At Mirage Landscaping, Calgary’s commercial and residential landscaping maintenance firm, we have extensive experience laying out, installing, and maintaining underground sprinkler systems. Most of our largest clients are the owners or managers of corporate and small business properties and we have seen it all over the course of three generations in business.
Automating your plant and lawn watering is economical in the long run. In light of the recent flooding and our wet July, water remains an expensive natural resource in our city and we should all strive to not waste it. Commercial and residential irrigation systems not only conserve water, they spare you the time you could be spending doing something else.
So, let’s say that you’ve already seen the light on this topic and have installed an irrigation system at your home or business. How do you know it’s working at its optimum efficiency?
Watch Your Water Bills
Most people run their sprinklers during the very early hours of the morning, and so it’s not easy to tell if they’re working as they should be simply because you’re not usually there to watch them. It only takes one freeze-thaw fracture, one faulty or vandalized sprinkler head, or a zone of infiltration blockage, to hamper function, consequently harming a section of your landscaping through flooding areas and causing artificial drought in others.
First, check your water bills year over year. Note whether you are still a flat rate customer of Calgary Water Services. If you think you’d benefit immediately from metered service, call 311 and make an appointment. All city water customers have to be on metered service by the end of 2014.
If there hasn’t been a price increase in your service, but you are paying more year after year, you may have a leaking or otherwise malfunctioning irrigation system as the culprit.
Observe Your System
Though it is high summer, have you actually viewed your irrigation system in action this year? If you haven’t observed your system while it is watering, and even if you have delegated the task to someone else, as the bill payer you should run it and watch it.
Are the heads still spraying in the pattern you wanted or remembered them having? Do they all pop up or activate? Are they delivering a consistent amount of water, or does it seem like certain heads look unregulated and others as if they need a cleaning out? You may not know it, but each sprinkler head is made up of a number of parts, some of which are relatively easy to knock out of adjustment by being overrun by power equipment, struck by line trimmers, or even after being kicked by vandals while operating.
Next, every installed sprinkler system should have come with a diagram detailing not only the location of the sprinklers, but also where the system’s main supply and drain valves are. One common area leaks occur is in the box where the water supply is connected to the system. When it was installed, a labourer dug a hole on the property to install a plastic valve cover vault. As this part of the system is underground, but not reburied in soil, it lacks insulation during freezes.
Even if you, or a contractor, faithfully drain the system of water before winter, those valves are where the building’s water system meets the irrigation system. Valves are already a failure point in any plumbing system, but one holding water at bay all winter is subject to more stress from the weather than a dry valve is. Choose a dry day and pull the vault lid, is it bone dry down there? It should be. If the soil below the valve(s) is damp, but no dripping is immediately apparent, operate the sprinkler system and see if moisture begins to accumulate. Even if it is “only dripping,” you should get your system repaired immediately. In our experience installing and maintaining underground sprinkler systems, leaks only trend in one direction—towards worse. An uncontrolled blowout in your valve vault will not only spin your water bill towards a ridiculous amount of wasted money, such a flow could make the vault hole into a small scale water carved sinkhole.
If your valve vault is dry, let the system run and observe it for obvious problems. After you turn it off, walk the schematic of your sprinkler system. The grass should be wet but not swampy, there shouldn’t be any unintended dry spots where the water never reached.
If things don’t look or feel normal, give us a call for a free quote. We are happy to help!