Irrigation Systems Benefits and Costs

If you currently manually irrigate and you are considering installing an automatic irrigation system you can expect that your water bills will go up. Recent studies of homes with and without automatic sprinkler systems show that homes with automatic systems use substantially more water outdoors on average (Maddaus and Mayer, 2001). Automatic irrigation systems, if not properly managed, can waste a lot of water. Always be mindful that YOU are the “brains” behind your irrigation system scheduling and YOU control the controller.

The benefits of an automatic irrigation system include reduced labor for watering, convenience, full landscape coverage, the ability to control irrigation timing, and added value to your home.

The costs of an automatic irrigation system include installation costs (starting at about $1,000 for a small yard and moving up from there), water costs, maintenance costs (shutdown and startup and annual repairs), and increased landscape maintenance (you may be mowing more often).

You can minimize costs by carefully designing a system that meets the specific needs of your landscape, programming your clock properly, adjusting the program frequently in response to changes in the weather, installing a rain shutoff device or soil moisture sensor, and maintaining your system.

Cost Benefit Analysis

It is possible to quantify the costs of an automatic irrigation system, but quantifying the benefits is quite difficult. This makes a traditional cost benefit analysis virtually impossible. If you are considering installing an automatic sprinkler system you will have to weigh the costs and benefits for yourself. If you already have an automatic irrigation system, you can maximize the benefits and minimize costs and operating the system as efficiently as possible.

Here are a some tips for reducing the cost of operating and maintaining an automatic irrigation system:

  • Know how to run your irrigation controller and change watering times.
  • Adjust the watering times (number of minutes.) and the frequency of watering (daily, twice a week, etc.) based on weather conditions.
  • Change your settings to adjust for seasonal differences and reset the timer when needed.
  • Install an inexpensive rain shutoff device or soil moisture sensor.
  • Check your system regularly for leaks, broken heads, and other problems.
  • Only water after the sun has gone down.
  • Adjust your spray and sprinkler heads to avoid watering pavements and other non-landscape areas.
  • Water areas in the shade about 30 percent less than sunny areas.
  • If possible use drip irrigation to water trees and shrubs.
  • To eliminate runoff, set your clock to cycle 2-4 start times (no longer than 5 minutes each), 1 to 2 hours apart to allow water to soak into the soil. For example: water 3 times for 5 minutes, instead of 15 minutes all at once.
  • Develop a separate drip watering schedule for trees, shrubs and flower beds.
  • Aerate in the spring and fall to loosen soil and reduce runoff.
  • After each aeration, top dress the area with a composted mulch. This will keep the soil loose and hold water near the roots.