Month: June 2013 Simplifies Savings

If you’re a regular reader of the blog, you’ve noticed we’re talking a lot about  This is our newest development here at Orbit and is a free website that we hope will help people cut back on water usage and make their lawns look better.  What’s not to love about that?

Catch cups and sprinkler audits have been around a long time and are nothing revolutionary.  But in the past they required expensive and inaccurate devices.  After a sample was taken the user had to shuffle through confusing mountains of graphs and charts to determine what it all meant.  You almost needed a PhD in irrigation to make sense of it all.  But what we’ve done is taken all this complex information like Evapotranspiration (ET) rates, soil textures, climate data, etc.  We’ve worked out a number of equations that our website solves for you in seconds.  All we need is your zip code, soil type and the readouts from the catch cups.  The website is the easiest part–though the rest of the process is pretty simple too.

As we head into the warmer summer months, many are going to get a shock on their water bill.  So why not give and our catch cups a try?  Your grass will thank you, your wallet will thank you and our drought stricken world will thank you.

Recognize the Signs of Overwatering

Recently, a customer asked one of our representatives why they should perform a sprinkler system audit, like the ones available through, when water wasn’t an issue for them.  This customer lived in an area that wasn’t affected by drought conditions, so there were no municipal restrictions being placed on their water.  In fact, for a small flat fee ($100/year in this case) they could use as much water as they wanted.  So why not just water every day?

Well, the answer isn’t what the customer expected.  We all know our lawns can suffer from underwatering, but few understand the dangers or recognize the signs of overwatering.  Too much water can kill the grass by drowning it, but this is rare.  Grass is a very resilient plant.  More commonly, overwatering contributes to disease and fungus and to shallow roots, which cause the grass to become stressed more easily.  Because most people water at night the signs of overwatering tend to disappear by the time we wake up.  In fact, if, like most people, you get up and go straight to work without ever stepping foot on your lawn, then it has between twelve and eighteen hours to dry before you can see the evidence.  So it’s important to run tests when you can observe the results.  So what to look for?  Soggy ground is probably the biggest thing.  Also, look for pools of runoff.  And finally, lawn diseases can be due to too much water.

So how to get it right?  Start by performing a sprinkler audit using the tools and tests described at  The site will walk you through the whole process and it’s free.  It will give you a watering schedule customized to your location and soil type.  Next, keep an eye on things.  Maybe allot yourself a few extra minutes in the morning to walk your lawn and feel for any trouble spots.  Look for runoff and puddles.  Run your system–even just in test mode–at least once a month (we recommend once a week) and look for geysers and broken heads.

Sprinkler Audits Can Bring Buckets of Savings

Does this sound familiar?  You’re going along, watering your lawn like you think you should be and then one day you notice dry spots.  You verify the sprinklers are all working fine, and that it’s not disease, but not matter what you can’t get the spots to go away.  The likely answer is to be found in your watering uniformity.  Uniformity is the evening of water distribution.  See, as a sprinkler sprays the water pattern becomes thinner as is goes outward.  Hence the need for head-to-head coverage.  But if the heads may look good on paper, and you can’t see any problems when running them, there still might be major problems in the distribution.  This is where catch cups can give you some important insights.

Perform a Sprinkler System Audit

To perform a sprinkler audit, deploy the catch cups evenly and run the applicable zone.  While you watch how each head is spraying, the cups are gathering water.  Make sure the heads are popping up and are spraying correctly (being free from debris).  Also, make sure the water is getting on the lawn and not your sidewalk, patio or driveway.  Adjustments may need to be made.  Then, when the cycle is done (we recommend running the zone for at least 10 minutes), gather the findings.  Do you notice any areas getting disproportionately more or less water than the others?  These represent problem areas that should be investigated further.  You can enter the findings into and you’ll get a free, customized water schedule for your current layout.  You’ll also see valuable data, such as your uniformity.  You want this number to be as high as possible (though 100% uniformity isn’t realistically possible, anywhere above 80% is great).  You can even play around with the numbers to see how much improving uniformity would affect the amount of water needed.  Altogether this process will take you about 30 minutes (add 15 minutes for each zone), but can yield tens-of-thousands of gallons of water saved over the course of a summer; well worth the time.


Interval Watering: The Future is Now

Did you know the average American home uses 3,000 gallons of water per lawn watering?  Irrigation is far and away the highest single activity in the consumption of water.  We’ve heard reports of local homes using 300,000 (yeah, you read that right) gallon of water in a month.  That means they’re watering using an average of 10,000 gallons a day, every single day!  So we’re highlighting a few tips and tools to prevent wasted water.  Today we’ll briefly discuss timers.

Maximize Your Timer’s Performance

Most modern timers allow for interval watering.  Interval Watering is simply the process of watering your lawn in stages.  Grass requires a certain amount of water, rather than a certain time.  Because soil can only absorb so much water before it becomes over-saturated, interval watering lets the water soak into the soil.  Dense soils like clay or clay loam can only absorb a quarter-inch of water per hour.  So anything past that will result in runoff or pooling.  By watering two times, but only at twenty minutes each time with 30-60 minutes between the two, water penetrates the soil much more effectively and reduces the amount of water used.  This is especially helpful if you live in an area where water prices are high or restricted to only certain days per week.  Check the instructions to see if your timer is able to perform interval watering (often called “schedules” or “programs”) and try it out.  We think you’ll like the results.


Orbit is excited to announce a product designed to greatly improve watering efficiency and conservation: Orbit Catch Cups.  These nifty little cups are used to perform water audits on your lawn.  When used in tandem with our website, the perfect watering schedule is just minutes away.

The process is simple.  Just place the cups around your yard and run your sprinklers for a short amount of time.  Record the findings and enter them in to, along with your zip code and soil type, and you’ll get a schedule customized to your yard.

The catch cups will also help you determine watering uniformity.  You’ll instantly be able to spot areas that are over or under-watered, and make the necessary corrections .

For most, these tests will yield two major insights into lawn watering habits.  First, you’ll find that you’re probably watering too much.  Watering your lawn too often is actually bad for it.  It hinders deep root growth.  The roots get spoiled by having an abundance of water so close to the surface and they never dig deep.  Second, the readings will probably suggest that you water in intervals.  This is because soil can only absorb so much water at once.  By watering in intervals, the soil has a chance to soak all the water.  Then, when you return for a second or third watering anywhere from 30-60 minutes later, the soil is then ready to suck up more water.

We invite you to head over to the website, test it out and see how Orbit Catch Cups can help you save thousands of gallons of water this summer.


Pipes, Boxes, Valves, and Heads

Now that you are officially an expert in connecting to the water source with backflow protection and pipe placement, we’ll cover the rest of the installation process. We’ll go over how to connect the mainline, install your manifolds, connect each zone, install risers and heads, and connect sprinkler wire. Sounds like a lot, but it really will be easy once you get started.

How to Install the Valve Manifold

The first step to installing your valve manifold is to install a valve box. Select a location that complies with the following guidelines. Avoid installing the manifold and valve box near:

  • stairwells

  • window wells

  • utilities

  • downward slopes to the house

  • walkways

  • play areas

First, dig a 26″ x 20″ hole to the recommended depth.  Next, add a 2″ layer of crushed rock to serve as a drainage base for the valve manifold. (See the graphic above for an example.) Once the gravel is spread evenly, place the Orbit Valve Box Base on the gravel bed. Next, place the Orbit Pre-Assembled Manifold on top the the base. You will then want to remove the side knockouts for each valve in the box and also for the incoming mainline.

Orbit valve boxes come in a variety of shapes and sizes. The circular valve boxes come in a 7″ or 10″ option. There are also the 12″ Standard and 20″ Jumbo Valve Boxes. The Standard Valve Box can hold up to four valves and the Jumbo Valve Box can hold up to six valves.


How to Install Main Line

Now that your valve box and manifold are ready to go, it is time in connect your main water line to the manifold. From the shut off valve that you installed previously, run your mainline to where you have installed your valve box and manifold. It is recommended that your mainline pipe be one size larger than your supply line to maintain water flow throughout the system. Smaller pipe will reduce your water flow and will lead to gaps in spray coverage. An example would be to use 1″ pipe if your supply line is ¾″. It is recommended that you use Schedule 40 PVC Pipe to bring water into your valves. Schedule 40 PVC can withstand working pressures of up to 450 PSI. In looking at the diagram to the left, you will notice a 1″ PVC Slip Coupling attached to the Orbit 2-Valve Pre-Assembled Manifold. This must be attached using PVC primer and cement. It is important that the mainline pipe be as deep as possible in the trenches in order to provide room for the pipes coming from each valve to the sprinkler zones.

How to Connect Zones

Now you’ll want to connect the zones you installed last week. Make note of which zone is coming into which manifold so that when you test the system it will be easy to keep track of what is what.

Before installing any sprinkler heads, you’ll want to flush the system of any debris by running water for a couple minutes on each zone. Debris inside the pipes is inevitable, but left unattended it will cause buildup and problems with either the heads or the valves (or both).

How to Install Risers and Sprinkler Heads

Risers are the connections that will bring your sprinkler heads up to ground level. There are a number of risers you could use. These range from simple risers, poly swing joints, traditional swing joints, and flex pipe. Depending on your head type and needs, select the type you prefer for your system.


Installing heads to your risers is usually just as simple as screwing them on. Most pipes will not require the use of teflon tape, but some might, so be sure to check on that to prevent any leaks.




Now that you’ve installed your heads it’s a good idea to check for any leaks. Fill in the  trenches with enough soil to stabilize the heads, but don’t fill in the hole all of the way in case you need to adjust or change anything. Turn on one valve at a time and check for any leaks in the risers or sprinkler heads.


Connecting Sprinkler Wire & Rain/Freeze Sensor

The hardest part is done! Your sprinklers are installed! If you can’t remember back to the first part of this blog series, we went over the benefits of installing an underground system. Some of those benefits were saving money through water conservation and adding curb appeal to your home. However, the biggest benefit of all for some homeowners is the time savings. Automated sprinkler systems save you time because, well, they’re automated! Now we’ll go over how we are going to automate the system.

Each sprinkler valve needs to be connected to the timer in order to electronically control the system. Sprinkler wire consists of one white (common) and 4 or 6 colored strands. The sprinkler wire needs to have at least one more wire strand than the number of valves being installed.

If you remember in our third blog we talked about timer placement and suggested running a line of conduit from your timer to your valve boxes.

Spend extra time to make sure your wires are completely sealed from any moisture, because if any water gets into the wiring, the solenoids are toast. Orbit offers grease caps made specifically for this job.

Install Auto-Drain Valves

Auto-drain valves are installed to help excess water drain out of the system. This is important especially in areas where freezing temperatures are a concern. They are simple to install. Simply attach a T-junction at the low point of your system. Don’t worry, water won’t drain when there is pressure in the system.  


Testing the System

Now that everything is hooked up it’s time to test the system. Notice that we haven’t filled the trenches in yet. This is the last step. We want them to be unburied during the testing process so it’s easy to fix any problems. We’re not going to cover specifics of testing the system here because each timer is different. Refer to the timer’s instructions for details on how to do this. But we will say that you should run each zone for about 5-10 minutes, giving it enough time to clear any residual debris from the pipes. Look at each head and nozzle, make sure the flow is consistent and stretching as far as you expected. Look at the spray pattern and verify there is head-to-head coverage and check for leaks at all connection points. Any drips may seem minor, but these will only get worse as time goes on, so fix them now.

If everything looks good, you’re ready to fill in the trenches. Make sure you get under the pipes as well as over them. This will prevent issues when the dirt settles, which can lead to unattractive ruts in your lawn. Don’t stomp on the dirt, this could bend and break pipes. Instead, fill under and around the pipes, and then over them. Give it a couple days, to a week to naturally settle around the pipe. This might mean holding off on planting grass seed (if you planned on doing so), but it’ll be worth it because the ground will almost certainly need a little management after the fact.

This ends our series on underground irrigation planning on installation. Our next series will focus on some of our hose end solutions. Check back regularly for more tips and instructions. As always, we welcome your comments and questions.