08.03.11Alan Harris

Last 5 Reasons I Hate Irrigation Systems…And What You Need To Do To Make Me Love Them

Irrigate WalksIrrigating sidewalks and streets does not help the grass, but does anger pedestrians and drivers (especially in convertibles) Old Irrigation ControllerThe electro mechanical irrigation controller was good back in the day, but so were the bag phones. New irrigation technology helps save water. Rain Sensor Too CloseRain Sensors perform better when they are installed where they can sense real rain and not be confused by the morning dew dripping off the roof.

Here are the final 5 of the top 10 reasons I hate irrigation systems and what you need to do to fix them. (You can find the first 5 reasons here)

6. Leaking Valves – sand, rocks and other small debris in the water system can keep an irrigation valve from fully closing. These are “invisible” leaks where just enough water gets through the valve to the lowest head and oozes out at ½ gallon per minute, 30 gallons per hour, 720 gallons per day, 5040 gallons per week. These can sometime be seen as small wet area in the gutter that never dry out and may have a slimy green, gray or brown coat.

SOLUTION: Call a service provider. The valve has to be taken apart and the debris removed.

7. Old Irrigation Controllers – do you still have only one rotary phone in your house? Is your cell phone 5 years old? Do you still listen to 8 track tapes? Controllers older than 5 years are not using the latest technology and are not watering the landscape in the most efficient manner.

SOLUTION: Ask your service provider if your controller is using SMART technology to determine how much water your landscape needs.

8. Rain Sensors Installed Under (fill in the blank) – if rain can not get to the rain sensor it will not work. I have seen rain sensors installed under eaves, under trees, on the leeward side of a building and even upside down. Birds also have been known to perch on a rain sensor causing damage or even incapacitating them.

SOLUTION: Have your irrigation service provider conduct a visual inspection each month to include on their report.

9. Watering Walks and Drives – in addition to issue #1 (run off) an irrigation head that gets turned and sprays onto walks and drive is wasting water every time the system runs. A 180 degree fixed spray head uses almost 2 gallons a minute and may be on for 10 – 15 minutes per cycle. That is 20 – 30 gallons of water a day, 60 – 90 gallons of water a week and 240 – 360 gallons a month for each irrigation head not properly aligned.

SOLUTION: Make sure your service provider is conducting wet checks once a month during the growing season and making these minor adjustments to the system.

10. Mixed Irrigation Zones – there are two ways to mix an irrigation zone. One is to have grass and shrubs on the same zone. Grass needs more water than shrubs. When grass and shrubs are on the same zone either the grass gets under watered or the shrubs get over watered.

The other way to mix an irrigation zone is to use both fixed sprays and rotor heads on the same irrigation zone.  These types of head emit water at different rates and run for different lengths of time.  Try watering two houseplants in the bathroom at the same time.  Put one plant in the sink and open the faucet all the way.  Now place the other plant in the tub and turn the water on all the way.  Leave them on for the same amount of time.  Ugly picture?  Yep.

SOLUTION: Sorry folks, but unless you are in a position to dig up a lot of your landscape to rework your irrigation system there is not much you can do except find out who designed the original irrigation system and never, ever work with them.

Looking for the first 5 reasons?

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Alan Harris

Alan Harris is a water management pioneer. With roots in landscape architecture, Alan has worked with irrigation throughout his career experimenting with hydrozones and a variety of high efficiency irrigation systems. Now, over thirty years in the landscape industry, Alan continues to stay apprised of the latest technology even in a sales leadership capacity as our Director of Sales Operations and Regional Sales Leader for our landscape maintenance division. In addition to his contributions to this blog, Alan keeps his hand in water management as a regular contributor to Lawn & Landscape Magazine.


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  1. Friday, 9:33 Martha Golea

    #7 is my favorite- What a great analogy! Rotary phones…hahaha
    These all seem like silly, rookie mistakes but really they happen all.the.time. and nobody seems to think they’re problems! What?!
    Water management has come a long way in recent years (like phones!). Do you think there were any irrigation systems installed 5 or 10 years ago that are still relatively efficient today? Or could every system benefit from upgrades and/or a total makeover?

  2. Friday, 12:27 Alan Harris

    @ Martha – thanks for your comment. Old systems may be effective, but they are not efficient as the amount of water that is used each week is arbitrary and has nothing to do with what the plant’s need. At a minimum irrigation systems should use a smart controller and make sure the rain sensor works. While these may be rookie mistakes I see them every day and usually take a picture and tweet them under @h2oTrends

  3. Wednesday, 9:52 Randy Barron

    Hi, Alan. I do about 600 audits a year and, on average, about half of them seem to have at least 7 out of the ten ‘reasons’ on your list… The customers invariably are surprised at the inefficiencies inherent in their systems, and most end up taking a more proactive approach after the audits. There are at least a dozen or so property managers that have had audits conducted at all their sites after seeing the reduction in use and improvement in landscape health after the first site visit :)

  4. Thursday, 7:52 Alan Harris

    @ Randy – thanks for helping reduce water waste and educate consumers. These are two great and essential strategies for water conservation. In your water audits what other common themes do you see?

  5. [...] 10 Reasons didn’t fit on this blog so, TO BE CONTINUED… [...]

  6. [...] Smart Irrigation (ET controllers, low flow heads, drip, etc.) and turf conversion programs combined with other successful water conservation programs such as improved water-saving fixtures and technology, and a number of other factors have resulted in decreasing water sales and water-related revenues on a national level. In other words, the water supply industry is trying to operate with a declining revenue stream, which is not a sustainable way to conduct business. [...]

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