The Four C’s: What to Expect From In-ground Sprinklers

Underground sprinklers are no small investment. Yet, over more than two decades of servicing sprinkler systems in and around Calgary, AB, we’ve found that they can vary dramatically in quality depending on who installed them. It can also depend on when. The best installations from twenty years ago can easily be outdone now. Whoever you contract for an installation, repair, or upgrade, we hope you’ll go into it with certain expectations and know that you deserve to have those expectations met.

A Rain Bird rotor body sprinkler head watering a grassy, green slope.
A Rain Bird rotor body sprinkler head watering a grassy, green slope.

Maybe you want every single blade of grass thriving, like several million beloved houseplants. Or, maybe you just want to keep up your property’s curb appeal. Either way, if the sprinklers are just for show, your lawn won’t be worth showing off for long.

Ultimately, all of our colleagues in the irrigation industry share a common interest: it should be better to have a sprinkler system than it is to not have one. This is one of many reasons why Naiad strives to establish the best practices in training, service, and installation. Even so, we won’t pretend we don’t have some stiff competition here in Calgary. But it’s always important to check a contractor’s reviews to make sure they are established and respected in your area, with a decent track record.

In a previous article, we compared underground sprinklers to conventional ones along four criteria: coverage, water conservation, cost-effectiveness, and convenience. These are the major benefits that homeowners are often looking for when they consider an installation. From here, this article is two-in-one: what Naiad Irrigation Systems promises in our work, and simultaneously, what we hope you’ll demand from any irrigation contractor.

1. Coverage

One of the most basic goals in designing an underground sprinkler system: water all the grass. (Or all the plants – they’re great for gardens!)

Let’s talk installations first. For properties with especially low water pressure or especially complex landscape architecture, full coverage may sometimes not be doable, but this is far from the norm. With that said, any contractor worth their steel toes will inspect your property in-person and check for things like this before providing an estimate. These days, there’s a sprinkler head and a nozzle for almost any use case, so if your contractor of choice has proceeded with an estimate, they’re the ones telling you that you should be able to expect corner-to-corner coverage once the installation is finished.

A rotator nozzle spraying in a precise 180° arc, to achieve coverage without runoff along the edge of a walkway. In the background are trees and mountains.
A rotator nozzle spraying in a precise 180° arc, to achieve coverage without runoff along the edge of a walkway.

With that said, after a few seasons in operation, coverage issues are much less heinous. Automated systems are subject to wear and tear, especially those involving running water. A dry area is a potential symptom for many different problems – arguably most problems – a sprinkler system could develop. Often, minor adjustments need to be made or a small part needs replacing. Don’t hesitate to book a service call, though. If the culprit is a leak somewhere in your system, hundreds of extra dollars could sneak onto your water utility bill over a season.

2. Conservation

Speaking of leaks, water conservation is a top priority in Naiad’s sprinkler system designs. If your watering habits with a conventional lawn sprinkler are modest, it’s likely that your water bill will still go up after an installation, but you will also see much, much better results with the water that is used. On the other hand, if you’ve always been dead-set on getting every square inch emerald green, we can probably save you quite a bit of water by designing a system specific to your property.

An array of catcher funnels staked into a green lawn for a landscape irrigation audit. To conserve water, it is important to verify that a sprinkler system is efficient.
An array of catcher funnels in use for a landscape irrigation audit. Though this procedure is not required in Alberta, it is never a bad idea to verify that a sprinkler system is efficient for water conservation.

It’s surprising how the watering needs of grass can vary. Even the same kind of grass can differ three feet apart. A proper irrigation system design will not only promise full coverage, but account for factors like shade, slope, soil composition, and even nearby landscaping features to deliver more water where it’s needed and less where it isn’t. If irrigation were a game, points would be deducted for pooling, run-off, and evaporation.

We also frequently recommend upgrades for existing systems – mainly rain sensors and Hunter Hydrawise smart timers, as these are two of the biggest water-savers in our catalogue. Rain sensors will signal your irrigation controller to skip watering for a day or two after it rains. Some are fully analog to boot, therefore compatible with timers of any age. Hunter Hydrawise controllers, on the other hand, are Wi-Fi enabled and can modulate your watering schedule based on the weather forecast.

3. Cost-effectiveness

The best way an irrigation contractor can save you money isn’t by cheaping out on parts or rushing the job, but by building your system to last. The up-front cost of a quality installation will mostly depend on the size and shape of your property. However, the long-term costs hinge on the quality of the installation. A poorly built system starts costing you on day one.

When it comes to long term costs, we often compare in-ground sprinklers to cars. Regardless of quality, it’ll at least need some preventative maintenance every few thousand clicks. In a climate like Alberta, for example, underground sprinkler systems need winterizations just as badly as a car needs oil changes. Also, Calgary and many other municipalities require yearly cross connection testing, which I like to think of as having your brakes serviced. Naiad offers discounts for both, as well as spring activations, through our Membership program.

A sprinkler system is winterized by blowing most of the water out with compressed air.
Winterization is a vital annual service for sprinkler systems in Canada. Otherwise, water can freeze inside the system, bursting pipes and damaging components, which would be very costly to repair.

What separates the Pintos from the Bentleys, though, is how often they spring a leak. Every underground sprinkler system suffers wear and tear, but not all installations are equal. If you find yourself booking repairs year after year, you might want to consider a full diagnostic inspection. Unless you plan on selling your home soon, a serious overhaul might be the best long term option if you’ve been stuck with a lousy sprinkler system.

4. Convenience

Even with all the money in the world, a mediocre sprinkler system would still be an inconvenience. Some rookie mistakes can cause the same problems again and again. For example, if your lateral lines are buried too shallow, they can be pierced by aerators. If you’re really unlucky, you might end up replacing a new section every year.

Nonetheless, a decent installation will be a major convenience to any homeowner. For example, if age, illness, or disability limit your mobility, in-ground sprinklers are the easiest option for maintaining your lawn. You can even adjust those Hydrawise timers we mentioned from your smartphone. And if you get your Hydrawise from Naiad, we’ll increase your watering during the hottest weeks of the summer (if no drought restrictions apply) remotely, quietly, and for free. Of course, if all that smartphone nonsense is, for any reason, none of your concern, you can still opt for a conventional timer instead.

A Naiad Irrigation Systems technician installs a Hunter Hydrawise Wi-Fi Enabled irrigation controller.
Installation of a Hunter Hydrawise Wi-Fi Enabled irrigation controller.

As for service, at Naiad, we’ve also designed our membership program around convenience. For any annual service you subscribe to, you’ll receive automatic, priority booking every year. It’s a zero-commitment program with no cancellation fees, and your choice between annual or equivalent monthly billing. It’s about as convenient as preventative sprinkler system maintenance can get. Convenient for you and, frankly, convenient for us. If you’re outside of Southern Alberta, we encourage you to search locally for similar service packages from reliable companies. Maintaining these systems is a decades-long commitment, and should be made easy.

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