MANHATTAN, KS - As urban areas expand, it follows that urban dwellers use more water to keep their ever-spreading residential lawns green and healthy. But knowing when and how much to water their lawns seems to present dilemmas for many homeowners. The growing evidence that urban homeowners' lawn watering habits can impact entire communities indicates a critical need to change urbanites' behavior. According to a new study, educating homeowners in ways to reduce lawn irrigation can help communities conserve water and improve water quality.
Increasingly, homeowners and builders consider automatic, in-ground irrigation systems essential. These time-savers are typically installed during construction of new single-family homes. Despite their apparent benefits, the automatic irrigation systems may be problematic when it comes to water conservation efforts. One study found that, on a per-area basis, in-ground irrigation systems may use twice the amount of water as manual irrigation if the systems are improperly adjusted. However, automatic irrigation systems can also present opportunities for more accurate irrigation when homeowners are provided proper usage information.
Kansas State University researchers designed a study to determine how owning an in-ground irrigation sprinkler system affects the perceptions, knowledge, and behaviors of residential homeowners about summer irrigation of their lawns. The study results appeared in HortTechnology. To understand consumer behavior and perceptions of homeowner who had in-ground watering systems and those who did not, the team mailed surveys to more than 30,000 homeowners in Wichita, Olathe, and Salina, Kansas. The areas were selected for their distinct combinations of climate, demographics, and water issues. Survey responses were compared between those homeowners with and those without in-ground irrigation sprinkler systems in the three areas.
Dale Bremer, corresponding author of the study, said that the surveys showed a difference in lawn watering frequency based on the method of application. “The results indicated that more homeowners who had in-ground watering systems watered routinely and applied the same amount of water each time than those homeowners who did not have in-ground systems”, he said. "Homeowners who did not have in-ground systems mostly watered and adjusted watering amounts based on lawn dryness." The surveys also revealed that more in-ground system (IGS) than non-in-ground system (NIGS) homeowners wanted their lawn green all the time, followed lawn care guidelines, and considered their neighborhood appearance important.
There were also differences in homeowners' perceptions of their lawn water usage. Among IGS homeowners, 41% to 54% claimed to know how much water their lawns required, compared with only 29% to 33% of NIGS homeowners.
The researchers observed several other trends in the survey responses. They found that 65% to 83% of the respondents in both groups did not know how much water they applied when they irrigated. "There appears to be a significant need to increase homeowners' knowledge about lawn irrigation," the authors wrote. "A majority of in-ground system and non-in-ground system homeowners in our study did not know how much water they were applying when they watered their lawns, nor did they know how much water their lawn required per week."
The surveys also showed that 16% to 24% of IGS respondents said they never adjusted their sprinkler timer; the report noted that properly installed and operated "smart controllers" that sense when irrigation is needed could increase irrigation efficiency and water conservation efforts.
"Identifying effective ways to fill knowledge gaps among residential homeowners is important," noted Bremer. "Applying lawn-irrigation amounts to match the actual needs of the turfgrass, and encouraging homeowners to follow proper lawn-care guidelines (e.g., sweeping or blowing lawn-care products back into the lawn), should help conserve water and protect water quality in urban watersheds."
The authors recommend that because IGS homeowners water much more frequently and are less likely to base irrigation decisions on how dry their lawn looks than NIGS homeowners, educational efforts should be focused mainly on IGS homeowners.
The complete study and abstract are available on the ASHS HortTechnology electronic journal web site: http://horttech.ashspublications.org/content/22/5/651.abstract
Founded in 1903, the American Society for Horticultural Science (ASHS) is the largest organization dedicated to advancing all facets of horticultural research, education, and application. More information at ashs.org
In-ground Irrigation Systems Affect Lawn-watering Behaviors of Residential Homeowners
Dale J. Bremer, Steven J. Keeley, Abigail Jager, Jack D. Fry, and Cathie Lavis
HortTechnology 22:651–658. [Abstract][Full Text][PDF]