Save Water with Sprinkler Controller & Drip Irrigation

Originally Published in the OC Register April 26th, 2014 titled:

Learning to be Resourceful

Homeowners can save water by using sprinkler controller and drip irrigation

by Debbie Arrington

spinkler-controllerIgnorance shouldn’t be an excuse for wasting water. Yet irrigation systems, particularly those with complicated-looking sprinkler controllers, often baffle homeowners.

“It’s the same people who had ‘12:00’ flashing forever on their VCR,” said expert Richard Restuccia, a “water-management evangelist.” “It’s not lack of ability to figure it out; it’s lack of motivation.”

Now, in drought-weary California, we’re motivated. In the Sacramento area, “water cops” are watching

– and handing out tickets. And such water-waste violations can be expensive. After an initial warning, fines in the city start at $50 (for a second offense) and quickly escalate to $1,000 for four or more offenses.

When Sacramento decided to crack down on water wasters in late March, inspectors handed out more than 350 citations in less than two days.

Many homeowners pleaded ignorance – not of the city’s 20 percent to 30 percent mandatory cutbacks and “no-water days,” but of how to adjust the control box for the sprinklers.

“It all comes down to education,” said Restuccia, director of water-management solutions for landscape maintenance giant ValleyCrest Landscape Co. “The most important part of your irrigation system is the sprinkler controller. Even the traditional ones are no more complicated to set than your alarm clock.”

Like that old blinking VCR, the sprinkler controller scares many homeowners.

“It’s a big stumbling block,” said landscape and water-efficiency expert Julie Saare-Edmonds of the state’s Department of Water Resources. “Some customers don’t know what it is or where it is – especially in rental properties or if they moved into a new home. The sprinklers just magically come on.”

The sprinkler controller is the brains of your irrigation system.

“You can have the best plants for a low-water landscape and the best irrigation system in the world, but if your sprinkler controller is set up wrong, you’re going to waste water,” Saare-Edmonds said.

Mauricio Troche has seen countless examples throughout California.

“It’s a problem from the git-go,” said Troche, director of sales and marketing for drip- and micro-irrigation expert Netafim USA. “The sprinkler controller is usually in the garage, out of sight and out of mind. Usually, the landscaper sets up the sprinkler controller for new sod or grass seed when it was planted, and it runs for new turf grass – three times a day every day for 10 minutes each time. That’s supposed to be for the first three weeks while the grass is getting established. But nobody ever changes that. In the industry, we call it ‘set it and forget it.’ ”

Most water agencies provide free water audits, Troche noted. Part of that audit is a hands-on tutorial on how to operate the sprinkler controller.

Get a copy of your sprinkler controller manual and read it, say the experts. Those manuals are available from the manufacturers online. Several companies such as Rain Bird, Toro and Hunter also have how-to videos online, showing step-by-step sprinkler controller adjustments and other tips.

Once you know where it is and how to adjust it, make the sprinkler controller work for you. Landscape irrigation accounts for an estimated 60 percent of household water use in Sacramento.

“With a little adjustment, you should be able to easily save 20 percent,” Restuccia said.

Restuccia suggests turning the run time down for each station one minute at a time. Let the system run for a week or two at that new setting.

“Then, watch your turf (or other plants),” he said. “If it still looks good and healthy, take another minute off. You keep dialing it back a minute at a time until the turf looks stressed (and yellow). Then, add one minute to each run time. That should be the perfect balance.”

How much water do plants really need? That’s probably the most common question asked during this current drought, say the experts, but also the most complicated.

“It all depends on plant type, if its location is in the sun or shade, what type of soil you have, if the property is sloped,“ Saare-Edmonds said.

That’s why it’s important to group plants with similar water needs.

“Trees growing in a lawn are another issue,“ she said. ”They’re getting some water from the lawn (sprinklers), but they really need their own separate irrigation, less often but deeper.”

Drip systems need to be scheduled very differently,” Saare-Edmonds said. “Sprinkler (run) times are measured in gallons per minute (GPM); drip systems run gallons per hour (GPH).“

Converting a sprinklerbased system to drip is easier than you may think. Even turf can be put on drip with grid systems installed under the sod.

Most important, drip systems put water where it’s needed: at the roots.

“Instead of losing 35 (percent) to 40 percent (of water) to drift or evaporation, a drip system is 90 (percent) to 95 percent efficient,“ Troche said.

“Irrigation technology is getting better and better,” Saare-Edmonds said. “There are a lot more options out there.” Among those options are “smart” sprinkler controllers. These take a lot of the guesswork out of deciding when to water.

“They’re a little bit of money – usually around $500 – but they adjust water use on a daily basis, taking solar radiation, temperature, humidity and other factors into account,“ Restuccia said.

Other tools can be added to existing systems. Soil monitors (around $200) measure ground moisture and relay that information to the sprinkler controller. Weather stations or rain sensors ($200 and up) shut off irrigation when it’s not needed.

“I don’t see many customers with rain sensors, but they’re a good tool,” Restuccia said.

These sensors help the sprinkler controller do its job.

“It all comes back to the sprinkler controller,” Saare-Edmonds said. “It’s the brain of your system. Use it.”

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How to Increase Efficiency of a Vacuum Sweeper

Vacuum Sweeper

Vacuum sweepers work exactly how their name describes, by vacuuming debris off the ground and into a hopper.

Other air sweepers also use a vacuum combined with a continuous blast of air creating a closed-loop or Regenerative Air System.  In both systems increasing the amount of air flow can be attributed to a number of factors:

Increasing the Auxiliary Engine RPMs

Air sweepers get their suction from a large blower fan that is turned by an auxiliary engine or PTO.

As the speed of the fan increases (and the amount of air that the fan is moving) so does the amount of suction generated from the fan. In many sweepers, where the fan is directly driven from the auxiliary engine, increasing the engine speed (RPMs) will increase the amount of suction.

However, you can have too much of a good thing.  Moving the air faster changes how well the debris drops out of the air flow once it enters the hopper.  Move it too fast and the internal screens get blocked and efficiency drops quickly.  Increasing RPMs beyond optimum levels leads to diminishing returns and quickly becomes counter productive.

Sweeper manufactures design their sweepers to operate within an RPM range that can be optimized by a trained operator to maximize debris pick-up.

Decrease Sweeping Speed

Decreasing the speed that the sweeper is moving gives the vacuum more time to move the debris. So while the sweeper isn’t sucking any harder, the suction that it does have is allowed to work longer on the surface area. For an advanced write up visit

Moving slower means that the amount of cleaning ability per square foot increases without increasing the suction itself.

Clear Obstructions in Vacuum Tubes

Some of the debris that are swept up will be mud or clay and it will want to stick to everything it touches, including the suction tube or up-tube and hopper of the sweeper.

As more and more mud sticks to the inside of the up-tube, the tube will narrow and get choked up, restricting airflow. Reduced airflow means reduced suction.

When you’re sweeping up sticky debris, check your up-tube every couple of hours to make sure it is clear and unrestricted.  This is especially important when you’re doing construction sweeping since you may be picking up a lot more sticky mud than on a normal parking lot, city, or HOA route.

Keeping the air flow areas inside the sweeper clean is the number one thing to maintain a sweepers cleaning ability.  This is so important that air sweepers must have a through wash out after every shift and sometimes even during shifts.

Unlike broom sweepers, this washout can easily add an hour to the operator’s day.  It also creates a fair amount of water that must be recycled or disposed of properly.

Seal any Air Leaks

It’s important that the vacuum system of the sweeper is as air tight as possible. If there is air leaking into the system besides where it should be, at the pick-up head, suction will suffer. Some common places to look for air leaks are:

  • Around the inspection doors
  • Small holes in the hopper from rust or wear
  • A tear or hole in the up-tube or down-tube
  • Cracks on the pick-up head

When the truck is running, see if you can hear or feel where air may be entering or leaving the vacuum system.  Escaping air has a high pitch sound that is easy to recognize.

Empty your Hopper

When your sweeper it too full of debris, airflow dynamics are changed and cleaning effectiveness will decrease.  Don’t allow your sweeper to get too full so that air can’t circulate properly through the hopper.

Keeping your sweeper at peak performance can be as simple as dumping more often.

Experiment with your Leaf Bleeder

Regenerative air vacuum sweepers are a closed loop system.  There is a pressure side and a suction side.  The two sides will always be in balance.  These sweepers have a valve that allows them to bleed air off the pressure side. While it may seem counter intuitive, reducing the amount of air in the pressure side of the equation allows more air flow from under the front flaps, changing the suction side of the equation.

Debris with different densities will react differently to the amount of suction. Some debris, like leaves, actually pick up better with lots of air bled off.

While the intentional changes in the “balance” of air flow are important for operators to understand, unintentional changes caused by even a small air leak will reduce the sweepers ability to control dust.  Moving debris at over 200 mph without creating fugitive dust is as much art as it is science.

Repair Worn out Components

Over time components can get worn out. If components like the blower fan get worn out it can’t move as much air and you’ll lose suction. Keeping your vacuum sweeper well maintained will help it sweep better and last longer.

This brief article just scratches the surface.  In fact, some sweeper manufactures such as Tymco, have multiple-day schools at the factory covering the above and other sweeper specific topics in detail.

At Bill’s Sweeping we do our best to practice what we preach.  These tips are just some of the basics we go over when training new operators or maintaining equipment.

If you’re interested in hiring a vacuum sweeper for your next project, give us a call at (714) 637-3180 or download our rates for a vacuum sweeper.

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Parking Enforcement and Regulations on National Holidays

If you’re a resident of Los Angeles, understanding the parking enforcement laws and regulations of the city can be confusing. Fortunately, the city has provide a helpful list of parking regulations that do or do not apply on National Holidays.

(Editors Note: Bill’s Sweeping Service is a private street sweeping company and is not responsible for parking enforcement or parking tickets. Here is a helpful guide if you are looking for your street sweeping schedule.)

This is an excerpt from the City of Los Angeles dated March 8, 2012

National Holidays

It is the Department’s policy that on National Holidays, the parking regulations listed ARE NOT to be enforced unless the signs indicate “Holiday Enforcement.” The holidays are:

  1. New Years Day
  2. Martin Luther King’s Birthday
  3. President’s Day (George Washington’s Birthday)
  4. Memorial Day
  5. Independence Day
  6. Labor Day
  7. Columbus Day
  8. Veteran’s Day
  9. Thanksgiving Day
  10. Christmas Day

The regulations that ARE NOT to be enforced are:

  1. Time Limit
  2. Parking Meters (unless posted to include holidays)
  3. No Parking Signs with specific time limits (i.e. 9:00am to 4:00pm, 8:00am to 10:00am)
  4. No Stopping signs with specified time limits (i.e. 7:00am to 9:00am, 4:00pm to 6:00pm)
  5. Preferential Parking (unless posted to include holidays)

The regulations to be enforced on all days, including the above holidays, are all safety violations, including but not limited to:

  1. Red zones, including bus zones
  2. Yellow/white zones (on request only)
  3. Alleys
  4. Sidewalks
  5. Handicap Zones
  6. “No Parking Anytime” signs (including “To Away, No Parking Anytime” signs)
  7. “No Stopping Anytime” signs that do not refer to a specified time limit
  8. All Temporary “No Stopping” or “No Parking” signs
  9. Compliants for service, including but not limited to, blocked driveways, etc.

We hope this provides an easy guide for understanding holiday parking enforcement in LA. Have a wonderful holiday!

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Street Sweeping Schedules: Find Out When Your Street is Swept

No Parking SignIf you’re trying to figure out the street sweeping schedules for your street, you’ve come to the right place.  If the sweeping schedule isn’t posted on a sign on the street, it can be difficult to know when it will be coming next.

This guide should help you find the day that your street is swept so you can avoid parking tickets help the sweeper be as effective as possible.  For every parked car that the street sweeper must maneuver around, three car-lengths of curb are missed.

While this may sound like a lot, water in the gutters of the street will have 10 times the impact on the quality of the sweeper over the amount of curb line missed.  If you’re looking to increase to quality of your sweep and see how water impacts sweeping, download our Options to Reduce Street Staining handout.

Where do I find the Street Sweeping Schedule?

Where you should look first will depend on if you live on a public or private street.

If you live on a private street, one where the residents of the neighborhood are responsible for hiring a street sweeping company, there are several places you can look.

The community may be managed by a property management company and you could contact them directly.

If the community is part of a homeowners association, the sweeping schedule may be published on the HOA’s website.

The homeowners association may also publish a monthly newsletter or the association meeting minutes that have the schedule.

The next place you can inquire about sweeping is with the sweeping company itself.

Bill’s Sweeping Service provides sweeping services to homeowners associations across southern California.

Feel free to contact us directly if we’re the ones sweeping your street. On the other hand, if you live on a public street, one where the city is responsible for street sweeping, you can likely find the sweeping schedule on the Department of Public Works website for your city.

Department of Public Works are responsible for street sweeping, road maintenance, trash collection, and a handful of other services provided through the city in which you live.

Below is a list of links to help you find the exact street sweeping schedule for your neighborhood.

Orange County Street Sweeping Schedules


City of Orange

The public streets in the City are swept weekly. Street sweeping is scheduled for various areas in the City from Monday to Thursday. Sweeping the streets on a regular basis helps to brighten the appearance of our neighborhoods and protect our water quality.

Streets will not be swept on the following City-observed holidays:

New Years Day – January 1st
President’s Day – Third Monday in February
Memorial Day – Last Monday in May
Independence Day – July 4th
Labor Day  – First Monday in September
Veterans Day – November 11th
Thanksgiving – Fourth Thursday in November
Christmas Day – December 25th

There will be no street sweeping December 27, 2010 through December 31, 2010

In the event that street sweeping is cancelled due to a holiday or other event, such as rainy weather or excessive wind, the street will be swept the following week.

Did you know the City collects over 100 tons of debris each month from our local streets?

To find out the street sweeping day in your area, click here.

City of Riverside

City of Fountain Valley

Moreno Valley

City of Anaheim

Large Map

Enter your address:

City of Buena Park

 City of Newport Beach

City Of Santa Ana

Villa Park

Los Angeles Street Sweeping Schedules

Santa Monica

(You must click the “Street Sweeping” box under Map Layers on the right)

 Culver City

(at the very bottom of the page)

City of Long Beach

If you would like to add your city’s street sweeping schedule to our list, please feel free to  leave the link in the comments below.

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CACM EXPO 2012 Come Stop By Our Booth

cacm expo 2012Its that time of year again.  The California Association of Community Managers (CACM) Expo 2012 is making its way to the Disneyland hotel & convention center for a couple days filled full of fun, learning, networking, and most importantly, lots of SWAG!

As always, we at Bill’s Sweeping Service look forward to networking with everyone that stops by the booth.  The CACM Expo is one of the few times we get to see all of our favorite community managers face to face.  As with many service companies, our employees, the street sweeper operators, are the ones you get to see day in and day out.

So what are we trying to say? “We miss you!”

Come stop by our booth #826 and say “hi”! We could love to catch up.

We’re giving out our usual swag of pocket mirrors and carabiners along with secret items we have until tomorrow to reveal.

Have a great CACM Expo and we look forward to seeing you soon!

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