Irrigation conservation: Watering yards wisely

Irrigation conservation: Watering yards wisely

When my company Eco Irrigation first arrived at Art Ross’ home in Raleigh, N.C., we found a front yard covered in dead spots. A small number of haphazardly spaced sprinklers pumped high volumes of water unevenly across the yard, leaving large brown areas while soaking the landscape in other places.

The inefficient irrigation served neither the homeowner nor his plants, costing more money with less results. Ross’ monthly water bills, erratic by nature given ever-changing weather conditions, averaged $314 and $187 during the previous two summers. It’s a common problem.

In the wake of widespread drought in 2012, water remains a precious and potentially expensive commodity, and irrigating a home landscape requires a fair amount of this resource. Many homeowners overwater, which wastes money and fertilizer and damages surrounding structures like decks and hardscapes. So as an EPA WaterSense Partner, I’m certified and trained on designing, installing and maintaining water-efficient irrigation systems to conserve water where possible.

In the case of Ross’ irrigation system, we increased coverage and installed precision sprinkler heads that better targeted areas needing more water and reduced overspraying in areas that didn’t. We also changed sprinkler run times and intervals to maximize results. Finally, we added a wireless rain sensor so sprinklers automatically shut off when rain falls. Ross spent $423 for the bulk of the work we did in April of last year, and his monthly water bills dropped to $147 last summer, despite severe drought conditions.

Ross was determined to improve the look of his front yard with our help and that of highly rated turf management company, Fairway Green in Raleigh. Taken together, the fescue lawn now grows much greener and draws compliments. In addition, the health of his landscape plants — including roses especially vulnerable during periods of drought — improved, and he lowered watering costs.

For homeowners seeking efficient irrigation, success requires four main steps:

  • Find a qualified irrigation installer who understands water efficiency. Look on Angie’s List and the Irrigation Association’s website irrigation.org. Make sure the contractor is licensed if that’s required in your state and check if they’re an EPA WaterSense Partner.
  • Insist on a proper plan that incorporates water conservation. This should meet current irrigation design standards.
  • Schedule regular maintenance. At least once a year you should have the contractor visit your home to adjust all sprinkler heads, repair or replace damaged heads, check the system for leaks, and make sure all equipment and technology — including the controller/timer — work properly.
  • Make sure you have an efficiently scheduled irrigation system. 
Poor programming wastes water and kills plants. Contractors typically program controllers for the water needed in April or May when the season starts, but this falls short in July and August. So schedule to have it reprogrammed during drier months, learn how your controller works, or use technologies that account for seasonal changes.

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Targeted spray and properly working irrigation equipment reduce water waste. (Photo courtesy of Rain Bird)
Targeted spray and properly working irrigation equipment reduce water waste. (Photo courtesy of Rain Bird)

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