Grass looking stressed? Call in the auditor!

Inspecting your sprinkler system is key to helping your landscape beat the heat.

July 30, 2019 | By: Jay Adams

It’s summer, a traditional time for trips to the mountains, a plunge in the pool or a walk in the park, but how about conducting a summertime audit?

Doing an audit is probably not on your top 10 list of fun activities, summer or winter, but auditing your sprinkler system is a great way to help keep your grass green. And you don’t have to be an accountant to do it.

“A lot of people turn on their sprinklers in the spring and then forget to take a look at what they are actually doing throughout the summer,” said Jeff Tejral, water efficiency manager at Denver Water. “Understanding your irrigation system is a great way to help your yard beat the heat. It also helps you use water more efficiently.”

Irrigation audits, like financial audits, involve a thorough review. But an irrigation audit is not nearly as stressful and can be a fun way to learn about water use and your landscape.

Denver Water provides information on its website on how homeowners and property owners can do an irrigation system audit. The utility also partners with Resource Central, a nonprofit organization that provides innovative programs to help customers use water efficiently.

This photo shows a homeowner meeting with a sprinkler technician in a back yard.
Max Hartmann, a field technician at Resource Central, provides feedback to a homeowner about her sprinkler system. Photo credit: Denver Water.

 

Max Hartmann, who does sprinkler audits for Resource Central, says there are several simple steps homeowners should do throughout the watering season.

“The most important thing to do is to visually inspect your sprinklers every month to check for any problems,” Hartmann said. “We see a lot of water waste that can easily be fixed.”

Common irrigation system problems include broken sprinkler heads, misaligned sprinklers that overshoot the grass and spray onto sidewalks, control clocks set incorrectly, high water pressure and water missing spots in the landscape.

Denver Water customers Christa and Michael Leman had Hartmann inspect their yard in June.

“We moved to Colorado from Virginia, so we weren’t used to living in a semi-arid climate and had never owned a sprinkler system,” Michael Leman said. “We wanted an audit in order to learn how to maximize our use of water and reduce our water bill.”

This picture shows a technician adjusting a sprinkler head so that water sprays onto the yard and not the sidewalk.
Hartmann adjusts sprinkler heads to prevent them from spraying onto the sidewalk. Photo credit: Denver Water.

 

Hartmann spent about 60 minutes inspecting the couple’s yard and running several tests. Among the issues he found were several sprinkler heads that did not pop up out of the ground high enough to clear the blades of grass around them.

“Over time, sprinklers can settle into the ground,” Hartmann said. “This is a common problem and it means water does not spray far enough to give the yard full coverage.”

Hartman also found some sprinklers that weren’t aimed in the right direction.

The Lemans had been guessing how long to run each zone, so Hartmann calculated how much water each zone needed by looking at the type of sprinkler heads each zone had, measuring the size of their yard and testing their water pressure.

This photo shows a sprinkler technician and homeowners making adjustments to their irrigation system controller.
Homeowners learn how to set their irrigation system controller correctly to help keep their yard green while using water efficiently. Photo credit: Denver Water.

 

“We recommend using the cycle-and-soak method,” Hartmann said. “Instead of running a zone for a long time, you break the time into three shorter cycles.”

For zones with high-efficiency rotary sprinkler heads, Hartmann helped the Lemans set their irrigation control clock to run three cycles, each of them seven minutes long, starting at 3 a.m., 4 a.m. and 5 a.m. For zones with fixed-spray heads, he calculated the three cycles only needed to be five minutes long.

“The cycle-and-soak method gives the water more time to soak into our hard, clay soil,” Hartmann said. “High-efficiency sprinkler heads actually put out the water more slowly, so they need to run longer.”

He also directed the Lemans to Denver Water’s summer watering rules for guidelines on how many days per week the system should run during the summer watering season.

“Many homeowners are intimidated by their irrigation controllers, so we try to give them information on how to take advantage of all the features.”

For the couple’s flower bed, Hartman recommended using a drip system conversion kit. The kit is an easy way to turn a fixed-spray head into a drip system.

“Drip systems are better for flowers and bushes because they hit the root zone instead of the leaves,” Hartmann said.

The Lemans are planning to make the changes Hartmann recommended this summer and fall.

This photo shows a technician holding up a container filled with water collected during a sprinkler test.
Hartmann checks the amount of water collected during a catch-can test. Photo credit: Denver Water.

 

“We’ve never owned a sprinkler system before, so this was a great learning experience for us,” Michael Leman said. “We’re excited to make the changes and be as efficient as we can be.”

Resource Central’s “Slow the Flow” irrigation audits cost $120 and include a full report on what changes to make.

“We’re available as a resource, but homeowners can do their own audit on their yards,” Hartmann said. “Our goal is to empower people to understand their systems and become more efficient water users.”

For more information about water audits and other efficiency tips, visit denverwater.org/BestPractices.

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