Don’t let sprinkler systems leave you high and dry

Associated Press report
Friday September 14, 2001

There’s no watering down the popularity of home lawn sprinkler systems, but homeowners can oversee installation without getting financially soaked.  

It takes understanding of watering system options and a rational approach to dealing with installation contractors. "If homeowners would take the time to look at the fundamental aspects of the job, the installation would go smoother, they’d spend less money and conserve water," says Sharon Mertins, a watering system expert for the Home Service Store.  

Mertins says automatic spray systems are by far the most popular. Water pressure forces sprinkler heads to pop up to spray a 17-foot- diameter section or full circle for a preset time. Rotary and drip systems are other, lesser-used options.  

"Rotary systems are great if you have a large unobstructed yard," says Mertins. Rotary heads provide a mammoth 70-foot swath of coverage. Drip systems conserve water although these are limited to reaching root systems in flower beds.  

The one system Mertins steers clients away from is a manual system which is more expensive to install. Whatever system fits the bill, says Mertins, "It all depends on water pressure. If you don’t have adequate pressure, you’re sunk."  

The main water line in a home creates more pressure than systems connected to a sewer meter. Spray systems boost pressure through a sequence of smaller and smaller diameter pipes as water nears the sprinkler head.  

Contractors bid installation several ways. Most charge by the station the area covered by a spray head – rather than running foot of pipe. Some installers bid on yard size or by materials and labor multiplied by a profit margin. Typical installation time for an average yard is 140 hours. Any bid will include variables unique to each yard. Water-blocking obstructions, soil, slope of lot or labor-intensive work to run pipe beneath or around objects can increase your costs.  

Mertins advises homeowners to ask for all-inclusive bids. "Make sure everything is included so you won’t have surprises at the end," she says.  

A turnkey bid isn’t the only thing homeowners should demand from contractors. In a move to manage water resources, more than 30 states require that irrigation installation be done by licensed contractors. Homeowners should ask to see the installer’s license. References and experience also count, says Mertins.  

The homeowner also should insist that installers assume responsibility if utilities such as phone, gas and electricity lines are severed.  

Contractors should also perform a back-flow inspection as part of their bid. Back-flow devices, also known as double checks, keep water flowing in one direction and stop the return of water into a city water system.  

Mertins says homeowners should stipulate contractor grade materials be used throughout, especially if the installer must make a sudden trip to a home store for additional parts. Most home stores sell homeowner-grade materials that last one to three years. Contractor grade materials of neoprene cost no more but will last the typical life of a watering system, 12 to 15 years.