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Irrigation systems

Here are some tips on how to save water and money with your irrigation system:

Set up the sprinkler to water in the early morning - between 3 a.m. and 7 a.m. Water is lost to evaporation in the heat of the day.

Fill a Frisbee, free a river
An upside down Frisbee holds 2.5 cm (1 inch) of water, which including rainfall is the amount a lawn needs each week. This applies to all sprinklers - hose or in-ground.

Know Your Controller
Find out how to adjust the device that controls the sprinkler system. Shut it off when it's raining or if it's too windy. When it's too windy, you might be watering your neighbour's lawn or worse, the sidewalk.

Check your system for leaks - there may be a puddle by the spray head or a soft spot on your lawn. Other signs of a leak are a musty smell or hissing sound. Also check the spray head alignment. Make sure nothing is blocking the heads and keep an eye out for damage.

The nozzle controls the volume of water coming out of the rotor. As it wears out, the opening of the nozzle gets larger, which increases the volume of water that goes through the nozzle and changes the spray pattern. In Calgary, nozzles generally don't last longer than five years. In fact, if your nozzles are five years old, it's probably time to change them out.

Whether you are changing out old ones, or installing new ones, your nozzles need to be correctly matched. To match precipitation rates in your irrigation system, the flow rates have to be reduced in the quarter-circle spray heads in the corners and the half-circle spray heads to match the amount of water being put down by the full-circle heads. Simply put, this means corner nozzles should have a flow rate one quarter that of full circles. Half circles would need a flow rate double the quarter circle or half the full circle.

Get City Certified
The City of Calgary offers Water Managed Site certification that recognizes systems that are properly installed, maintained and operated.

Can an irrigation system waste water?

Inground irrigation systems can be an easy, effective way to water your lawn, trees, shrubs or garden. However, if a system is improperly installed or used, you could wind up wasting water, money and all the hard work that went into your prize-winning landscape. In 2003, the City of Calgary found, on average, lawns received 11.25 cm (4.5 inches) of water a week – that's nearly five times more than what a lawn actually needs!

Not only does too much watering waste money and water, but it also shortens the root systems of your plants, trees shrubs and grasses, making them susceptible to drought. Learn more about how to make the most of purchasing, installing, maintaining and using yourIn-ground Irrigation Systems.

Before you buy an irrigation system

While these automatic irrigation systems are convenient, they often can increase resource costs. Even in the best cases, only 70 per cent of the water spraying from an irrigation head makes it to the plant's root zone. Water is lost to the wind, evaporation, or the system's design, installation, maintenance or schedule. Make sure you investigate whether or not an automatic irrigation system makes the most sense for your landscape.

Know what you need
If you have an in-ground irrigation system, you are required to protect your home's drinking water by installing a backflow preventer on the water supply to your irrigation system. The type of backflow preventer will depend on size and number of zones in your irrigation system. Examples of backflow prevention devices that may apply are: Atmospheric Vacuum Breaker (AVB), Pressure Vacuum Breaker (PVB), Dual Check Valve (DuC), Double Check Valve Assembly (DCVA). Backflow prevention devices are available at retail irrigation equipment suppliers, plumbing suppliers and building material suppliers.

Know your watering needs
Learn the soil type, yard slopes and watering needs of your grass, plants and shrubs. Check the water pressure required to operate the system.  Low-volume, low-angle, pop-up sprinklers are recommended to water grass; drip irrigation works best for plants and shrubs. Take into account that shrubs use water more efficiently than grass, needing water a third less often. Their deeper roots also require slower watering with more time to soak into the soil. By prioritizing what gets irrigated, sloping to let water run where it is most needed and grouping planting around irrigation, you can maximize the benefits of a system before you even purchase one.

Ask an expert
You can save money, time and potential problems down the road by ensuring your inground irrigation system is planned and installed by a certified irrigation designer. Learn more about what to look for by visiting The Irrigation Association.

Avoid over and under spray
Ensure your irrigation system is designed to evenly distribute water to the watering area. Limit overlapping spray patterns and avoid watering hard surfaces such as sidewalks and driveways.

Stay in control
If possible, select controllers with adjustable watering schedules and moisture sensors, rain switches and wind switches so you can allow for seasonal variations.

Space-age your system
Some irrigation systems (Central Control) use real-time climatic data received from a pager, phone, two-way radio or satellite. Combine this with a central control system where a professional water manager monitors and adjusts the irrigation program for your individual site. Investing in these types of systems eliminates the need to watch the weather and adjust your controllers.