Tips on Water Efficient Irrigation Systems for Portland, Oregon Landscaping, by Kirk Lobb

June 30, 2014

portland landscaping drainageThe right irrigation system can provide efficient, cost-effective watering. By delivering water directly to plants, irrigation systems can minimize water lost to evaporation. Our experienced Portland, Oregon landscapers also take soil type, lot topography, and plant needs into account to deliver an irrigation system custom-made for your landscaping. With the right setup, you can expect to see 40% operation savings over the lifetime of your irrigation system. If you’re the type of consumer who doesn’t mind paying more up front to achieve significant savings in the long run, read on to learn about how to achieve cost savings with irrigation systems.

How to Design Water-Efficient Irrigation

Work with a Certified Irrigation Auditor. Here at Landscape East & West, our irrigation technicians are Irrigation Auditors, meaning that they have earned certification through the Irrigation Association, an industry membership organization focused on promoting efficient, sustainable irrigation. For the consumer, Irrigation Association certification signifies that your irrigation expert is up to speed on the latest methods to keep landscapes lush without wasting water.

Our Irrigation Auditors design and set up automatic systems based on a range of factors, including:

  • The relationship between water and soil—how soil composition impacts absorption rates, etc.
  • Incorporating an electric timer, so that you never have to wonder if your plants have been watered.
  • Geography’s role in proper irrigation. For instance, if you live on a sloped lot, our Irrigation Auditor will understand how to design a system that will deliver enough water to every part of your landscape.

Keep reading to learn about other “big picture” considerations our Irrigation Auditors keep in mind when designing an irrigation system.

Sprinkler ControllerOpt for a SMART Controller.
A SMART Irrigation Controller is a sophisticated landscaping device that automatically adjusts water levels and times according to environmental conditions. You can think of a SMART controller as the brain of an irrigation system. Older irrigation systems are “brainless” in that they turn on at the same time, and deliver the same amount of water each day, even during a heavy rainfall. In contrast, SMART irrigation controllers collect information about rainfall and other weather conditions on site, and adjust water output accordingly. Overall, SMART controllers reduce outdoor water use by an average of 15 to 30 percent! For this reason, installing a SMART irrigation controller is a major step forward in irrigation system optimization.

Consider Water Pressure.
Landscape East & West Irrigation Auditors always factor water pressure into their irrigation calculations. The pressure of your city water line will vary according to your location, as well as other factors. For instance, if you live on top of a hill, the water pressure may be very high in order to move water to your elevation. In this instance, the water coming out of your sprinklers would be highly pressurized.

Isn’t higher water pressure a good thing? Yes, we all love a strong shower with 60-70 PSI. However, for landscaping irrigation, it’s best to have a PSI of about 30. When irrigation water pressure is higher than 30 PSI, the water is ejected too quickly, resulting in smaller droplets. This is not ideal because the wind and sun can more easily blow away or evaporate small drops. Larger water globules are preferable, since they will be less likely to be wasted to environmental factors.

To control water pressure, Landscape East & West Irrigation Auditors use pressure-compensating heads as well as regulating valves. We are able to dial the pressure down to the ideal amount for your Portland, Oregon landscaping, saving money on your water bill.

Drip irrigationDrip Irrigation: Subtle but Effective
Drip irrigation systems are less flashy than setups with spray heads, but they tend to be more effective. Rather than spraying water all over the place, drip systems deliver water directly to plants’ bases. The drip lines are situated above the soil level but below mulch material, such as bark chips or compost. As water flows through drip lines, it percolates down to plants’ roots. Because the lines are covered, drip irrigation systems minimize evaporation-driven water waste.

Drip irrigation systems are also extremely versatile. They can be used to deliver even watering over a certain area, if that’s what you’re looking for. Or, drip lines can be configured to deliver different amounts of water to different areas, according to the season. For instance, a properly designed tree drip line would have different settings than irrigation for a flowerbed. Trees’ roots extend deeper into the soil, so they require irrigation that reaches deeper into the soil as well. We can create a separate valve for the drip system, and it can also be controlled via a timer, for your convenience.

If you’re the type of person who likes a visual sign that a system is working, we can install drip line indicators that will rise when the irrigation system is pressurized. The indicators are micro-spray heads that don’t actually spray water; they just elevate to let you know your system is operating.

Water According to Plants’ Needs
Not all plants require the same amount of water. When individual plants in shared beds have unique watering needs, our Irrigation Auditors set up a point of source arrangement, where each plant receives its own water line. In this way, our irrigation experts can design a custom arrangement just for your landscaping. Portland, OR green thumbs appreciate this sort of attention to detail.

Irrigation SprinklerChoosing the Right Nozzle
Irrigation nozzle choice may seem like a less-important aspect of irrigation system design. However, the nozzle you choose is actually quite influential on your irrigation system’s efficiency. For example, here in Portland, we tend to have soils with high clay content. Such soils act like a sponge, soaking up water quickly. When the soil is fully saturated, and no more water can be absorbed, there’s no purpose in distributing more water—it will just flow away and be wasted. Because they put out large amounts of water very quickly, spray nozzles are less than ideal for clay-heavy soils. In Portland, spray nozzles tend to over-saturate the soil and waste water. For clay-ridden soils and sloped landscaping, we recommend multi-spray rotating nozzles, which slow down water distribution for improved soil absorption.

Ultimately, the water is always the most expensive part of any irrigation system. Therefore, it makes good sense to ensure your irrigation system is wasting as little water as possible. With a Landscape East & West irrigation auditor on your side, you’ll understand which nozzles, lines, and arrangements will best suit your yard—resulting in significant long-term savings on water bills. We’re so confident in our work that we offer a five-year warranty on systems we install. You can also trust us to make expert repairs, an important step for efficiency, since any break in your irrigation line will inevitably waste water.

Kirk LobbKirk Lobb is the Service Department Manager at Landscape East & West, Portland landscaping professionals. Kirk specializes in the design and installation of irrigation systems and in drainage management. We invite you to learn more about our water management services.




Drip irrigation photo courtesy of Hunter Irrigation.