How to Conduct an Effective Irrigation Audit

irrigation system sprinkler

It’s that time of year again! July is Smart Irrigation Month, the Irrigation Association’s annual initiative to promote the social, economic and environmental benefits of efficient irrigation technologies, products, and services. The Irrigation Association (IA) is an organization that advocates for and provides services to the irrigation system and equipment makers, end users, designers, and contractors.

The Smart Irrigation Month initiative encourages and reminds these professionals to collect data, verify systems are working properly, and identify ways to improve water-use efficiency. Not only is this an environmentally conscious undertaking, it’s an excellent way to reduce costs and save money.

What Makes for A Smart Irrigation Audit?

Whether evaluating sports turf, golf, or recreation grounds keeping systems, an effective audit should include the following components:

  • Analysis of water requirements and irrigation use in the context of relevant and unique site conditions and demands.
  • Development of irrigation schedules based upon the above, as well as on water quality and availability.
  • Specific maintenance recommendations for reliable, cost-effective systems.
  • Both cost and water savings resulting from the implementation of innovative irrigation technologies, products, and practices.

What are Some Tips for Conducting a Smart Irrigation Audit?

There are a considerable number of industry-specific, standardized guidelines for performing an audit so it’s important to familiarize yourself with some of the basics before doing a deep-dive.

In general terms, an effective irrigation audit consists of three basic steps:

  1. The auditor must inspect and verify that the component parts of a system have been installed correctly, functioning properly, and confirm that the system itself is compatible with site needs.
  2. Secondly, the auditor must perform a catch-can analysis to determine two key metrics: water distribution uniformity and application rates.
  3. The auditor must set an irrigation schedule.

More specifically, part of any thorough and effective audit will include performing the following inspections and procedures:

  1. Check for blown fuses
  2. Check for insects and rodents
  3. Ensure that each sprinkler rotates correctly
  4. Inspect for bad O-rings
  5. Make sure the nozzle is correct
  6. Check that snap rings are inserted properly
  7. Verify that each sprinkler comes up
  8. Check all solenoids from the satellite with a voltmeter
  9. Make sure sprinklers are level
  10. If you have two-way communication, run a communication check and a download

How Can an Irrigation Audit Save Me Money?

The word ‘audit’ generally strikes fear and exasperation in the heart of most business owners. But in the case of irrigation audits, never fear! Embracing the audit and performing them regularly equals money in the bank. Think of it this way: would you spend upwards of sixty thousand dollars on a luxury sedan and then never take it in for maintenance? If you did, essentially, you’d be throwing away your initial investment. The same is true for irrigation systems.

Consider also that water is your most valuable resource and is critical in maintaining annuals and a lush turf. Rainwater alone won’t suffice in the long run, and just imagine the cost of replacing these items! This doesn’t even consider the astronomical water bills caused by an inefficient, poorly maintained system.

Conversely, over-watering can have further ill effects on your grounds and wallet. With time and wear, even efficient irrigation systems start to falter. If minor performance and operational problems go unaddressed, they won’t stay minor for long.

Things like sunken sprinkler heads can mean misaligned spray patterns which may be great for watering the streets but disastrous in terms of your water bill. Sprinkler heads that have been placed too far apart is a recipe for poor distribution, resulting in ugly dry spots in the landscape. To add insult to this injury, in the case of poor placement, systems are often set to run for longer periods of time which results in an over-watered landscape and a rapidly decreasing bank balance.

Additionally, investing the time and dollars to audit your systems can generate revenue indirectly. Sustainability is an increasingly valuable commodity in the marketplace as consumers are demanding this more and more. If you’re able to incorporate a level of green “cred” into your marketing strategy, you’ll differentiate yourself from your competitors and enhance your unique value proposition.

To sum it up: an audit of your irrigation system provides a sizeable return on your investment and acts as insurance against an enormous, time-consuming expense down the line.

Where Can I Find More Information?

For access to a vast trove of useful irrigation audit know-how, head over to the Irrigation Association’s webpage. You’ll find some excellent tools & calculators, including a glossary of terms, standards and best practices guides, auditing and scheduling calculators, and an entire page dedicated to irrigation auditing with a link to audit guidelines.

You’ll also find resource links to help you establish your credentials as a certified landscape irrigation auditor or golf irrigation auditor.

Also, don’t forget to check out their Technical Resources page for links to a number of classes, online learning opportunities, self-study resources and technical papers.

Whether you want to upgrade your skills, enhance expertise, stay current with industry innovations, or learn how to implement smart practices and sustainable solutions, the Irrigation Association is a one-stop solution for all your continuing education needs.

The main takeaway here is that when you or your irrigation tech have a moment, do an audit of your course, even if it’s only one hole a day. Preventative maintenance to your irrigation system will help alleviate future headaches. Plus, conducting a thorough, effective irrigation audit has the potential to save money as well as the environment!