Ask almost anyone with a yard about grass maintenance and they will fire off a long list of maintenance tasks with a few expletives mixed in. Those lush weed-free manicured green lawns you see require a ton of work and, more often than not, a whole landscaping crew to maintain a picture-perfect appearance. There is cutting, edging, blowing, aerating, seeding, watering, fertilizing, weeding, dethatching and leaf collecting.
If hired out, expect a big truck to show up once a week to commence a frantic, loud, obnoxious and smelly activity for 30 minutes to an hour depending on yard size, usually Monday through Friday. If insourced, prepare to dedicate at least part of your precious Saturday or Sunday to these homeowner duties until a) you outsource or b) downsize to something without a yard.
Ever notice a seemingly constant buzz of small gas engines in your otherwise quiet suburban neighborhood throughout the day? Have you been woken up at 7AM as your neighbor fires up his gas lawnmower to “beat the heat”? Have you procrastinated until after noon to cut your own grass in 90 degree weather realizing that your neighbor is the smart one, even though he pissed off half the neighborhood in the process? All of a sudden option b does not sound that bad!
There are things we can do to dial our own lawn annoyance factor down a little bit (besides outsourcing). For example, I’ve experimented with switching from a gas mower to a reel mower to eliminate noise and air pollution. I was all fired up after reading that my old gas lawnmower was producing as much air pollution in 1 hour as 11 cars each being driven for one hour. Unfortunately, while Fiskars push mower is a great machine it just didn’t work for me so off it went on Craigslist (why? read my review here).
One thing that did work for me in this suburban lawn care hell is Xeriscaping. I’m not advocating getting rid of your lawn completely. Nice grass has its place – kids running barefoot, dogs playing fetch, house set off by its crisp contrast… You’ll recall all of these images and so will a buyer if you ever want to sell your house in the future. It’s amazing what landscaping can do for a house. Tactical Xeriscaping can reduce the annoyances associated with grass maintenance and decrease long-term costs while keeping all the benefits of a beautiful lush green lawn. My Xeriscaping post provided a glimpse into some of the approaches I used to cut my lawn care maintenance in half while saving money.
I talked about saving water as one of the major sources of savings on lawn-related expenses. But how do you really save on water bills? After all, if you already had irrigation installed prior to Xeriscaping it was designed to hit all the grassy areas. Now that you’ve converted some of those areas to have mulch or anything else but grass, the sprinklers are still covering that area and wasting water. So where are the savings??
In the beginning, I just turned off one zone that was mostly watering mulch after Xeriscaping. However there was a problem with that solution. There are 4 sprinkler heads in that irrigation zone and I could still use 2 of them to water the grass. After a while I noticed that a large patch of grass no longer covered by sprinklers started turning brown while the rest of the lawn looked healthy because of continuing watering.
What I needed was a solution that would allow me to turn off any one sprinkler head without having to turn off the entire zone. Another important consideration was retaining the ability to winterize the system each fall.
After researching online I found several recommendations. One was to take the sprinkler head out and put a cap on the riser. The problem is that the riser sits about 10 inches below surface and putting a cap on it is not that easy. You would have to dig a big hole, put a cap, then fill the hole and re-seed. An even bigger problem is that this is meant to be more of a permanent solution and you can’t blow out the water risking pipe damage due to freezing.
I found that some companies make a blank cap for their sprinkler heads which would work great for what I need. Unfortunately there was no such option for my gear-driven sprinkler heads made by Orbit and Rainbird.
Once again it was time to DIY out of necessity. Here is what I came up with.
- First, you need to determine the size of the connection that your sprinkler heads use to connect to the water pipes. The easiest way to do it is to dig a hole around one sprinkler head and twist the whole head off the riser. Then you can take the sprinkler head to a place like Lowe’s or Home Depot and find out the size of the female connection at the bottom of the head. My system uses a 3/4″ connection but it can also be a 1/2″ system.
- Once you know the pipe size, you will need to get just 3 pieces in the Plumbing department that will become your homemade sprinkler head shut off cap.
- One piece of pipe with male threads at both ends. An 8″ to 12″ length should work well in most applications. It’s the gray piece in the picture below.
- A connector piece with female threads at both ends. It’s the white piece at the bottom of the gray pipe.
- A pipe cap. It’s the white piece at the top of the gray pipe.
- Parts cost – under $4 for all 3 pieces needed to disable one 3/4″ sprinkler head. Here is a picture of a receipt from Lowe’s that shows item numbers. If you have Lowe’s around, just take it to the store and they should be able to quickly look it up for you. Better yet, order piece A, B and C online and then pick it up at the store – let them search for it!
This picture shows two assembled DIY shut off caps and a 3/4 female connection sprinkler head that I used for a test fit at the store.
Now that you have the necessary parts the rest is easy.
- Dig around the sprinkler head so you can get a good grip on it.
- Take out the sprinkler head careful not to dump dirt into the hole where the riser sits.
- Screw in the DIY cap piece onto the riser’s male connector that used to be attached to the sprinkler head and tighten by hand.
- Back fill with dirt leaving the cap and an inch or so of pipe exposed above ground. If you need to winterize you’ll just take off the cap while working on that sprinkler zone and put it back on when winterization is complete.
So here you go – cheap, easy to make, easy winterization and fully reversible – just take the DIY contraption off the riser and plug in the old sprinkler head if you ever want to turn it back on. So far I turned off 2 sprinkler heads in this manner but there are at least a couple more that I will tackle now that I came up with this solution. A few bucks spent on materials will pay for itself in a matter of days through water savings alone.
More importantly, I can now run my irrigation system knowing that every last drop of water has been optimized. And I truly believe that optimization is at the core of every successful journey to FI. It’s another tiny step in the right direction!