How to Conserve Water with your Irrigation System

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Install a rain sensor. When it detects measurable rainfall, it turns off the automatic irrigation valves. You can buy a rain sensor almost anywhere irrigation products are sold, most will work with any brand of irrigation controller or timer and any brand of valve.

Irrigation system check. The company maintaining your lawn irrigation should examine and test the system every year and provide you with a report detailing its condition and any recommendations for repairs and improvements. You can also request an irrigation schedule showing how often and how long it should run during the year.

Adjust your irrigation controller (timer) Making a monthly or weekly changes can save water and money. Most controllers have a % key that makes changing the time quick and effortless. Run your irrigation system during the early morning hours. Less water is lost to evaporation when the temperature is cooler. Watering in the evenings can lead to turf and plant disease problems because the water sits on the plants all night. If you irrigate with automatic sprinklers, program your irrigation timer so that it waters in 2-3 short cycles rather than a single long period of time. Cycling the irrigation gives the water time to soak into the ground and reduces water run-off, it also will help reduce the wet spots in the lawn where lawn diseases get started.

Prevent blocking or deflection of irrigation heads. When the water pattern is deflected by tall grass or leaves, it results in uneven watering and water waste. The industry standard uses sprinkler heads with a pop-up height of 4 inches or more. If you do not want to replace or raise the heads, trim the shrubs around the heads so that the spray is not blocked. In many cases, it is fine for the water to spray into the side of shrubs, especially if the shrubs are 6 feet or more from the sprinkler. If shrubs are not wilting and are healthy, there is no need to change the sprinklers. Consider changing the sprinklers in shrub areas to a drip system to use less water

Relocate sprinklers so that they are 4 to 6 inches from the edge of sidewalks, curbs, and patios. In shrub areas, they can often be 12 inches from the edge, especially with a mature landscape. This will reduce the amount of spray onto the paved surface and will not create a dry area along the edge of the lawn. It will also reduce the amount of damage that trimmers cause to the sprinkler heads. Almost all stores that sell irrigation equipment will have flexible riser pipes made for relocating sprinklers. Using the flexible riser pipe makes relocating the sprinklers much easier and allows the sprinklers to flex if hit by a car or lawn mower.

Fix leaking valves. Look for water running onto sidewalks or over curbs after the sprinkler system is turned off. If water flows constantly when the sprinkler system is off (often there will be mold or algae growing on the cement or ground) that indicates that a valve is not fully closing. A valve that does not close usually is caused by a grain of sand stuck inside the valve. Clean or replace the valve to resolve.

Fix low head drainage. Do your sprinklers spit and spew air mixed with water for a short period every time they are turned on? This is caused by what is called "low head drainage". If the sprinkler system is installed on a sloped area and the system is turned off, the water would drain out through the lowest sprinkler head and would be replaced by air. The water that drains out is wasted, and often flows into the gutter or creates a muddy area around the lowest sprinkler head or drip emitter. The air is then forced out the next time the sprinklers run. This puts a lot of stress on the sprinklers and pipes. 

Install a Smart controller. A Smart controller does the work of periodically adjusting the sprinkler operating times for you. It changes the run times to reflect your current watering needs.

Winterize the system each year before the cold weather sets in.

Switch to drip irrigation for watering shrubs. Drip irrigation is about 20% more water efficient.

Install an automated emergency shut-off device. These devices save water by automatically shutting off the water when something in the irrigation system breaks. They are often used on irrigation systems where a break or valve failure could cause serious damage. They also are used where a leak might go undetected for days, such as a vacation home or remote location.

Separate plants into hydro-zones. A hydro-zone is where all the plants use about the same amount of water, and has the same sun and wind exposure. For example, lawn in the sun would be one zone; the lawn in shaded areas would be another zone. The irrigation is separated so that each hydro-zone is watered by a different valve. This allows each hydro-zone individually for just the right time needed by the plants without over-watering.

Sprinkler System Tune-up Steps

Test backflow device. Make sure the system has a working and testable device that protects the drinking water supply, and have it tested every year.

Check for problems. Turn on each valve, one at a time, and carefully inspect your irrigation system. Look for wet spots that indicate there might be a leaking irrigation pipe. Repair any leaks.

Replace controller battery. Most systems have a back-up battery that maintains the time and program during power failures.

Straighten any sprinkler heads that are leaning to the side. In most situations, sprinkler heads need to be installed so that they are perpendicular to the ground to work correctly. If they lean to one side, they may create dry spots and waste water.

Replace any broken or malfunctioning heads. Be sure to replace broken heads with the same brand/model on the same valve circuit.

Clean spray-type sprinklers by removing the nozzle from each head and cleaning the screen. The screen will be under the nozzle.

Adjust spray-type sprinklers. On top of each spray-type nozzle is a small radius adjustment screw. Turn the adjustment screw to adjust each of your spray-type sprinklers so that they do not spray onto sidewalks or walls. If spray-type heads are creating a lot of mist, try partially closing the adjustment screws by turning the screw clockwise to reduce the misting. Partially closing the adjustment screw will reduce the water pressure inside the nozzle, which will cut down on how much mist is created. After adjusting, make sure that the spray from the nozzle still goes all the way to the next sprinkler. When sprinklers are properly spaced and adjusted, the water from each sprinkler should spray all the way to the next sprinkler in each direction.

Adjust the rotor-type sprinklers. The most common adjustment error is to try to create even coverage by breaking up the water stream using the radius adjustment screw. On a typical rotor, the radius adjustment screw is located on top of the sprinkler, just in front of the nozzle. When turned the screw drops down into the water stream causing the stream to deform. This deflects the water stream and reduces the distance it shoots from the sprinkler. Turn the adjustment screw clockwise until it is touching the water stream that will change shape when the screw contacts it. Now turn the screw counter-clockwise just enough that it is not touching the stream. This is the proper default position, unless the sprinkler is spraying too far you should leave it in this default position.