7 sprinkler tips to save water and avoid catastrophe this spring

By Garth Haslem, ksl.com Contributor | Posted - Apr 24th, 2013 @ 11:44am


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SALT LAKE CITY — Yep, it's that time of year. Popcorn popping on the park strip trees, warm blanket air, birds singing and people running on the streets — even though no-one is chasing them. It's a glorious time, but it does have its drawbacks.

Spring is the time to take a long, hard look at your yard. If you're like most of us, sprinklers somehow find a way to break, clog, freeze or get lost during the winter. It can seem like spring is nature's revenge for giving us beautiful days for working in the yard.

Your sprinkler system can save you a good deal of headache, but only if you know how to design and care for it. If you don't do things right, things can get ugly. Sprinkler systems can cause mold, rot, termite issues, even structural settlement. Oh — and don't forget about basement flooding.

So if playing host to termites and mold colonies is not on your spring to-do list, there are a few alternative choices you can make.

Clean the filters

Your sprinkler system should have a filter. It should be located between the water main and the valve box. Filters are great, but after they filter out the first four tons of sludge from your water source, the second four tons can get a bit harder. That's where you come in.

If you don't have a filter, you're probably replacing a lot of sprinkler heads when they get clogged — get a filter instead. If you do have a filter, have mercy on it. Filters should be cleaned at the beginning of the season, and again at least once a month during irrigation season. Small heads also have filters that should be cleaned regularly.

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Check for gushers

With your filter cleaned or replaced, it's time to turn things on. Find the water main and turn it on — briefly. It's best to have lots of eyes around the home as you do this, but if you're down to a two-eyed inspection, start by turning your system on for only a few seconds. After turning the water off again, walk around your home. Look for gushers, blow-outs and separations. These can be easy to find if your PVC and sprinklers are in inspectable locations — gushing water and wet spots tell you where repairs need to happen.

Check for underground leaks

Sometimes the leak is deeper underground. These leaks often don't spurt above ground, instead only showing up as a large wet spot. In some cases, continuous pressure from beneath will cause your grass to lift, resulting in a bubble that can be many feet wide. To find these, you will need to leave your sprinklers on for a few minutes — leaks that start deep in the soil take a while to show up on the surface.

As you check your system for gushers and leaks, here's another important sign: if one of your lines shows dirty water, and the sprinklers don't spray as far as they used to, you have an underground leak. Water from ruptured PVC lines will scour the soil, washing it into your sprinkler line. This means less pressure and more dirt. If you see dirty, low pressure lines, grab your shovel — you'll need it.

Be the last

Secondary water systems have a way of washing a plug of dirty water to the first home that opens their main valve. There is no way to avoid it — it's just last year's pipe dirt. Somebody is going to get it. Make sure it's not you by being the last to turn your sprinkler system on in the spring. If you know you're going to get it, flush the system by taking your sprinkler heads off and allowing the system to purge the dirty water.

Check the design


If on the other hand, you would prefer to give your yard what it needs, consider setting your sprinklers for 30 minutes, 3 times per week. Smaller areas such as park strips may need less. You can adjust each area up or down based on the results you see in your yard.

Experience shows that many landscapers have no idea how and where to place sprinkler heads. Here are a few tips: Don't place too many sprinkler heads on one line, don't spray sheds and fences, and by all means, don't spray your house. If you really want to roll the dice with your sprinklers, place your sprinklers so they spray over a window well.

Sprinkler heads near window wells are an easy and obvious invitation to disaster. After all, do you really want that much water near your window well? Children and neighborhood dogs — especially labs — can do a number on sprinkler heads. If you would like to convert your basement randomly into a swimming pool, keep those heads right there. If not, place them at least two feet away, and only spray away from your home.

Time it right

Conservation is a wonderful thing; having marshland for a back yard isn't. If you want to use all the water that your neighbors are so carefully conserving, go ahead and set your sprinklers to run for an hour a day, every day. If on the other hand, you would prefer to give your yard what it needs, consider setting your sprinklers for 30 minutes, 3 times per week. Smaller areas such as park strips may need less. You can adjust each area up or down based on the results you see in your yard.

You may have gathered that night-time starts are more efficient. There is less evaporation loss at night, and you can use your yard all day when you water at night. That said, if you have a 2 a.m. start time, make sure you know that the system is working well. Half-hour gushers can waste water and flood things.

Drainage Nazi revisited

Let's face it: Murphy's law rules. If something can go wrong, it will. This is why you want a positive drainage slope near your foundation — one that forces surface water away from the structure. Keep sprinklers from spraying your home or window wells, and keep your window wells clean and well drained so "oops" moments don't result in basement flooding.

Oh — and don't forget to enjoy your summer.

Got questions? Visit www.crossroadsengineers.com or homemedic.tv to download "The Home Maintenance Guide". It's free. Garth Haslem is a home inspector, author, professional engineer & regular KSL contributor. Follow "The Home Medic" on Facebook.

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