Pros: Super quality - Easy to program - Fair price
Cons: None, believe me... You may consider Rainbird's 6 or 8 zone timers for expansion
I recently had the need to replace my aunt's 20+ year old sprinkler timer... I couldn't have been more happy to see the Rainbird? ISA-304 Automatic Sprinkler Timer was still available. Over the years I have installed, or helped to install, a number sprinkler systems including my own. I have come to the conclusion that Rainbird offers the most product for the buck. My experience with my own eight zone Rainbird ISA-408 Automatic Sprinkler Timer as well as Rainbird's six zone timer made my selection a true "no-brainer".
Model ISA-304 Options
First, this model offers automatic watering for up to four zones. Rainbird has a rather wide assortment of timers or controllers designed to be placed either indoors or outdoors. Do-it-yourselfers will want to do a bit of homework before making a final selection but if you don't have the need for more than four stations and plan on placing the timer indoors, this is a great option. The ISA line of automatic sprinkler timers have a number of additional options which you may choose to keep your landscape looking green and lush throughout the summer.
I found programming the timer to be fairly intuitive. The manual section titled "Set Station Watering Duration" gives homeowners a good step by step description for setting the desired schedule. Similarly, the "Set Watering Days" and "Schedule Start Time" sections are equally helpful.
I was a little disappointed to see the Rainbird? ISA-304 Automatic Sprinkler Timer is not equipped with the dual program switch which allows you to customize two different programs based on current weather conditions. This particular system, as well as newer ISA-408 and ISA-406 models, include a feature I never had on my older timer. You will notice that Rainbird added an Adjust Water % selection on the dial as a simple water saving feature. Users can set the watering percentage from 10% to 200% in 10% increments. This feature increases or decreases the watering times to compensate for damp or dry conditions.
The Rainbird? ISA-304 Automatic Sprinkler Timer provides six pre-programmed schedules which allow users the option of determining days of the week, time duration and start times. I have honestly not found this a very helpful option since I find the customized schedules allow sufficient flexibility in schedules.
The complete ISA line of timers come equipped with a Manual button. Simply depress the button with the Manual designation and each station programmed to work will sequentially water without disrupting your pre-set start times and schedules. Homeowners can also manually start specific zones instead of the entire sequence if they desire. This is a great way to irrigate those areas that need a little added attention.
Disable the timer by simply dialing to the Off position during those rainy periods where mother nature takes over. The display will alternately flash the current date and time and "Off". Switching the timer into this position will prevent all watering.
I decided to purchase this manufacturer's sprinkler heads and valves in addition to the timer when I originally designed my system. While the timer works with Rainbird valves, it also should be compatible with almost any 24 volt valve currently installed. This is particularly important for those of you who may be looking to replace an old timer of any brand.
Durability and Value
When considering a replacement timer I selected the Rainbird name based on previous experience. My recommendation of the Rainbird products stems from my complete trust in the company and their products built over the past 25 years. The Rainbird brand offers the best balance of quality and price on the market today. I have installed systems using Rainbird, Hunter, Toro and Orbit timers and to my knowledge, none of them have failed. I have seen friends and neighbors find it necessary to replace valves and sprinkler heads of these other brands even though they may have purchased more costly brands. I have gone more than seven totally worry free seasons with my Rainbird ISA-408 Automatic Sprinkler Timer, this despite particularly hard well water which tends to cause damage to any water related system.
Another reason for purchasing the Rainbird name is it's availability. Rainbird products can be readily purchased at a number of locations though I was disappointed Home Depot no longer carries this manufacturer's line of products. I believe this season Lowes added Rainbird back to their line of irrigation products but if not they are normally available at most businesses specializing in irrigation systems as well as a good number of hardware and home improvement retail outlets.
The manual that comes with this timer is easy to follow and contains a good amount of information. Topics range from installation to programming as well as operation, winterizing and a helpful troubleshooting guide. The manual is generic to the ISA line so several options may not be available depending on the model you have purchased.
The Rainbird? ISA-304 Automatic Sprinkler Timer can still be purchased for under $40.00 and in some cases, closer to $30.00. We picked this one up at a local hardware store for around $33.00 after discounts. While I have admittedly not shopped for any other brand timer over the past several seasons, I'm confident the MSRP on this item is still a relative bargain.
The Rainbird? ISA-304 Automatic Sprinkler Timer is a great value as are the rest of the Rainbird ISA line of sprinkler timers. You will find this quality, not only in their timers, but similarly in their line of sprinkler heads and related accessories. While this particular four zone timer has only been running for several months, In my opinion this is undoubtedly a five-star recommended item if there ever was one.