When homeowners set out to remodel their backyard or create more curb appeal with a new front entryway, most will likely — first and foremost — be focused on the aesthetics. More functional, less beautiful aspects of the project tend to get awarded less attention overall. But those often under-the-surface additions can completely transform the experience of using and living in those new outdoor spaces. Irrigation is one such element, and it has the power to greatly improve the condition of green areas like lawns and garden spaces, enable your household to use water more efficiently, and even add to the value of your property. It’s also one of those landscape features that require some proactivity; any plan for integrating irrigation into your landscape design needs to happen before your landscape contractor breaks ground for the patio or pool.
Planning for an Irrigation System
Whether they rely on the use of a landscape contractor to maintain the softer aspects of their landscape or enjoy tending to their garden themselves, homeowners with enviable landscapes use a lot of water — and not always as efficiently as they could.
To be more mindful of this conundrum requires knowledge of the latest technologies available for today’s landscapes and a drive for efficiency when it comes to natural resources. The choice to have permeable pavers installed makes the most of a precious resource — rainwater. Similar in appearance to traditional pavers, permeable pavers draw rain and snowmelt into the ground, to hydrate the surrounding softscaping instead of having the water run off the patio or driveway and overwhelm storm drains. These pavers’ joints are filled with clean gravel rather than polymeric sand, enabling water to drain through the surface, to where it belongs and is most needed. Unilock has an extensive collection of permeable pavers to fit every homeowner’s style and color preference.
With foresight, systems can be installed to collect rainwater underneath permeable paving and store it in reservoirs that can be drawn from for irrigation systems. An underground, high-efficiency irrigation system would enable you to effectively direct the right amount of water to the right places. Proper installation of such systems requires specialized skills that may fall outside of your Unilock Authorized Contractor’s service offerings. However, your contractor will likely have someone they recommend or work with often to bring irrigation systems to the spaces they design and build. In order to have more productive conversations regarding which irrigation system is right for you, here’s a bit of an overview on things to consider.
Know Your Needs
Since in-ground irrigation is a complex project, first decide whether you really need it. Consider:
- The size of your grassy areas and type of grass
- Soil type (sandy soils are more absorbent than clay)
- Type and quantity of plants that require frequent irrigation
Mature trees require less water than new plantings, so you’ll need to consider your landscape needs today as well as what it will require to maintain in the future. A newly planted tree that requires frequent watering during its first few years of life may be able to be left alone after it becomes fully established.
Integrating irrigation into an installation such as this Unilock Umbriano patio with U-Cara seat wall and grill island maximizes enjoyment of the space while keeping plants healthy.
Know Your Land
Working with your contractor, measure and map your property to plan out an irrigation system. Such maps often include the location of the house, gardens, water meter, any sloping areas, as well the location of all permanent features including the driveway, outdoor structures, patio, and pool.
It’s important to clearly mark landscape features to ensure that your system will provide complete coverage for the areas that need it and avoid watering what doesn’t need it (like your patio furniture).
Know Your Water
Next, your contractor will measure the capacity of your water supply by identifying the water pressure. It’s important to obtain accurate information to ensure your residential water system can handle the additional load of landscape irrigation, especially if you plan to irrigate a large space.
If you’re on a municipal water supply, your water supplier can provide your neighborhood’s “static water pressure.” Note the low number in the range provided, which is measured in pounds per square inch (PSI). This is considered the worst-case number; since the neighborhood average may not accurately represent the water pressure at your home, you can also measure the water pressure at your house using a pressure gauge that attaches to an outdoor faucet.
If you’re on a well, you could have a well company test the well’s output (in gallons per minute or GPM). Do not rely on stickers on your pump that say “XX GPM” because that references the capacity of your well, not its actual output.
Once the essential measurements and variable are known (size, irrigation needs, water pressure, and various challenges), the design of the irrigation system can proceed.
Know the Rules
Some localities require building permits for the installation of irrigation systems while some have outdoor watering ordinances, or require backflow prevention devices. Your contractor will inform you about local regulations, and will also check for underground utilities before digging.
A key concern will be determining how water pressure will be maintained throughout the system.
Sprinklers require water pressure to work, so the concern isn’t just how much water is available, but how the water will move through the system. The key to a good sprinkler system design is ensuring there is enough pressure to provide adequate water to the sprinkler heads that are farthest away from the manifold. Water loses pressure as it moves through the sprinkler system. Every obstacle that water encounters could slow its momentum and pressure. Slowdowns could occur as it passes through the water meter, flows through valves, travels the distance from the pump to each sprinkler head, or flows around turns in the pipe.
To mitigate the loss of water pressure, the correct size pipes and valves will need to be carefully chosen, and your landscape may be divided into different watering zones.
Know Your Zones
A watering zone is an independently contained set of irrigation pipes and sprinkler heads with its own control valve.
The number of watering zones will depend on the GPM your system can supply. The physical characteristics of the landscape, your irrigation needs, and the capacity of your water supply will determine your zones.
Know Your Coverage
Think about 100 percent “head to head” coverage. Select sprinkler heads based on the coverage you need. Each sprinkler head is specific to a unique type of watering, and many are adjustable. You can choose from pop-up style sprinkler heads for grassy areas that won’t be damaged by foot traffic or lawn mowers; shrub sprinklers for flowerbeds or hedges; or drip irrigation for ground cover. Keep in mind the mature size and water needs of plants when selecting the proper sprinkler head height.
An irrigation system would ensure that any new careful arrangement of shrubs and plantings around Unilock pavers retain their freshness while reducing the need for constant intervention.
Know Your Parts
Selecting irrigation system components that work flawlessly together — as intended —will offer complete coverage and efficiency, and less maintenance. Depending on your map and your zones, you will need:
- Backflow preventer (an anti-siphon device, required in most areas)
- Fittings/couplings to connect pipe
- Risers that connect sprinkler heads to pipe
- Sprinkler heads for specific uses
- Timer to automatically control the on/off function
- Valves to open and close pipes to start or stop water flow
- Valve box to protect valves and provide easy access
- Valve manifold (the master control)
While the trenches required for an irrigation system are relatively shallow (6 to 12 inches deep, depending on the climate and severity of the freeze/thaw cycle), they must be level. Pop-up sprinkler heads require a deeper trench to accommodate the heads when they are retracted.
Plan for the Future
A well-designed irrigation system will integrate seamlessly into the landscape and willkeep your plants healthy and vibrant. Well cared for plants will add to the beauty of the landscape and work to offset the hardness of the paved surfaces in the design, such as patios, walls, and walkways that feature Unilock products, including permeable pavers.As a partner in your outdoor living space, Unilock is there every step of the way. Browse through the beautiful pages in our Design Idea Catalog and allow us to introduce you to a trusted Unilock Authorized Contractor.