Shopping for a Sprinkler System? What You Need to Know…

Considering installing a sprinkler system?  Getting lots of quotes and just can’t understand how the prices could be so different from company to company?  Think all sprinkler systems are the same?  You are probably feeling the same way most home owners do when shopping for an irrigation system.  What’s the difference and exactly what do you need to know?  At TIS, we’re here to help you find a sprinkler system that meets your needs… even if you go with one of the other guys because we believe that an informed consumer is a good consumer.

Irrigation Contractor

Hiring the right contractor can save you thousands of dollars.

Why are the prices so different from one company to the next?   Irrigation in Texas is regulated by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the TCEQ, and thus to a large extent how a system is installed is not up to the home owner or the contractor.  Texas is rampant with unlicensed and sometimes unscrupulous contractors that do not install systems properly, safely or up to code.  An unlicensed contractor can save an awful lot of money by not pulling permits, not maintaining a license or insurance, not building to code or by using day laborers and paying less than minimum wage to those hard working individuals.  Cutting corners like these doesn’t just save money for the contractor but it hurts reputable companies and could cost the home owner tens of thousands of dollars in the end.

Bad Irrigation Contractors

Anyone can show up and give a quote, it is up to you to figure out if they are competent because you could end up paying for it for a very long time.

How will that end up costing me?  The consumer can pay for these failures in the form of high water bills (if the system is not designed properly it can use more than three times the water required to maintain your landscape), costly repairs (if the work is sub-standard or faulty), loss of landscape (due to poor coverage) and even contaminated drinking water (if a backflow is not installed or not installed properly).  This says nothing for the headache of trying to enforce a warranty or for your being in violation of local, city and state codes that could ultimately lead to your being fined or required to bring your system up to code.  While we would certainly never fault anyone for trying to save a dollar in this economy, it is important to understand that a buck saved in the install can easily mean fifty lost each and every month to your water bill.

What are the most frequent code violations?  This varies from job to job but here are some of the most common; failure to have a license and insurance, failure to call in line locates before digging, throwing water across driveways, walkways or sidewalks, failure to install a backflow, failure to have that backflow inspected, failing to install a rain sensor, failure to provide a warranty, failure to provide an as-built drawing of the system once it is installed, failure to provide a year-round watering schedule and failure to pull permits.

Sprinkler Head Throwing Across Sidewalk

Do you want to pay for a contractor that cuts corners? Here, a sprinkler head throws across the sidewalk creating a hazard that you are liable for as the home owner.

The average home owner probably doesn’t know what most of these violations mean, what the code is for or how to tell when these things are done properly and when they are neglected.  This makes it easier for the kinds of contractors we are talking about to take advantage.   You might find yourself wondering why throwing the water across the sidewalk is such a big deal.  Well, when someone slips on the wet concrete and your system is throwing across that concrete structure to water something on the other side of it, you are liable for this accident.

Most consumers don’t know what a backflow device is, let alone what it is for, and so these kinds of failures usually go unnoticed until there is a problem.  A backflow device protects your family’s drinking water from harmful chemicals and is a very serious matter.  You see, when the sprinkler system is finished watering and the heads go back down into the ground, they create a vacuum-like suction.  This suction pulls in things like fertilizers, pesticides and animal urine or droppings that are commonly found on your lawn.  Once in the pipeline, if your home is not protected by a backflow device, then your family could be at risk.

Rain Sensor

Rain sensors and other items are not after market upgrades, they are primary parts of the irrigation system and are code for all new installs in the state of Texas.

What is the difference between poor workmanship and a quality job?  Because an irrigation system is below the ground and out of sight, it is easy for poor work to remain hidden until you have to break the bank for repairs or upgrades.  Many contractors will sell you on one price and then try to hit you with “add-ons” or “upgrades” later on down the road.  Another common problem is that the guy with the license is not on the job site and does not know what is going into the ground.  A poor job can tear up your landscape leaving a muddy mess behind.  Often times, sub-standard products are used from places like Home Depot that are just not built to last.  Backflow devices are often installed in a manner that will invite costly freeze damage in the winter.   This has become so rampant in the state of Texas that the governor just signed HB2507 into law making it a criminal offense to operate without a license.  This law is aimed at protecting homeowners just like you from the kinds of blatant violations that are described here.

A good contractor takes pride in his work and it will show from the moment you meet him.  Irrigation installation and backflow installation or repair is not a good do-it-yourself project.  Understanding pressure loss, elevation change, flow, how to keep water from moving in excess of five feet per second, evapotranspiration and run-time calculations are not common knowledge and requires not only extensive training and licensing but years of experience as well.

So what should I look for if I have my system installed by another company?   If you do decide to go to another company TIS is still happy to give you some advice and tips on what to look for.

  • Make sure they are licensed (code).
  • Find out what the warranty is up front (code).
  • Make sure that permits are being pulled if you live within a city (code).
  • Ask to see the design before installation begins.
  • Ensure a backflow device is installed, inspected and insulated (code).
  • Ensure a cut-off valve is installed and know the location of it (code).
  • Make sure that your grass and beds are watered by separate zones.
  • Make sure a rain sensor is installed (code).
  • Make sure you understand how to use the controller and have the owner’s manual (code).
  • Make sure there is a back-up battery installed in the controller so that you do not lose your settings.
  • Get a detailed watering schedule outlining the watering times for every zone for all seasons (code).
  • Ensure that you are not throwing water across a sidewalk or walkway (code).
  • Get an as-built drawing showing you where the heads, pipe and valves are all located (code).
Happy With Contractor

By taking the time to ensure your system is installed properly and up to code, you will have a healthier landscape that provides a great ROI, not to mention peace of mind.

Would you believe that most home owners I talk to in the field that have an existing system are missing at least half of the things on this list?  A great many of them are missing all of the items outlined here.  By checking on all of these things before you make final payment to the contractor you will be a lot more sure that you are getting a quality system that is up to code and will not cost an arm and a leg in terms of water consumption and maintenance or repairs.  So remember when you shop for an irrigation system that these things are not preferential, they are the law and are there to set a standard of quality and performance for you, the consumer.  Happy Gardening.

John A. Taylor is Vice President of Operations for Zodega-TIS in Houston, Texas. He was awarded the 2013 EPA Partner of the Year Award for his water conservation efforts, sits on the state irrigation board (TXIA), chairs the sub-committee on government relationships and lectures on water conservation through conscientious irrigation and sustainable landscape design. Zodega-TIS focuses on sustainable landscape and irrigation solutions in the Houston market. John is a veteran of the Unites States Marine Corps and lives with his wife and children in the north Houston area.

John has blogged 12 posts here.

12 comments for “Shopping for a Sprinkler System? What You Need to Know…

  1. Mary Biggs
    April 30, 2013 at 4:57 pm

    I had John Taylor come to my house today to FIX a sprinkler job that someone else had done. Thank John has my system up and running!!!! I would recommend Taylor Irrigation Services to anyone I know!

  2. Sandy B.
    January 11, 2012 at 11:17 am

    Really cool blog, guys. I love the layout and the content. Best wishes

  3. Mike
    December 18, 2011 at 10:20 am

    Wish I would’ve read this two years ago! Doh!

  4. Melanie Namonkre
    December 17, 2011 at 6:07 pm

    Sounds like very good advice and it says a lot about your customer service skills to share it for free with the masses. Good luck TIS.

  5. Isaac Terron
    December 17, 2011 at 1:29 am

    Well written and wise.

  6. Eve Zuvankre
    December 16, 2011 at 8:23 am

    I love your site and the blog and would be interested in sharing your content with my followers. Give me a shout so we can talk about it.

  7. Jacob H.
    December 15, 2011 at 12:41 pm

    I have seen and heard people complain so much about contractors like this and wish that information such as this were readily accessible BEFORE we spent our hard earned money.

  8. Kelly
    November 8, 2011 at 4:25 pm


    Just discovered you by chance on google. Fantastic write-up!

    • Mattie
      November 21, 2011 at 3:55 am

      Noithng I could say would give you undue credit for this story because I learned about bad contractors the hard way and had to have my system re-installed just a year and a half after having it installed the first time. My husband wanted to kill these guys. Thanks for the info becuase I know it’s very helpful.

  9. Cynthia Reid
    October 18, 2011 at 10:30 pm

    John, you guys are the best and I tell all of my family and friends that they are to use you and only you. You have outdone yourself with the commercial and the magazine and I can’t wait to see the new site. Thank you so much for taking care of us. God Bless.

  10. Roger A.
    October 15, 2011 at 5:31 pm

    Hi John. thanks alot for coming out and giving me some advice last week and for steering us in the right direction. If the new site is anything like the blog and news sections you have shown me then you’re going to really blow the competition out of the water by offering content that helps everyone. Much appreciate sir. -Roger

  11. Jamie Lockley
    October 15, 2011 at 12:35 pm

    Even though I’m in Jackson, this info will help me out a lot. Great content. I really appreciate it and will be sure to pass it on. Thanks.

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