Underground sprinkler systems inhabit a world all their own. But like any other world it has its heroes — and its villains — the hazards that lurk just below ground or just above it — wreaking havoc on your entire sprinkling system. To control these adversaries, you must first understand them. Then the solutions often present themselves. As a company that specializes in sprinkler system installation, we’ve crossed paths with a number of these destructive entities right here in the Tampa Bay area. What follows is a list of the worst offenders, and what to do about them
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Hazard #1 – Cold Weather
In Florida, freezing temperatures are typically uncommon. After all, that’s why many of us moved here in the first place. But that doesn’t make us immune to these temperatures. Just last year, Tampa’s temperatures dropped into the low 30s. And once temperatures fall below 32 degrees, any water that is left in the impeller housing of your irrigation pump, or in your sprinkling system’s pipeline, will begin to freeze and expand, creating cracks and wear.
Your Solution – Be Prepared
There are two types of solutions here — automatic and manual. Automatic is easier in the long run, but requires some work and investment up front. If automatic drain valves are installed below sprinkler heads and in certain parts of the pipeline, this allows water to drain out of the system when it isn’t in use. The alternative is to drain your system manually when temperatures drop below 40 degrees.
Hazard #2 – Lawn Mowers and Tractors
Picture this: You invest your hard-earned dollars in a new underground sprinkler system and it works perfectly — at least until a few sprinkler heads get damaged by the lawn mower. Then you’re off to to buy replacement parts, only to have it happen again and again. Sound familiar?
Your Solution – Go Low
If your sprinkler heads are suffering from chronic lawn care injuries, there are a few things you can do to protect them:
Make sure your sprinkler heads aren’t more than a half-inch above ground. If they are, you can dig around them until you reach the pipeline, then dig below that so the unit sets lower in the ground.
Install concrete donuts around your sprinkler heads. Donuts sit just above the sprinkler head on the ground, making it less likely that a mower or trimmer will roll over them.
Install swing joints. These give sprinkler heads the flexibility to move if they’re bumped or run over, which prevents damage to the sprinkler head and the pipeline beneath.
Hazard #3 – Invasive Wildlife
The Tampa Bay area is home to all kinds burrowing, gnawing and nesting wildlife. Squirrels, raccoons, armadillos, moles, rats and skunks, just to name a few. Because they can wreak havoc both before and after installation, it’s important to face this problem head-on.
Your Solution – Critter Control
Essentially you have two choices: call in the experts or do it yourself — and the choice that works best for you, will probably depend on how much work is involved. For example, if chipmunks or mice are getting into your irrigation box, you can easily fix the problem by plugging any holes or gaps with steel wool, and attaching some extra screening. However, if the problem is more rampant, a pest control company or wildlife trapper may need to be consulted.
Hazard #4 – Dirt or Debris
Dirt and debris can cause blockages in your pipeline both during and after installations. This can lead to operational inefficiencies that can lead to wasted water and added expenses over time.
Your Solution – Flushing
When you’re having a new system installed, you’ll want to make sure your contractor flushes all debris from the line before they connect the sprinkler head. This will give you a good head-start on maintaining your system. Flushing out your system on a regular basis will also help maintain the integrity of your system and remove blockages that decrease efficiency.
Hazard #5 – Tree Roots
The roots of a tree can become a problem when they start to interfere with your sprinkler system’s pipeline. If you’ve ever seen a cracked sidewalk with roots growing beneath, you’ll understand the concept we’re explaining here. Over time, the roots of a nearby tree could surround one of your pipes. And as the roots continue to grow, they could squeeze the pipe and break it.
Your Solution – Rerouting or Removal
If you have not installed your irrigation system yet, you can hire a contractor to come out and assess the situation. Irrigations specialists can usually find a work around. However, if you have a system installed already, you’ll want to resist the urge to cut away the roots that are causing the problem. This could affect the foundation of the tree and make it less stable. You may want to call an arborist to see if a work-around is possible, or if the tree should be removed or replanted elsewhere.
Hazard #6 – Underground Utilities
Before you, or anyone else, tries to install a sprinkler system on your property, you’ll want to know what’s going on underground. Dig in the wrong spot, and you could hit your gas or water line, or take out your electricity or cable service.
Your Solution – Call ahead
Before you or your contractor begins works on your sprinkling system, you’ll need to call your utility companies and find out where the pipes and cables are. This will ensure that your trenches are dug to avoid any hazards. This way, your services are not affected and no one gets hurt.
While there are a few hazards to be mindful of when you’re installing or repairing a sprinkler system, the good far outweighs the bad. And with a professional irrigation partner by your side, obstacles are easy to overcome.
Former U.S. Coast Guard and Tampa-native Joseph Swett is the owner of Sunrise Irrigation, a Palm Harbor-based company that has been providing sprinkler and irrigation services in the Tampa Bay Area, Florida, for more than 20 years. A RainBird-trained landscape specialist, Mr. Swett is dedicated to helping Florida homes and businesses implement effective irrigation technologies and transition towards smart water conservation. In his spare time, Joe sponsors and plays in two men’s softball leagues, but also enjoys surfing and going fishing with his family.