4  FM quick reads on grounds care

1. Mower Maintenance Matters


I'm Dan Hounsell, editor of Maintenance Solutions magazine. Today's topic is, effective mower maintenance.

Preparing mowing equipment for the rigorous mowing season can help ensure efficient, successful mower performance.

First, managers should ensure their staffs follow the mower maintenance program outlined in each owner's manual. If mechanics and operators fail to follow the program outlined in the manual, the equipment warranty might not remain effective.

Before filling the fuel tank and mowing for the first time, mechanics should thoroughly inspect all equipment, and a mechanic should complete annual lawn mower maintenance procedures.

Operators must be sure to inspect safety features to ensure they work. Do not allow operators to override or modify safety devices. One accident can quickly negate all the benefits of saving a few minutes each day.

Attention and commitment to routine mower maintenance goes a long way to ensuring operator safety. Worn belts and brakes, loose bolts, faulty wiring, improper tire pressure and even broken seat belts can lead to injuries.

Manufacturers continually improve safety features on mowing equipment and tractors. Automatic shutoffs, ergonomic hand controls, vibration and noise reduction, roll bars, and seat belts are among the safety features included in today's mowing equipment.

Deflectors and guards are also more common on mower decks and should remain in place when mowing near streets, parking lots and other places where flying objects thrown by the mower might damage property or injure people.

Some manufactures have equipped riding mowers with back-over protection devices, which prevent the blade from turning while the mower is in reverse. These back-over protection devices might include a sensor that stops the engine or the blades or the wheels when it detects a bystander behind the machine.

Managers should set up routine equipment mower maintenance schedules before operations hit full stride. Mechanics should document their daily, weekly and monthly maintenance activities and communicate them to the operators.


2.  Irrigation Spotlight: Water Conservation

I'm Dan Hounsell, editor of Maintenance Solutions magazine. Today's topic is, irrigation and water conservation.

Landscape sustainability is become a hot-button issue grounds managers. It also has become a boardroom priority in many institutional and commercial facilities, and managers without a plan for sustainability soon will fall into the minority. The challenge for managers developing and implementing a plan comes from tougher local conservation rules, ever-increasing water costs, and stiffer federal regulations.

The good news is that technology has come a long way. A plethora of new techniques and technologies can help produce sustainable landscapes. Using the latest intelligent water-conservation and landscaping strategies, managers can earn a three-year return on investment, as well as pretty hefty annual cost savings.

Before specifying an irrigation system, managers will need a professional design prepared by a certified irrigation designer. This design should incorporate the latest technology and most efficient irrigation methods. The design might come with an additional cost, but the long-term return on investment will provide greater benefits.

The system also should include a smart controller to take advantage of the many new technologies available within the system. Some of these technologies include flow-control valves, soil-moisture sensors, remote-control options, and on-site weather stations. To save potable water, managers can recycle many water sources from buildings and grounds for use on landscapes. For example, managers can recycle captured rainwater, blowdown water from boilers and cooling towers, recycled gray water, and even air-conditioner condensate.

Managers also can arrange to have treated water from a public agency conveyed to the landscape for non-potable landscape use. Reusing this water creates a net benefit to the local watershed by using the landscape as a filter and part of the natural water-treatment process.

3.  Water Conservation: Focus on Irrigation

I'm Dan Hounsell, editor of Maintenance Solutions magazine. Today's topic is, water conservation and irrigation.

As water conservation continues its rise up the list of priorities for many grounds managers, the search continues for new strategies and areas of focus. For some facilities, the single largest user of water is the irrigation system. Reviews of irrigation-system operations show that on average, these systems waste 40 percent of the water they use. The key to minimizing water use is to limit watering schedules and volume based on plant needs and recommended schedules.

For example, crews cannot simply set watering schedules and forgot them. Water requirements change based on changes in daily temperatures, wind speed, humidity, and length of day. Setting and forgetting watering schedules not only wastes water. It can actually damage plants by overwatering.

Managers can automate watering schedules through the use of smart controllers, which monitor environmental conditions and adjust the schedule to reflect these conditions. Smart controllers keep the irrigation system off when it is raining or just after a rain, and they regulate the amount of water supplied based on actual requirements. Smart controllers on average reduce irrigation-system water requirements by 30 percent.

Another way to reduce irrigation-system water requirements is to follow the recommended watering rates for the types of plants in each area. Ideally, managers should divide the irrigation system into separate zones based not on location, but on watering requirements.

4.  Water-Efficient Irrigation

I'm Dan Hounsell, editor of Maintenance Solutions magazine. Today's topic is, water-efficient irrigation.

The primary goal in irrigation for institutional and commercial facilities is reducing use of potable water in landscapes — ideally, by about 50 percent from established baselines. Inefficient irrigation is a big culprit in water waste. Most irrigation systems installed more than five years ago operate at less than 45 percent efficiency. WaterSense guidelines from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) require a minimum of 70 percent efficiency.

The first step in improving efficiency is to conduct a water audit. Call a licensed landscape or irrigation contractor who can pinpoint waste and recommend strategies for savings. These strategies likely will include installing flow meters to monitor and control water use. Most systems have automatic shutoff features, so if a line happens to break, water flow will cease.

From an efficiency standpoint, drip-irrigation systems are an excellent option. The lines run about 2 inches below the surface, and water drips directly into the roots of plants. Drip-irrigation systems have an efficiency of 95 percent, compared to 50-65 percent efficiency of a traditional, overhead system.

If an existing irrigation system requires optimizing, managers can use several strategies. One strategy involves replacing older irrigation heads. Newer models can greatly improve the accuracy of water disbursement. These models irrigate turf and plants based on the individual amounts required, rather than overwatering in some areas and under-watering in others.

Managers also can have irrigation systems designed and installed so trees, shrubs, and ground-cover plants are in separate zones. As plants become established, the system adjusts or discontinues watering by zone.


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