Tired of dragging out the hose every day or letting your sprinkler cool off the sidewalk? The following tips can help you water much less—and more wisely.
When it comes to a home's irrigation system, a little maintenance goes a long way. Homes with clock timer controlled irrigation systems use about 50 percent more water outdoors than homes without irrigation systems. Your system can waste even more if it’s programmed incorrectly, a sprinkler head is pointed in the wrong direction, or you have a leak. Before you ramp up your watering efforts, spruce up your irrigation system by remembering four simple steps: inspect, connect, direct, and select.
Check out our video with Flo and follow the simple tips listed below for sprucing up your sprinkler system:
Connect. Examine points where the sprinkler heads connect to pipes or hoses. If water pools in your landscape or you have large wet areas, you could have a leak in your system. A leak about as small as the tip of a ballpoint pen (or 1/32nd of an inch) can waste about 6,300 gallons of water per month!
Direct. Make sure to direct your sprinklers so that they apply water only to the landscape—not the driveway, house, or sidewalk.
Select. An improperly scheduled irrigation controller can waste water and money. Update your system’s watering schedule to align with the seasons, or select a WaterSense labeled weather based irrigation controller to take the guesswork out of scheduling.
Timing Is Everything
No matter what kind of yard or landscape you have, it's important to know exactly how much water your plants need before you turn on the sprinkler. Smart watering practices reduce runoff and may decrease the need for pesticides and fertilizers.
Contact your local water utility to find out exactly how much and when you should be watering , and keep the following questions in mind when you water can so that you can maintain a beautiful and healthy yard without wasting water or money.
Avoid watering in the middle of the day when the hot sun will evaporate much of the water before it can get to thirsty plants.
The answer depends on several factors, including where you live, recent weather conditions, and the type of plants in your landscape. A rule of thumb for many areas of the country is that lawns only need up to one inch of water a week, including rainfall. Shrubs, trees, and other perennials generally will need even less because of their deeper root structure. Check with your area's Cooperative Extension Service Exit or local water utility for expert advice on watering needs in your area.
Give this a try! Place a few empty tuna cans around your lawn while you're watering and measure how long it takes your sprinkler to fill them with a half inch of water. Then, try watering that amount of time twice a week, gauge how your landscape responds, and adjust based on weather conditions. Or simplify by replacing your standard clock timer controller with a WaterSense labeled irrigation controller.
If water begins to pool, turn off your sprinkler to prevent overwatering and runoff. Watering plants or grass too frequently can drown plants or result in shallow roots. Overwatering can lead to a host of other problems including weed growth, disease, fungus, and stormwater runoff that pollutes local waterways with fertilizers and pesticides. Remember, most of your plants will need less water than your turfgrass.
When the rain does come, saving water from storms is a great way to supplement your efficiency measures. Rain barrels or cisterns can be used to harvest rain water for irrigation and other outdoor water uses. Commercial rooftop collection systems are available, but simply diverting your downspout into a covered barrel is an easy, low-cost approach. Some states might have laws that prohibit collection of rainwater, so be sure to check with your state's water resource agency before implementing a rainwater collection system.
- For more on rainwater collection, visit EPA's Green Infrastructure Web page: Rain Harvesting.
- Learn how to keep rain where it falls, visit EPA's Soak up the Rain effort
- Alternative Water Sources Maps Exit– DOE provides information on rainwater harvesting regulations by state.
Household wastewater—or “greywater”—from bathroom sinks, showers, bathtubs, and clothes washers can also be reused for landscape irrigation. Greywater reuse systems divert used water to a storage tank for later outdoor watering use. State and local greywater laws and policies vary, so you should investigate to determine if restrictions apply in your area.
See EPA's Region 9 Web page on Water Recycling and Reuse for more information on the uses and benefits of recycled water.
Manage Your Irrigation System
If your home is one of the more than 13.5 million with an in-ground irrigation system, try some of these simple strategies to reduce your water waste and protect the environment. Having a beautiful landscape doesn’t have to mean using a lot of water.
Look for the label. WaterSense labels irrigation controllers, a type of "smart" irrigation control technology that uses local weather data to determine whether your sprinkler system needs to turn on. WaterSense labeled controllers can help you save water, time, and money when compared to use of a conventional controller. Learn more about the ins and outs of upgrading your system with this smarter technology.
Adjust your irrigation system often. Get to know the settings on your irrigation controller and, if you haven't upgraded to a weather-based controller, adjust its watering schedule regularly according to seasonal weather conditions. A good rule of thumb: when you adjust your thermostat due to seasonal temperature changes, adjust your irrigation controller watering schedule as well.
Set sprinklers to keep the water on the landscape and off the pavement. Lots of water is wasted by poorly designed and neglected sprinkler systems that spray sidewalks, driveways, and the street. Monitoring and making simple adjustments to the sprinklers saves water and reduces runoff from the landscape, helping to keep local water bodies clean.
Play "zone" defense. Schedule each individual zone in your irrigation system to account for the type of sprinkler, sun or shade exposure, and type of plants and soil in the specific area. The same watering schedule rarely applies to all zones in the system.
Check for WaterSense! A certified irrigation professional can design, install, maintain, or audit your system to ensure you're using the proper amount of water to support a healthy landscape. Ask if your irrigation contractor is certified by a WaterSense labeled program.
Inspect your irrigation system monthly. Check for leaks, broken or clogged heads, and other problems, or engage a certified irrigation professional to regularly check your system. Clean micro-irrigation filters as needed and correct obstructions in sprinkler heads that prevent them from distributing water evenly.
Use smart(er) technologies. Consider installing other water-saving technologies such as soil moisture sensors, efficient sprinkler heads, and micro or drip irrigation to get the most out of your irrigation system.
Install low-volume micro-irrigation for gardens, trees, and shrubs. Micro-irrigation includes drip (also known as trickle), micro-spray jets, micro-sprinklers, or bubbler irrigation. Micro-irrigation devices irrigate slowly and minimize evaporation, runoff, and overspray.
Using water-efficient technologies can make a big difference in keeping your home irrigation system running efficiently without a lot of effort on your part. Consult an irrigation professional certified by a WaterSense labeled program to find out which options are best for updating your irrigation system.
WaterSense Labeled Irrigation Controllers
WaterSense labels weather-based irrigation controllers, a type of "smart" irrigation control technology that uses local weather data to determine when and how much to water. WaterSense labeled irrigation controllers can save you water, time, and money when compared to standard models.
Soil Moisture Sensors
Soil moisture-based control technologies water plants based on their needs by measuring the amount of moisture in the soil and tailoring the irrigation schedule accordingly. WaterSense has issued a Notice of Intent to label soil moisture–based control technologies.
Rainfall Shutoff Devices
Rainfall shutoff devices turn off your system in rainy weather and help compensate for natural rainfall. This inexpensive device can be retrofitted to almost any system.
Rain sensors can help decrease water wasted in the landscape by turning off the irrigation system when it is raining.
Certain types of sprinkler heads apply water more efficiently than others. Rotary spray heads deliver water in a thicker stream than mist spray heads, ensuring more water reaches plants and less is lost to evaporation and wind. WaterSense is working on a specification to label landscape sprinkler components.
Micro-irrigation or drip systems are generally more efficient than conventional sprinklers, because they deliver low volumes of water directly to plants' roots, minimizing losses to wind, runoff, evaporation, or overspray. Drip irrigations systems use 20 to 50 percent less water than conventional pop-up sprinkler systems and can save up to 30,000 gallons per year. Consider installing drip around trees, shrubs, and gardens in place of a conventional sprinkler system. For more information on drip systems or micro-irrigation, see this video Exiton drip irrigation installation from our partners at Cascade Water Alliance.