Mr. Hutcheson

Eco-Friendly Practices

How to Overcome Common Irrigation Challenges

By Ken Hutcheson, President, U.S. Lawns

As hoteliers, you rely on your irrigation systems to help protect the investment you've made on your property's landscape. It is critical for the overall health and appearance of your landscape that the irrigation system is properly installed, operated, and maintained. Otherwise, your system is at risk of wasting water and damaging your property. Scheduling a technician to perform routine maintenance checks can ensure early detection of a problem, increase the efficiency of your irrigation system, and conserve water. Here are three common challenges grounds managers often face with their irrigation system, and how technicians overcome them.

There is a Problem With the Controller

The controller essentially tells the irrigation system when to turn on and off, and how long to stay on. Because the controller acts as the central nervous system of the irrigation system, a technician typically starts by examining the controller when diagnosing a problem. Before the technician inspects the system to see if there are any problems, he or she will first determine whether the controller is still on and functioning. If it's working properly, the issue could be something as routine as a programming error. This can cause a number of malfunctions, including the irrigation zones running for too short a period of time or too long. To fix this, the technician will go into the system and confirm that the start and end times are correct - and double check the a.m. and p.m. settings (a common mix-up that can cause major issues). They will also take the opportunity to delete any older set times that are no longer needed.

Another issue that can affect the controller is a power surge, as it can cause the system to either freeze or fail completely. If this happens, the technician will need to reset the system. He or she will do this by simply unplugging the controller for 2-3 minutes and then plugging it in again. If the system has a backup battery, it will have to be unplugged as well. After resetting, the technician will check the system to see if it has reverted back to its default settings. It this is the case, it will have to be reprogrammed to the desired start and stop times. In the event the controller has been damaged by the power surge it will likely need to be replaced.

There is a Leak

If your irrigation system has a leak, it's likely related to either valves, pipes, or joints. Valves can leak, or "weep", if there is a failure with the solenoid. Solenoids can fail due to age, if there is too much heat, or if they are compromised by debris. Damaged pipes or joints, on the other hand, are usually a result of invasive tree roots, freezing and thawing, a shovel or mower, or simply from wear and tear over time. There are a few visible warning signs of a leaky pipe or broken joint, including flooded turf or areas that are much greener than other areas. Sometimes, however, the leak is so far underground that the only way to detect the problem is to start digging. This can be disruptive to your guests' stay, be expensive to fix, and cause a mess while the problem is being addressed.

The Irrigation Heads Aren't Working Properly

Irrigation systems use two different kinds of irrigation heads: the rotary head and the stationary head. Rotary heads send a pulsating spray of water in a rotating circle, while stationary heads stay in one spot and send a uniform mist to all of the areas within their reach. Typically, it's obvious when the irrigation heads aren't working properly, regardless of the type of irrigation system your property uses. If you notice that the irrigation head isn't shooting out an even or consistent amount of water, that may mean that the irrigation head is blocked or damaged. Dirt, grass, and debris can clog the irrigation head, while a mower or another sharp tool can damage it or knock it out of alignment. The irrigation system relies on water pressure to force the irrigation head to pop up when the water is turned on, but if the irrigation head is out of alignment, the pressure mechanism will fail. This makes the irrigation head, valves, and pipes vulnerable to damage-one of several reasons why it's important to have someone routinely check the irrigation heads on your property.

As long as the irrigation heads have been installed properly and they're free from blockages, the pressure should remain consistent. Your hotel's grounds crew should also make sure that the irrigation heads are positioned correctly. Otherwise, they'll run the risk of watering the sidewalks instead of the turf, which wastes water and can cause surface runoff.

After the Diagnosis

Once the technician has identified and reported the problem to the grounds manager, it will be up to the manager to decide if the system needs to be repaired or replaced. Several factors go into this decision, including the age of the irrigation system and the impact of any changes to the landscape since the last irrigation system was installed. Depending on the type of irrigation system your property has and whether it was properly installed and maintained, it can last 20 years or more. But it may need to be replaced sooner if the repairs to the system are too expensive or if the manufacturer no longer makes the parts to the machine. A newer model will likely have fewer issues and more parts readily available, so repairing it makes financial sense. An older model's parts aren't always available and often needs more expensive repairs.

Changes in the landscape can necessitate changes in the irrigation system. Planting new trees and shrubs, putting in more turf, adding a flower bed, and removing or adding new slopes or hills can also affect the watering of the landscape. All of these elements require different amounts of water, so it's important for your grounds crew to monitor any variations and enter them into your irrigation system.

Benefits of Buying a New System

There are several benefits to purchasing a new irrigation system. New systems offer advancements in technology, more features, and require less monitoring. Moisture sensors, for example, can determine whether the landscape still needs to be watered. This is especially helpful if it has recently rained. Regardless of whether the controller has been set to go on at a certain time, if the moisture sensors detect that the soil is already moist, the sensors will tell the irrigation system not to turn the water on. This allows the property to conserve water, prevents overwatering an area, and eliminates the need for a grounds manager to continuously reset the system based on the local weather conditions. This also helps properties stay within any state or county water restrictions.

While there are costs associated with buying a new irrigation system (both the purchase price and the cost of installation), if you buy the right system, pay to have it properly installed and maintained, it should pay for itself in a few years.

It is important for the overall health of your property's landscape that you work with a professional who knows how to overcome these irrigation challenges. A qualified professional will understand which factors to consider when determining whether or not you should repair or replace your property's irrigation system.

Ken Hutcheson is President of U.S. Lawns, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the ValleyCrest Landscape Companies. Mr. Hutcheson joined U.S. Lawns 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 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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