When considering a new irrigation system installation or renovation, everyone concentrates on what we in the trade call the “hard” goods – sprinklers, controllers, weather stations, remotes controls and electric valves. This is otherwise known as the decision between Hunter, Rain Bird, Toro or any other golf irrigation equipment manufacturer.
Everything else, and the list is long, is considered accessory items. On many irrigation system designs, considerable time and effort is spent on whose hard goods to specify or purchase, respectively. In most instances, the decision of what accessory-item manufacturer to use is not as much of a consideration by either the designer or the superintendent.
We all know sprinklers and controls are important, but if you make poor decisions on the quality of the accessory items, the water and/or the control signal may never get to the sprinkler. In the end, your new system is a maintenance nightmare.
Accessory items include not only pipe, fittings and isolation valves, but also air-release valves, wire and wire connectors, grounding equipment, swing joints, quick-coupling valves and valve boxes. Your system’s longevity and how much maintenance it requires is directly related to the quality of these accessory items. For example, cheap foreign-made gate valves do not last very long because the handles or stems break off and they don’t close all the way over time. Wire connectors can be UL Listed for direct burial or just a nut with some unknown goop in them. In addition, they need to be properly sized, have strain relief, completely protect the wires from water and meet the requirements of the National Electric Code. And most manufacturers make valve boxes in various grades – one much less expensive and much weaker than the other. Make sure you have the stronger box.
Fittings on a golf course irrigation system can be varied with many different types of fittings and materials used on the same golf course irrigation system. There are many choices. Where do you use PVC-gasketed, glued, schedule 40 or schedule 80? Where do you use ductile iron and for what size pipe and what type fitting? Once you have decided on the type, what manufacturer or manufacturers are acceptable? Just like sprinklers and controls, be specific about what manufacturers are allowable and on private proposal/bids. Public projects cannot specifically exclude any manufacturer by name and any specific manufacturer or model named will have to be followed by “approved equal” or “equal.”
Pipe is probably the most important non hard-good item to properly specify. Pipe is manufactured at different pressure ratings and by many manufacturers all of which have track records, both good and bad. Most distributors and designers have a good idea what manufacturers have had issues and which have not, and the pipe should be specified and approved accordingly. The fittings need to be specified properly to match the pipe being used. This has become even more important with the use of HDPE pipe. HDPE pipe is manufactured in two different plastic compounds and at many different pressure ratings. The pressure rating for one compound is different than that of the other, so pay attention. There are also specific rules and standards for matching different pressure-rated fittings and pipe within HDPE systems.
If you want a low-maintenance, long-lasting irrigation system, then concern yourself with the quality of all the materials, not just the sprinklers, controls and other hard goods when you purchase your system.
Make sure all irrigation equipment is specified and, if necessary, do your own research and talk to other courses. After spending all of that money, the last thing you want is irrigation system problems and for members to see holes out on the golf course after the work should have been completed.
Brian Vinchesi, the 2009 EPA WaterSense Irrigation Partner of the Year, is president of Irrigation Consulting Inc., a golf course irrigation design and consulting firm headquartered in Pepperell, Mass., that designs irrigation systems throughout the world. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 978/433-8972.