Is Your Home Irrigation System Up to Par?

July 26, 2012

by Sam Bauer

With the extensive drought we’ve been going through in much of the Midwest, it becomes concerning to think that our lawns are not being watered as efficiently as they could be.  For homeowners with irrigation systems, some new technologies have hit the consumer market recently that will aid in water conservation and irrigation uniformity, ultimately increasing the health of your lawn and preserving our water resource.  Many of these products are designed to update current irrigation systems. 

Taking the guesswork out: As a community we need to get away from irrigation controllers with set watering schedules.  At the very least, your irrigation system should have a rain or soil moisture sensor component that will shut the system off after or during a rain event.  Sensors can be bought as an add-ons to older irrigation systems and they are generally easy to install.  In fact, a Minnesota Statute that has been in effect since July 1st, 2003 states that “All (new installations of) automatically operated landscape irrigation systems shall have furnished and installed technology that inhibits or interrupts operation of the landscape irrigation system during periods of sufficient moisture.”  If you don’t have a rain or soil moisture sensor…..get with the times!!!!  More recently, the EPA has developed a program based on water conservation called “WaterSense.”  One component of the WaterSense program is landscape irrigation, and as such, the EPA has defined “Smart” irrigation controllers that take into account site criteria, such as: historical data, off-site data, soil moisture, or evapo-transpiration.  There are many manufacturers of Smart irrigation controllers and if you’re due for a new controller or installing a new irrigation system, be sure that your controller is a Smart one.

Here is a link to the EPA’s definition of a Smart controller:

More detailed information on the EPA Specifications for WaterSense labeled controllers:


Three products that will help your watering practices:


Toro’s Xtra Smart Precision Soil Moisture Sensor– The Toro Co. calls it “Brains for your Backyard.”  This moisture sensor is a simple add-on to your current irrigation system that will allow the system to run only when your lawn is dry.  Two probes are inserted into the ground and this device can be mown over with traditional mowing equipment.  Be sure to place the sensor in an area that will be representative of your lawn.  Avoid heavily shaded areas and small pockets that may differ in soil type.  This product sells for about $150.00.  For more information, view that video below and follow the link:


  • Only water when your lawn needs it
  • Simple to install
  • Works with almost any sprinkler system
  • Wireless sensor can be place anywhere
  • Monitors soil temperature


Rainbird’s Electronic Garden Hose Watering Timer- This simple device can automate your garden hose.  Simply connect one end to your outdoor tap and the other end to a garden hose with sprinkler attached.  Set your watering dates and times, and you’re off.  This product is available for around $50.00. 


  • Up to 2 watering times per day
  • Water now or cancel water button
  • Days of the week setting for water restrictions
  • Operation at a wide range of pressures (15-90 psi)


Spectrum Technologies Economy Soil Moisture Tester- This tool measures soil moisture on a wide range of soil types.  The analogue meter reads from 0 (dry) to 10 (wet).  Calibration to your particular soil is rather easy.  To use this tool, simply insert it into the soil, read the dial and adjust watering practices accordingly.  The added benefit of this tool versus the in-ground sensors is that you can measure multiple areas of your lawn.  Maybe you’re irrigating with a garden hose system and only certain areas of your lawn require water today……this meter can tell you which areas to concentrate your watering efforts.  These sensors are available for under $100.0.