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Smart Money is on Smart Controllers

by Doug Pushard


WaterSense Smart ControllerOur landscape and their water requirements varies greatly - yard to yard, city to city, and region to region. All landscapes require some attention, especially when newly planted.  In times of drought even xeric-tolerant plants will require some amount of water to survive.  Too much water and roots will become water logged and potentially kill the plant and too little water and the plants will wilt and die.  It is a balance on how much is just right. With changing weather patterns it is becoming an even more challenging job maintaining our landscapes.

Old irrigation timers had a set and forget clock.  They are good at watering the same amount, rain or shine, hot or cold every week during the irrigation season.  They are very easy to use and understand, but in these times of unpredictable weather and rising water rates wasting water is harmful to both your landscape and your wallet.

How much water is the right amount?  The simple answer is to water your plants only when they need watering.  It is simply a matter of watching your landscape and watering only when your plants are beginning to look water stressed.  Unfortunately, continually watching our landscapes is neither a fun nor a great option for most of us. 

Fortunately, smarter irrigation controllers can handle this function for us.  The EPA has created a WaterSense Labeled Irrigation Controller program (www.epa.gov/watersense/products/controltech.html).   These controllers are not just simple clocks but also weather stations all wrapped into one unit.  Some store historical weather information and others access real-time weather data through your internet connection.  Many incorporate rain detection devices to prevent watering during rain storms and some units integrate moisture sensors to water only when the ground is dry.  All combine this new data, with your current watering schedule and increase or decrease watering times based on current conditions.

The EPA estimates that residential irrigation water use in the United States accounts for more than 9 billion gallons of water each day. It is estimated that as much as 50 percent of this water is wasted due to overwatering.  
It is not just about water waste and reducing your water bill; these new controllers are also an investment in your landscape.  Mature landscapes add thousands of dollars in value to a home.  Protecting this investment is just a smart thing to do.

These new controllers look much like your old one, but require a little more information to program.  Replacing your old controller typically does not require new wiring or changes to your irrigation lines. Many of the new units offer remote modules that are wireless, thus making the physical upgrade  straight-forward (i.e. not requiring the running of new power lines to monitor remote sections of your yard).  However, they are a little more difficult to program.  You will have to program information about your climate zone, the types of plants in your landscape and maybe how to connect to your internet network. 

These controllers adjust the watering schedule of your plants on a day-to-day basis.  These changes take into account the information entered when the controller was programmed.  Consequently having your smart controller professional programmed may provide a pain-free installation as well as get the most out of your new controller.

Many, many cities have begun training irrigation professionals. Several professional training programs to audit and make recommendations on your irrigation system. Some of these include:

It is highly recommended that you install a Smart Controller, but also get a system inspection from a trained professional. Both can save you water and money over the long term.

Irrigation season is always a big water user. Now is great time to get ready to save water, save money, and still have a beautiful landscape. It just makes good water sense.

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