Dear Ken: How do you recommend I set my sprinkler system for this upcoming watering season? - Will
Answer: Less is better. Water is not only expensive here in the West, but also is a natural enemy of houses. Moisture near or under the foundation, patio, driveway, sidewalks or other concrete surfaces can cause movement and damage their structural integrity. So any heads within about 4 feet of the house should be moved out and away. Also, I'm not a big fan of dribbler systems watering bushes and trees in these close-in areas. It's best to use low-water-demanding species here, such as small evergreens, and hand water.
My preference is twice-a-day watering for less evaporation and puddling. Plus the moisture soaks deeper into the roots each time. Consequently your turf eventually get thicker and so more heat- and disease-resistant. I like splitting the zone time in half and watering first at dawn and again at dinnertime - say 5:30 a.m. and 6 p.m. When you fire up the system this spring, start with about 10 minutes per zone every other day and work your way up to longer periods as the weather heats up.
One other idea: Add a rain sensor to your system. This little gizmo, which is easy to install yourself, turns the clock off when its wick becomes saturated with rain water. That way, you can skip a cycle or two and let Mother Nature water your lawn.
Finally, water that runs into the street or your neighbor's yard is useless and wasteful. Any such zone should be adjusted accordingly, and if it's common to your whole yard, you may need to top dress or aerate the lawn to encourage absorption instead of runoff.
Dear Ken: We have a home built in the '80s with about 8 inches of blown insulation in the attic. What R value do you recommend for our area? - Charlie
Answer: The standard required by codes in most jurisdictions is still an R-38. That's about 12 to 14 inches, depending on which product you use (fiberglass takes a little more, and cellulose a little less). The Department of Energy has now raised its recommended benchmarks for our region for attic insulation to about an R-49 - that is, about 15 to 16 inches. You can add a "cap" of extra insulation over what you have now for relatively little money. Plus, many energy suppliers and governments will help you defray the expense with rebates. Bottom line: Since heat rises and gravitates toward the ceiling, adding some blown material is an extremely cost- effective upgrade. The payback is just a little more than two heating seasons. So by the third winter, your investment in the upgrade is zero, and it has started to make you money.
Dear Ken: We have a hot tub room with some cedar strip paneling. It has become quite water-stained (black areas), and we need to know what to do with it. - Chuck
Answer: Apply a deck brightening system to the spots. These are the chemicals we use outside to remove the dirt, paint, stain layers and other pollution from redwood decks. They are applied wet, soak in and then are scrubbed off with a stiff brush. Look for one with an oxalic acid formulation, which will be listed on the can. Once the staining is gone, you can blend in the whole area with a tinted linseed oil-based deck and fence stain.
Dear Ken: We noticed last year that when our sprinkler system starts and stops, it makes a terrible sound, like a bang. We want to get it fixed before we start watering. What would help eliminate that noise? The installer thinks it's OK. - Francis
Answer: The sprinkler installer might not have a plumbing background. You need to engage a professional before you damage your system. For example, you may not have a pressure regulator, or if you do, it may be set too high. For a sprinkler system, it is best to have a split regulator arrangement: one set low (50 to 60 pounds) for the house, and one set higher (75 pounds or so) for the yard.
An air chamber - or water hammer arrester - also might help. You install the small gizmo in the basement cold water line,and it acts as a shock absorber for the system. Whatever the trouble, get a plumber right away before this gets serious.
Ken Moon is a home inspector in the Pikes Peak region. His radio show airs at 9 a.m. Saturdays on KRDO, FM 105.5 and AM 1240. Visitaroundthehouse.com.