise (cloud/phone app)
  • Weathermatic decoder system – that connects with Smartlink (cloud/phone app)
  • Rainbird ESP LXD  – That connects to Rainbird IQ3(Remote Desktop app)  or Rainbird IQ4(cloud)
*Note – Each of the above controllers has a conventionally wired variant
*other great systems that may also suit smaller sites are available on the market. Yet, I have omitted them from the list as they have a steep learning curve when using these systems. The systems I have included have very user-friendly interfaces
*Each brand has slightly different manufacturer requirements; always follow manufacturer recommendations

When is it beneficial to use an irrigation decoder controller?

Due to the easy access to decoder equipment now for more minor projects, we think you should consider using a decoder system in the following scenarios
·         When you have more than 18-30 zones on the irrigation system (It starts becoming cost-effective at this point to look at a decoder system over a conventionally wired system)
·         When you may need very long wire runs on a long but skinny site (like on a streetscape/ new estate entrance)
·         When you are planning on adding to the irrigation system at a later date (You don’t have concerns about there being enough irrigation wire in the field like you do with conventionally wired systems)
·         When you need to manage multiple water sources and sensor equipment (*limited to some brands/models)
Some things to consider when using decoder equipment:
·         Earthing matters when using decoder equipment – always follow manufacturer recommendations to protect your irrigation infrastructure.
·         Getting wiring right is essential; using correct jointing techniques for connections will ensure system longevity. Moisture in decoder equipment never ends well
·         Fault finding can be more complex than conventional wired systems
·         Use the wire recommended by the manufacturer
·         Controllers come with a limited capacity, so pick the right one for your irrigation needs!
·         Some solenoid valves on the market indicate that they are not suitable for use on a decoder system
·         Decoder systems are vulnerable to electrical interference.

When to use a conventionally wired system:

I may choose to use a conventionally wired system if
·         All of the zones are located very close to the controller locations
·         On systems under 18 zones
·         You don’t want to use any earthing equipment (maybe you are in an area with lots of services, and driving an earth rod into the ground is undesirable)
If you need any help with anything decoder-related, please reach out!

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