For many, the percussive notes a sprinkler head makes as it sprays water is one of the most striking sounds of spring and summer. It’s a sign of warmer weather to come, which generally means more fun. Everyone loves the type of landscapes those irrigation systems allow: lush seasonal color, perfectly green turf, and shrubs that stand at attention. But many people don’t realize just how much money those systems can waste, let alone how to prevent any problems that arise.
Here at Schill, we’ve serviced hundreds of properties with irrigation systems, and we know that it’s a very important feature for a lot of commercial landscapes. For example, annuals require daily watering, which means you won’t be able to enjoy them on your property if you don’t have irrigation installed.
To pinpoint some of the most common (and most costly) irrigation mistakes on commercial properties, we talked to our good friend Rodney Wilson. Rodney is an irrigation expert with the Irrigation Crew, a subsidiary of French Creek Gardens. Schill partners with the Irrigation Crew for comprehensive irrigation system audits on the commercial properties we maintain.
In this article, we’ll talk about how overwatering, faulty equipment, and poor landscape design could cost you thousands when it comes to watering your property.
At Schill, we see ourselves as stewards not just of your property, but of the environment as well. So, when we see properties using more water than they need, we work hard to put a stop to it. Living on the beautiful shores of Lake Erie can sometimes make water conservation feel like a nonissue, but the region’s water reserves have been depleted in the past. And we know that given the choice, most property managers would like to save money on water and put those funds to use elsewhere.
But if the environmental argument for conserving water doesn’t appeal to you, here’s a financial one: According to the city of Cleveland, the average cost of water starts at around $13 per 1,000 gallons. This may not seem like a ton of money, but volume quickly adds up when you’re irrigating a large property. At this rate, the average sprinkler spraying just one zone it shouldn’t be for 12 minutes/day at 12 gallons/minute can waste over $680 per year!
The simple truth is that only annuals need to be watered daily. Trees, shrubs, and turf can all be watered less frequently for massive water savings.
Not monitoring your property
Not monitoring your irrigation system is like driving your car with the dashboard covered and the hood taped shut. It’s impossible to know how much fuel you’re using, or whether there’s anything seriously wrong with your machinery.
You probably wouldn’t buy a car without knowing its mileage per gallon, but many property managers have no idea how much water their irrigation system should be using. Water is fuel for your lawn, and it’s important for you to know if your irrigation system could be operating more efficiently.
Rain sensors can help with that, and they do just what they sound like. They sense rain, and work together with controllers to turn off your irrigation system when the property has received enough water from precipitation. When they work well, they can save you thousands, but it’s a common mistake to assume that rain sensors and controllers are working correctly. They should be checked annually to make sure that they’re measuring rainfall accurately and turning off your system at the appropriate times.
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Check the "irrigation and watering" section of our comprehensive landscaping guide
2. Water waste due to faulty equipment
If your property has an irrigation system, you’ve probably invested thousands into each component from the pipes, to the fittings, to the valves, to the heads. But just like your car’s engine will give out if you go too long without changing the oil, or you could end up in a serious accident if you don’t check your break pads, your irrigation is a complex system that needs regular attention. Neglecting one part could cause serious damage to the entire structure. Below, we’ll tell you why heads and pipes should be checked for leaks and damage on a regular basis.
Sprinkler heads are the main delivery system for water within your irrigation system. If they don’t rise to the correct height, the radius of water they spray will be small and often uneven, leading to areas of your lawn that aren’t watered. This causes common eyesores like brown turf and annuals that die before their time.
If sprinkler heads don’t retract fully once watering is finished (common with heads that have worn seals), they can get damaged by lawn mowers or even minimal foot traffic. That can lead to broken heads, or sprinkler heads that become completely detached.
Just like a leak in your faucet or a running toilet in your bathroom could significantly increase your water bill at home, water leaking from your irrigation system where it shouldn’t could make the cost of maintaining your property skyrocket. Unfortunately, even massive water leaks aren’t always visible. Valves within the system might have trouble closing all the way, causing leaking below the surface (often referred to as weeping valves). We use pressure tests to detect even the smallest amount of water leaking from your system and immediately work to put a stop to it.
3. Irrigation not designed for your landscape
A lot of thought, time, and money probably went into your property’s landscape design. You picked just the right type of tree, color of mulch, and amount of turf. You sorted through blueprint after blueprint until you found the perfect layout. So, it might come as a bit of a shock to hear that that perfect design could now be costing you serious money in water usage.
In order to make sure that each part of your landscape is getting the right amount of water, irrigation experts divide your property into zones. These zones are areas within your property that have the same watering needs. When making zones, we consider sun and shade exposure, soil condition, slope, elevation (raised beds, for example, will often require their own watering zones), the water of each individual plant, and the amount of foot traffic each area will receive.
Not only is it important to talk about zones with your irrigation expert when your landscape is being designed, it’s also important to reassess and, if needed, redraw zones periodically.
This is because as your landscape changes, so will your watering needs. For example, a growing tree could be providing more shade than the original zone allowed for; annuals might have been planted too far from sprinkler heads or on a slope where they don’t receive enough water due to runoff.
Change is good, and we love altering our clients’ landscapes. But we always make sure that along with any alterations we make, we also update the watering schedule and patterns based on the needs of new plants. Make sure your landscaping company is doing the same.
Schedule an audit
Don’t let malfunctioning sprinkler heads, improper zoning, or overwatering cost you thousands this season. Let the Schill Team help make sure your property is running as efficiently as it can. We inspect properties twice per season checking for obvious signs of damage to your irrigation system and to make sure your landscape looks its best.
However, every 3-5 years or whenever major problems arise, an irrigation expert should perform a comprehensive quality audit of your property’s irrigation system. If you think your system might be overwatering your landscape or your equipment might need to be replaced, please reach out to us for an inspection.
Photo Credit: Lawn Sprinkler by UBC Micrometorology