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Household Projects: Irrigation & New Grass

We’ve had a rough couple of years here in Houston, at least from the perspective of our yard. Unusual extended periods of hard freeze the past two winters basically killed off most of our grass and some of the garden. We were especially sad to lose the Tangerine that has given us bushels of fruit in recent years.

So it was that we decided it was time to undertake a major project in the yard. We’d hire a contractor to install a proper irrigation system, then put down new sod across the entire yard. We’d had this quoted several times over the years, but the cost was always prohibitive. The state of the yard now forced a hard reset, so the decision was basically made for us.

In February we had several contractors visit. We described exactly what we wanted and had them provide quotes.

Stated Requirements

We were very specific about what we wanted done.

  • The old grass/weeds removed
  • The existing flower beds cleaned out (except for specific marked plants)
  • A multi-zone irrigation system installed, addressing both the grass and garden beds
  • Three existing downspouts from the eves tied in to an existing drain in the back yard
  • One flower bed along the rear, south side of the house removed
  • Additional top soil added to all the flower beds
  • Flower beds mulched
  • Areas to be grass prepared as appropriate
  • New Palmetto St Augustine sod would be installed
  • The crushed granite path leading to the office doors would be renewed

We eventually settled upon Byron’s Landscaping. Quoting $9k for the project, they were not the cheapest, nor most expensive. We’d seen them working elsewhere in the neighborhood. They seemed credible and the salesman appeared to listen to our stated requirements. He was quite enthusiastic, and seemed to understand what we wanted.

We now regret our selection. What follows details our experience as the projected unfolded.


Byron’s said the project would take five days. We set the week of February 27th as the best time. That was late enough the we didn’t expect any more frost. Also a few weeks prior to Stella’s planned trip to The Netherlands.

Stella wanted to dig up some plants, putting them safely out of the way of the workers. She’d replant them once the flower beds were improved, with new top soil and mulch.

In point of fact, Stella took a couple days off to oversee the start of the work herself. This was important. We knew that the work crew would have limited English. Stella speaks Spanish well enough to intercede if/when required.

We paid 50% in advance to secure the date. When we paid the deposit we presented the salesman with a printed illustration of the yard. I thought this might help them to plan the irrigation layout. Silly me, he looked at me as if to say, “what is this for?” That was a sign I failed to fully appreciate at the time.

Yard Illustration

Monday, February, 27th

A team showed up mid-morning, a bit later than we expected. That said, we hadn’t been told when to expect them exactly. They proceeded to take up all the old grass and clean out the existing flower beds. We made certain that they knew to leave the plants marked with orange marking tape.

We kept the dogs locked inside. The work proceeded apace.

I had put up an extra surveillance camera monitoring the backyard, so I could keep track of the work from my desk. I wish I could share a sample, but unfortunately the video has since been lost on our NVR. We only keep a 3-week trailing history.

Their team worked a full day. At the end of the day the yard was barren.

Ripping up the yard

Tuesday, February, 28th

No-one showed up. We called the office and were told they “were picking up supplies.” However, the never showed up at all that day.

Wednesday, March 1st

Again, no-one showed up. We fretted. We called. They again told a story about, “picking up supplies.” They never showed up.

This was problem since Stella could not stay home the entire week. Thus, the work would need to proceed in her absence.

Thursday, March 2nd

In the late morning on the Thursday a much smaller team arrived. They began the digging necessary to install the irrigation.

Trenching in the yard

They worked diligently throughout the day, putting pipe into the ground. In fact, they didn’t leave until near dark around 7pm. They didn’t quite get the task finished.

Friday, March 3rd

An even smaller team arrived to complete the irrigation work. By this time, we had noted some things about the installation that had been done wrong or entirely overlooked. The drain tie-ins had been completely overlooked. Some sprinkler placements were nonsensical and had to be moved. The south-rear flower bed had not been removed.

Since none of the team on-site understood my English, Stella engaged with the salesman to have these matters addresses. A good many pictures were exchanged via SMS.

Irrigation in the yard

I had watched one of the team as he was about to install the irrigation controller. He had arbitrarily picked a location close to our front porch because it was the only place where we obviously had AC power. We just happened to have an extension cord passed out a front window at the time.

I took this to be something of an absurdity. It would mean needing to walk to the back of a large quarter-round flower bed to make adjustments. However, I realized that they had already laid out everything such that moving it would be impractical. All the cables from the electrically operated, in-ground valves were already buried, and lead to that location.

Looking up the details about the Hunter irrigation controller, I took some solace in finding that by adding the optional Wi-Fi interface we would literally never need to use the physical controls on the box. I could move the box slightly, to be less visible, and run permanent power to that location.

Of course, I ordered the Wi-Fi interface, since we intended to tie the irrigation system into our Home Assistant server.

Aver the course of the day the team from Byron’s were getting updates by phone. We could see them reacting to our requests. By the end of the day the irrigation was supposedly finished.

March 4 & 5

We had plans for the weekend and did not want the crew to be around. We made it clear that we had been lead to believe the job would be done by then, and no work was possible on the weekend.

Monday, March 6th

Mid-morning on Monday another crew arrived. This time they had sand, soil and mulch. They set to work distributing the goods. Sand where grass would be installed. Soil in the flower beds, followed by cedar mulch.

Someone was tasked with installing the drain tie-ins that were missed the prior week. That required some new digging. Since it was all in the back yard the rest of the team could deal with sand and soil in the front.


Palettes of grass arrived early in the afternoon. The crew managed to get all the grass they had installed by 6:30pm. That said, they didn’t have enough to do the whole job. A third of the back yard remained to be done.

Having been cooped up on the house for the day, I took the dogs on a walk as they were finishing. Upon my return, the crew was gone but I found the sprinklers running for the first time. That was encouraging. It’s important to take good care of fresh laid sod, to get it established in the new ground.

Tuesday, March 7th

The crew arrived one last day, with enough grass to finish the job. They were done by 1pm, leaving the sprinklers set to run 4 minutes on each of the eight zones.

Wednesday, March 8th

The sprinklers ran at 4am, again for 4 minutes per zone. The grass looked a bit patchy, but I expected it needed some time to get established. We were glad to not have workers in the yard, so the dogs could be outside.


We were relieved it was over. Too much so in fact. When the salesman called to arrange pickup the remaining payment, I agreed. That was dumb. I should have waited at least a few more days.

Mistakes: Ours & Theirs

They provided zero guidance on the use of the irrigation controller. Not even any note about how they initially set it up. I left it as-is until I had some time to research it on the following weekend, and install the Wi-Fi interface.

They didn’t provide any documentation of the irrigation zones. So, I had to work this out for myself, watching as the sprinklers ran the first few times to make note of them for myself.

Irrigation Zones

That brought to light a certain silliness of the layout. Flower beds and grass have different needs. Yet, there are places where a flower bed and a strip of grass are in the same zone. I expected them to be in separate zones. We should have insisted they present the layout in advance, and explain it to us.

Also, it takes a few days to see where the sprinklers don’t quite reach. The grass at either side of the walkway leading to the porch don’t quite get watered. You don’t notice this until some brown shows up after a few days.

Final Issues

It turns out that there’s one sprinkler head that’s misplaced. It was installed before they removed the rear-south flower bed. It should be at the very edge of the house, inline with two others nearby, but its located about 18 inches away from the house. As such, there’s a strip of grass behind it that doesn’t get watered.

In the flower beds, they put only a trivial amount of new soil. And barely enough mulch to provide cosmetic cover. As a result, just a few weeks later we have weeds cropping up. That ought not to happen with properly mulched beds.

The crushed granite path has some flag stones inset. These had been recovered from the prior arrangement. There wasn’t enough to have them in the entire path. We asked if they could get some more and install them. We found it was about $200 worth of material. Perhaps an hour or two of work. When we asked them about this, admittedly additional work, they gave us a go-way price. In so doing, they also declined to move the misplaced sprinkler head.

Happily, the grass in the front yard is settling in well. Three weeks on, it’s still getting watered daily. The back yard is a little more patchy. We need to manually help it along in places. It’s getting close to needing to be cut for the first time. I have to rely on our regular yard guys for that judgement. I can’t trust Byron’s. Nor do I even want to deal with them any further.

We should have withheld a final payment for perhaps a week, to allow any deficiencies in the work to become apparent. They were keen to have us keep their sign publicly on display after the work was done. Given our feelings about the project, we took the sign down quickly. They also asked us to give them a good Google review. That’s what motivated me to write this post.

We have no issue with any of the crew who did the work. The problem arises from the requirements not being well communicated to the crew. Failure to set and manage expectations. This project was not well executed. We plainly made a mistake awarding the work to this company.

P.S. – With the Wi-Fi “wand” installed to the Hunter X2 controller all programming and remote control functions are handled by the Hydrawise app or web site.

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