An improperly maintained irrigation system can devastate a client’s lawn. And according to landscaper Mitch Kalamian of Solena Landscape Co. in Huntington Beach, Calif., the damage may not stop there. Such was the case when he visited a house with a failed backflow device.
“A house down the street from [our clients’] had caught fire and when the fire department used the fire hydrant, it caused back-siphoning which pulled contaminated yard water into a neighboring homes potable water,” he says.
Consequently, the family in the home could have gotten sick. However, had the system, with a properly installed backflow device, been installed correctly, they would not have had any problem with contaminated water inside their house.
Breakdowns are unavoidable with any mechanical system, and home irrigation systems are no exception. Children at play may disturb heads and mowers frequently cause sprinkler heads to break or become misaligned.
Sunken heads can occur with the natural settling of the earth, and debris entering the system can upset seals and clog nozzles. Tree roots and age can cause underground leaks to spring or blockages to occur, leading to gallons of water waste.
Although each system and scenario will be different, there are certain essential aspects that every irrigation maintenance plan should include:
• An inspection of all zones to ensure they have matching precipitation levels and that coverage is complete and not redundant.
• Adjust timers and schedule intervals during cooler parts of the day to prevent water loss due to evaporation.
• Make sure that no zones are overwatered, which can reduce runoff and water waste while improving plant health.
• Check rain sensors, wire connections, backup batteries and backflow valves.
• Inspect and clean screens and replace if necessary.
• Replace damaged sprinkler heads or nozzles.
Irrigation maintenance plans will vary depending on which part of the country a landscaper works in.
Adam Jones, vice president and director of quality assurance at Massey Services, Inc., whose company operates in Florida, Georgia, Texas and Louisiana, suggests a bi-monthly maintenance plan that includes updating watering schedules, routine adjustments, cleaning and repairing damage. His company also keeps up with local water conservation ordinances to ensure clients keep in compliance.
For his clients in Southern California, Kalamian recommends a quarterly “flush and adjust” plan to head off problems for his clients, removing debris from a system and matching precipitation levels in all zones.
In climates with more radical seasonal change, it's crucial to stay on top of winterization practices. According to Reuben Huffman, senior designer at Fullmer’s Landscaping, Inc. in Dayton, Ohio and a member of the Association of Professional Landscape Designers, the classic nightmare occurs when frost penetrates the ground and freezes the water in the lines.
“You have the potential for damage throughout the whole system,” he says.
Huffman recommends staying in touch with clients and staying aware of seasonal weather patterns to be sure that the system is turned on when spring weather has arrived and is thoroughly air-flushed to remove all the moisture before the cold returns in fall. Waiting too long in the fall could lead to catastrophic problems, including burst pipes, and problems with joints, valves and heads.
Huffman adds that in the Midwest—if the system was properly installed—an irrigation maintenance plan that follows proper winterization practices may be enough. Still, some clients may prefer to leave adjusting timers and spray arcs and scheduling intervals to a professional. He cautions his clients to keep an eye on sprinkler heads throughout the summer and call him if any become damaged.
Most landscapers include a one-year warranty with any irrigation system installation, which includes manufacturer-recommended maintenance. Beyond that, they should set up an appropriate arrangement with clients to keep up with irrigation system maintenance.
Many landscapers offer an annual contract, often paired with other estate services such as mowing and trimming. Others, like Huffman, leave it up to the client to call for mid-season adjustments and repairs. What to charge clients will largely depend on the frequency of the visits, scale of the system and scope of the procedure.
In order to protect their clients’ investment, landscapers should help them understand the importance of regular maintenance—if things aren’t tended to properly, a client is destined to spend more money later to repair or replace system problems.
Water waste due to misaligned heads, improperly calibrated pressure and leaks can add up to hundreds of gallons of annual loss and unnecessarily high utility bills. Collateral damage to plant material may increase costs even more as not only will the irrigation system need to be repaired or replaced, so might grass and other foliage.
“Clients should take [irrigation] seriously,” Kalamian says. “It’s the lifeline to the yard.”
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