Remember — irrigation systems don’t have brains, only clocks.

When left on “automatic,” irrigation systems can waste large quantities of water.  A clock can’t conduct the Walk Test, and has no way of knowing when your lawn is thirsty.  Only YOU can determine when your lawn should be watered, not a clock. Protect your lawn and your community’s water by following the tips below for using your irrigation system responsibly.

Hire the Right Contractor.

Whether you are installing a new system, have troubles with your existing system, or just want to get guideance for using your system wisely, you’ll save water, headaches and money by hiring a the right irrigation contractor.  Not all contractors are equal!  Be sure to use one certified by the Irrigation Association and/or EPA WaterSense™.  Also consider these contractor hiring guidelines offered by the Irrigation Association.

Start with the right design.

Designing an irrigation system that is water-efficient is a specialized field that requires training and certification.  If you care about conserving water, don’t trust just anybody to do the job!  A professional irrigation designer will evaluate your site conditions and prepare professional plans to meet the needs of your landscape, using the most efficient irrigation equipment available.  If you plan to install a new automatic irrigation system, use a certified designer certified by the Irrigation Association and/or EPA WaterSense™.

Keep your system maintained.

Unbalanced sprinkler systems can waste water and harm your lawn.  Repair leaks and broken heads immediately — they can waste more than 12 gallons a minute!  Ensure the sprinkler heads are operating at  the proper pressure by using heads with built-in pressure regulators.  Proper maintenance will also increase the life of many irrigation components. The Irrigation Association has additional guidelines for irrigation system maintenance.

Have your system checked every 2-3 years.

A certified irrigation auditor will perform a series of tests and analyses, and then offer suggestions for changes in the irrigation design, installation or operation.  Implementing these changes will save you money and headaches as well as resolve problems with turf hot spots, drooping shrubbery, swamping, and erosion.

The best setting for automatic irrigation systems is “off.”

Don’t trust the automatic timer.  Program the system to run every morning at dawn, but keep it turned off until you need it.  This will allow you to monitor your lawn and weather; and then make an active decision to irrigate.  This is the easiest way to use your system responsibly and is how professional turf managers use irrigation systems. When you decide your lawn needs water, turn the system on before you go to bed.  Be sure to turn it off the next morning so it won’t automatically run again the next day.  Remind yourself to turn your system off by putting a note next to your toothbrush or coffee mug until you have the habit.

Move your system controller to a place that is convenient for you.

If your controller is hidden in the back of the basement, it will be hard to remember to use it responsibly.  Have it moved (this is not expensive to do) to a prominent place so it will be easier for you.

Install a “rain sensor” to prevent watering during rainfall.

You definitely need one of these because your watering cycle will take place at dawn, when you may be asleep.  Make sure the sensors are not sheltered by a roof overhang or other obstruction.  Soil moisture sensors are also available, but they must be installed in every irrigation zone and carefully calibrated – ask an irrigation specialist certified by the Irrigation Association and/or EPA WaterSense™ for more information.

Consider upgrading to underground drip irrigation. 

Drip irrigation gets water directly to the roots (causing less disease and fewer weeds and insects)
and uses about 25-30% less water than above-ground sprinklers.  Converting to this type of system is affordable and can be done without damaging the lawn.  Routine audits and maintenance of these systems by a professional are particularly important since they are underground and cannot be seen.  Ask an irrigation specialist certified by the Irrigation Association and/or EPA WaterSense™ if your lawn is a good candidate for this system.

Use “Smart” Controllers.

Weather-based irrigation controllers, often called “smart” controllers, can reduce water use by 15 percent. These controllers maximize irrigation efficiency by continuously monitoring site conditions (such as soil moisture, rain, wind, slope, soil, and temperature) and applying the right amount of water to the landscape based on those factors. Ask an irrigation specialist certified by the Irrigation Association and/or EPA WaterSense™ for more information.

Reuse rainwater for irrigation.

As much as 55,000 gallons of rain falls on a 2,000 square foot roof in Massachusetts each year.  Capture that free water to irrigate your landscape by using an underground cistern such as Rainwater Recovery ™.  These harvesting systems can hold up to 30,000+ gallons and can be connected to your automatic irrigation system.