irrigation system rant / planning

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Ashful

Minister of Fire
Mar 7, 2012
16,527
Philadelphia
I've come to realize the crew that performed my last irrigation system expansion was a bunch of hacks. Bad news for the owner of the company, who did a nice job on the prior expansion, back when he was more hands-on. I'd consider doing him the favor of letting him know how bad a job they did, except the work is already a few years old, and I suspect his crews are so transient that none of the same guys even work for him anymore.

The controller, main plumbing, vacuum breaker, and first zone for gardens around our patio were already installed when I purchased the home. I had to replace the vacuum breaker (freeze damage / prior owner) and service the single zone valve, but all else was good. System was plumbed off 1" line taken directly off well expansion tank upstream of water softener, which due to the iron and mineral deposits present in the system, has caused some of the issues described below.

Since then:
  • System was expanded to 4 zones in 2017. Work was done by owner of a local irrigation company, and performed very well, with no unexpected issues.
    • Ran 1" line 100 feet across yard to new zone valve box containing one filter + 3 zone valves
    • Filter (Rainbird RBY) placed in new zone valve box, upstream of three new zone valves
    • 1" lateral with two dozen drip rings downstream of each zone valve
    • Zone valves run sequentially (never simultaneous), so filter is only ever seeing flow of a single zone (~3 gpm)
    • Everything worked well
  • System was expanded to 6 zones in 2019. Work was done by irrigation co's new crew, while owner sat on my patio using his laptop. He should've been keeping a better eye on them.
    • 1" line was tee'd off prior run upstream of RBY filter, and run to a new zone valve box
    • New box contained two valves and two filters, but the filters were placed downstream of the valves
      • This may have been done to prevent back-flow of dirt into valves, as new zones are all uphill of valves
      • But now there's no filter upstream of valves
    • New filters were installed so close to box edge, and angled at side of box, that it was not possible to service the filter elements. You literally had to dig up and remove the entire zone valve box, just to get at the filters! !!!
    • 1" lines run 200 - 400 feet to new zones on opposite ends of yard
    • New zone box was too short (7" tall box), and lid rested on valve solenoids. This caused a lot of pressure to be put on the valves when I'd drive over box with mower.
    • So much of box was hacked away for sloppy line runs, that there was almost nothing left to support it. They tried jamming a few stones under what was left of the corners, but due to leaks and flooding of box, they just slid aside and allowed box to sink onto valve solenoids.
    • Since this most recent expansion the system has almost continually leaked
      • Valves have leaked, and have been serviced or replaced 3 - 4 times each (under warranty).
      • System had a mystery leak, even when not detected at valves or emitters
    • Boxes were continually full of water, and thanks to the huge holes they cut out of them (most of two opposite corners), they'd continually back-fill with surrounding mud. They also wouldn't stay planted, continually sinking under pressure, due to most of their foot ring being cut out due to poor system planning.
  • I added a 20" big blue filter with 1" in/out and a 5-micron pleated filter on the main line coming off my well expansion tank in 2021. This was aimed at reducing particulates going to the irrigation valves and emitters.
    • Our well water has tested good every 5 years, no health concerns. But there is some small sediment detected, entirely iron and clay, and the water has a high total hardness. Additionally, calcium or copper and iron oxides present in the system (just age) will occasionally clog one of the hydraulic orifices in the zone valves.
Frustrated with the constant leaks and issues with the two newest zone valves, I dug up the whole mess of two zone boxes and five valves this week. I ordered two new (deeper) boxes to resolve the issue of the boxes sinking and placing pressure on the solenoids, and also found the mystery leak. They had some horrendous bends in the piping putting sideways pressure on the hose barb fittings, likely just someone being too lazy to walk 200 feet back to the truck to grab another elbow or other fitting, which was the source of some of the mystery leaks and the water constantly in the boxes. It was a total cluster-F**, with some the primary 1" lines set so shallow around the box that it's a miracle I never hit one with an aerator tine. I cut half of their plumbing out and re-routed it, with no extreme bends in the poly pipe, to avoid the same leaking isues they had at the barb fittings, and to better allow me to place the boxes without hacking so much away from them.

All is now repaired and looking good. But before re-burying, I'm really thinking of moving the tee for the last two zones from it's present location upstream of the inline filter, to tail off the line feeding the three 2017 valves. This would have all five of these valves receiving filtered water. Again, these valves are run sequentially only, never simultaneously, so the single filter should be fine to handle the flow. The total volume of water pushed thru these five valves each a season might be a lot for a single RBY filter, but the big blue filter installed up at the house should continue to ensure that there's less hitting the RBY filter over time.

Their zone boxes:

IMG_6662.JPG IMG_6661.JPG

After some digging:

IMG_6736.JPG IMG_6832.JPG

In that photo above, the 2017 work is in the lower area, the 2019 work is in the upper area. You can see why they had to cut away most of the end of the new box in 2019, as the bent piping from 2017 ran an arc thru the one wall of the box. I drove the temporary PVC pipe stake into the ground to separate them, so I could temporarily place a box while deciding what to do.

Here's how I have it re-arranged today:

IMG_6836.JPG IMG_6839.JPG

You can see I still have the two newer valves tee'd off the main line upstream of the filter, I did not change that yet. However, finding another one of their mystery leaks is in the elbow of that line running from the main line to the new box, I need to cut that out and redo anyway. I'm thinking of ditching that tee, and coming off the far end of the manifold feeding the first three zone valves, such that the last two get filtered water:

IMG_6836_mod.jpg

If you actually made it thru all this, I'd be interested in any opinions, advice, or even similar tales of woe.
 

EbS-P

Minister of Fire
Jan 19, 2019
2,659
SE North Carolina
I’ve been attempting to fix my well and irrigation system for 9 months. Pump seized. Got an new identical pump. Needed a new back check valve. All out in up and working with a safety pressure switch that cuts power to pump if pressure drops below 5 psi. Well new pump didn’t get as high of pressure as the old one. We use sand point wells here. No casing. Just drop some pvc in a hole. Not footvalve. Well I seeded everything. Pressure settings seemed ok. But once it got up and running at 4 am even though all zone valves were closed and not leaking the pump never shut off due the cut out pressure being higher than what the pump could pump. It was all hot and leaking when I found it at 9 am. Replaced all pvc joints. Put back together and the casing pipe would loose prime causing the low pressure power down to shut the pump off completely.

I’ve lived with it so far this spring manually closing the contacts untill casing primed and pump made minimum pressure. Took back check out yesterday. Put it back in. I still have leaks. On the pressure side. Threads at backcheck are leaking a bit. But it has been running all day.

I need to redo everything. To many hacks including myself when in a hurry have tried to just get by. Nothing is freeze protected. We really don’t have a frost line here. But a cold week in 2018 a lot of people had issues me included when forgot to drain the pump and split the housing. On the plus side I’m getting quite good at rebuilding a meyers qp10 pump. It’s not over. Now occasionally the motor will seize.
 
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Poindexter

Minister of Fire
Jun 28, 2014
2,702
Fairbanks, Alaska
I think you got this. I got most of the way through and concluded you want it done right, so you are doing it your self and sounds to me like you know what you are doing.
 

Ashful

Minister of Fire
Mar 7, 2012
16,527
Philadelphia
Thanks. I corrected the routing last night, to match the blue line sketched onto my last photo. Now everything is coming thru that first filter, to all five valves. Should help to keep them cleaner inside, and working with fewer issues each year.

Unfortunately, their old 90° that I spun in place to accomplish the delete and re-route is now leaking. So, I have two tubes to cut and replace, which I'll likely get done today. I've had my feet and arms in this hole at least 4 or 5 evenings in the last week, I hope this is the last of it. I'll probably leave it open another few days, while the system cycles thru the zones, just to make sure everything is good, before backfilling around the new boxes.
 

EbS-P

Minister of Fire
Jan 19, 2019
2,659
SE North Carolina
i just had a rain garden installed its so dry here and now I need to water it. Rain garden will needs its own zone. Neighbor just got new sod last spring and just strung 200’ of garden hose and about 7 sprinklers. Their method is appealing more to me.
 

Ashful

Minister of Fire
Mar 7, 2012
16,527
Philadelphia
i just had a rain garden installed its so dry here and now I need to water it. Rain garden will needs its own zone. Neighbor just got new sod last spring and just strung 200’ of garden hose and about 7 sprinklers. Their method is appealing more to me.
You made me google a new term, "rain garden". My head has been so deep in irrigation issues this week, that I initially assumed you had mixed up RainBird, the maker of most of these irrigation system components.

Now I have something new to learn about. I have some wet areas of my property, which are a PITA to mow in spring and fall, and which I've been considering options to replace lawn in these areas.

My irrigation is completely for trees, not lawn. I've planted more than 100 trees since moving in, and with carefully-managed fertilization and watering, you would be amazed by the growth I'm pushing through them. I've grown a forest in 5 - 7 years, using about 1200 gallons per week from the well in our hottest and driest weeks of the year.
 

EbS-P

Minister of Fire
Jan 19, 2019
2,659
SE North Carolina
It’s storm water management here in the urban areas. Oyster beds in our urban tidal areas are closed due pollution. Pet waste is the contributing factor. City private partnership has grant money to install. Will route 2 downspouts into it. Plants being planted later today. Now I need to water it. Will just run a hose today but it will need its own sprinklers.

My whole system needs reworked. Flow is two low on one zone and pump cycles. To high on another and have low pressure. Coverage has never been adequate for the grass we let grow in. It been fine for 10 years but last 12 months have been really dry.

43888CC7-3926-4848-92FD-3D4BFBF3C1AA.jpeg
 

zrock

Minister of Fire
Dec 2, 2017
1,249
bc
Man that is some shotty workmanship by the install company. Lucky is was not me i would have been on the phone every day until it was fixed. And i would have kicked the owner in the balls and told him to go watch his guys instead of pretending to work on the deck...
 

Ashful

Minister of Fire
Mar 7, 2012
16,527
Philadelphia
Yeah, I have mixed feelings about it. He’s a small business owner, and did decent work, back when he was doing things himself. He clearly had a bad crew or foreman on this job, and should have been checking things himself, but I know it can be difficult running a small business. He may have been busy doing his accounting, payroll, or answering customer emails.

If it had happened more recently, I’d call to let him know what I found, so he could deal with it appropriately. But he’s already had guys here a half dozen times on warranty repairs from this job over the last two years, and it’s almost certain the guys who did this work no longer even work for him. His crews tend to be non-English-speaking immigrants, and while I have no problem with that, I suspect they’re fairly transient.
 

RockyMtnGriz

Burning Hunk
Apr 19, 2019
166
SW Montana
Worked in, managed, and was employed to audit small businesses in my life. Also now own my small business. I can't cut the owners any slack. The (not) joke is that if you work for yourself, you get to choose which 100 hours a week you work. That's the deal.

I've seen it so many times, it's like a natural progression. You bust your ass to start a business, get to making pretty good money and you either get tired, or feeling entitled, or just plain greedy, so you start hiring people so you don't have to work so hard, or maybe you even think you don't have to work at all. If you're really greedy, you hire illegals because you can get 2-3 workers for the price of somebody with a legit SSN, and if you pay them under the table, you don't have those pesky employer contributions that lower your profits. And, you shift a ton of costs to the legit taxpayers.

If you're going to legitimately expand your small business, your role shifts from being "in it", to organizing and making sure your standards are maintained. That's incredibly tough to do, and can't be done if you're hanging in Hawaii, "gone", or drunk elsewhere, as is so popular.

I never expanded as much as I could have in boom times, so I never needed a government bailout when the boom went bust. I never made as much money as I could have, but I never didn't make money, even in '08 or the pandemic. I've actually never hired an employee, so I both didn't "create jobs", nor did I exploit anyone. Also, my spending on vacations over the last 20 years has been nil.

It just ain't that hard to make a living in business, if you're willing to do the work. I'm willing to bet the guy who is disappointing you isn't doing the work anymore, so you don't owe him anything.

He owes you.

But he probably won't answer or return you call.
 

Ashful

Minister of Fire
Mar 7, 2012
16,527
Philadelphia
Good points. But the good news is that I got it all straightened out and back together over the weekend. A few days in, some rain and some grass watering around it, and both valve boxes are staying dry for the first time ever. I took the extra time to close off the lower portion of each slot made for piping with scraps from the old valve boxes, so these ones should stay real clean, no dirt making its way back in too easily.

I forgot to take a photo of the final piping arrangement, the closest I have is the day before the final change, which is about 90% accurate to what's there now.

IMG_6861.JPG

The only thing I changed after that photo was the Z-shaped section that runs from the lower left manifold up to the upper pair, as it contained one old-work elbow that was leaking. Upon disassembly, I could see that they had used an elbow that had been cut away from a pipe previously, and the person doing the work must have cut too deep and scored the hose barb, thus causing the leak. I wouldn't have cared if it was downstream of a valve, but that was on the main. In any case, that pipe was more cleanly and squarely routed under the zone 3 tee and lateral.

Burying the boxes, compacting each layer of clay and soil as I went:

IMG_6870.JPG

Three days of operation and one rain storm later, it's staying dry, for the first time ever:

IMG_6897.JPG IMG_6896.JPG

IMG_6898.JPG
 

zrock

Minister of Fire
Dec 2, 2017
1,249
bc
Still no excuse for a business owner... If you feel sorry for him and do not want to pursue the issue with him at least send him the pics of what you have found and the issues you have/had and tell him its just a FYI. If he is a responsible business owner he will take it seriously and watch his workers much closer and maybe even try to offer you some compensation... That's what i do if i don't want compensation for something i will at least let the business know so it does not happen again. Usually they thank me and offer me a discount on my next visit that i never take advantage of
 
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moresnow

Minister of Fire
Jan 13, 2015
1,978
Iowa
I don't have half that much plumbing in my entire home;lol I am hoping for drought conditions so I can park the mower for more than 5 days straight and Let er go brown/dormant!

Good luck @Ashful
 

Ashful

Minister of Fire
Mar 7, 2012
16,527
Philadelphia
This house is a plumber's dream, or nightmare, depending on their billing method. ;lol