Do You Have Ready Answers to These
Frequently Asked Questions?
Both customers and potential customers have a lot of questions when it comes to landscape irrigation systems. Here are some of the most common, along with our best answers.
Q: Why do I need an irrigation system? My area gets plenty of rain.
A: In Ohio, turf grass needs about an inch of water per week. So unless your property receives at least that much rain regularly each week, you probably need to irrigate. But nature doesn’t work that way. Even areas with rainy climates can experience dry periods. Your landscape can suffer damage after only a few days without water. You simply can’t count on annual rainfall to adequately meet your landscape’s needs.
Does Your Website
Need an FAQ Page?
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It improves user experience. Users looking for a quick answer to an easy question do not want to comb through pages of information. An FAQ page offers them a central place to find their answers. Be sure to keep answers concise and include links to more detailed information elsewhere on your website.
It helps establish customer trust. An FAQ page demonstrates to customers (and potential customers) that you are invested in helping them find solutions. It also helps to distinguish you as an authority within your industry, contributing to customer confidence.
It provides customer insight. By identifying common questions your customer may have, you’ll develop a deeper insight into their needs, desires and challenges.
But an irrigation system also prevents you from overwatering your landscape. Too much water can be harmful to your soil, drowning your plants, encouraging root rot and other diseases, and causing weeds to germinate. An irrigation system puts you in control of the amount of water used on your landscape.
In addition, irrigation systems support hydrozoning, the grouping of plants with similar water needs into irrigation zones. These zones not only encourage a healthy landscape, but they can save both water and money.
Q: Will I save money by installing my own irrigation system?
A: Perhaps, but only in the short term. A professional irrigation contractor has years of experience designing and installing the most cost-effective and efficient landscape irrigation systems. Most have received specialized training and certifications, and they utilize specialized equipment to significantly reduce installation time.
Most homeowners are not knowledgeable about the numerous factors that must be taken into account when designing and installing an irrigation system. Soil conditions, land grade, plant location and sun exposure all must be considered for proper installation. Are you proficient in PVC piping, valves, controllers, drip lines, sprinkler heads, and all the other system components? Probably not.
A properly designed and installed landscape irrigation system requires a professional in order to save money (and headaches) down the road.
Q: Why do I need to shut down my irrigation system for winter?
A: When water freezes, it expands. Irrigation system pipes are not buried beneath the frost line. If all of the water is not removed from your system’s pipes, valves, and sprinkler heads before the first deep freeze, your pipes will crack, resulting in costly repairs.
Winterizing your system is a job best left to the professionals. Attempting to blow out your own sprinkler lines using an inadequate air compressor can result in water left in pipes. When this happens, you can expect freeze damage that must be repaired before spring startup.
Q: What’s the advantage of a smart irrigation system?
A: A smart irrigation system will you save you both time and money. Smart systems optimize your sprinkler run time. That means they always water at the right time of day for the right duration and according to weather conditions. They keep you from overwatering, which not only wastes water and money, but can damage plants.
With a smart system, you won’t have to make manual adjustments to your irrigation system due to unpredictable weather. A smart irrigation system can also shut itself down whenever a leak is detected.
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Q: Will I have to shut off my irrigation system when it rains?
A: Most irrigation contractors will recommend installation of a rain sensor. This device will automatically turn the irrigation system off whenever rainfall occurs. Once the rain ends, the sensor dries out and is reset. So, even if you’re away from home, your system knows what to do.
Q: How does a drip irrigation system compare to an above-ground sprinkler?
A: As opposed to sprinkler heads which spray a planted area above ground, drip systems soak the ground via tubes that are buried just below the surface. The emitters within the tubes slowly deliver water directly to the base of the plants.
Drip irrigation is ideal for landscape beds with plenty of plants and shrubs, as it can help reduce the risk of plant disease associated with high levels of moisture. Drip lines can be incorporated as a separate zone within a larger overall sprinkler system.
With temperatures dropping across the state, it’s time for irrigation contractors to start making their “winter money” – the cold, hard cash that comes from kicking their winterization programs into high gear.
We’ve compiled a list of best practices to streamline the process and help avoid potential problems.
When to Winterize: Start Early
When does the first freeze of the fall season normally occur in Ohio? Here are the earliest, latest, and average freeze dates:
Plan for winterizations well in advance. Otherwise, you may not have ready access to the equipment you need, such as a commercial-grade air compressor. Remember: Every landscaper in town will be striving to winterize irrigation systems at the same time.
So don’t be left out in the cold. Start scheduling shutdowns with customers and your irrigation technicians as soon as possible. Highest priority should be given to those systems with exposed pumps, piping or backflow devices.
You don’t want to risk potential damage to your customers’ systems by waiting too long. Once December hits, you can expect frozen backflow preventers and exposed pipes. By then, it’s often too cold to do a good job.
The Right Tools to Winterize
Make sure your crews are equipped with the right tools to winterize. Of course, you’ll want to have plenty of standard parts available to make any necessary repairs to the systems. But technicians will also need a commercial air compressor, an air hose, and fittings that properly affix to the backflow device.
The air compressor should provide a minimum of 100 cubic feet per minute, but preferably more, depending on the size of the irrigation system. Smaller compressors, even at 100 psi, cannot deliver the air volume needed to winterize an irrigation system. In fact, 80% of the portable air compressors in use today provide 185 cfm.
If the main shut-off valve is outdoors, you’ll want to use foam insulation tape to protect it (as well as any other above-ground piping) from freezing.
Proper Winterization Techniques
Create a winterization checklist for your technicians to use at each job site. This will prevent them from missing steps and ensure uniformity of service.
The checklist should include the following:
Locate the shut-off valve and turn off the property’s water supply. Check the property’s data sheet for the valve’s location and other specific information, such as faucet zones and pumps.
Turn off any pumps to prevent damage.
Set the compressor for 50-80 psi, to avoid damaging the system. (For drip irrigation systems, set the pressure for 20 or 30 psi.)
Connect to a blowout port, open a zone and then open the air compressor valve. Move most of the water out of the main lines by blowing out the farthest zone first.
Move through the entire system, one zone at a time. Continue blowing air through the lines until only fog is emitted from the sprinkler heads. Do not allow the rotating nozzles to spin too quickly – this can damage the gears. (When they start to spurt, turn them off.)
The expanding air coming from the air compressor into the irrigation system will get hot and may melt the plastic pipe. Carefully check the temperature of the air hose connection at the blow-out point. Slow down or stop momentarily if it feels too hot! Cycling through each zone two or three times for short intervals will prevent too much heat buildup.
Partially close the ball valves on the backflow preventer, and complete blowing out the last zone.
Turn off the air compressor and allow all the air to exit the system.
Drain the backflow preventer.
Remove submersible pumps from the water. For centrifugal pumps, remove the drain valve and check valve, and disconnect the power supply.
Turn off the irrigation system controller, but leave it plugged in to retain schedules and memory.
Good for Your Business, Good for Your Customers
Proper winterization is not only a lucrative proposition for contractors, it can be a terrific cost savings to customers. Failure to professionally winterize irrigation systems can result in costly issues, such as cracked plumbing, sprinkler heads and backflow devices. Even flexible polyethylene pipe can begin to have random splits if a system is neglected, creating the need for multiple in-ground repairs.
Proper shutdown techniques not only prevent freezing issues in the winter, they also forestall potential water damage once the system is activated in the spring. It’s a win-win for your business and your customers!
Service Contracts Can Get Your Business Through the Seasonal Slump
“If not for maintenance, I wouldn’t be in business today.”
That’s how one irrigation contractor recently described the value of maintenance services for his business. At this time of year in particular, maintenance can be the key to survival in the landscape irrigation industry.
With a service contract, customers pay you a monthly fee to perform general maintenance on a regular basis. By offering your clients an annual service contract, you can augment your month-to-month income by maintaining irrigation systems year-round.
It’s a great way to provide your business with a stable, reliable income while also keeping your customers’ irrigation systems in tip-top shape. And a service contract can save a customer large sums of money in repairs. So it’s a win-win for both you and your clients.
Service Contract Do’s and Don’ts
Do: Try selling service contracts on every install.
Do: Make it easy for customers to see the cost of adding a service contract.
Do: Explain the value of a service contract to customers who need help.
Do: Stay in touch with customers who don’t yet have service agreements.
Do: Explain the bottom-line costs with and without a service contract.
Don’t: Hesitate to offer a service contract to existing customers.
Don’t: Assume some customers aren’t candidates for service contracts.
In addition to winterization and spring start-up, maintenance services offered in your contract should include programming controllers to prevent over-watering in November and under-watering in July. Most clients would not make this adjustment on their own, but it can save a significant amount of water – reducing their water bill and helping the environment.
You’ll also want to include the following services:
Inspecting the controller and ensuring it’s plugged in and functioning.
Updating the time and date.
Checking the connection on all of the wires and ensuring that rain, wind or soil-moisture sensors are connected.
Replacing the back-up battery.
During times of drought, changing the watering schedule to reflect the allowed watering days and times.
Turning on each zone and checking for system damage such as:
Leaking valves or pipes
Broken or missing heads
The Bottom Line
So while winterization and spring start-up are both important, think of them as components in a full array of services which you can provide to your customers through an irrigation service contract. Armed with education and training, year-round irrigation system maintenance can be a natural add-on service opportunity, resulting in happy clients and a more lucrative bottom line.
Do you need help drafting a service contract for your landscape irrigation business? There’s plenty of help online. Check out the following links:
Those are just two of the many reasons that regular maintenance is needed to keep your sprinkler system running efficiently year after year. Here’s another: Damage from lawn equipment or improper winterization can result in costly leaks and other serious problems.
An Ounce of Prevention
Here are a few simple checks to perform on a monthly, annual or periodic basis to ensure your sprinkler system is operation at an optimal level:
Every Month During Growing Season…
Inspect the controller and make sure it’s plugged in and functioning.
Check the connection on all of the wires and sensors.
Adjust sprinkler head positions and spray patterns to avoid watering sidewalks or structures and to provide necessary clearance over growing plants.
Remove obstructions that prevent sprinklers from distributing water evenly.
Check the pressure. Pressure can change over time and negatively affect your system’s efficiency. If the pressure is too high, it’ll result in significant runoff.
Inspect your system for leaks — a huge water waster. This step requires the help of your irrigation contractor. He’ll not only check for leaks and broken or clogged spray heads; he can also advise you about common problems to watch for between visits.
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Once a Year…
Winterize, winterize, winterize! This routine maintenance procedure is critical. Overlook it, and you can expect costly damage to your system. But this is something best left to the professionals. Your irrigation contractor has specialized equipment to flush out the water that could otherwise freeze, resulting in cracked pipes, valves and other parts. (See related article, “How to Winterize Your Landscape Irrigation System.”)
Get your back flow checked. Federal and state laws require that your backflow connection be tested annually by a state-certified tester. (This is typically part of the winterization process.)
Once in a While or As Needed…
Now and then, it’s a good idea to have your system audited. Hire a Certified Irrigation Auditor to conduct an audit and uniformity test. If your system is watering unevenly or improperly, he can make the necessary adjustments.
Replace your controller’s back-up battery whenever you replace your smoke alarm batteries.
Adjust the watering schedule to reflect the current season and irrigation needs of your landscape.
With the proper routine maintenance, your irrigation system will serve you well for seasons to come!
The dreary days of November remind us that it’s time to start thinking about preparing your irrigation systems for winter.
Here are some tips for winterizing an irrigation system:
Preventing Pipe Damage
Of course, water expands when it freezes. Since automatic irrigation systems are usually buried only about twelve inches below the surface of the soil, any water left in the system over the winter (even a mild winter) will certainly freeze. This causes damage to pipes, fittings, valves, and sprinklers. And this damage can be expensive and time-consuming to repair next spring. So, preventing winter damage by properly winterizing the irrigation system is important.
The following video clip demonstrates the consequences of failing to do so:
The most common method of winterization is to use compressed air to force water out of the irrigation system. However, some irrigation systems are equipped with automatic or manual drain valves. These do not require compressed air to winterize. Check with your installing contractor to determine if your irrigation system has automatic or manual drain valves. If you’re not sure, then go ahead and use compressed air. Using compressed air on an irrigation system equipped with automatic or manual drain valves will not harm the system components, and will ensure the irrigation system is properly winterized.
Selecting an Air Compressor
Air compressors are available in various sizes. A properly sized air compressor is critical in order do effectively and efficiently blow air into the irrigation system, forcing any water out. The most common portable air compressor (representing about 80% of the portable air compressors in use today) is the 185 portable air compressor. This machine is rated at 185 cfm at 100 psi at full load.
This type of compressor can be found through a contractors’ equipment rental shop, and it’s more than adequate for most residential and commercial irrigation systems. Smaller 5 h.p. electric air compressors, even if they’re 100 psi, do not deliver enough volume of air to adequately winterize an irrigation system.
How-To: Compressed Air Winterization
When using a compressor to winterize your system, follow these steps:
Shut off the water to the system at the point of connection. The system shut-off valve may be either a ball valve or gate valve. It should be located in the basement or directly behind the water meter.
Next, open a zone valve to relieve the system pressure.
Attach the air hose from the air compressor to the blow-out point. The blow-out point is usually located directly behind the backflow device. The blow-out point may be a quick coupling valve, a hose bib, or a boiler drain.
A Note of Caution: The expanding air coming from the air compressor into the irrigation system will get hot and may melt the plastic pipe. Carefully check the temperature of the air hose connection at the blow-out point. Slow down or stop momentarily if it feels too hot! Cycling through each zone two or three times for short intervals will prevent too much heat buildup.
Set the pressure regulator on the air compressor at 50 to 80 psi.
On smaller residential systems, where the zones are typically about 10 gpm or less, open one electric remote control valve manually. Then cycle through all the other zones two to three minutes by manually opening each valve or by electrically operating each valve at the controller. Opening one valve manually will help to keep the air compressor from building up too much pressure, while assuring an adequate volume of air to thoroughly blow out all the water in the system. (On larger systems, it may not be necessary to open one valve manually.)
Allow the air to flow through each zone until water and water vapor no longer appears from any sprinklers in the zone. Start with the zone with the highest elevation in the system or farthest from the point of connection. Blow out each zone successively toward the point of connection. It’s a good idea to cycle through each zone two times, to ensure no water is remaining.
How-To: Automatic Drain System Winterization
Some systems are equipped with automatic drains that open when the system pressure falls below 10 psi. For these systems, it is usually only necessary to turn off the water.
Open a drain valve after the point of connection.
Winterize the backflow device and controller (See “Backflow Preventer Winterization” below.)
Some irrigation systems incorporate automatic drain valves on the laterals with manual drain valves on the main line. The manual drain valves will be located in small valve boxes at the end and at low points on the main line. Open the drain valves, and allow the water to drain out completely. Then close the drain valve.
How-To: Manual Drain System Winterization
If your system is equipped with manual drain valves:
Locate the drain valve for each zone and the main line. The manual drain is usually located in a small valve box at the end of the zone and at every low point. Also, the main line will have a manual drain at the end of the line and at every low point.
Open each drain valve, allowing all the water to drain out, and then close the manual drains.
Winterize the backflow device and controller.
How-To: Winterize the Backflow Preventer
The backflow preventer is the plumbing device attached to the outside of your house. It is the source of water to the irrigation system, and it can freeze and burst in only a few hours of below-freezing temperatures. So winterizing your backflow preventer is critical.
Turn off the main shut-off valve to the system.
Using an adjustable wrench, remove the outlet drain plug or spigot on the outside piping.
Turn valves to a 45-degree angle (half-open/half-closed position).
Cover/wrap the backflow valve and all copper pipe with a large towel or blanket.
Place 2-3 gallon bucket underneath drain and open the drain valve. Generally, 1-2 gallons of water will empty into the bucket. Once all the water has drained out of the pipe, close the drain valve.
How-To: Winterize the Controller and Rain Sensor
To winterize the irrigation controller, simply turn the controller to the off or “rain shutdown” position. (You can also disconnect the power and remove the battery, but this is not necessary.) Do not allow the controller to cycle through an irrigation schedule without water in the system.
If your irrigation system is equipped with a rain sensor or a soil moisture sensor, it’s not usually necessary to cover or remove the sensor for the winter. Check with the manufacturer to make sure your rain sensor does not require any special instructions for winterization.
How-To: Winterize the Pump
If you have a submersible pump (i.e., located in a lake, stream or pond), the check valve at the pump must be removed to keep the discharge hose from freezing. The best way is to simply remove the pump and discharge hose from the water each winter, and reinstall in the spring.
If you have a centrifugal pump, follow these steps:
Remove the drain valve (located at the base of the pump housing) and store it for the winter.
Disconnect the power supply, to prevent the pump from being accidentally turned on without any water. (A pump running without water will quickly burn up.)
If the pump is drawing water from a lake or stream, you must remove the intake hose or suction line completely from the water and store it for the winter.
If a check valve is located on the discharge side of the pump, it too must be removed and stored for the winter.
Leave It to the Pros
As you can see, preparing an irrigation system for winter can be a complicated process. A knowledgeable professional is essential to minimize damage caused by freezing. An improperly winterized irrigation system can be an expensive proposition next spring.