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I am trying to manually cycle through my sprinkler zones with my Rain Bird ESP-6 controller (from 1996), but the membrane button to manually cycle the zones does not work. In fact, none of the 4 membrane buttons work. But the dial works fine and the system still runs when it is supposed to for how it is currently programmed.

I have tried taking out the backup battery, unplugging the power to the controller, and re-plugging the controller without the battery, but it did not work. I also completely dismantled it, cleaned it out and inspected it. There were some insect carcasses inside the controller and a bit on the circuit board, but nothing that appears to have caused any damage or short-circuiting. I don't see any indication of burn marks or overheating nor do I see capacitors that look (visibly) blown.

I do remember that the last time I was cycling through my zones, about 3 months ago (just to inspect them and adjust the nozzles) I had some minor issues with the manual cycling button. It worked, but I had to press a bit harder, and sometimes it didn't register. I don't know if the other 3 buttons had identical issues at the time, I had no need to press them.

Is it safe to say that I need a new controller, or, in the least, need a replacement circuit board? Now that I have reset the controller, I currently cannot program it for the hot weather coming. I'll just have to manually open bleed valves until I can remedy the situation.

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  • If the membrane buttons are on the circuit board, a new one might fix it.
  • On the other hand it's an electronic device that's 19 years old. Assuming you can even get a replacement part, it will probably cost a significant percentage of just replacing the whole thing with a new unit (and typically the new unit will have a warranty period, while a replacement board may not.) Go shopping for both ways and make up your mind.
  • A third possibility would be to see if you see anything that you might try when you search for "membrane keyboard repair" - I have not sifted through the results, and I'm not going to link to any, but there did seem to be a variety of options such as replacing the unreliable things with reliable types of switches, and various attempts at opening them up and cleaning them. I'd prefer replacement (not a fan of the things, longevity-wise), which should be as easy as wiring 4 switches into the place where the membrane switches connect.

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