With my water bill going up, I’m considering conservation options more seriously. I am sharing here information about smart sprinkler controllers, turf removal, artificial turf, and costs. I’ll post again when I know how fast the water cost reductions will repay my installation costs.
Constant Manual Adjustments
Cal Water estimates that just over half of all residential water usage goes to landscaping. Given the larger Crestview property sizes, our landscapes must account for even more. Options for reducing my landscape water usage seem clear: First, obviously, I can water less. But with existing restrictions, my lawn and more thirsty trees are already just hanging on, especially during summer I take advantage of cooler months and the occasional rain to reduce my sprinkler duration, even turning them off completely for a week or two after a good rain. So, I don’t expect to achieve any significant savings by trying to water even less without the help of some technology.
Smart Sprinkler Controllers
There are many smart sprinkler controllers on the market that constantly adjust how much you water based on conditions. Some of these products use moisture sensors; most rely solely on local weather info, and feedback from you, to fine tune water delivery. The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWDSC) offers rebates starting at $80 on certain models. I’ve heard good things about the Rachio 3 in terms of easy setup and ability to integrate with rain and soil sensors. My Rain Bird sprinkler controller is about 20 years old now so I will likely install a smart controller to get whatever additional savings I can.
Turf Removal Rebates
A second, more promising option for me is to reduce the amount of landscaping that requires water. You probably received a recent flyer from Calleguas promoting a $3 rebate per square foot of turf removed. Calleguas will direct you to www.bewaterwise.com which eventually takes you to the MWDSC site for details on their turf replacement rebate program. There are several conditions you’ll need to meet in order to qualify. Interestingly, these conditions have changed since I first looked a few months ago and the rebate offered is now just $2 per sq ft. According to their website, each qualifying project will need to include:
- 3 plants per 100 square feet of area transformed. Plant types are limited.
- A stormwater retention feature
- No hardscape within the transformed area, except permeable hardscape
- Replacement or modification of overhead spray sprinklers
Important note: Neither replacement of existing shrubs and trees nor using artificial turf qualifies for rebate. You should read the Terms and Conditions and the Frequently Asked Questions on the MWDSC site thoroughly before starting your project. While the program is very prescriptive and certainly won’t cover all your costs, it might be enough to push you in that direction if you’re considering replacing all or some of your lawn with drought-tolerant plants and features.
Finally, there’s artificial turf. Having only seen the cheaper products in Home Depot and Lowe’s, I found the quality of higher-end turf to be better than I expected, such as the sample shown here. After shopping around a lot, I find the longer blade, most realistic-looking turf is about $3-4 per sq ft sourced domestically, and around $1-2 direct from manufacturers in China (including shipping and import duties) depending on the total quantity ordered. You also need to consider the cost of removing your lawn, prepping, and installing the new turf.
I have an artificial turf putting green and while it’s held up very well, it does get extremely hot in the summer. I’m concerned about replacing my natural grass with something I can’t walk on in bare feet. I’m told the longer blades allow air flow and don’t get nearly as hot as a sand-packed artificial putting green, which is like walking barefoot on a beach in August. I’m also concerned about pet odors and have been told to use an antimicrobial infill and regular cleaner to avoid long-term problems with smells.
My Current Plan
Right now I intend to decrease the overall size of my lawn by increasing the planting areas. I don’t know yet if I’ll qualify for the turf replacement rebate. I’ll also replace what lawn remains with artificial turf. I’m gathering quotes and trying to figure out what my ROI might be in a few scenarios.
Please comment if you’re interested and I’ll keep you posted on my progress and try to answer any questions you might have.
I have two Rachio sprinkler controllers and I really like the system overall. It takes a little effort to get it dialed in to your yard at the beginning, but I’ve found the system to be highly reliable after that.
For those not familiar, Rachio is a type of sprinkler controller that uses local weather data to estimate the amount of moisture in each sprinkler zone, including water lost to evaporation from the soil and transpiration from plant leaves. It then waters when necessary to keep the soil moisture level consistent. If it rains enough, it does not water at all. If it is hot and dry, it waters more frequently. If it’s June gloom, it only waters occasionally. Zones with deep tree roots are watered deeply and infrequently and zones with shallow grass roots are watered more regularly. Once set up, this all happens automatically.
The feature that I like the best is the ability to manually control sprinkler zones from my phone. It makes the process of checking each sprinkler zone for broken sprinkler heads (a huge waste of water) much easier, since there’s no back-and-forth to the garage to turn on each zone. There’s also a feature where you can grant permission to your gardener to access the configuration and manual test functions from his/her own phone.
Long story short, I highly recommend them and have found the Rachio to be a cost-effective way to reduce water use while maintaining or improving plant health.