Custom Sprinkler Systems...

No yard is the same

In Western Colorado automatic sprinkler systems are very normal and common in any neighborhood.  However, that doesn’t mean they’re easy to understand, operate or maintain.  Refer to definitions and explanations below (and the following links to the Rainbird website to learn more) as they will help you to understand the basics of residential irrigation operation.  If you’re experiencing more complex issues like low/high pressure, pump cavitation, sticking valves, etc.,  then maybe a call to Tallgrass or another knowledgeable and reputable irrigation contractor is warranted. Feel free to call us at 970-261-2408.

These are the basic components of a residential irrigation sprinkler system.   Design standards and techniques aside, the information below will help you understand the individual components of the irrigation system and the functions they perform.

Where does your water come from?
Familiarize yourself with where the water comes from for your irrigation system.  In Western Colorado much of our irrigation water (also commonly called “dirty water”) comes from the Grand Mesa via the Colorado River and our extensive canal system.  However not all homes have access to dirty water so clean residential water from the city system must be used.  There are many pro’s and con’s to each, the biggest difference is dirty water is inexpensive and clean water is comparatively expensive.  If you have access to irrigation water, use it. However, the trade off for lower water cost is that the parts for your dirty water system will be more expensive in order to handle the dirt and sediment in the "ditch water" --but that cost is quickly earned back by not paying for expensive city water every time you water your lawn. 


*Many areas are now using recycled or “reclaimed” water for the purpose of watering turf grasses and landscaped areas.  It’s not super common yet but the concept is gaining popularity and well worth exploring. 

There are a few things to understand about city water while we’re on the subject.  There most likely will be a back-flow prevention device, typically near the water meter itself but not always.  They are usually at least 12″ off the ground and are made of bronze.  In the winter this is also where you would turn off the water for your sprinklers and where winter prep maintenance (sprinkler system blowouts) will usually take place. In the spring you turn they system back on here as well.

If you aren’t on city water then you will likely have a pump and use irrigation water.  Some areas or developments have a large pumping station that delivers water to the entire subdivision which provides enough pressure that an individual pump isn’t needed.  Others provide the water but not enough pressure to drive the water through the heads properly, this is when a pump is needed.  Pumps in this area typically pull water from a supplied irrigation system water coming from one of our many canals, or sometimes directly from the river itself.  If the system was installed properly, the water flow to the pump can be shut off by simply turning off a valve before the pump (**but be sure you turn off and unplug the pump if you do this for any extended period of time, or you can burn out your pump if the timer kicks it on and there’s no water to pull from).   As with the reclaimed water scenario, make sure you know where to shut the water off for your individual property.  If you are not sure how to stop the water flow from the pump, be sure and speak with your local irrigation professional. Things happen, trust me. Take a couple pictures of your system from both sides (and of the manufacturer's plate on the pump) and go to them to discuss if they cannot come to you right away.  If the system is not shut down properly severe pump damage or failure could occur.

Finally, dirty water irrigation systems will need some type of filter system to clear impurities from the water before it reaches the pump, valves and heads.  Even the tiniest bits of dirt or debris can clog a head or stick a valve open.  There are many types of filter systems (spin clean and view flows are two common types here in the Grand Valley) and it's best to consult a professional if you’re not completely sure of what your designing. If you are adding a pump, it will require 110 or 220V, and we suggest these be installed by professionals.


Simplify your life with a Controller/Timer:
Your automatic sprinkler system will usually operate using a controller and timer.  Typically located on the interior or exterior wall of the garage and/or nearby the electrical panel.  They may also operate from a central control system; in the case where a single residential property has its own pump, the controller could be located near the pumping equipment.

In the event that you have an individual controller for the property, familiarize yourself with how to switch the power off to the controller. On small and domestic systems it may be as easy as unplugging the controller from an outlet. Knowing how to shut it off can eliminate an emergency situation in the event that the sprinklers will not shut off.  Larger irrigation controllers require higher voltage to operate them, you should not have to remove any screws or take anything apart.  If a malfunction of the controller is suspected, it should only be serviced by your irrigation specialist.

Programming the controller can be a bit of an experience, particularly if you’re faced with an older controller.  Newer ones are much easier and more intuitive.  The manual is usually a great reference but those tend to disappear over time and if owners have changed or moved in and out.  Thankfully the internet comes to the rescue once again and a quick Google search should track down the user’s manual as long as you can identify the controller brand and model you’re dealing with.  If you’re not familiar with the system and the watering zones, it will take some trial and error to find out which zones water which part of the yard.  If you have a “Manual Start” button you can give it a test run and match the zoned on the panel with the area being watered in your yard.  If your system still proves to be a mystery (not uncommon at all) give your local sprinkler professional a call.


Optimize your watering efficiency and savings with rotary sprinklers:
Any given property may or may not have rotary sprinklers installed.  They are generally used in large turf areas that are 20′x 20′ or more.  They will shoot a large stream of water and will oscillate back and forth slowly.  Rotary sprinklers operate on the same basis as the older impact or “knocker head” sprinklers, but most of them are gear driven these days, which makes them much quieter.


Use stationary sprinklers / “Sprays” for accuracy and savings:
Stationary sprinklers, "pop-ups" or “spray heads” are used in smaller turf areas and may be used in landscape beds as well.  Spray heads pop-up out of the ground, but don't move. They spray more of a mist, compared to larger droplets cast by rotary sprinklers.  Spray heads typically come in 4″, 6″ and 12″ heights and can be adjusted up to about 15' in diameter.  The size that is used depends on the type of turf grass or the sprinkler's specific location in a landscape bed.  The landscaped areas of the home may also have what is referred to as a "standpipe".  These are nothing more than a spray head nozzle attached to a 8"-24" tall fixed riser in order to attain sufficient clearance over the closer plants so the water can reach the distant plants.


Utilize the cost savings of "Low Volume Irrigation" systems/ “Drips”:
Low Volume or “Drip” are commonly used in landscape and planting beds.  Most drip irrigation products use numerous emitters that are drip water closer to the root zone of the plants. However, each emitter lets out, or emits a very small amount of water compared to a spray head. This makes the watering process a very efficient operation, because not only are you targeting the specific areas that you want to water, but the water is also applied at a much lower rate, reducing run off. It also helps to avoid losing your water to the wind or evaporation.  Drip irrigation is mandatory in many areas.  If you don’t see any water spraying in the planted areas around the home, chances are that drip has been installed.

In almost all cases, drip irrigation zones require a pressure regulator and filter.  The orifice that emits the water is very small, therefore making it prone to clogging by any foreign matter in the water.  


Save water with "Flood Bubblers":
Flood bubblers are only used under certain circumstances.  They come in fixed and adjustable rates.  A fixed rate bubbler is ideal because you actually know how much water you’re going to apply to the plant or zone it’s designed for.  Bubblers may be used where large trees are located on the top of a berm where run off, or good saturation is a concern.  The most common place you would find one on a residential home would be in a very small planting area.


Save money and avoid unnecessary watering with "Rain Sensing" Devices:
Rain sensing devices or “rain sensors” are devices that cease all watering in the event sufficient rainfall is detected.  They are usually located near the controller, sometimes on the eve of the roof or mounted on conduit pipe in the landscape bed.  Rain sensors have been mandatory components of irrigation systems in many states for several years now and should be checked for proper operation regularly.


Position your "Control Valves" for convenience and aesthetics:
Almost all irrigation systems have an individual control valve for each station or “zone”. They are usually located at planned intervals around the home with only the lid visible,  they can be grouped together if the irrigation design allows for it.  The lid on most control valves will be green in color and can be round (smaller one valve locations) or square (multiple valves).  If there is a considerably larger box, it is typically rectangular in shape, as it may house multiple control valves, or the filter for the drip irrigation if applicable. Aside from filter maintenance, the control valves should only be repaired by qualified persons.

At Tallgrass we work with the irrigation professionals at Grand Junction Pipe to design the best and most appropriate system for each individual project.  We don't ever inflate our profits by using cheap, low end parts sold at many of the box stores.  We work to understand pressure, water type and availability as we craft your system--then use quality parts specified by the design professionals to build it.  Cheap parts fail quickly and the result will be many weekends with you, a shovel, replacement parts and glue.  We’re sure you have better ways to spend your free time, so our suggestion is to get it done right by professionals the first time!

The folks at Rainbird know residential and commercial irrigation and sprinkler systems better than just about anyone else around.  Collectively they’ve forgotten more than the rest of us will ever know.  Click the link here for a great introductory look at sprinkler systems and their components, how they work and best use tips.