Best practices for rotor installation

Features - Irrigation

Head-to-head coverage and good installation will keep rotors efficient all season long.

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October 31, 2017
Holly Hammersmith
© ImagineGolf | iStockphoto

Head-to-head coverage is the goal for many irrigation contractors when installing rotors on a system.

Richard Briseno, director of operations at Ground Control Property Management based in Spring Lake, Michigan, strives for that head-to-head coverage, where each rotor is hitting the head of the next.

Ground Control Property Management serves both residential and commercial customers, with a stronger focus on residential customers. Property maintenance services include window washing, gutter cleaning, landscaping, mowing and fertilizing.

Determining placement.

“I check how many gallons we have coming out of the water source and at what pressure,” Briseno says. “I stick a bucket underneath the vacuum breaker and run it and turn it on full blast and count how many seconds it takes to fill the (5-gallon) bucket. Then you can do that per minute.”

Rotors are typically placed 36 feet apart, a standard for most brands, Briseno says.

“We always try to get the head-to-head coverage as close to 100 percent coverage as possible, so the spray reaches the opposite rotor,” says Kurt Meyer, president of Meyer Landscape & Design, based in Moline, Illinois.

The company offers landscape consulting and design, hardscaping, irrigation and lighting services. Meyer Landscape & Design also operates two garden centers and a nursery. It employs roughly 50 people.

Checking the manufacturer’s specification is important, he adds.

“Certain heads can only throw so far so you can’t go beyond the maximum amount,” Meyer says. “You can always dial a rotor down a bit. But you cannot extend past the maximum throw.”

Rotor placement.

Both Meyer and Briseno say they determine where to place heads by hand and do not use any design software.

“I’ve been doing irrigation for 17 years. I don’t use any kind of software. I just figure it out in the field,” Briseno says.

Other common obstacles to consider include sheds, pools and patios, he says.

“I walk around and flag it all out. Then I draw it out on a piece of paper. We’ve already figured out how many gallons we have, then I can figure out how many heads I can use per zone. Then I just sketch it in on a piece of paper – how many flags are connected and where the valves are going to be,” Briseno says.

Ground Control Property Management employs 12 to 15 people on average and has an annual revenue of about $650,000.

While he still determines placement by hand, Meyer says his company does use an AutoCAD system to document the design and to make it easier for employees to follow the design.

“We have our own spreadsheets for the calculations. The AutoCAD system just makes a much more professional design. It’s all drawn out to scale, so our guys can measure right off the plan and plot it right to the ground,” he says.

A copy of that design is placed inside the irrigation system controller, Meyer adds.

Meyer Landscape & Design primarily serves residential customers and has an annual revenue of more than $4 million.

Initial adjustments.

When first installed, rotors are adjusted one week later, Briseno says.

“We go back and make sure that they’ve set because every brand will have at least one or two heads that don’t stay in adjustment. It just happens,” he says. Faulty heads are replaced with new ones.

Over time, Meyer says adjustments are few on rotors.

“It’s very rare to have them shift, but occasionally, kids running in a sprinkler or something like that, they may bump them and turn them,” he says. “As far as adjustments on the rotor, occasionally, a nozzle will pop out, where you have to put a new nozzle back in it.”

Irrigation systems in temperate climates are winterized at the end of the season, but the rotors aren’t typically touched at that time, both contractors say.

“While we’re turning them on (in the spring), we walk around to make sure everything’s hitting where it’s supposed to and make adjustments as necessary,” Briseno says.

The area around each head is also cleaned out to mitigate dirt and debris entering the system, Briseno adds.

Meyer says during that spring tuneup he will also make sure no heads are broken.

Typical maintenance.

Customers at Ground Control Property Management are encouraged to run their system and examine coverage monthly.

“I tell them to take one Saturday a month and just run them for a couple minutes, just to make sure everything’s still getting hit on their end to make sure that they’re happy with everything. I show them how to adjust the rotors,” Briseno says.

Usually a customer will call if there is a problem or coverage is off, but calls are few, Meyer says.

Employees at Meyer Landscape & Design will visit commercial properties roughly every two months and check the irrigation system.

“It’s usually very obvious if there’s a problem. Our mowing crew will see that the head is blown, and those areas are a little washed out. Or, an area is either dry or washed out. That’s when you see that you have a problem on the head,” Meyer says.

If there is debris in the lines, it usually shows up in the first couple of weeks, he says.

“There is a screen inside of the pop-up, and inside of the rotor, that, it’s a little filter that goes in the base of it. And those need to be cleaned out now and then,” Meyer says.

Typical life span.

Unless a rotor takes direct abuse, such as being hit with a lawn mower or being driven over by a vehicle, Briseno says they can easily last 10 to 15 years.

The author is a freelance writer based in Ohio.