irrigation system components

Smart Controllers

Now is the time of year to think about turning off your sprinkler system, if you haven’t already.  Remember, it’s about to be winter, plants go dormant, we’re having regular rainfall, cooler temps… you know all this.

one type of smart controller

one type of smart controller

So, it may seem like a strange time to think about sprinklers, but I wanted to see if you knew the City’s water conservation program offers rebates on various items to help make your sprinkler system more efficient?  One of those items is a smart, weather-based controller.

So, what is a smart controller?  Simply put, it’s a controller that takes into account the current weather, the weather forecast, the type of sprinkler head (drip, spray, rotor, etc), the plant material (grass, shrubs, trees, etc), and probably the slope of the yard, and the soil type to come up with a watering schedule that is truly personalized for your yard.  No more guessing how much time you need to set for each station!

The smart controller will come up with a personalized schedule, though it probably will need some tweaks.  Full-disclosure, I installed a smart controller at my own house back in March or April of this year.  However, with all the rain this spring, it didn’t actually run until July and at that point I really thought is was watering some areas way too long.  I had to go into the application on my phone and adjust some settings to reduce watering time.  However, I will say that my highest water bill this summer was in August for 8,200 gallons–so not bad at all!  The smart controller I have estimates the amount of water used (in gallons) each time it waters, and the numbers it was reporting for my yard were very high.  The estimate of gallons used isn’t too accurate in my case.

But, back to the point; really, it’s ideal to water when the plants actually NEED the water, not just because it’s a Wednesday (or whatever day of the week your controller is set for).  AND, since we’re not in water restrictions, this is the ideal time to try out one of these controllers.  The controller will determine when it’s best to water and for how long, although they all have options to select specific days to water if/when we are under water restrictions.  Maybe all the zones won’t be watered on the same day, that’s the beauty of these controllers.  ILogo-WaterSenset’s watering to the plant, not to a schedule.

Many smart controllers are also designed to be used over WiFi: on home computers, phones, tablets…which may make it easier to control and set up.  No more trying to figure out all those buttons, knobs, and programs!  Through the internet connection, or an on-site weather station, they determine the current weather conditions to come up with the watering schedule.

If your interested has been peaked in smart controller, visit the WaterSense website to learn more, and find a list of WaterSense approved controllers, that are also eligible for the City’s irrigation rebate.  The rebate expires when funding runs out, but I don’t anticipate that happening any time before August 2016.

Let’s start watering smart in 2016!

Smart Irrigation Month, Pt 3: Sprinkler Heads

SmartIrrMonthSo we’re still in July and still talking about automatic irrigation systems for Smart Irrigation Month.  It’s seems this week summer has hit (again), maybe “for real” this time, so an efficient irrigation system is more important than ever.

I’m going to continue the same topic as last time, which is upgrading your irrigation system when necessary.  We talked about sensors last week.  This week I’d like to focus on sprinkler heads and water pressure.  The type of sprinkler head being used determines several things, like how long to water, where to locate the heads, and also how much water is being emitted and, most importantly, how well that water is being used by your landscape.

There are two main types of sprinkler heads-spray heads and rotor (or rotatory) heads.  Both are usually located underground and pop-up when it’s their time to water. rotor sprinkler

The spray heads are the ones that water the same piece of grass, or landscaping, the entire time they are popped up.  Rotor heads rotate to the left and right when they pop-up and do not water the same place the entire time they are popped up.  See the pictures on the right for what each look like.

Rotor heads are the more efficient of the two head types.  Tests have shown that the water is distributed more evenly by rotor heads than spray heads.  The same amount of water is being emitted close to the head as midway as at the furthest end of the water.  Usually people want to replace rotors with sprays, but I urge them not to.  Again, they are more efficient than traditional spray heads.  They emit, on average  gallons of water per minute.  Rotor heads are desirable to use in large areas-fewer heads are required to cover a large space since they spray water out a further distance than spray heads.spray head

Traditional spray heads are not quite as efficient, mainly due to variations in water pressure and head spacing (specifically heads placed too far apart).  Misting is pretty commonly seen with spray heads-this is lots of “clouding” coming off the heads.  This cloud, or misting, is water drops that are so small they are just floating away into the air, rather than going down onto the landscape.  (See the picture, all that stuff in the air above the plants is the water droplets from the irrigation system).  You are paying for this water and it’s just floating away.  Not good.  This means you have to run the system for a longer time to get water down onto the ground, which will get expensive and is just wasteful.  This is caused by water pressure that is too high.

An aside here, “good” or appropriate water pressure for irrigation systems is between 30-50 psi.  high water pressure 2

High pressure can be remedied in two main ways: installing a pressure reducing valve (PRV) on the irrigation system, or replacing the nozzles with ones that adjust or compensate for the high water pressure.  So…which is better?  That’s a hard question to give a quick answer for.

The PRV is a good fix if the entire irrigation system is running with high pressure.  It’s one device that is installed near the backflow prevention device in your yard.  A licensed irrigator should be contacted to install this device.

Replacing nozzles is a great way to fine-tune the irrigation system; here, you can just replace nozzles in the zones that have the high misting.  This is a little more time consuming because you need to find and purchase the correct nozzle types (full circle, half circle, etc) and then physically unscrew the old nozzles and screw on the new ones, but overall it’s pretty inexpensive.  Of course, a licensed irrigator can be hired to do this work as well.  There are several brands of nozzles that have built-in pressure compensation and can be ordered online or found in local irrigation stores.

Both of these types of pressure reducing efficiency qualify for the City’s Efficient Irrigation Rebate program.  I highly encourage you to take advantage of it if you notice misting in your irrigation system!

Irrigation Workshop

Do you have an irrigation system, but don’t quite know how to use it effectively?  Or at all??
Do you have an irrigation system and would like to learn how to make simple repairs, fixes, and upgrades to it yourself?  If the answer is yes to any of the above questions, I’d like to invite you to the free irrigation workshop that the
City of Round Rock Water Conservation program and Williamson County Master Gardeners are having on Saturday, March 22, 2014, at the Williamson County Extension Office at 3151 SE Inner Loop, in Georgetown.

The outdoor event will be comprised of 5 stations that will demonstrate various aspects of an irrigation system’s workings.  You can visit them all, or just the ones that interest you.

Come learn:

 

  • How water pressure determines how far the water will spray out of the sprinkler head, and how coverage is affected by too high or too low water pressure; learn how you can adjust the water pressure to be “just right!”
  • How to use your controller, you know, the box that turns it on and off.  Learn how to set it, make adjustments, and do more than just turn it on.
  • How to make simple repairs; there are plenty of things you can do yourself on your irrigation system.  Learn how to replace broken or leaking heads, clean out nozzles, adjust misdirected heads…it’s easy!  You can watch the video below to learn how to clean out clogged nozzles now.
  • How an irrigation system works: view the system above ground, learn what all the components are that are involved with turning the system on and off and allowing water to flow through the pipes.
  • What drip irrigation is and how to utilize it in your landscape.  See how drip is a more efficient way to water certain plants and make some conversions from spray heads to drip.

 

There will also be folks on-hand to talk about water supply and conservation programs in the area.  So, come join us on Saturday, March 22, 2014, between 9am – 12pm at the
Williamson County Extension Office
.  It’s going on rain or shine.  No need to stay the entire time, come and go as you please.

 

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: