Sprinkler activations during the pandemic

Consumers might be wondering if they can still activate their sprinkler system as usual this May. The short answer is, “Probably, but with a few modifications.”

Adjusting service to accommodate social distancing and other safety measures

Many landscape professionals are preparing their services with an expectation that their technicians will practice all recommended safety measures such as wearing a mask, washing/sanitizing hands often, wearing gloves, and keeping six-to-ten feet distance from the client and others. But they recognize that they may not be able to enter homes. Some have simply established a rule that they will provide outside services only for the safety of their staff or to respect the client’s comfort level. Here’s what some companies have told ALCC about their sprinkler activation services in light of COVID-19.

Clients may have to pitch in
If they cannot enter the home, they may offer a video to show clients what they can do inside for the tech who works outside: what valve looks like, how to manage it, what needs to be done. Customers should locate the valve indoors ahead of time and be available by phone to the tech when they arrive. Since some older homes have a unique setup, finding the valve could be a little tricky—it could be behind a latched door or in a closet.

Often, a tech only needs to enter the home for about 2 minutes to turn the valve. If possible—and if both homeowner and the technician are comfortable with it—the client might prop open the doors and allow the tech (who should wear a mask and gloves) to walk directly in to find the valve. If they have serviced the home before, they will know exactly where to go. They can walk in protected, do the work, and leave immediately to complete the work outside. This is similar to allowing a plumber into your home (another essential service). They should only need to touch the valve—no other surfaces. If a homeowner is unable to handle turning on their own water line valve, then they may need to wait to schedule their activation until after the stay-at-home order has been lifted.

Everything else related to sprinkler activation can be completed outside the home without contact.

Managing the irrigation controller during activation
If the irrigation controller is in the garage, as is the case with some homes, the customer can decide whether to allow the tech to enter the garage to access the controller. Companies and homeowners have several options:

  • Again, the homeowner can open the door before they arrive so the technician can enter with a mask and gloves (or use hand sanitizer before and after entering the home) and perform the task without touching other surfaces.
  • If the client or the tech are not comfortable with garage access, the landscape company can give instructions on what to do at the controller. Many controller manufacturers have videos available online with easy-to-follow instructions on how to use the irrigation controller.
  • The consumer can enter the garage and use FaceTime, Google Duo, or other video chat app to let the technician instruct them on what they need to do.
  • The consumer can get instructions from the technician via mobile phone.

No onsite payments
And finally, in many cases the company is not taking payment onsite. Payment can be made online, over the phone, or via an email invoice. All of these modifications allow technicians to maintain proper social distance of at least six to ten feet

Wait until the last frost to start your system
For commercial and HOA properties, activations are being done now during annual system checkups or on new construction installations. But those professionals have told us that they are also draining the backflow immediately after the service, in anticipation of another freeze or two this spring. Activating sprinklers now—even though people are home and see grass growing and want to water plants—is not recommended.

May 1 to May 15 is the earliest recommended window for residential activations. Colorado’s average last frost date falls around Mother’s Day, so if the system is activated before that time the tech should wrap the backflow for protection in freezing conditions. Otherwise, the homeowner should know how to drain the backflow themselves and wrap it then there is the likelihood of another spring freeze.

Until that recommended activation time, simply hand water your plants if needed instead of activating your system too early and risking damage in a freeze. Don’t water if you’ve had precipitation or if the soil is below 40 degrees. Overwatering or watering frozen ground can cause harm to your landscape.

Get on your professional’s schedule soon
Now is the right time, however, to schedule your activation for May or June. Be sure that your landscape professional is still operating. Some companies have suspended services for the health and safety of their staff and the community. Some have donated nearly all of their PPE including N95 masks and cloth masks to local area hospitals and plan to begin scheduling and returning to work when the stay-at-home order is lifted—after they replenish their own PPE supply.