Resist the urge…

11 10 2008

When we lived in Ohio, I envied homes with a built-in sprinkler system. The little heads that popped up and delivered a perfect circle of water to your piece of the Western Reserve. The ‘pfft, pfft, pfft’ of an impact sprinkler doing its job on a Saturday morning. And, to top it all off, a timer. Not just any mechanical timer, either, but a mini computer that turns on each carefully designed zone of the system, because you don’t have enough water pressure to water the whole yard and your flowers all at once.

Granted, you could only use it about 8 months out of the year, and even then I can’t recall a summer where it was dry enough to warrant regular, automated watering. Sure, come July or early August the grass would start to look a bit straw-like, and Dick Goddard would remind you at the end of the forecast that it’s probably a good time to get out the sprinkler, but if you had one of those in-ground systems, well, you, my friend, would be all set. Heck, Cleveland Heights even gave us a rebate on our water bill if we promised that we were watering our lawns in the summer, which drove up the usage. “Go ahead and water” seemed to be the message, “because we’ve got a whole Great Lake next us, so there’s plenty more where that came from.”

Well, I got my wish. If you have read this far, though, you know that the rest of this post is going to be one of those ‘be careful what you wish for’ tales, so if you live in one of those hip, transit-oriented developments or think lawn is a four-letter word, you might want to just go read Daily Kos or, if you want something useful out of your blog perusal, try Unclutterer.

We do not have a big yard here in Pleasanton. The entire lot is 7400 sf, and about half of that is grass. As California developments go, however, it’s fairly large. That’s because we live at the end of a cul-de-sac, and have a wide, wedge-shaped lot. We have a decent amount of privacy, and enough room for our daughter to play and for the dog to run around.

The yard came with an in-ground sprinkler system. Two zones in the front cover the grass and shrubs, and four in the back cover two halves of the grass plus two sets of shrub zones. When we moved in the geek part of me thought this was the greatest thing in the world. The previous owners put in a new controller that lets you water any hour of the day or night, for however long you want, and then every 2 or more days, if that’s what you need. And, one trip down the irrigation aisle at Lowe’s with its wide variety of sprayers, shrub heads, valves, and other assorted accessories is all it takes to get your creative homeowner juices flowing.

Well, what turned out to be the coolest thing when we moved in is slowly becoming the bane of my existence. To date I have replaced 4 of the pop-up sprinklers that were broken in some way, dug up and re-piped one of the 3/4″ supply lines to one of the impulse sprinklers I snapped off in a fit of frustration, and tomorrow I need to replace a diaphragm on one of the valves, which has started leaking all the time as opposed to the small pinhole squirt it had a few weeks ago. It does this even when I shut off the valve to the entire system, which is really starting to concern me. Two of the remaining impulse heads are somewhat broken because the don’t retract all the way into the ground, and due to overgrown shrubs, don’t water all of the parts of the grass they were designed to cover. I suspect they are filled with tree roots, like the one I accidentally ripped out of the ground a few weeks ago because it was installed in a physically impossible orientation next to a birch tree that decided it would tap into the free water with its root system. (just how do you screw in/out an 18-inch tall sprinkler in a space surrounded by 1/2″ thick tree roots?)

Maintaining the system isn’t too tough as the sprinklers just screw into the holes in the ground and PVC pipe is pretty easy to cut and connect with cement, but I keep thinking that there’s got to be a better system. Any repair involves careful digging so you don’t break any of the surrounding lines, and new sprinklers seem to have a high failure rate. I’ve had to return at least half of the new ones I bought because they don’t pop up or otherwise leak out the top.

When all is said and done, it’s probably a good thing we have it because given how dry it’s been this year everything would be dead by now. I’m also not interested in dragging out a hose every couple of days, so the convenience factor can’t be ignored, but the hassle doesn’t seem to justify the results. Of course, I haven’t yet found a way to run the controller from the computer yet, but once I do, I may forget all of the hassles I’ve had up to this point.

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