It only takes a few easy steps to begin receiving a weekly email that lets you know how much water your landscape actually requires based on local weather conditions. The email also shows the length of time to set on your irrigation system cycle. Simply visit WaterMyYard.org select a weather station near your location, determine how long to run your irrigation system, and begin to water your landscape more efficiently.
Landscape watering typically accounts for the majority of household water use during summer months. Higher water use increases water bills — and increases the demand on our water supply. An automatic sprinkler system provides a convenience, but people have a responsibility to operate their systems efficiently and effectively.
If you set your sprinkler system to run automatically and it is not programmed properly, you could use up to 35 percent more water than your neighbors without a sprinkler system.1 To maintain maximum control of your water use, operate your sprinkler system manually. However, if you decide to run your sprinkler system on the automatic setting, here are some helpful tips to ensure you don’t put an unnecessary strain on our water supply — or on your wallet.
Hire a licensed irrigator if you decide to install an automatic sprinkler system. The licensed irrigator should be knowledgeable about hydrozoning and the most water-efficient irrigation technology.
Hydrozoning is the practice of separating landscape beds and turf areas, which have separate watering needs, into different irrigation or watering zones. (1)
Hydrozoning takes into consideration not only the varying watering needs of your landscape, but also differences in sunny and shaded areas.
Locate licensed irrigators in your area.
- A multiple scheduling option to allow watering of different zones with varying water needs.
- A rain-shutoff device, such as a wireless rain sensor, which is a convenient way to use up to 30 percent less water by automatically turning off your system when it rains. Be sure to place your rain sensor in an appropriate and open area.
- A water budget feature, which allows you to adjust the run time in percent increments without having to reprogram.
- Test functions, which will allow you to monitor the effectiveness of your system and make needed adjustments.
When installing or replacing a sprinkler control box, opt for the new “smart” irrigation controllers that adjust watering run times by using weather data. These smart controllers base water application on the evapotranspiration (ET) rate. ET is a measure of the amount of water required to maximize plant growth given the prevailing temperature, precipitation, cloud cover and other factors.
Know how to operate your sprinkler system controller. If you know it’s going to rain, turn the controller off for the day. Manual operation of your system is the best way to be water efficient. But if you set your system to operate automatically, be sure your controller is programmed properly.
Things to consider
- What days do you want your automatic sprinkler system to operate? Be sure to follow your local watering schedule. Generally, you will need to water only 1 inch a week during the spring and summer to maintain a healthy lawn and encourage deep root growth. And when it rains, you’ll need even less. Watering more frequently is wasteful and can even damage your lawn.
- What time of day do you want to start your automatic sprinkler system? Again, check your local watering schedule for your assigned times. It is best to water in the early morning or evening (before 10 a.m. or after 6 p.m.).
You can lose as much as 30 percent of water to evaporation by watering midday.**
- How long is each zone being watered? To determine how long you should operate your automatic sprinkler system per zone, set empty cans — such as tuna cans — in your yard and time how long it takes your irrigation system to fill each with an inch of water. This will provide you with the proper watering run time for each zone. Watering this amount once a week should be sufficient during the spring and summer, depending on the amount of rain that is absorbed.
- Stations control the valves that release water to the irrigation Zones in your yard or garden. Assign areas with similar watering needs to the same station or zone to allow for more efficient watering, since all emitters and/or sprinklers on a single valve will run for the same amount of time. Multiple stations or zones allow you to customize watering amounts for varying types of plants by allowing for specific run times for different valves.
- A Program is where you store all your settings. It consists of a group of stations set to specific start times and run times for the different zones. Sprinkler system controllers that allow for multiple schedule options A, B and C allow you to operate different valves on specified days with varying run times.
- The Start Time is the time at which a specific valve will open to irrigate a station or zone.
- The Run Time or Station Duration is the time, in minutes, a specific valve will stay open to water a zone.
- Off or Stop will stop programs from running until you toggle back to Run. Your programs will be saved. This is great to use during rainy periods.
- The Manual button allows you to run a single valve for a specified amount of time. This is helpful when you want to tune up your irrigation system and check for leaks, misaligned sprinkler heads, or clogged drip emitters.
- Begin by setting the correct date and time.
- Next, set your watering days, and then set the beginning time and duration for each station.
- Repeat the process to set a secondary schedule.
- Group stations or valves that require the same watering frequencies on the same program (such as A, B, or C).
- Enter only one start time for each program, even when there are multiple stations or valves.
- Enter different start times on different programs A, B, and C to avoid overlap on watering times.
- Use multiple start times if excessive runoff is a problem.
The Useful Links page has links to several common brands.
Most people are not aware that lawns require different amounts of water in each season. As a result:
Most lawns are irrigated the same amount year-round, resulting in wasted water and money.
- Reset: The sprinkler system controller controls the irrigation system, but YOU control the controller. Reset your irrigation timer each season. Reset the timer on the first day of the month in March, May, October, and December.
- Keep fresh batteries: Be sure your sprinkler system controller has a fresh battery so that it can maintain the watering schedule in the event of a power outage. Without this backup energy supply, the controller goes back to the default settings — often watering every day.
- Use a water budget: Set your sprinkler system controller to work with the seasons.
- Run the system at 100 percent during June through September.
- Run the system at 50 percent during October and March through May.
- Turn off your irrigation system from November through February.
- Landscapes need little or no supplemental water at this time.
- Audit annually: Once a year, have your entire irrigation system, including the sprinkler system controller, checked by a licensed irrigator to make sure it is operating properly. In addition to making any needed adjustments to your controller, be sure to:
- Repair broken sprinkler heads — watch for geysers or pooling at the base of the head.
- Adjust misdirected sprinkler heads — don’t spray sidewalks, streets, etc.
- Clear blocked sprinkler heads — trim high grass, shrubs and other landscape items that are in the way.
- Repair sunken sprinkler heads — make sure sprinkler heads pop up at the proper time.
If your irrigation system is several years old, you might not be taking advantage of newer features, such as built-in rain sensors, water budgeting features, or a multiple schedule option.
Updating your sprinkler system controller could save you a significant amount of water and money each season.
Check with your city to see if it offers a rebate program to upgrade to a “smart” controller, and see if it offers irrigation audits.
* Green Building, United States Environmental Protection Agency (December 2, 2010). Water-Efficient Irrigation Systems and Practices. In Conserving Water. Retrieved from: http://www.epa.gov/greenhomes/ConserveWater.htm.
** Water Sense, United States Environmental Protection Agency. (June 11, 2012). Tips for Watering Wisely. Retrieved from: http://www.epa.gov/watersense/outdoor/watering_tips.html.