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. 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

Receive our daily newsletter with the latest breaking news and hotel management best practices.
Hotel Business Review on Facebook
General Search:

APRIL: Guest Service: The Personalized Experience

Scott Hale

Home sweet home. Your dog recognizes the sound of your car pulling in the drive and waits anxiously for you at the front door. Your thermostat knows the temperature that you expect the kitchen to be as you prepare dinner. Your stereo knows what playlist works best with tonight’s recipe. Your television has your preferred programming all cued up when you’re done with your meal. The list goes on. Home sweet home. What if you could make your guests’ next experience at your hotel just like home – but better? You can. READ MORE

Tom O'Rourke

Mobile devices are not only important when planning trips, they are indispensable to guests when they are on the actual trip. According to the Expedia and Egencia Mobile Index published last year, travelers rank their smartphones as their top priority when on the go. Mobile devices are so important that survey respondents ranked them higher than a toothbrush or a driver’s license. The mobile experience extends beyond the point of booking the room—it’s now an integral part of the journey. READ MORE

Adele Gutman

Before the first shovel was in the ground, we knew Aria Hotel Budapest would be an extraordinary hotel. For the Library Hotel Collection and our founder, Henry Kallan, creating a hotel that is beyond ordinary is everything. We think about each detail of the design and experience to create wow factors for our guests. These elements generate rave reviews, and rave reviews are the cornerstone of our marketing program. This is how we became the #1 Hotel in the World in the TripAdvisor Travelers’ Choice Awards. READ MORE

Megan Wenzl

A personalized guest experience is important in today’s hospitality industry. Guests can voice their opinion about a hotel in seconds because of the Internet, and their feedback is contained in sources like social media sites and online reviews. Potential guests read this information when they are looking for where to stay on their next summer vacation. Guests will post online reviews about their experiences. According to research by ReviewTrackers, 45 percent of hotel guests are likely to leave to a review after a negative experience, while 37.6 percent of hotel guests are likely to leave a review after a positive experience READ MORE

Coming Up In The May Online Hotel Business Review

Feature Focus
Eco-Friendly Practices: The Value of Sustainability
The hotel industry continues to make remarkable progress in implementing sustainability policies and procedures in their properties throughout the world. As a result, they continue to reap the benefits of increased profitability, enhanced guest experiences, and improved community relations. In addition, as industry standards are codified and adopted worldwide, hotels can now compare how their operations measure up against their competitors in terms of sustainable practices and accomplishments. This capacity to publicly compare and contrast is spurring competition and driving innovation as hotels do not wish to be left behind in this area. Water management and conservation is still a primary issue as population growth, urbanization, pollution and wasteful consumption patterns place increasing demands on freshwater supply. Water recycling; installing low-flow fixtures; using digital sensors to control water usage; and even harvesting rainwater are just a few things that some hotels are doing to preserve this precious resource. Waste management is another major concern. Through policies of reduce, reuse and recycle, some hotels are implementing “zero-waste” programs with the goal of substantially reducing their landfill waste which produces carbon dioxide and methane gases. Other hotels have established comprehensive training programs that reinforce the value of sustainability. There is employee engagement through posters and quizzes, and even contests are held to increase innovation, sensitivity and environmental awareness. Some hotels are also monitoring a guest’s energy usage and rewarding those who consumed less energy with gifts and incentives. The May issue of the Hotel Business Review will document how some hotels are integrating eco-friendly practices into their operations and how they and the environment are benefiting from them.