We generally judge a successful irrigation system by whether or not it delivers water where we want it, when we want it. Judging the system by its operational success is all well and good but as a contractor we also hope for an efficient installation that is well coordinated with concurrent work scope, follows safe work practices, and is completed within budget.
In the many years I have been involved with irrigation and landscaping work I have identified the following strategies as the basics of a successful installation program. In reading them you will no doubt think that they are a blinding glimpse of the obvious. Nonetheless I am always amazed when contractors or home owners find new ways to re-invent the wheel with wasteful if not disastrous results.
Strategy 1 – Work from the Point of Connection Out
In large multi-phased or fast-tracked projects this may not always be possible. When it is, one should start at the point of connection and work toward the terminal ends of the system. Why? For one thing this allows you to flush and pressure test the system incrementally so there are no big surprises when you are completed. A second reason is that it can allow you to use the completed sections of the system for dust control or for watering any plants that you may have been required to install ahead of a fully completed system.
Strategy 2 – Sleeve Before Paving
This obvious bit of advice is directed at Owners and General Contractors who may be in a hurry to pave before selecting their irrigation installer. Installing sleeves ahead of paving is far less expensive than boring, jacking, or jetting under pavement or saw-cutting and patching after the fact.
Strategy 3 – Installed the Sleeved with the Sleeves
While we are on the subject of sleeves under pavement, it is a good idea to install the pipe intended to be within that sleeve at the same time as the sleeve. Do not wait until later after any adjacent curbs, walls, and paving are in place. Subsequent construction can restrict accessibility to where it is near impossible to install pipe into its sleeve without cutting it into smaller lengths with lots of couplings. Every joint becomes a potential source of future leaks.
Strategy 4 – Don’t’ Plant Until You Have To
It is always best if you can avoid any planting until the irrigation system is fully installed, flushed, tested for leaks and for proper coverage, and the irrigation controller fully programmed. This saves on interim maintenance costs, exposure to potential plant damage, and unnecessary water use. It cannot always be done. When one is forced by circumstance of schedule or seasonality to start planting before the irrigation system is 100% complete, consider the next key strategy.
Strategy 5 – Declare Your Irrigation System Milestones Up Front
Irrigation installation is often a sub-contracted scope of work. Even so one need not be left to the mercy of the General Contractor or Owner in setting the stage for a well executed irrigation installation. Managing expectations is the first step to aligning overall project goals with ideal irrigation strategy. Once you have an understanding of the General Contractor’s or Owner’s ideal schedule, prepare you own corresponding schedule noting these important milestones:
Install no trees until your mainline is installed, pressure-tested, and available for use
- Install no shrubs until laterals / heads / drippers are installed and coverage tested
- Install no sod or seed until your controller is installed and operational.
Of course it is best if the entire system is up and running before any planting occurs. If you must fast track a job, the above three bullets are essential to minimizing the amount and difficulty of inefficient hand watering and the risk of plant loss should one experience a hot day or drying wind or other situation where installed plants go dry.
I am sure you have strategies of your own for success in irrigation installation. I would encourage you to share them with our readers for the betterment of the profession and the improved efficiency of irrigation installation and water delivery.
K. F. Duke