Originally published in Interiors & Sources

02/22/2013

5 Ways to Lower the Exterior Water Flow

Save water and money with landscape tune-ups and management

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Fountains and other decorative features can utilize recirculated water or alternative water sources (such as a rainwater catchment system) to decrease their potable water consumption.

Do you have time to water your entire green space by hand?

Few FMs can answer yes to that question, hence the prevalence of irrigation to maintain lush commercial landscapes. Irrigation accounts for about 30% of the average facility's water use, a number that rises even higher in drier regions, explains Stephanie Tanner, lead engineer for the EPA's WaterSense program.

Add in other outdoor uses of water and it's easy to see how this volume offers many opportunities to use water more efficiently. To get started, consider these five tips.

1) Stop Wasting Runoff Water
Make sure your existing equipment works correctly, notes Kurt Elvert, programs director for water use consultancy WaterWise Consulting. Wet pavement is a red flag that indicates your system may be providing too much water or spraying where it shouldn't.

"Water runoff is the No. 1 problem," Elvert explains. "Not only is water wasted, but it could lead to safety hazards as well because you're creating a slick hardscape."

Sprinklers that overspray onto sidewalks, parking lots, and streets are the most common, Elvert explains. Broken sprinkler heads and pipes will release more water than you intended. Runoff may also be caused by improperly installed equipment.

"With irrigation systems, the problem can be hidden, so you wouldn't know you have a problem," explains Amber Lefstead, WaterSense's outdoor coordinator. "Put a meter on your system and see if it's leaking. You could have a pretty big one but not notice it."

2) Consider Spray Alternatives
Looking to upgrade your irrigation system? A sprinkler system is easier to retrofit, but a drip system is more water-efficient because it delivers moisture to the roots of plants, notes Brian Vinchesi, principal of Irrigation Consulting.

Overhead irrigation, which utilizes above-ground sprays and sprinklers, is most common on larger lawns, but some of the water will evaporate, Vinchesi says.

The evaporation issue means drip irrigation is about 10-15% more efficient than a spray, but the two systems also differ greatly in construction and how easy they are to retrofit.

An overhead system doesn't require you to dig up the ground as you would for a subsurface drip system, and the visibility of sprays means you'll know right away if one of the fixtures isn't working.

Drip irrigation, which is commonly installed below the surface, is typically used for trees and planted beds but can be utilized for a whole lawn too. Above-ground drip systems can be installed for roughly 25 cents per square foot but are less common in commercial settings, Elvert says.

A subsurface drip system is easier to retrofit during a landscape project because the ground must be dug up anyway, allowing necessary trenching for the drip system without disturbing additional ground.

"You can run a drip system longer because you don't have to expose it to the sun and wastewater, but you don't know if anything is wrong until plants die," Vinchesi notes. "It's also more delicate – it's easier to put a shovel through it or damage it while putting in flowers."


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