How do I know what I am getting with my new irrigation system?
There can be a lot of questions from a homeowner or facility manager about an irrigation system, largely because, for obvious reasons, it is mostly all underground. 🙂
Irrigation is also a fairly technical system, involving remote valves (in valve boxes in the lawn or landscape) that are controlled by wired signal from a controller, nozzle patterns, flow rates, pipe size, and many other factors. Those things can get rather complicated to try to explain to the homeowner, but we’ll try to break down some of the simple points of interest here.
In the 20+ years of experience we’ve had in the irrigation and landscape industry, we have seen irrigation done many different ways. It can be done right, it can be quite interesting, or sometimes, unfortunately, downright an expensive mess. Whenever we can help avoid those mistakes, we’re glad to.
One way that a contractor may cut corners, is to install irrigation heads in a “single coverage” layout, where, for example, if a sprinkler head can spray 20’, they may space the sprinklers out to 40’ apart, to where they just reach the total area. We like to use what we call “double-coverage” layout, which is essentially each sprinkler head having the ability to reach to the adjacent sprinkler head, the sprinkler head across from it, and so forth. This results in the area being covered by at least 2 sprinkler heads, hence the “double-coverage”. This can help fight wind drift, provide more even watering, etc. if your sprinkler heads are spaced out to where each sprinkler head is covering its own individual space, with no help from nearby sprinkler heads, there’s a lot of risk for wind drift, which can lead to dry areas, overspraying onto the house to cover everything, and other issues. Always ask if you’re not sure.
Poly versus PVC.
Another way to make a slight difference in price on your irrigation system install, is to use poly pipe instead of PVC. It can be a bit cheaper, easier to install by using a pipe plow, and you don’t have to glue the joints. but we have found that over the years that the fitting connections can spring leaks, and require replumbing, which can lead to some pretty pricey repairs. PVC pipe has been a reliable go-to for our team for years.
Controller and sensor setup.
There’s a lot of different controllers out there, and a lot of them are great options. That being said, we want to make sure that each client is given the best solutions available for their lifestyle and needs. We usually use a Wi-Fi capable controller such as a Hunter Hydrawise that can be controlled remotely, which is, an incredible asset to have when you are away from home or want your contractor to be able to make adjustments without a service call. We also usually install rain sensors as a standard procedure, which can help save a lot of water by deactivating the irrigation when it senses a specified amount of rain. Each rain sensor can be customized for each property and location. There’s also an option for a flow meter, which will help detect leaks and give detailed data on how much water you are using.
Plowed versus trenched.
Plowing pipe into the ground instead of digging a trench can be a faster method of install, especially on wide open lots, and is less invasive on existing lawns, which is, perhaps, why many companies will opt to do that where they can. When not working in existing turf though, it is often better to excavate an open trench for the irrigation lines, and lay the pipe in rather than plowing, for the following reasons: We can avoid hidden rocks underground, lessening risk of damage to the pipe. We can see if there are any utilities present and can also usually lessen the amount of tension on pipe junctions by keeping straighter lines. And finally, trenching gives us the ability to better control the depth of installation, minimizing the risks that can come from plowing pipe too shallow. All in all, plowing the pipe in is generally a fine way to install when necessary, and in the case that there is good existing turf, we will usually plow the pipe in for those reasons. When doing so, we will do our best to ensure proper depth of pipe installation, thorough pipe connections, etc. If you have bare soil though, make sure you ask about trenching or plowing, and reasons why either method is being used.
This may seem like an odd thing to list here, but honestly, this point alone will usually make the largest difference in the overall price of your irrigation install.
- There is company A that takes time to create a company budget, ensure that they are paying their staff a livable wage, and because of budgeting and charging a healthy rate, they can afford training and education for their team, resulting in a more professional team working on your property.
- Then there is company B who simply charges what they think they can based on what others say, and still try to be competitive, (flippant per-zone, or per sprinkler price for example, even though every property is unique) which may end up being cheaper than company A. Company B may not be making a healthy profit though and/or paying their staff a livable wage, and may not be able to afford time for training, education, etc. Which team do you want working on your property and investment(s)?
None of us like hunting for contractors that we can trust, and hiring them, not knowing whether things will work out long-term. That’s why we are glad to be able to offer ongoing seasonal care of your landscape irrigation system, including spring start-up, seasonal irrigation maintenance, fall winterization, backflow certification, etc.
At the end of the day, it’s OK to ask questions. This is an investment in your home and/or property, and it’s too big of an investment not to have it done right the first time. If you receive a quote for an irrigation system install, and there’s very little detail on where the water supply is coming from, how the backflow will be certified, what areas are being covered, what controller will be used and where it will be placed, etc. ASK those questions. Better, the pain of a little inconvenience asking some questions, rather than the pain of buyer’s remorse once you can no longer do anything about it.