IS AN IRRIGATION SYSTEM RIGHT FOR YOU?

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Are you constantly chasing after the seemingly unattainable goal of a lush green lawn? Tired of pulling out the hose and sprinkler? Live in an area that doesn’t get much rain?  If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, an irrigation system might be just what you need. Here are a few things to ponder as you consider watering options.

Irrigation systems will save time. They are designed to do the watering work for you. New technology helps irrigation systems know when and where water is needed without any prodding or encouragement from homeowners. They allow busy people  to come home from work and relax and help parents enjoy the kids’ weekend soccer games free from worry about watering chores. They do require occasional observation to ensure they are working correctly.

Smart irrigation systems can save water. Contrary to what many people believe, automatic watering systems can actually save water as they apply the right amount of water in the right location. They assess what’s needed and respond accordingly. They take the worry out of watering the sidewalk or driveway or forgetting to turn the sprinkler off altogether.  

Assess rainfall patterns. Where you live is an important determinant in irrigation considerations. If you live in an extremely arid area where total annual rainfall is less than 20 inches, growing a lawn without irrigation is not advisable. Some areas of the county get 40 or more inches of rain per year and thus irrigation should be minimal during the rainy season; however, it can still be essential during other times of the year as rain doesn’t  fall at regular intervals and at consistent rates. A good, steady soaking every several days is better for lawns than a shallow daily watering.

Evaluate all existing water options. Using potable water on your lawn can be very expensive and is often restricted during dry spells. Well or pond water requires pumping costs but may be more affordable. If reclaimed water is available in your community, costs are normally much lower and it may be an excellent consideration for watering needs, though transportation and use logistics should be evaluated.

Consider lawn size.  If you have a small lawn, it may make sense to set hoses and sprinklers when your lawn needs water. Adding a shutoff valve at the faucet allows you walk away without worrying you’ll forget to shut it off. Using sprinklers on larger lawns obviously requires more hoses, more time, and more effort.

Gauge cost considerations.  Lawn size will also be a factor in assessing costs for the installation of irrigation systems. The National Association of REALTORS reports that homeowners spent an average of $2453 in 2015 to install irrigation sprinklers. There is generally a basic cost to install the underground plumbing and then additional costs will be determined based on the number of watering zones, number of sprinkler heads, types of materials used, etc. Of course, it is easiest to install the systems prior to landscape installation; if the system is installed after a mature lawn and landscape are installed, additional costs should be calculated for any necessary landscape repairs.

Know what options are available with irrigation systems. While it is really convenient to have a system that can be set to run a couple of nights a week, clock regulated systems can be wasteful technology if not properly managed. State of the art irrigation systems use smart controllers with soil moisture and weather sensors to determine when your lawn needs water. They don’t water when it has rained recently and they apply the correct amount of water when needed.  This technology is relatively inexpensive and generally returns the extra investment in lower water bills in less than two years.

Irrigation impacts landscape design. Proper design is the key to efficient and economical use of water. Here are some need-to-knows:

  1. Hydro zoning is critical. Different plants in your landscape need different amounts of water.  Flower beds need more water than the lawn which generally needs more water than shrubs. You may even choose not to water part of your landscape. Each of these needs must be met by placing different elements of the landscape on separate irrigation zones.
  2. Placement of irrigation heads is essential to be certain that water is distributed uniformly. This generally means that the water from one head must overlap to the next head, what is called head to head coverage. If irrigation is not uniform, you may end up using twice as much water on large areas just to get adequate water for areas where water distribution is light.
  3. Optimum pressure is important for each nozzle. Low pressure gives poor coverage and high pressure creates fine mists that blow in the wind and are lost to the landscape.  All irrigation heads on the same zone must have similar output nozzles so piping and water pressure need to carefully designed.
  4. Water the soil around the roots of trees and shrubs, not the foliage. Use of low volume emitters and drip systems work efficiently for watering woody plants.  Drip and micro emitter systems need longer run times are often exempted from water restrictions.
  5. Systems should be designed with the final landscape in the plan. Adding a tree or shrubs to an existing zone may block water to other plants.

 A landscape professional can help you understand more about the many facets of irrigation including cost estimates for your property.