Mr. Hutcheson

Eco-Friendly Practices

Going Green through Irrigation: System maintenance tips for water - and cost - savings

By Ken Hutcheson, President, U.S. Lawns

Can going green help the environment and the bottom line? When it comes to responsible water use, the answer is a resounding yes. Proper irrigation maintenance at hotel properties can not only benefit the environment, but can also provide savings on both overhead and incremental expenses. Utilizing efficient irrigation techniques ensures that landscapes stay beautiful without draining unnecessary natural and fiscal resources. Here are some expert tips for installing and maintaining an irrigation system that works for the environment-and your budget:

When it comes to installation, irrigation systems are not one-size-fits-all. Systems must be tailored to a property's specific needs, especially in areas with either limited water supplies or areas with community-imposed water restrictions. An irrigation specialist can help ensure that a property is covered efficiently and effectively. Sprinkler heads must be installed in a uniform manner to avoid over- or under-watering, and the correct types of sprinkler heads must be used on the property so that any unnecessary areas-including sidewalks and parking areas-are not being watered along with your target areas.

Proper irrigation system maintenance is necessary to ensure that water is being used most efficiently. A poorly maintained irrigation system can lead to a significant amount of your water never reaching its intended target by being lost to runoff, evaporation and deep watering below the root zone. Ensuring an irrigation system is properly maintained will reduce water waste and pollution from run-off and over-irrigation, while improving the landscape's health by ensuring the correct amount of water is applied.

While irrigation systems should undergo a full system check monthly, weekly monitoring can ensure uncovering any potential problems before they cause significant any damage. As watering is often done during off-peak hours, many problems with irrigation systems go undetected for long periods of time and can result in significant water waste. A monthly system check will ensure that rain sensors are functioning properly, all moisture sensors are programmed correctly and that all filters have been inspected and cleaned and are free of sediment. Failure to properly maintain these individual pieces of the irrigation system can result in excess amounts of water being used, increasing operational costs. It is also important that timers be checked to ensure the landscape is watered on schedule and without waste.

Poor maintenance can lead to a number of problems, which can lead to higher water costs and fees to correct the issues. Ongoing visual checks are key to identifying and fixing issues as quickly as possible. Issues like small leaks can turn into much larger problems if not caught in a timely manner. A small leak can be identified through a reduction in pressure at sprinkler system heads when the system is turned on, or if there is excess water somewhere else in the system. In addition to low pressure issues, high or fluctuating water can cause issues as well, leading sprinklers to mist or fog. In this case, water is not delivered to a lawn or planting bed at the optimal rate. These issues, though relatively minor at first, can cause significant damage to the property if left untreated for any period of time.

Water pressure issues might also be seen in pooled water or soggy patches of lawn in places where such water should not exist, or a difference in sprinkler spray patterns. Uneven sprays within a particular zone are another sign of pressure problems that could be the result of a leak in a valve or pipe. While some leaks are small and difficult to see, they can still cause significant property damage if not treated immediately. A lack of maintenance can easily result in much larger leaks or broken pipes, which could cause drastic problems for hotel properties. The best way to avoid such catastrophic damages is to maintain a strict maintenance schedule.

Without proper maintenance, irrigation system leaks can also occur around nozzle heads. The most common issues occur due to loose connections between the pipe threads and the valves. This can cause a loss of the watertight seal which leads to leaks. Nozzle issues can lead to problems such as brown lawn or areas that are inconsistently colored or regularly muddy and wet. These problems occur the most frequently and are some of the easiest to spot, but if left unattended can be quite costly to repair leading to vegetative issues such as root rot and fungal diseases. These problems can happen for other reasons as well, including clogged or misaligned sprinkler heads or broken nozzles.

Damage caused by lawn mowers, vandalism, normal wear and tear and improperly installed sprinkler heads can lead to broken or tilted heads. Broken or misaligned heads lead to problems with spray disruption, resulting in uneven water coverage and high volumes of water waste. Further, it's important to remember that sprinkler heads often sink over time due to settling, or the soil surrounding the heads can be pushed down by heavy equipment such as service vehicles and pedestrian traffic. Not only can the previously mentioned issues cause misaligned or broken nozzle heads, but they can also cause soil, grass clippings and various other debris to build up around the heads, which can disrupt spray patterns.

If your property is located in a colder climate, the most important irrigation maintenance tip to remember is to winterize your irrigation system. Winterizing the hotel's irrigation system will help increase the life of system by ensuring that all water is removed from the pipes and heads prior to the first hard ground freeze of the year. Failing to winterize is one of the most common causes of irrigation system repair, and can be the most costly. When water freezes, it expands, and this hydro-expansion can cause fittings, sprinklers, valves, pumps, pipes and other parts of irrigation systems to burst and break. In order to ensure your irrigation system is in working order in the spring, you must drain your irrigation system before the weather turns too cold. Work with your irrigation specialist to determine the best time to winterize your property. Once a timeline is established, your irrigation specialist will ensure that all water is drained from your system, that the pipes have been blown clean with the assistance of an air compressor, and are wire-tied closed until the following spring.

Preventative action will always be the best option when it comes to irrigation maintenance. Reacting to problems as they arise will not only cause frustration and potentially run over budget, but it can also cause substantial damage to the environment through wasted water. One way to ensure that a property is realizing the maximum benefit of its irrigation system is through an irrigation audit. After assessing the system and identifying any deficiencies, a qualified irrigation specialist will consider a number of issues such as the property size, local climate, sun exposure and specific vegetation needs to determine the most appropriate and cost-effective irrigation program for the property. Not only will improved irrigation help stretch limited water supplies and reduce the risk of plant loss, but it can also generate real savings, lowering the bottom-line.

Beyond professional installation, regular maintenance and audits, there are other key steps for inspecting and properly maintaining an irrigation system. Ensuring that all nozzle heads pop up completely and fully retract when the water is turned off will help with uniform water coverage. Non-professionals can also regularly check for sprinklers blocked by grass, plants or other obstacles. When necessary, they can clean or replace clogged heads and ensure sure all heads direct water to landscaped areas and not to impervious surfaces such as pavement. They can also make sure that sprinklers are vertical and flush with the soil grade, and check for steady water pressure. Constant vigilance is the best way to determine whether there are ongoing issues with water pressure. Any such issues should be checked by a professional irrigation specialist.

Green irrigation management can help both the environment and a hotel's bottom line. The proper installation and maintenance of an irrigation system results in not only responsible water use, but also the elimination of wasteful spending. Utilizing an efficient irrigation system also ensures that landscapes stay beautiful and healthy. By evaluating landscape size, local climate, area sunlight and plant varieties, a qualified landscape contractor can develop a cost-effective irrigation program that's appropriate to the needs of an individual hotel property. Proper maintenance will help ensure that an irrigation system is environmentally friendly, running effectively and generating significant savings.

Ken Hutcheson is President of U.S. Lawns. He joined the company in 1995 and has grown the organization from a regional 18-franchise network to a national network of over 250-franchises in all 48 contiguous states. U.S. Lawns is nourished by the values and passion of family-owned and operated franchise businesses. Mr. Hutcheson champions an entrepreneurial spirit and a teamwork culture. He’s skilled at developing employee, franchisee and customer bases that are anchored on a commitment to long-term relationships. His focus on the company’s Franchise Development and Support is central to the company’s steady national expansion and consistently high rankings on industry lists. Mr. Hutcheson can be contacted at 407-246-1630 or Please visit for more information. Extended Bio... retains the copyright to the articles published in the Hotel Business Review. Articles cannot be republished without prior written consent by

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