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6 questions from a newbie re. proposed system

Discussion in 'Homeowner Assistance Forum' started by Ella17, Sep 23, 2017.

  1. Ella17

    Ella17 LawnSite Member
    Messages: 8

    Hi:

    I have a few questions regarding irrigation systems. Here is the background:

    We inherited a sprinkler system 7 years ago, when we bought a house built in 1972 in Portland, OR. Supposedly (according to the person who maintained it but didn’t install it) the system was installed in parts over time, as it has both galvanized steel and PVC pipes. A few heads were replaced, some were shut down during the past few years. The system is functional but some of the heads no longer go down, some spray erratically and water the side walk and fences, etc. The maintenance guy tells us that "removing a sprinkler head is a major challenge; put a wrench to it and the pipe below may crack. One day soon you either see your water bill going high up or a muddy sink hole in your garden.“. The current system has 6 zones, an Orbit controller, a mixture of head types and 3 valve boxes. The house is on a slope so the ground is relatively flat in the front and back but sloping on the 2 sides. We have grass on all sides and some flower/bush areas.
    I asked for proposals from the current maintenance guy and 2 more companies in this business and asked them for their professional opinion about potentially “upgrading" the existing system. All 3 only wanted to bid only on a new system, stating that probably I would end up paying almost the same for upgrading the old system with no guarantee for its reliability.
    I got the 3 proposals, all of them quoted for a much higher price than expected and with contradicting recommendations and comments, which really confused me. I have no idea whom I can trust (or not).

    So here are the questions:

    Question #1 - waiting w. some fixing vs. being proactive:
    I have an acquaintance who does mainly lawns for golf courses and garden design (but has formal education in landscape design & irrigation systems) who told me that he doesn’t think that I should rush to get a new system and that I can guestimate the potential reasonable cost for a new system to be about $600-$700 times the number of zones.
    Since all 3 contractors only want to install a new system and warn me about major potential problems due to the galvanized steel pipes, I do not know whom to believe. Is there a reliable and easy way to determine the state/age of the galvanized pipes? The 3 contractors I talked to do not care to save the existing PVC pipes, they just want to put everything new. Should I just wait until something happens to them or should I pro-actively have a new system installed?

    Question # 2 - Smart controllers
    One of the contractors recommended usage of a smart controller (Rain Bird ESP-SMTe). He said that after he does the initial adjustment, we would not have to do anything. The other one, when asked about it said that " they are still to complicated for home owners, I do not recommend them unless you are very technical savvy”. I do not want to ask for any headaches or build in ongoing maintenance/support issues, but I would love to have a smart system that can determine watering needs based on actual circumstances. I am not very handy and while I can, I prefer not to read periodically long manuals and struggle with adjustments. Usually in Portland a rain sensor is not helpful because it either rains most of the time or never rains (during the summer). Which contractor should I believe?

    Question # 3 - Design, drawings and proposals

    I have checked a few websites about design and installation of irrigation systems. Lowes, Hunter, Popular Mechanics and the incredibly helpful Irrigation Tutorials website all talk about design by taking measurements, doing calculations, preparing drawings, etc. It looks quite scientific. All 3 proposals are about half - 1.5 page lists, some with more details than others but none shows any specifics about my lot and does not include any drawings. E.g. they mention: “six Rain Bird DFV100 electronic control valves in locations to be determined at installation”, "Hunter Pro Spray PRS40 sprinkler heads with MP Rotator nozzles for all of the zones” (without showing the number of of heads). Is this customary for professional proposals? What should one expect that a professional proposal include?

    Question #4 - Warranty

    Two of the 3 proposals do not mention anything about any warranty and the contractors do not provide any formal contracts beyond the proposal. When asked, one of the said that their 1 year "Warranty covers everything that can break naturally if we winterize annually... without mother nature’s help-freezes, earthquake, large tree roots, grass roots growing into nozzles, bark dust caught in nozzles, humans breaking heads or pipes, utility companies breaking something.”. It’s hard to see then what’s covered (beyond maybe the manufacturer’s guarantee). Also if I read the above correctly, it seems that while they honor any warranty only if I pay them to winterize (and activate) the system, freezing caused problems are not covered….. Is this standard, an acceptable kind of warranty?

    Question No 5 - winterizing the system:
    The current maintenance guy has been winterizing the system by draining it (without blowing it) and covering the valves in the 3 valve boxes with isolating pillows. One of the other contractors stated that he doesn’t blow out pipes when he winterizes the system because blowing them out can damage the system and because supposedly there is no need to that where we live. According to him if something freezes, it is less expensive to fix the problem than dealing with blowing out the pipes… The 3rd contractor said that what’s being done currently is irresponsible and that we are taking major chances by just having the system drained… What gives?

    Question # 6 - What “material” should be under/over new pipes?
    Portland is in a major earthquake zone. All 3 contractors recommended PVC pipes. I was reading that gravel or sand should be placed in trenches under and over any new PVC pipes. Is that a best practice and necessary?

    THANKS IN ADVANCE.
     
  2. Mike Leary

    Mike Leary LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 23,158

    You are well intentioned, but getting mixed messages from your "experts".
    Any system, even 20 years ago, that had galvanized pipe was "old and in the way" because of the internal rust build-up. A forum friend to contact would be Jim Lewis at Lewis Landscape Services.. I don't know if he services your area of Portland, but he's a straight shooter, and might guide you to the right guy. Say hello to him for me!
     
    Last edited: Sep 23, 2017
  3. kawasaki guy

    kawasaki guy LawnSite Fanatic
    Male, from USA
    Messages: 16,594

    I second this.

    Your system sounds like a mish mash of various homeowners and contractors, just start fresh and do it right...
     
    Mdirrigation likes this.
  4. Ella17

    Ella17 LawnSite Member
    Messages: 8

    Thanks. I will try to contact Jim Lewis.

    Questions 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 pertain to a new system. If anyone could help with those, it will be of great help.
     
  5. benhargreaves

    benhargreaves LawnSite Member
    Messages: 42

    Find a reputable irrigation professional in your area to guide you and work with you. Ask for references and follow up on them. We could write books on these questions (and never come to complete agreement), but a reputable professional in your area will be able to answer your questions best and be able to help tailor the system to your needs and the requirements of your region.
     
  6. Mike Leary

    Mike Leary LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 23,158

    Unless you bought the home to "flip", take a walk around around the property, imagine changes you want, and consult with the pros. Having a quality landscape and irrigation system is a big selling point down the road, just in case. :nod:
     
    hort101 likes this.
  7. Ella17

    Ella17 LawnSite Member
    Messages: 8

    Thanks. The 3 proposals came from companies that consider themselves very reputable. As a consumer without background in sprinkler systems I turned to this forum mostly for clarification on points where the 3 contractors contradicted each other. It seems that irrigation is a specialty with no agreed to industry wide best practices, with every reputable irrigation professional setting his own best practices, rules, terms and has his own approach to what's in a proposal, how much "design" work/time he puts in, what he wants to guarantee or not. While I appreciate the time each of you took to reply on a weekend, I am very disappointed that I could not get one answer to specifically address any of my questions. I guess this is not the "appropriate" site for a consumer to get help. Enjoy the weekend.
     
  8. Mike Leary

    Mike Leary LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 23,158

    You are lucky anyone responded. This is a forum for professionals, not for home owners. Good luck!
     
  9. Ella17

    Ella17 LawnSite Member
    Messages: 8

    My apology for not realizing that homeowners cannot get answers here and yes, I feel very lucky with the answers. You might want to consider having some best practices for your services, so that every company cannot qualify themselves as "experts" and "reputable". Unfortunately references do not mean too much, as most homeowners do not have the time and ambition to understand what they get for the many thousand of dollars and have no idea if the work was done (or not) with quality. Enjoy the rest of your weekend.
     
  10. SoCalLandscapeMgmt

    SoCalLandscapeMgmt LawnSite Silver Member
    Messages: 2,144

    Question #1 - waiting w. some fixing vs. being proactive:
    Replace the entire system. You are wasting time and money trying to put a bandage on your current system.

    Question # 2 - Smart controllers
    This on is all on you. You have to decide whether or not you can handle a smart controller. They work well. But there is no set it and forget it. You will have to make adjustments over time. The ESP-SMTe is the best on the market but even it is not 100% perfect.

    Question # 3 - Design, drawings and proposals
    Yes. Unless you are paying somebody for a design then don't expect one. When I get people who are just looking for a price they get a written description of the scope of work and the materials. If I sign a contract for the work and a design is required then it gets done at that point.

    Question #4 - Warranty
    Yes.

    Question No 5 - winterizing the system:
    Given your location, the system needs to be drained and blown out every winter. Period.

    Question # 6 - What “material” should be under/over new pipes?
    No. Not unless you are trenching through solid rock.


    Mike Leary suggested contacting Jim Lewis. If you want this done right then he is your guy. He won't be cheap but you will get a good system and great customer service.

    http://www.lewislandscape.com

     

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