Repairs, Maintenance and Renovations

April, 11 2023 Published by Golden Horseshoe Chapter - By Rick Malda, Tim Van Zwol

Spring Planning for Landscaping and Irrigation

From the Volume 15, Spring 2023 issue of the CCI GHC Condo News Magazine

Despite the recent winter storms and mountains of snow along roadways and pathways, we know that spring is (hopefully) not too far away. Now is the perfect time for condo boards to start planning for outdoor landscaping and irrigation system repairs and/or rehabilitation projects. So what should a condo consider in the spring when it comes to their landscaping and irrigation systems?

Landscaping

Once the snow disappears and soft/hard landscaping finishes are visible, it is a good idea to take inventory and review how these site finishes are performing. Hard landscaping elements may include asphalt pavements, concrete pads/sidewalks, and stone paver walkways for example. For concrete pads/sidewalks, it is prudent to look for deterioration including surface wear/pitting, cracking and possible areas of heaving/settlement which may lead to trip hazards. With asphalt pavements, areas of alligator cracking, potholes, ruts, ponding etc. should be identified. Spring is an excellent time to determine whether your hard landscaping areas may require localized repairs to extend their useful service life or if complete replacement may be warranted.

Soft landscaping areas may include components such as grass sodding, planting beds with mulch, and trees, etc. Early spring is a good time to evaluate how your soft landscaping elements have survived the winter season. Have areas of grass been killed by over-salting? Do the landscaping beds require significant pruning or replacement with new plants? A large factor in determining the satisfactory performance of the soft landscaping finishes depends on the site irrigation/sprinkler system. The sections below outline important tips for the evaluation/maintenance/improvement of your irrigation system.

Sprinkler Systems

One of the key components in the site landscaping is the irrigation systems. A properly designed and maintained irrigation system will ensure soft landscaping, plantings, and trees will be able to withstand hot and dry summer conditions. Although irrigation systems are typically winterized before lines freeze, there are many elements within these systems that can lead to problems upon spring opening:

  • Frost heave can cause sprinkler fittings below grade to crack. Even if the sprinkler appears to be operating properly, there may be minor fractures in the underground fittings. Each sprinkler base should be inspected for pooling or for poor operating ‘pressure’ when compared to the other sprinklers on the same line.
  • Look for plugged sprinkler nozzles due to debris settling within them.
  • Check the irrigation programming to ensure it is set for spring watering and not other seasons.
  • Open exterior valve boxes to ensure that wiring is in good condition and ensure that no cracks are visible on the valve assemblies.
  • Check that frost heave has not caused movement/tilting of the sprinklers. This can potentially have a detrimental effect on the system’s water coverage.
  • Look for plant material over-growth and how that may impact the spray patterns of the sprinklers. For example, if a planting has grown and the sprinkler is now buried within, it may be time to consider moving the sprinkler.
  • Vehicle traffic and plow damage. It may be challenging for snow removal companies to distinguish the edge of asphalt pavements during the winter. This exposes the sprinklers near curbs, sidewalks and roadways to be most susceptible to damage. Sprinklers along these types of hardscapes are recommended to be installed on swing joints, just slightly below grade or ensure that sprinkler heads are moved away from the hardscape by 4 to 6 inches, especially in a high traffic areas.
  • Ensure rain sensors are cleaned, repaired or replaced as required. Nearly 30% of water loss (think lost cost) can be directly attributed to irrigation systems running without properly calibrated rain sensors. The best sensors are ones that are easily accessible for maintenance; i.e. they can be adjusted and assessed without needing to climb up a ladder like the Rain Bird WR2 wireless sensor.
  • Most irrigation systems typically have a considerable amount of ‘main line’. This is the section of underground pipe that is always under constant pressure. Unless this line is metered or gauged somehow, there is no way of determining if you have a leak without seeing water pooling or underground flooding.
    This can be particularly problematic for rooftop gardens with irrigation systems or underground parking facilities. If there are discontinuities in the waterproofing membrane over these structures, possible leaks in these locations can cause damage within the building itself. If the area is well drained away from the building, there are very few methods available to determine the leak exists except for very high water bills.

One of the most common issues are leaks within the sprinkler system main line. Below are several options for checking and determining a water leak within the main line:

  1. If there is a meter on the irrigation system, check that the flow gauge has stopped moving after all of the irrigation zones are turned off.
  2. If there is no meter available, listen to the pipe using a screwdriver to your ear to determine if you can hear water flowing through it after the mainline has been charged.
  3. If the system has been charged for a couple of days, there is no meter, and you can’t easily hear for water flow, check the exterior of the pipe for condensation. Condensation is usually a good sign that fresh cold water is running through the pipes meaning that it is escaping someplace.

Options for preventing water damage in the event of a sprinkler main line leak:

  1. Consider having a flow meter installed on the irrigation system. Either a meter that can be read manually or a better option is to have a meter that can be wired directly to the irrigation controller.
  2. Consider having a master valve installed on the main line of the system. While these valves will not technically stop a leak from happening on the main line, they will turn off the water pressure to the main line when the system is not in use.
  3. Have a WiFi controller installed to the master valve and flow meter. In the event that a leak is detected, the system can be completely shut down remotely.
  4. There are many new products that can be easily retrofitted into an existing irrigation system to help reduce water consumption. From WiFi controls and metering to low volume sprinklers and nozzles, there is a possibility to save up to 50% of your existing irrigation water usage, especially on systems that are 10+ years old or have been poorly maintained.

Spring is just around the corner, so now is the time to start evaluating and planning. Your local contractor and engineering teams are here to assist – and help ensure your site landscaping finishes and sprinkler system will perform through the summer. Everyone benefits from a green, well-maintained and water-wise site.


Rick Malda, CLIA, CIT, WSIP is President, Arizona Outdoor Solutions
Tim Van Zwol, M.Sc., P.Eng. is Principal, RJC Engineers Building Science and Restoration

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