What the experts say about lawn irrigation
Lawn irrigation is a popular category on Angie's List, and despite common concerns about price and effectiveness, the systems can actually help you save water - and money - in the long run. We talked to lawn irrigation specialists around the country to get to the root of how these systems work.
Who we talked to
Ken Barthuly, co-owner
Barthuly Irrigation Inc.
Robert Humphrey, owner
Absolute Irrigation Inc.
Fred Strong, owner
Earthwater Projects/Water-Conserving Irrigation
David Robertson, owner
Ecosystems Services Inc.
What's the benefit of having an irrigation system?
Save time and money. "Irrigation systems provide more efficient watering and will save you money [on your water bill] in the long run," says Robert Humphrey, owner of Absolute Irrigation Inc. in Worthington, Ohio. "Everything's controlled by a timer, and it's based on zones, so you can set it for grass areas and landscaped areas. One main timer will control where you're watering and how much water you want in those areas. A rain sensor is included, so if it's raining and you're scheduled to water, it'll actually turn the system off for you."
Conserve water. "The No. 1 convenience is that you're less likely to over water," says Fred Strong, owner of Earthwater Projects/Water-Conserving Irrigation in Portland, Ore. "Many times, when homeowners water by hand or set out a sprinkler, they're not very efficient about where the water goes, or they go inside and forget the sprinklers are on."
Protect your landscaping investment. "It's going to keep your investment in your plant material alive," says David Robertson, owner of Ecosystems Services Inc. in Roswell, Ga. "You want to protect the investment in your home by keeping the grass green and your plants watered." You can also adapt your irrigation system for the types of plants you have by creating zones and timing them differently, adds Strong.
Climate control. In regions like the Southwest where there's very little to no rain, irrigation systems are very popular. "To have any vegetation at all, you have to have a sprinkler system," says Mark Perkins, owner of Sprinkler Advisor in Mesa, Ariz.
What do homeowners need to do to properly use and maintain an irrigation system?
Know when to water. Watering times will vary greatly - it depends on the soil content, the slope and how much sun the area gets. "It's always best to irrigate in the cool hours of the morning. During the day, the water evaporates so quickly that it causes problems and in the evening, the water doesn't evaporate and the standing water makes for mold," says Ken Barthuly, co-owner of Barthuly Irrigation Inc. in Zionsville, Ind." Martin agrees and adds that when it's really hot out, you need to run it every day." In the Southwest, Perkins says you shouldn't water in the middle of the day during spring and summer, especially when it's windy or very hot. "Any time at night or early morning is fine," he says.
Troubleshoot. "Consistently look for leaks or other issues that may keep the system from working efficiently," says Robertson. "Just because the driveway is wet when you look out the window in the morning doesn't mean your system is working at its most efficient state.
Timing is everything: Robertson says homeowners can save a lot of time and money if they set the timers themselves. "Just take the time to read the directions," he warns. "The standard recommendation is to give your outdoor plants an inch of water per week, but that doesn't necessarily apply to everything. Make sure you know how much water your grass needs, and be ready to abide by any watering regulations."
Full coverage? You want enough sprinkler heads that every part of the yard is covered, but not so many that you lose pressure, says Perkins. "Good quality valves should last 15 to 20 years without maintenance; some only last three to five, so ask your service professional about the maintenance record on the valves he uses," he adds.
Do you do anything to update irrigation systems between seasons?
Midwest: "Every year, the system should be winterized, which consists of blowing compressed air through the pipes and sprinkler heads," Barthuly says. "If you don't blow the system out, you're going to have cracked pipes." Once spring hits, Humphrey restarts the system by checking for leaks and damaged heads. "Right now, every city is requiring a backflow certification. That device prevents you from drinking stagnant water, and we hook pressure testers up to get a reading," Humphrey says.
Northwest: "I suggest that everybody [in Portland] have their system winterized by Dec. 1," says Strong. "Any chance of freezing in Portland is going to occur in December and January. In this climate, people will need their irrigation systems in July, August and September, because there's virtually no rainfall at all during those months. I'd say you need to get your system started up by the first of May, and then you'll be ready."
Southeast: "Absolutely. You have to perform routine checks of the system, even here in the South," says Robertson. "I check on the system in the spring and tweak it if necessary, then I'll check it again in the fall to make sure it's properly winterized."
Southwest: "It doesn't get cold enough in Phoenix to have to blow out the pipes, but the clocks need seasonal adjustments to account for the time change and frequency of watering," Perkins says.
Who handles the repairs and maintenance?
Each of the service companies we spoke to can repair and maintain any irrigation system – whether they installed it or not. Some even offer a free month of service immediately following installation to ensure the system is working properly. Warranty terms vary, but most cover parts and labor.