Make sure your irrigation system is ready for spring
Spring is just around the corner and soon irrigation systems will be showering water onto Indianapolis-area lawns to help bring their color back to green.
For the inexperienced irrigation owner, turning on the system sounds like a simple enough task but there might be more to it than you think. For starters, every residential irrigation system in Indiana that is connected to city-supplied water requires backflow preventer testing at least once a year.
“The backflow preventer has to go through an annual inspection per the Indiana Department of Environmental Management,” says Norman Ransford with American Irrigation in Indianapolis.
The backflow preventer keeps irrigation water from entering and potentially contaminating drinking water lines. There have been dozens of reports over the years of backflow irrigation water tainting drinking water and causing those who drink it to become ill. Not having the test will likely lead to a warning from your water company. Ignore it and your water will likely be disconnected until you can prove you’ve had the test done.
“You use pesticides in your lawn,” says Brad Sombke with Firehouse Irrigation in Indianapolis. “(The backflow preventer) prevents the water that you use in your lawn from getting sucked back into the drinking water and contaminating the water for the whole city.”
Not every irrigation contractor is a certified backflow tester, so it’s important to ask to see the contractor’s certification number.
“You need to have a certified person test it,” Sombke says. “They should have paperwork for you to fill out that they’ll turn into the local water company, whether that is Carmel, Indianapolis, Brownsburg or whoever your water (company) is. That way, you know that person is not just taking your money and not doing the paperwork.”
Most companies charge between $65 and $100 for most residential testing. That charge should include a complete inspection of the irrigation system. A professional inspection can help pinpoint leaks or other potential problems with your system.
“We’ll come out, turn the water on and go through all of the zones and make any adjustments we need to the spray patterns on the sprinkler heads themselves,” says Scott Lindborg, owner of Lindborg Irrigation in Fishers. “We check for leaks; check for any wiring issues; make sure the timer is working properly; and if necessary, do the backflow test. Just making sure everything is running right is the main goal.”
It’s a good idea to wait until about mid-April before restarting the irrigation system. If the temperature drops below freezing after the system has been turned on, water could freeze in the backflow valve and cause damage that could cost hundreds of dollars to repair.
Experienced homeowners can likely activate their system themselves with relative ease, but they’re still required to have the test performed.
“If you’re going to turn on the system yourself, make sure you turn the water supply on and go through all your zones to make sure all the heads are working properly,” Sombke says. “Make sure the rotors and sprayers are doing what they should be doing. You also want to look at the heads to make sure there’s not water bubbling up around the heads. That means it could have a crack in it, which is a common problem. You get heads that are really old and start losing their power, so they start leaking out of the top or bottom of the head, and that wastes water.”
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in March 17, 2012.