Go with the flow

Contractors need pumps and valves working efficiently to get the most out of an irrigation system.

Ease of serviceability is key when it comes to selecting irrigation valves and reducing maintenance calls, according to irrigation contractors.

Selecting valves.

For most residential and smaller commercial systems, Robert Spangler, president of AquaTurf in Roanoke, Virginia, uses a 1-inch jar top valve, which does not have any screws on it.

Photos courtesy of rain bird

“If you have any type of debris in the valve, or if there are any parts in there you need to service, the jar types are a lot easier to access,” he says.

AquaTurf serves both commercial and residential customers. About 75 percent of their business is irrigation work.

“Most of the failures we see with the valves out of the box are from debris in the system,” he says.

At Mid South Irrigation & Landscape in Memphis, Tennessee, Owner Jesse Wisley looks for simplicity in construction. A valve with only four screws on top is easier to install and troubleshoot than one with 10 screws.

“When you have to clean that valve out or replace the guts in it, it’s a pain, especially if one of those screws gets stripped out,” he says.

Avoiding valve headaches.
Wisley says he has encountered issues with some valves where the diaphragm won’t close all the way, and therefore the water leaks from the irrigation heads. But the biggest headache with valves comes when a pebble, or a piece of PVC piping itself, enters the system and clogs the valve. This can happen even a decade after installation, Wisley says.

In order to prevent this issue he advises to clean the cut extremely well.

“You prime the pipe and then you put glue on the pipe. Use that primer and go around, and clean it off real good,” he says. “It’s very important.”

In order to remedy this problem once it happens, Wisley says the system needs to be taken apart and flushed out to remove the debris. As for maintenance, once valves are installed Wisley keeps it simple.

“Don’t touch it unless you have to – unless something’s wrong with it,” he says.

Spangler says debris in the system is the only major problem he has encountered with valves.

A primer on pumps.

AquaTurf employees install both centrifugal and submersible pumps. Centrifugal pumps are used to pump water out of lakes and ponds, and are often attached to the rafters on a dock or mounted to a stand. This makes the pumps easier to service, Spangler says.

On retirement homes and large commercial properties, Spangler says he uses submersible pumps, which are placed into a well. Because of this, Spangler says his team will perform diagnostics using a multimeter to pinpoint an issue before removing the pump.

“We can do a series of electrical tests to see if it’s an issue in the line or with the motor,” he says. “The last thing you want to do is pull the well pump and it not be the problem.”

“The other thing that’s also advantageous is once you get certified in their equipment, a lot of times (manufacturers will) give you extended warranties as a contractor, too.” Robert Spangler, president, AquaTurf

In regions prone to freezing and thawing, an air compressor should be used to blow out the irrigation system in the fall. The pump should be drained and plugs pulled to ensure no water is left inside, Spangler says.

“If you don’t properly winterize the pumps, water can be left inside the pump and it can freeze and bust,” he says.

In the spring, the pump should be primed and pressure tested. The pump should also be lubricated regularly and all shaft seals checked.

When installing a pump for the first time, you have to verify the pump curves, elevations and flow rates of the system, Spangler says.

“A lot of times we will see the contractor oversize or undersize the pump in comparison to the irrigation system’s size,” he says. “If these calculations are not done it can cause excessive wear on the pump.”

Worth the investment.

Training helps employees stay abreast of troubleshooting tactics, particuarly with more complicated parts such as pumps.

“We try to get our employees certified with the different manufacturers, and that helps with the installation process,” Spangler says. “The other thing that’s also advantageous is once you get certified in their equipment, a lot of times (manufacturers will) give you extended warranties as a contractor, too.”

Spangler says on the job his employees carry standard operating procedures for components of the irrigation system.

These procedures were either created in-house or come from the manufacturer. At Mid South, employees are primarily trained in house.

“In the long run we’re providing better customer service because we are training our employees,” he says.

The author is a freelance writer based in Lakewood, Ohio.

March 2016
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