Home Irrigation How-To
By: Danny Lipford
When you consider that the earth is made up of nearly 70% water, you wouldn’t think there would be any concerns over a water shortage. But, the truth of the matter is that of all that water on our planet, only 3% of it is fresh water, which is safe for drinking, and a good three-quarters of that dinky 3% is located in the frozen ice caps and unavailable!
Add to that ongoing drought problems across the country, and it becomes clearer that we have to take measures now to conserve water, not only for ourselves, but for future generations.
Professional Irrigation Systems
Maintaining your lawn and garden is a major source of water consumption. Most of us want to have that lush, green lawn and be the envy of the neighborhood.
For some people, that means dragging out the garden hose with an attached sprinkler and moving it around several times in order to keep the grass sufficiently watered. However, that is also one of the most inefficient ways to water the lawn, and a vast amount of the water is completely wasted.
Installing an irrigation system is the best way to maintain your yard and tightening the reins (no pun intended) on water consumption. It may surprise you, though, as to how much an average irrigation system will cost.
While it certainly depends on the quality of the components you use, it’s not unusual to spend $500 or more to irrigate an area no larger than 3,000 square feet, and that’s just for the parts for the most basic of systems.
Add to that the cost of having a professional installer put the system in for you and you’re looking at a nice chunk of change. Realistically, for a nice system with quality sprinklers, valves, control box, etc. that is professionally installed, plan on spending $2000-$3000.
DIY Irrigation Systems
You can cut that cost down by installing everything yourself, but it’s important that you do it right. That means understanding the role of each type of sprinkler head, installing the controller and the all-important backflow preventer.
To be honest, this is stuff a lot of homeowners don’t want to deal with. However, before you become overwhelmed, check out the websites of Rain Bird and Toro for great consumer information on planning, layout and installation of a do-it-yourself irrigation system. Orbit Irrigation Systems has an online video tutorial that is very helpful. They’ll take you through the installation step-by-step and explain the use of zones, timers and rain delay controllers.
For the ultimate in do-it-yourself systems, you should check out the Lawn Belt system. This is an irrigation system that can be installed without having to trench your yard. The design of the tubing is such that you can simply cut a slot in the ground with a flat blade shovel and push the tubing into the ground.
The design also prohibits any damage during a freeze. The tubing expands and contracts so burst pipes are never an issue. A starter set only runs $139.95. You can attach it directly to a hose bibb and turn it on manually, or set it up on a controller and timer.
For flower beds, plants and trees, you really don’t want to use a sprinkler system. One of the most effective ways to water these areas and use only a fraction of the water is to incorporate a soaker hose or, better yet, a drip irrigation system. A soaker hose is simply a rubber hose that is porous and allows water to slowly seep out of it to the surrounding area.
A drip irrigation system can directly target the roots of your plants and flowers without watering any of the surrounding area which can save up to 30% of the water used for irrigation. You can also add a little pizzazz to your flower beds by using decorative items to distribute the water. Orbit Irrigation has some cool little bugs that you attach to your drip system.
Water Saving Tips
There are several things you can do to help cut the waste of watering. One of them I already mentioned, which is using drip irrigation for flower beds, plants and trees instead of a directional sprinkler. Here are a few more tips:
- Water in the early morning hours, preferably from 5:00-10:00 AM. Watering in the middle of the day means you lose a good 30%-40% from evaporation. Watering at night means you stand the chance of developing fungus on your vegetation.
- Create irrigation zones. Not all plants are created equal. Some need less water than others. By dividing the lawn and garden into zones, you can incorporate sprinklers, soakers and drip systems throughout for a more efficient watering system.
- Keep off the sidewalk. No matter how much you water it, concrete doesn’t grow! Adjust all sprinklers to water only the areas that need the water.
- Inspect your sprinkler heads and hoses on a monthly basis. Clogged heads or a split hose can waste a lot of water.
- Watch the weather. If Mother Nature is watering the lawn, you shouldn’t be. Consider installing a rain sensor device on your irrigation system that will shut it off automatically when it detects rainfall.
- Remember that you get what you pay for. Don’t purchase the cheapest irrigation system you can find. Parts will wear out quicker, lines crack and that means more water wasted.
- Place 2-3 inches of mulch in flower beds to help retain moisture and keep weeds from growing. Make sure you don’t place the mulch directly against the plant.
- Finally, use an automatic timer/controller. It won’t forget to turn the water off if you get involved watching the big game on TV.