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Sprinklers in rain

Rain Sensors Save Water, Money, Aggravation

Shut-off devices disable automatic irrigation systems on rainy days

You've seen it. Amid a summer downpour, someone's automatic sprinkler system is going full tilt, spraying water on a soggy landscape.

What a waste of water and money. And what a potential problem - overwatering - for the pampered yard that's the target of all this liquid attention.

So, how do you prevent an automatic irrigation system from activating during a rainstorm, flooding your yard with more water than it needs?

Make sure it has a functioning rain sensor.

Strawberries
A rain sensor (insert) overrides an automatic irrigation system, shutting it down and saving water, during a rainstorm.

Most automatic irrigation systems are controlled by a clock. The property owner sets a time of day for watering, and the duration of each watering cycle.

A rain sensor is a shut-off device that overrides these settings after a specified amount of rain falls. Although the sensors are required by Florida law, many no longer work because they have not been maintained properly.

When rain sensors are working correctly, they save lots of water - more than 2,500 gallons per 1,000 square feet annually, say Hillsborough County Extension experts.

The most common shutoff device is an expanding disk rain sensor. It is effective, inexpensive, and easy to install and maintain. Cork disks inside the small device expand as rain accumulates, triggering a shutoff switch. The disks contract as they dry, leaving the sensor poised for the next rainstorm.

Another option, soil moisture sensors, are comparatively expensive. But they save even more water. The devices measure the moisture level of soil in a landscape, so property owners know when irrigation is needed.

Rain sensors are one of the ways homeowners and businesses save water when irrigating turfgrass and plantings. Such measures are especially helpful in summertime, when most of the drinking water piped to Hillsborough County homes is used for outdoor irrigation.

Here are a few more water-saving tips from Extension experts:

• Know the nuances of operating your automatic irrigation system.

• If you have such a system, walk the coverage area monthly to ensure each spray head is functioning correctly. Yes, you will get wet.

• Consider installing microirrigation in landscape beds. Extension offers workshops. For a small fee, attendees receive a microirrigation kit and other water-saving devices.

• Make sure water sprinklers are hitting their intended targets, not a sidewalk, driveway, or other impervious surface.

• Keep lawns at a healthy height, not cut too short.

Following these and other practices, including installing a rain sensor, saves water, ensures landscapes get the right amount of water, and lowers utility bills.

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