The better your irrigation system is filtered, the more effective it will be.
Irrigation filters are a vital component of an irrigation system.
Filters are designed to keep irrigation systems free from debris such as sand, dirt, algae and other particles that can clog the sprinkler heads, negatively affect the system’s overall performance and leave you with dry plants and an unhappy customer.
There are a variety of filters out there to prevent solids from accumulating and disrupting the irrigation systems, including screen filters, disc filters, media filters and centrifugal filters.
“Discs are one of the more universal filters and are good at catching organic and aggregate or sand matter,” says Justin Crocker, owner of Earthtones Greenery in the Dallas and Austin markets.
“They can be, in my opinion, used for almost any application. Screen filters are good for catching sand and rocks, but not for catching organic matter that can grow inside pipes and valves.”
The choice of what filter to buy depends in large part upon the condition or quality of the water as well as the water source, and regional differences abound greatly. Water pumped out of a lake, for example, may carry organic matter or rocks, while water pumped out of a well can produce sand.
Crocker says in Texas, filters are not an everyday component of a regular irrigation system because most of their water comes from municipalities and cities.
Nonetheless, he says in general, screen filters are the most common because they are the most economical.
“A screen filter is an excellent way of removing small particles from water,” Crocker says. A screen filter can be self-cleaning or will need to be cleaned manually.
Between the two, he prefers the self-cleaning variety because they require less maintenance, but they are significantly more expensive.
Crocker’s second favorite filter is the disc type. He says that centrifugal filters are good at getting out sand, so they may be more common with well water systems. Media filters are generally for use by large companies.
In Jackson, Wyo., flood irrigation is common, with water being delivered via ditch pipe. Many folks have water rights and pump out of those ditches to irrigate their properties, but the ditches transport debris.
Plus, many residents have well water, which can transmit sand. “Spray heads are notorious for getting clogged up with sand. It’s so fine, it doesn’t take much to clog up,” says Lee Bushong, owner of Bushong Property Services. Bushong says a purchasing decision should be based on how big your system is, including water usage and gallons per minute output.
Some irrigation systems will even specify how much filtration is needed.
This way, for example, if you buy a screen filter for a drip system you can determine the size of the mesh, which would be different than if you had a rotor system.
Use of reclaimed water is becoming a trend in some areas of the country, especially in California. “That water has more debris in it than other water. The principle is to keep water clean enough to function in a sprinkler system,” says Patrick Crais, CEO of Blue Watchdog, a water conservation firm in southern California.
“While no one will be drinking it, a filter is just making sure that debris doesn’t shut down the irrigation system.”
Maintain and install.
Whether the filter is above or below ground can make a difference in maintenance, especially in a climate such as Jackson’s.
“We have to winterize all our sprinkler systems in October because ground temperatures are zero (degrees), and all water has to be out of the pipes or it will freeze,” Bushong says.
Thus, for above-ground filters, Bushong suggests they be protected by a box, or by installing a concrete pad with a hot box on top to create an insulated enclosure. Crais cautions that if a box is used, it remain accessible for maintenance.
Crais says a filter, which should be cleaned once a year, can last between two and five years. Some of the parts have inexpensive, replaceable components, though Crais says he doesn’t believe replacing parts is cost-effective.
Crocker suggests when it’s first installed, to check it monthly to see how much debris has accumulated. After that, the cleaning process can be adjusted. However, both Crais and Crocker know from experience that most homeowners aren’t going to take the time to clean their own filters, which can make good business sense for the contractor.
“If a customer doesn’t want to spend money for a self-cleaning filter, that’s an opportunity for you to upsell and get them on a routine schedule for maintenance to check and clean their filters,” says Crocker.
A filter should pay for itself over the long run, saving money in irrigation repairs.
But there can be a wide variety in cost. Choosing the best one depends on your client’s budget. Bushong charges between $200-$400, plus installation.
However, that up front cost should be balanced against the manpower hours you’d have to spend cleaning out dirty sprinkler heads.
“The parts are nothing compared to our labor costs,” he says, noting that high labor costs are part and parcel of doing business in a resort town.
“It’s a lot easier for a homeowner to clean out one filter than to hire me to clean out 30 sprinkler heads every month.”
The author is a freelance writer based in Pittsburgh.