It can be hard to tell if your sprinkler system is running at peak efficiency, but there are some signs you can watch for that indicate water is being wasted. The largest percentage of water used in the U.S. goes to irrigation, both residentially and commercially. Ensuring your system is using water effectively is good for the environment, as well as your wallet. Keeping your water bill low is a key benefit to running your sprinkler efficiently.
1. Flooded or Mushy Areas
This one is pretty obvious but it’s a serious issue that should be addressed quickly. Whether it’s a broken underground pipe, a cracked sprinkler head, or just running your sprinklers too long, pooling water in your lawn is a big waste of water. Beyond killing your grass and plantings, overwatered spots are prone to fungus growth and soil erosion.
Note: If you see plantings in your garden beds with mold or fungus on or around them, this may be an indication that they are receiving too much water from your sprinkler system and a zoning adjustment may be needed.
2. Dead Patches
When homeowners notice dry, patchy spots in their lawns, they often conclude they need to run their sprinkler system longer. However, more often than not, those dry spots are because of a sprinkler zone coverage problem, not a water volume issue. The solution may be to have your watering zones reconfigured or to replace sprayers or rotors to achieve broader zone coverage.
3. Sprinklers Run Regardless of Weather Conditions
If your sprinkler system must be shut off manually when it rains, then you’ve likely had a few instances where you forgot to shut them off before it was too late (especially because systems often are programmed to water early in the morning and you may be unaware that rain was in the overnight forecast). At the very minimum, a rain sensor can be installed that will stop your sprinkler from running when it rains. To save even more water, upgrade to a smart controller, which not only skips watering sessions when rain is predicted but will also track recent moisture levels in your area and calculate that your lawn has already received plenty of irrigation. Smart controllers can also postpone watering sessions when it’s windy – preventing your irrigation $ from blowing away in the wind!
4. Water Spots on Windows
If you notice multiple white, filmy spots on your first-floor windows, chances are they’re getting hit with water from your sprinkler system. If water is hitting your house, it’s not helping your grass or plants and is being wasted – while adding $ to your water bill.
5. Wet Driveways and Sidewalks
There will inevitably be some water from your irrigation system that makes it onto your driveway or sidewalk as sprinkler heads are targeted to irrigate up to the very edge of your lawn – allowing some water to bleed onto concrete. But if your driveway or sidewalks are fully soaked after a sprinkler run – or show signs of streams of water running down them, then you’re sprinkler heads are in need of an adjustment. This may be as simple as adjusting the angle at which your sprinkler head sprays or as complicated as addressing excess water pressure issues or possibly reconfiguring sprinkler head placements.
Also, keep an eye out next time your system is running to notice if water is hitting other unintended areas, such as hardscaped patios or walkways – or even your neighbor’s lawn.
6. Discoloration on Wooden Fences
If you notice some arching discoloration along your wood fence where your sprinkler heads are located, it’s clear that water is hitting the fence. Not only is this wasting water, but it’s also damaging your fence. Repeatedly throwing water on the fence will lead to it molding and rotting. The fix is simple – a sprinkler head replacement or rotor adjustment.
7. Sprinklers Running Mid-Day or in the Evening
If your watering schedule has your sprinkler system irrigating during the day or early evening, you are wasting water. When sprinklers run during the day, temperatures are at their highest, so some of the lawn irrigation water is lost to evaporation before it ever hits the ground (or shortly after it lands on plantings) – never actually making it to the root systems of your grass or plantings.
There are also disadvantages to sprinkler systems running in the middle of the night, as any excess water left behind on your grass or plantings will not evaporate away and can lead to mold/fungus growth.
Ideally, automated irrigation systems should run in the early morning hours just before the sun begins to rise. This gives the sprayed water plenty of time to absorb into the soil and down to the root systems – and any excess water that may start to pool will be evaporated as the morning warms up. As an added benefit, when the daytime temperature is forecasted to be extremely hot, giving your grass and plantings a healthy watering before the heat rolls in helps keep them from fading in the heat of the day.
8. Damaged Components & Improper Installations
Broken underground pipes, cracked valves, faulty wiring, sputtering or clogged sprayers, and other malfunctions (some that may be the result of shoddy or improper initial system installation) can cause your water bill to spike – while bringing precious little hydration to your turf or other plant life.
Unfortunately, most sprinkler breaks are not immediately noticeable, which is why innovative irrigation control system manufacturers like Rachio have upgraded their controllers to automatically detect system malfunctions and alert the homeowner the moment a problem occurs.
If your irrigation system was not properly installed from the start, you may also be wasting hundreds of gallons of water each month. Incorrect parts, ineffective zoning, and improper programming are the top mistakes inexperienced installers can make, mistakes that wind up costing the homeowner money on their water bill month after month.
9. Each Zone Has the Same Run Time
If each of your irrigation zones has the exact same run time, you are most likely wasting water. Each of your irrigation zones will have its own distinct watering needs. A turf zone and gardening bed zone will definitely have different watering times. A turf zone with high sun exposure will need more water than one that is mostly shaded. A professional can determine the specific watering needs of each zone and calibrate exactly how long your sprinkler system should run in each zone to meet those watering needs.
10. Recent Landscape Upgrades
If you’ve recently made some changes to your landscaping – for example, adding new gardening beds, installing a new patio, or swapping out plantings – and you didn’t have your irrigation system recalibrated afterward, you may be wasting water. Each zone should be specifically configured to match an exact section of your property. If a former 100% turf area is now filled with shrubs and flowers, the sprinkler system sprayers should be replaced to disperse water most effectively and the zone run time should be adjusted to provide just the right amount of hydration.