irrigation check up

Time for a Sprinkler Spruce Up

Spring is arriving here in Central Texas, the flowers are blooming!  The onset of warmer weather can get you itching to turn the water on outdoors. 

Before you ramp up your watering, be sure to spruce up your irrigation system. System maintenance can help save you a lot of money and water! Cracks in pipes can lead to costly leaks, and broken sprinkler heads can waste water and money. You could be losing up to 25,000 gallons of water and more than $90 over a six-month irrigation season!

Now is the perfect time to spruce up your irrigation system. To get started, follow these four simple steps—inspect, connect, direct, and select:

Inspect. Check your system for clogged, broken, or missing sprinkler heads. Better yet, find an irrigation professional licensed by the Texas Commission on Environmental Qualify (TCEQ) to do the work for you. You can apply for a rebate from the City by having your system checked by a licensed irrigator.

Connect. Examine points where the sprinkler heads connect to pipes/hoses. If water is pooling in your landscape or you have large soggy areas, you could have a leak in your system. A leak as small as the tip of a ballpoint pen (1/32 of an inch) can waste about 6,300 gallons of water per month.  You can also sign up on the City’s water portal to receive leak alerts and to view your monthly, weekly, and daily water use at www.RRTXwater.com .

Direct. Are you watering the driveway, house, or sidewalk instead of your yard? Redirect sprinklers to apply water only to the landscape.

Select. An improperly scheduled irrigation controller can waste a lot of water and money. Update your system’s schedule with the seasons, or select a WaterSense labeled controller to take the guesswork out of scheduling. WaterSense labeled controllers also qualify for the City’s Efficient Irrigation Upgrade Rebate.

Don’t forget to add “sprinkler spruce-up” to your spring cleaning list this year. Learn more about maintaining a water-smart yard by visiting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s WaterSense website at www.epa.gov/watersense/outdoor.

Find the City’s water conservation rebate details and application at www.roundrocktexas.gov/conservation.

Spruce Up Your Sprinkler System and Save

Spring has arrived! The onset of warmer weather can lead to an increase in landscape irrigation. Before you ramp up your watering, be sure to spruce up your irrigation system. System maintenance can help save you a lot of money and water! Cracks in pipes can lead to costly leaks, and broken sprinkler heads can waste water and money. You could be losing up to 25,000 gallons of water and more than $90 over a six-month irrigation season!

Now is the perfect time to spruce up your irrigation system. To get started, follow these four simple steps—inspect, connect, direct, and select:

Inspect. Check your system for clogged, broken, or missing sprinkler heads. Better yet, find an irrigation professional licensed by the Texas Commission on Environmental Qualify (TCEQ) to do the work for you. You can apply for a rebate from the City by having your system checked by a licensed irrigator.

Connect. Examine points where the sprinkler heads connect to pipes/hoses. If water is pooling in your landscape or you have large soggy areas, you could have a leak in your system. A leak as small as the tip of a ballpoint pen (1/32 of an inch) can waste about 6,300 gallons of water per month.

Direct. Are you watering the driveway, house, or sidewalk instead of your yard? Redirect sprinklers to apply water only to the landscape.

Select. An improperly scheduled irrigation controller can waste a lot of water and money. Update your system’s schedule with the seasons, or select a WaterSense labeled controller to take the guesswork out of scheduling. WaterSense labeled controllers also qualify for the City’s Efficient Irrigation Upgrade Rebate.

Don’t forget to add “sprinkler spruce-up” to your spring cleaning list this year. Learn more about maintaining a water-smart yard by visiting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s WaterSense website at www.epa.gov/watersense/outdoor.

Find the City’s water conservation rebate details and application at www.roundrocktexas.gov/conservation.

Irrigation Rebates can Help you Reduce this Summer

Can you believe it’s July already?  July marks Smart Irrigation Month, and as I have in years past, I’m going to focus on providing you some tips to reduce your water use, or at least help you not waste water this July.  And, ideally, we’ll get some rain, which will help in reducing water use too!!

July is generally one of the hottest months of the year, which means, it’s one of the highest water use months of the year, which is why the Irrigation Association has designated this month as Smart Irrigation Month.

I’m going to focus on the two rebate programs that the City’s Water Conservation Program is offering for those of you with automatic irrigation (sprinkler) systems that are also direct water customers of the City.  You can take advantage of both to help you get that sprinkler system into top notch working order this year!

The first is a brand-new pilot program (being offered until September or until funds run out) for having your system checked out by a licensed irrigation company or irrigator.  This is essentially a “Spring Tune-Up” for your system (yes, even though it’s summer!).  If you hire a licensed company to come do a complete check up of the system and fix anything that needs to be fixed–broken heads, heads pointed the wrong way or are clogged, check the controller settings and whatever else is needed to get the system in tip-top shape, then you would be eligible for the rebate.  You can find the application and details for the Irrigation Check-Up program on the conservation rebate page.

Licensed companies can be found on the TCEQ’s website at this link.  You can also just check that the company has an LI number on their business card or website, or advertisement.  That LI stands for licensed irrigator, which by state law, a person must be to work on an irrigation system.

The second rebate program is the Irrigation Upgrade Rebate.  This rebate has been offered for several years now, but has undergone some recent changes to take advantage of newer technologies.  This program features rebates for the following type of changes, or upgrades, to your system:

  • reducing the water pressure on a system with high pressure by either installing a main pressure reducing valve (prv), or adjusting pressure at the zone valves, or replacing heads or nozzles with pressure reducing technology;
  • installing new technology in the form of weather sensors, such as rain, freeze, or soil moisture sensors;

    multi-stream nozzle

  • installing a new controller that is a WaterSense labeled controller (many new weather-based controllers qualify for this).  Look for the WaterSense label when purchasing at a store or online;
  • converting areas from traditional spray irrigation to drip irrigation;
  • capping off or permanently disabling a zone or zones;
  • converting traditional spray heads to more efficient multi-stream nozzles, or pressure reducing heads or nozzles; and
  • installing check valves on the lowest heads of your system that always look like they are leaking after the system turns off.  This is actually very normal and not a leak, it’s the low head drainage where the “extra” water in the pipe drains out after the system has turned off.  It can be prevented with sprinkler heads that have built-in check valves or installing a check valve in the existing head.

Of course, see the applications for complete details.  Neither of the programs are for the installation of a new system, only for the improvement of existing systems.  You can find those applications here or at www.roundrocktexas.gov/conservation under the rebate section.

Happy July and keep those landscapes water smart!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Recharge Your Battery

battery backup location

Hunter Controller battery location

Now is a great time to replace the back-up battery inside your irrigation controller.  What?  You didn’t know there WAS a battery (or place) for a battery in your control box, since it is plugged into the wall?!?!    Well…you’re not the only one!!  Most people don’t realize there is a place for you to install a 9-volt battery in the controller.

A back-up battery will not operate your controller, however, it will hold your program settings in case of a power outage.  If (really, we should say when) your controller loses power and you have no battery, or a dead battery, many controllers will reset to factory default program settings.  Default settings will vary by brand and model, but often times they will be 10 minutes/zone, 7 days/week, with multiple start times.  Unfortunately, people usually don’t realize this has occurred until they receive the high water bill, which could be 30 days down the road.  You can prevent that from happening by installing a back-up battery.

Raindial controller battery location

Rain Dial controller battery location

The battery spot is usually behind the controller face in most brands of controllers (Hunter, Rainbird, and Irritrol or Rain Dial are all like this).  See the pictures.  You simply need to “open” or flip over the face of the controller.  There are little finger grooves to the right-side of the controller face that allows you to open and turn it, much like turning the page of a book.  There will be a little pocket for the battery to connect into.  Most controllers require a 9-volt battery.

So, when replacing your smoke detector batteries annually, I recommend you add the irrigation controller battery to the list!  This may save you money, frustration, and some water down the road.

 

Rainbird battery location, slides in

Rainbird battery location, slides in

 

 

July is Smart Irrigation Month, Pt 2: Sensors

SmartIrrMonthThe first thing I saw when I turned my computer on Friday morning was emails from co-workers and City residents voicing concern about the irrigation systems they saw running this morning-after receiving 3+ inches of rain!  It’s crazy, I know.

I don’t think anyone deliberately chooses to look silly or be wasteful by watering during or immediately after a huge rainstorm, they just don’t actively think about their irrigation system.  For commercial properties, it’s bad for their image to look so wasteful, so I would think they’d be the first to jump on the efficient bandwagon and make sure the irrigation is always working as efficiently as possible.  Unfortunately, that’s not always the case–and not just with commercial properties.  This brings me to my second topic for Smart Irrigation Month-Upgrading your Irrigation System.

Updating, or improving irrigation systems, in my experience, tend to happen mainly when other big yard activities are going on, such as installing a pool or a new patio, or deck; replanting the sod or a huge remodel of all the landscaping in the yard.  I don’t really see folks upgrading their systems just because there’s a new model of controller, or cool sensor.  While irrigation is technology, apparently it’s not the cool technology that people invest in as frequently as their portable, hand-held electronic devices.  I think it’s because we don’t visually see them or think of them nearly as much as our phones, or portable devices.  They seem to do a good job-the grass is alive, so what’s to change?  Well, technology has come a long way in the last decade in irrigation systems, which can save you money in water costs, conserve water, water more to the plant’s needs, and maybe have a little cool factor when you talk about your yard with your friends!

I don’t want this article to go too long, so I will focus only on sensors today.

Rain sensors are required on all newly installed irrigation systems since January 1, 2009.  Though they have been around many years prior to that, they generally weren’t installed very frequently even though they are relatively cheap.    sensor poor location edited

  • Sensors include rain sensors, freeze sensors, and soil moisture sensors.  All of these are separate devices that are wired into the main irrigation controller, they do not come installed as part of the controller.  Some controllers have a switch on them that says “sensor active” and “sensor bypass”, that doesn’t mean there is actually a sensor installed on your system.

A rain sensor turns off the irrigation system (if it’s running) after a specified amount of water has fallen or it delays the system from turning on after a specified amount of rain-so all of its actions are during or after the rain. There’s no weather forecasting, or determination of if watering is necessary. They have to be installed in an unobstructed location (like a fence or roofline) so that rain can fall in it. I’ve seen them under trees and under buildings! (see the picture for proof).  But, it is better to have a working rain sensor than nothing, as I wish some commercial properties would have this morning! By the way, they’re pretty cheap-about $35-$75 retail.

Tremendous improvements have been made in the soil moisture sensor arena. A soil moisture sensor is actually buried in the ground about 6-inches deep (yes, you have to have that much soil for these to work!). They take moisture readings from the soil to determine if the soil is dry enough to require the irrigation to run; if it determines the soil doesn’t require additional water, it doesn’t allow the system to run. Ideally, you’d want more than one soil moisture sensor installed in your yard, one in sunny area and one in a shadier area, otherwise parts of your yard may be under- or overwatered. It’s more accurate watering than just watering because it’s a Saturday. It’s watering because the soil actually is dry. They are a little more costly than rain sensors, but they provide a more effective use of water.

 

Freeze sensors do not allow an irrigation system to turn on when temperatures reach a specific degree, usually around 40° F. These aren’t that common to have at homes, because we just turn off our irrigation systems for the winter. Commercial properties tend to water more year-round and would benefit from a freeze sensor to prevent the irrigation from freezing and causing a hazard.

 

The City’s Efficient Irrigation Rebate provides a rebate of 75% of the purchase cost of a sensor for your existing irrigation system, so if you don’t currently have a working one, please get one and apply for the rebate!

July is Smart Irrigation Month, pt. 1

SmartIrrMonthJuly has been deemed “Smart Irrigation Month” by the Irrigation Association since 2005, because that’s typically when the hottest temperatures occur.  With high and hot temperatures come higher water use, it’s just a given.  We still want our landscapes to look as good as they have the rest of the year, so we crank up the water.

This year, I’d like to challenge you to do something different.  It’s been a slightly different year already: we didn’t have a 100-degree day until this last week!  We’ve had regular rainfall all throughout May and June.  We really haven’t needed to use the irrigation system until this month.  So, in honor of Smart Irrigation Month, I’m going to write a short series on automatic irrigation systems, in which I’ll (1) encourage you, and explain how, to maintain your irrigation system, (2) upgrade it where necessary, and (3) schedule it efficiently and effectively based on your plants, light, and sprinkler head type.

Performing a check of the irrigation system, (aka an Irrigation Evaluation, or Irrigation Audit) is the cornerstone for maintaining the system.  If you are a direct water customer of Round Rock, Water Conservation staff will schedule and do this for you; however, it’s simple enough that you could do it yourself-and it’s highly recommended to check you system monthly!  I recently found a broken head on my own system that I hadn’t noticed or even realized was there.   So, how do we check it?

1. First you need to go to the controller and turn the dial to “test” or “system test” if that option is there (Rainbird controllers have this). If you have this option, great! The number you see in the display are minutes that, once started, will run each station for x minutes and then turn off. A good default number is 2 minutes. After selecting 2 minutes, push the manual start button on the controller to begin the system test.

2. If you DO NOT have the “test” option on your controller, you can simply program one in. Just choose a program that you are not using for your normal watering cycle-probably the C program. You don’t need to enter in start times or water days, only watering times; so for each of your stations, enter a runtime of 2 minutes. Then start the program manually.

3. Once the system is running, you are looking for problems, issues like sprinkler heads turned the wrong way and spraying the street, rather than the grass. Or heads that do not pop-up over the grass (that’s why there’s that dry spot!), or heads that are clogged, and no water is coming out of them. You could also look for leaking heads, broken nozzles, and other leaks. For an idea of what some of this looks like, see my blog “What is Water Waste?” from last month.

 

a. The simplest, and most worthwhile, thing to fix is misdirected heads; most of them can simply be turned to face the appropriate direction by using your oversprayhand to grab the head (essentially the neck) and physically turn it. This prevents water waste, poor coverage, and ensures the water is used, rather than running off the property; all of which are positives for you and your property.

A big clue that you have misaligned heads and overspray is if you can tell your sprinklers ran–meaning you can see the water on the street, on the driveway, on the sidewalks, on the patios, etc., like this picture to the right!!

b. Nozzles that are clogged are easily be cleaned out (when the system is turned off!). Unscrew the nozzle, rinse it and the filter off, and screw it back on. You may use an old toothbrush or toothpick to clean out the emitter where the water sprays out of the nozzle, it’s pretty small. Once screwed back on, turn the system on to make sure you have put it on facing the correct direction and it’s watering what it needs to be.

 

c. Low heads or heads that do not pop-up over the grass is due to either too tall grass, which is really not a bad thing, usually, or more likely, the heads have settled over time and just sunk into the ground. They need to be replaced with taller heads in order to have better coverage-to get the water out far enough to water what’s it’s supposed to. You can replace this head yourself with a taller head (they are sold by height in inches, so if you have a 4″ head currently, you may increase to a 6″), or depending on the amount of low heads, you may hire a licensed irrigator to do this, as there is a degree of professionalism needed. You don’t want the heads sticking up over the grass and become a hazard when the grass is mowed.

 

So that’s the basics of performing a system check!  Do it monthly to physically see how the system is working, that what is supposed to be watered is actually being watered, AND, most importantly, make repairs and adjustments to the system to keep it running efficiently!

Springtime Sprinkler Check

The beautiful weekends have made me ready for Spring!  The weekend weather has been perfect to get a little yard work done, but then it’s freezing again!  When spring cleaning the yard by adding new mulch, trimming back frozen plants, and installing some color, those of us with automatic sprinkler systems need to think about prepping it for spring as well.

For most of us, our irrigation systems haven’t been used since October or November – -unless it came on and caused a frozen wonderland. That’s good that it’s been off.  Before simply turning it on to run the last program it was running in the fall, it should be visually checked out to ensure that all is working well with it.  I’m talking about setting a test program on your controller and visually inspecting the system to ensure that it’s working the way you expect it to, so that when you do start using it more frequently you won’t be surprised by high water bills, dying landscapes, or spotty coverage.

Since the inspection doesn’t need to take too long, again, it’s just a visual, you’re going to run the sprinkler system on the test program, or program in your own test program, for only 1 or 2 minutes per station.  When you turn it on to run manually you are looking for problems like:

    • sprinkler heads that aren’t popping up–maybe grass grew over the head,
    • heads that are turned the wrong way and are spraying areas they shouldn’t be (i.e. driveways, the street, the house, the fence, cactus, into your neighbors yard); they just need to be physically turned to point the correct way;
    • leaking heads–these should be replaced;
    • heads that are covered by shrubs (side note: plants continue to grow after sprinklers are originally installed, so heads may not spray what they are “supposed” to if the shrub has grown up and covered the head completely); it’s time to trim the shrub or move the head;
    • areas of low water pressure — this could indicate a leak in the water line, or a broken head and may require additional time to inspect or calling a licensed irrigator to check it out; and
    • heads that DO pop-up, but no water comes out–that’s a clogged head and just needs to be cleaned out.

While the system is running, you can make notes of where the problems are to address once you’ve run through all the stations, or try to fix them while the system’s running.  I recommend a water resistant jacket for that, or warmer weather and a swimsuit!  Once you’ve adjusted the heads and make what fixes are needed, you are good to go in running the system through fully, knowing it will be efficient and effective in watering your landscape.  That’s good!

Remember, when setting your controller for the spring, it’s best to start slow; watering once per week or less is plenty for this time for year and the City is still under Stage I water restrictions.

Watch our latest video on how to set up a test program for your controller: