Sprinklers – assessing your system
In a region where we usually receive a scant 17 inches of precipitation annually, having efficient sprinklers is not only economically sound, it is also ecologically sound. As you received your water bills this summer, you probably noticed an exponential increase in use and a corresponding increase in cost. You can help contain that cost by ensuring that your sprinklers and irrigation system are running optimally. You can request a FREE sprinkler assessment from the City of Bozeman or you can do one yourself.
If you do an assessment in the Spring, you'll need to first turn on your system. You will need to close the drain valves and turn on the main water supply. In most homes, these are located outside, on the side or near the front on the house. You will see two pipes coming from the ground; one goes to your house, and the other is the sprinkler main. Close the drain valves first, then slowly open the sprinkler main to avoid damaging your pipes. Next, turn on your controller and manually cycle through each zone, letting the sprinklers run for a couple of minutes in each zone. You will be able to tell pretty quickly if you have any leaks or broken sprinkler heads.
To fix a broken pop-up sprinkler head, dig out a small trench to expose it. Keep the work area tidy by putting the turf on one side and dirt on the other. Unscrew the broken head. Take care not to remove the riser with the head. Use pliers to hold the riser in place. Avoid getting soil or grass in the sprinkler line. Screw the replacement sprinkler head onto the riser. Turn on the water to test the new sprinkler.
Fixing a broken pipe is a little more involved. The location will be obvious. You will have either a pond or a geyser in your lawn when the sprinklers are on. Shut off the sprinkler main and dig out a trench running alongside the pipe. It needs to extend at least 1 foot on both sides of the break and be deep enough to allow you to reach under the pipe.
The easiest and quickest way to fix the line, unless you have experience working with PVC, is to replace your broken section with a prefabricated expansion repair coupling. Place it alongside the broken section to measure how much line you need to remove. Cut out the broken section with a hacksaw or pipe cutter. Make the cleanest cuts you can, as a messy cut will cause problems when you try to adhere the new section. Remove any dirt from the inside of the sprinkler line and make sure it is dry.
Now it’s time to glue the replacement coupler to the existing pipe using blue PVC glue. Coat the outside of both cuts ends and the inside of the coupler with the glue. Quickly secure the coupler over the line by expanding it to fit the section and then giving it a small turn. Give the glue needs about 10 minutes to cure. Then, turn on the water and be amazed at your “fix-it” ability. Turn off the water, replace the dirt, and put your sod back in place.
Now that you have repaired your system, you need to check its application rate to determine how long you need to run your sprinklers. You can hire a professional irrigation auditor, you can request a free audit from the City of Bozeman, or you can try doing it yourself. You will need to gather a few materials and be prepared to do some math. Round up 10 or more straight-sided cups or cans. Coffee cups or soup cans work well. Make sure all cans have the same diameter, and are at least 4 inches to 8 inches deep. Grab some paper, a pencil, a ruler, and a calculator, you are going to do a catch can test.
Place the cans haphazardly around your lawn. Turn the sprinklers on and run each zone for 15 minutes. If you notice water puddling or running off the lawn onto the sidewalk, record the elapsed time and turn off the sprinklers. Wait for an hour, and then turn the sprinklers back on long enough to complete the 15-minute test. Using the ruler, measure and record the amount of water in each can. Ideally, there should be about the same amount of water in each can. If you find major differences, you may have a more serious problem that may be best solved by hiring an irrigation professional. If you have only minor differences, it’s time to do the math. Add all of the measurements together and divide by the number of cans. This gives you the average application rate of your system.
Armed with this information, you can water your lawn most efficiently by scheduling your irrigation timer to water your lawn in several short cycles.
For example, if you plan for 60 minutes of watering, you should run your sprinklers for two 15-minute cycles in the morning, allowing an hour between each cycle and ending the last cycle before 11 a.m. After 7 p.m., run the sprinklers for two more 15-minute cycles, again allowing an hour rest in between cycles.
However, if you know from your catch-can test that water begins to run off after 10 minutes, adjust your run times to no longer than 10 minutes each and start them earlier in the day. No matter how you apply your water, avoid applying it between noon and 6 p.m., and NEVER let it run off your lawn.
Technophiles and water-misers can bypass all of the manual calculations by purchasing an evapotranspiration (ET) controller or “smart controller.” These controllers, once programmed, use real-time ET data (the measurement of water loss from your lawn via evaporation from the soul and transpiration from the plants) to apply the precise daily amount of water needed by your lawn. There have been MANY study of the effectiveness of using ET controllers on commercial and common homeowner association property. The most common finding is that when ET controllers were used, there is a 20-percent drop in average water use and no decrease in lawn health.
Our own City of Bozeman has a REBATE program for installing smart controllers. I installed a rain sensor on my irrigation timer and was completely refunded by the City's residential incentive program. Click here to check out all the ways you can save money and water via the City of Bozeman Residential Incentive program.
This is a reprint of an article I wrote when I was the commercial horticulture program coordinator for the western area of University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. For more specific gardening and horticulture advice be sure to visit your local Cooperative Extension office.
Record your WOD on Beyond the Whiteboard.
Do you need CrossFit or yoga gear? Click on the links below to buy through our Just Strong, Reebok, Rogue or Hylete Affiliate share sale programs. These are affiliate links and our gym will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links.
Check out our Flickr page!