irrigation system

Smart Irrigation Month is Here

The HEAT is definitely on!  Welcome Summertime!

You may have heard by now, that July has been deemed “Smart Irrigation Month” by the Irrigation Association since 2005, because that’s typically when the hottest temperatures occur (here in Central Texas, our hottest months are August and September). 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 actually experienced a winter (all Native Texans can appreciate that!!) AND it was a wonderful spring—again, that’s amazing since we usually go from winter straight to summer!  We didn’t have a 100-degree day until this last week and really haven’t needed to use the irrigation system until June.

In honor of Smart Irrigation Month, I’m going to ask you to something different by investing in your irrigation system and upgrade where necessary.  Don’t just turn it on and forget it all summer.  I want 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 rotary) heads. Both are usually buried underground and pop-up when watering. Spray heads spray water the same piece of grass, or landscaping, the entire time they are popped up. Rotor heads turn to the left, right, or in a circle, when they pop-up and do not water the same place the entire time they are popped up.  They can have one large stream of water spraying out or smaller streams of water spraying.  With either pattern, they turn, versus being stationary. 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. 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.

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 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. 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 35-60 psi.

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 types of pressure reducing 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!

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.

Freeze Protection

Welcome to the new year!  Did your landscape look like any of these pictures recently??  Those beautiful icicles and “snowy” grass is a hint that you have probably left your irrigation system on and it ran during the freezing temperatures we’ve recently had.  Please, go turn them off now!  

I will admit that I like to go drive around town the morning of a freeze to see who has left their systems on.  It’s very dangerous–with frozen sidewalks and streets, but also a little humorous.  I hope to not have a picture of your house or business!

Having the irrigation system on in freezing temperatures can cause a lot of damage to the system–freezing pipes and heads, which can cause broken pipes and heads, and then leaks.  This means water waste and higher water bills!  It can also damage the plants, being coated with water that freezes is hard on the plant and could essentially freeze it to death.  You don’t want any of that!

Having your irrigation system on during the winter months is also not recommended since we’re still in waste water averaging mode.  The less water you use from November through February, the lower your wastewater (or sewer) charges will be the rest of the year.  Find more on wastewater averaging here.

Here’s a quick list of things to do to protect your irrigation and landscape investments during freezing temperatures:

  1. Turn off your irrigation system.  (Reasons stated above.)
  2. Compost and mulch outdoor plants thoroughly.  These two layers will help insulate the plant’s root zones while supplying the plant with needed nutrients.  Two inches of mulch is ideal, and remember, not too close to the trunk of trees or shrubs.  Mulch should be about two finger widths away from the truck.
  3. Water well, but avoid moisture on the plant leaves and stems–this means hand-water.  No irrigation use (of course, underground drip is fine).  Water saturated soil holds heat better than dry soil.  Keep damaged plants well watered, but be aware that plants needs much less water in cooler months.
  4. Water only when temperatures rise above 45 degrees or higher the day before a freeze.

During most winters, supplemental watering isn’t necessary.  Think about your landscape, and water bill, before adding additional water in the winter.

 

5 Signs You’re Watering Too Much

A high water bill may be your first clue that something is terribly amiss. But there are a few other signs that signal you may be overwatering your landscape.

 

Sometimes the biggest water waste happens in perfectly manicured lawns, watering on the correct time and day, with no signs of broken sprinklers or anything wrong.  In such a case, a high water bill may be the customer’s first clue that something’s terrible amiss in the water department. But here are a few signs to watch for — usually in summer, but any time of year if you’re overwatering:

  1.  Cockroaches:If you see cockroaches wandering around shrubs, pots, grasses and the yard in general, you’ve got a perfect habitat for cockroaches — and that means your yard is as wet as the inside of a sewer pipe. Sound gross?

Cockroaches thrive on decomposing plant material. So remember, all that extra water is probably building up as thatch and rotting your grass from below. Other insects that benefit from too much water: pillbugs, millipedes and especially fire ants.

2. Dollarweed:  Dollarweed is one of those plants so tenacious it’s created an industry of big-box weed killers for homeowners trying to get rid of it. Hint: dollarweed requires even more water to look good than grass — so if your grass is drowning in dollarweed, put down the weedkiller and pick up the sprinkler instruction.

3.  Fungus:

Has it been raining? Then look for mushrooms. But if there are still mushrooms in dry, warm winter weather, your lawn is probably staying wet and poorly drained; not a good idea, since in addition to mushrooms, some of the most common fungal turf diseases include take-all patch and brown patch.

4.  Wet walls, fences, and cans:  It’s not just the amount of water you use, it’s where you put it. By some estimates, about one-fifth of summer irrigation water is spent watering side yards, AC condensers, toolsheds and garbage cans — and that’s way too much.  Heads in the side yard can be capped or turned off to reduce watering items that do not need the extra water.

5.  Runoff:  Pools of water are a sure sign the run times are too long on your sprinkler system. If the yard is too steep to hold much water, cycle and soak (watering shorter length of time, but multiple times in a row) may be a better method. Remember, your bedding plants typically need less water than grass.

So remember, use common sense when it comes to your outdoor use.  If things feel or look too wet, reduce the time by 2 minutes to see how it helps the problems.  Wait at least a week before making more changes.

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Light, Type of Heads, and Beds, Oh My!

Today’s blog talks about what is the most important aspects of irrigation, but probably the most overlooked. SmartIrrMonth I’m referring to efficient scheduling of the irrigation system, based on the amount of sunlight in your yard, the sprinkler head type, and to a lesser degree, the plant types in your yard.

These three items require some consideration when entering in how many minutes you are setting each station for—there’s no point in having specialized heads, a shady yard, and native plants if everything is going to run for 20 minutes no matter what it is.  Unfortunately, I see that happen a lot.  Then folks wonder why areas are brown or plants are dying.  (There’s also the consideration of soil type and soil depth; we’re not going to get into that here, but it certainly does play a huge role in irrigation amounts.)

grass st augustine

shade means less water needed

Amount of Light

It may seem obvious, but I’m going to come out and say it anyway—shady areas require less water than sunny areas.  If you have good tree coverage and areas of the yard receive less than 6 hours of direct sunlight daily, that’s considered a shady yard.  The narrow, sides of our houses qualify for this designation.  Full sun areas need more water, usually; this is dependent on what the plant type is here.   So, when entering time into your controller, you know that the times should be higher for the sunny spots and lower for the shady ones.

Head Type

As I’ve talked about in an earlier blog, there are two main sprinkler head typesrotor and spray.  There is also drip irrigation, which technically has no head at all!  Rotor heads, if you remember, rotate, so they are not watering the same area the entire time they are running, therefore, they need to run for a longer period of time than spray heads.  The minimum I typically recommend running them for is 15 minutes, and that’s in a shady area.  Usually between 25-35 minutes is a good time for sunnier areas with turfgrass.

Since spray heads are stationary, they pop-up and stay watering the same spot the entire time, they can run for a shorter amount of time than rotors.  I usually recommend between 6 -15 minutes for those stations, depending on the plant material and amount of sunlight, with the 15 minutes being for areas in full sun and turfgrass.

Drip irrigation is different.  Drip typically emits water very slowly, very minimally, so it oftentimes needs to run for longer periods—30 minutes at minimum or much longer in many cases.  I caution you to know how many gallons per minute your drip is using before you just set it for an hour.  I’ve seen drip that was using 20 gallons per minute, which is just as much as “traditional” spray zones!  Unfortunately it caused very high water usage at the property before it was discovered.

3110 Carnousty St6

rocks and native plants mean less water

Plant Material

Landscape material is the last component of the irrigation scheduling trifecta.  Landscape could include turfgrass, trees, shrubs, groundcovers, perennials, flower beds, annuals, natural areas (like tree motts), bare ground, rocks, and I’m sure many other things.  It may be obvious as well, but it does need to be said—areas with no vegetation really don’t need to be watered.  The bare ground will just be muddy.  Same goes for rocky paths, they don’t grow.  Mulched areas don’t grow.  Driveways, sidewalks, patios, and decks don’t grow.  Pools don’t need to be filled by the sprinklers (I’ve seen plenty of sprinkler heads spraying directly into pools!).  Trees have usually been growing there longer than you’ve lived there, so they typically don’t need the extra water.

Native plants, established shrubs, or other established perennials do not, I repeat, do not need the same amount of water as the grass.  That’s why you’ve planted them—they are native!  They are made for our climate and weather conditions.  They will survive without being irrigated twice per week.  I can’t count how many times I see native plants being watered more than the grass.  It’s counter intuitive to the reason for using natives.  So, turn those stations off completely and just water when they look completely stressed out.  (I’ll get down from my soapbox now.)

IMG_1106

natural areas don’t need extra water

I like to recommend that people put the stations that are shrubs or plants on a different program than the grass stations and set them to water once every other week (if needed; if there’s been no rain).  If you want to keep the shrub stations on the same program as the rest of the yard, reduce the time on those stations.  I recommended between 6-8 minutes regardless of if it’s sun or shade.  They really just don’t need it.  Many natives do best in dry, hot conditions and die with too wet soil.

Turfgrass is a little tricky too.  A lot of Bermuda grass gets planted here, yet is watered just as much as any other grass (namely, St Augustine).  What I said about native plants is true about Bermuda too, you’re growing it because it’s drought tolerant: it doesn’t need to be watered as much.  Bermuda grass that’s overwatered tends to get a lot of weeds growing in it.  If you have Bermuda, I recommend cutting back the watering time to once per week.  Let it perform.  Yes, Bermuda goes dormant in times of drought, but it’s not dead.  It will green up when it rains or receives irrigation.  It looks better with rainwater though.  Also, Bermuda is not going to survive in shady areas, it will thin out and eventually die.  It requires full sun to really thrive.

St Augustine grass has such a bad reputation as a water hog, but I don’t buy into it.  It’s not setting the controller, the yard owners are!  St Augustine does great in areas with partial sun or partial shade.  I’ve seen it look really good in full sun too, with less water than you may think.  It will also thin out in full shade areas, but does better than most grasses.  Ideally, St Augustine should be kept at 3-4” tall when it’s being cut to keep the soil from drying out.  I water my St Augustine yard with rotor heads for 20 minutes and it’s looking great.

You may have picked up that there’s no exact time that works for every station or even every yard!  Irrigation systems unfortunately aren’t just a turn it on and forget it device.  It will take a little tweaking to determine how many minutes the yard will perform well on, and it may need to be changed every year as the trees grow and give out more shade.

I have some specific recommendations on runtimes; you can access it here.  It’s a good place to start, when setting your controller runtimes, then make changes from there if areas may need more or less water.

Let’s keep using our water smartly!

Smart Sprinklers for Smart Irrigation Month

So here we are in July again this year!  How did it arrive so fast and so hot??  We know in these hot summer months, we tend to use more water outdoors, which is why July is designated as Smart Irrigation Month by the Irrigation Association and endorsed by Governor Abbott.SmartIrrMonth

I don’t think anyone deliberately chooses to look silly or be wasteful by watering during or immediately after a huge rainstorm, or during the heat of the day.  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.  Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.  This brings me to my 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—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 sensor.  While irrigation is technology, apparently it’s not the cool technology that people invest in as frequently as their electronic devices.

I think it’s because we don’t often 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!  Maybe!

The two main areas your controller can be smart is when dealing with the weather.  Sensors and controllers are the two areas that can help you with determining if the yard even needs to be watered.

  • Sensors are still around—rain sensors, freeze sensors, and soil moisture sensors are the main ones.
    baseline soil moisture sensor

    soil moisture sensor

    • 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!  But, it is better to have a rain sensor than nothing!  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 is wet enough, 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 over-watered.  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 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° 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.
  • Weather-Based Controllers–this is where things have really gotten interesting.Logo-WaterSense
    • There are several controllers on the market currently that take into account the actual weather, either with a weather-station that is installed at your home (it’s not too large), or a near-by weather-station that the controller can connect to thru WiFi.  That said, you would need to have a WiFi connection at your property that the controller can connect to.
    • The controller checks the weather forecasts daily, if not multiple times a day, to determine if the irrigation system needs to run or not.  It may delay the irrigation cycle if rain or other inclement weather is forecast.
    • These controllers need some extra set up time.  Once they are installed, they are not just go to go.  You have to spend a little time to enter in information about each irrigation station in your yard, like what type of sprinkler head it is, how much light it receives, landscape material, slope, and even more.  There is the very real possibility that using one of these controller can increase your water use, if it’s not set up properly.
    • Many of these “smart” controllers have online apps or websites to use.  The irrigation can now be controller from your desktop, laptop, tablet or phone!  It’s a little nicer than standing in your hot garage to make adjustments, which is pretty cool!
    • Look for a controller that is WaterSense approved.  That’s what is approved by the City’s rebate, as it’s been third-party tested to maintain water savings.

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

 

After the Rain: Summer Lawn Watering

Do I need to water?

Do I need to water?

With temperatures beginning to soar into the 90s everyday, we need to start being aware of our water consumption—summer heat is coming!  You know it is.  Thanks to all the great springtime downpours (and floods!), we have had the luxury of low water bills since we haven’t really needed to turn on the sprinkler (aka: irrigation) system yet this year!  In order to prevent a shockingly high bill when you do start using your sprinklers regularly, (remember tiered rates are in effect), here’s my main advice about how to start watering smartly this summer.

So, how do I know if I need to water?

Has it rained recently?  If yes, then turn off the sprinklers!  We can really keep sprinkler systems turned off for a solid week, or longer, after a good rain event, to let the plants use the rainwater and the soil start to dry out.  We want Mother Nature to water our yards, its so much better than tap water thanks to the nitrogen in it AND saves us money.  Keep those sprinklers off at least 2 days for every 1/4″ of rainfall.

So, how do you know if your soil is dried out?  You can test how wet or dry your soil is with a soil moisture sensor—this is a device for automatic sprinkler systems that is buried in the yard to monitor the soil’s moisture and will either allow or not allow the sprinkler system to run based on how wet the soil is.  The City’s Water Conservation Program offers a rebate on this type of device.

soil moisture sensor

soil probe

You can also test your soil moisture with a soil moisture probe; this is simply a hand-held device that you push into the ground and the display tells you if the soil is wet, moist, or dry.  You can find one of these at most garden supply stores.  Or, a good old-fashioned long screwdriver will do the job too!  If you can easily push it into the ground, then you probably can hold off watering for another couple of days.  When you can’t push it easily into the ground, time to water!       

 

And how much do I water?

When you do turn on the sprinklers to start watering, don’t just turn it on full blast to the summer watering schedule—it’s not that hot yet!  Keep it moderate, meaning, water on the lower side; about half of your normal summer water schedule.  Then as temperatures increase over the rest of the summer, increase the areas that are looking stressed.  My recommendation is start with watering no more than once per week.  Then, when you notice the lawn or plants look droopy or dull-colored first thing in the morning, that‘s a sign it’s time to increase the water—this could mean add a second watering day, or just increase the time by 2 minutes on the areas that need it.

Remember, the goal is to not have to water!  We want to have drought-tolerant plants than need infrequent watering.  That happens by letting the soil slightly dry out between watering and getting those roots to grow.

We’re very lucky right now since we’re not under any water restrictions, so watering is allowed on any day.  This is great, because it means you can water when your landscape actually needs it, not just because it’s a Tuesday (or whatever day).   It’s always best to water before the sun comes up or after the sun goes down each day, to reduce evaporation.

If you are a direct City water customer and your property has an automatic sprinkler system and you are unsure of how to program it or concerned about its efficiency, you can  request a free irrigation system evaluation.  The evaluation consists of running through the system looking for problems, ways to upgrade or adjust the system to operate more efficiently, and providing recommended water schedules.

To schedule an irrigation evaluation or more water conservation information, contact Jessica Woods by email jwoods@roundrocktexas.gov or 512-671-2872 or visit www.roundrocktexas.gov/conservation for all program information and more detailed recommended watering schedules.

 

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

 

 

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!