New Sod or New Pool — Which Uses More Water?

Turns out it’s no contest, and the answer may surprise you. Read this before you put in that new lawn.

Turf installation may be the single biggest water user in the lifetime of a residential property. Hands down, putting in a new lawn uses way more water than filling a swimming pool. Even in San Antonio, with our established conservation culture, this comes as a shock to most people.

For the record, a modest 15-by-30-foot pool (3 feet in the shallow end, 8 feet in the deep end) will average about 13,500 gallons to fill. After that it uses much less, provided it’s not leaking. And if it’s covered, the water use is more akin to an irrigated xeriscape — about 1,600 gallons per month (from topping it off after splashing and evaporation, especially in hot weather).

Now let’s look at that new lawn. After unloading fresh cut grass sod on bare soil on a hot summer day, many builders set sprinklers to run twice a day, or more, every day. Compare that to the typical five-zone irrigation system, which uses 5,000 gallons per month running just once a week (4.3 times per month). But running seven days a week, your sprinkler use for that new lawn has just climbed up to 36,000 gallons per month (that’s almost three swimming pools’ worth of water!).

Establishing turf depends heavily on weather conditions
during and after install.

Some irrigation systems and custom builds are much, much bigger (think 20 zones, 20 gallons per minute) — that’s like filling a new pool every month!

Either way, irrigation that runs this way uses a staggering amount of water. And until it’s turned down, that continues month after month. Problem is, the turf doesn’t go in until just before a new build is sold, and by the time the bill arrives, the builder is long gone and you’re the one paying for it.

Turf specialists recommend cutting back the watering after the first week, but builders don’t usually do that. It’s usually left to the new homeowner — unknown to them, of course.

Rule of thumb: new sod may be established as soon as three weeks after install, depending on conditions. As soon as you can, cut back irrigation to once a week. Otherwise, you may be diving into the deep end on your very first water bill.

SAWS offers free irrigation consultations for customers. Just give us a call to schedule an appointment.

And if you haven’t tried growing grass in San Antonio yet, you’ll find there’s a reason why SAWS customers turn to our conservation rebates to minimize turf, maximize landscape beds, and reduce the size of the irrigation system.

Picture of Brad Wier
Brad Wier
Brad Wier is a SAWS conservation planner. Years in South Texas landscaping and public horticulture gave him a lasting enthusiasm for native plants that don’t die when sprinklers -- and gardeners -- break down. He’d rather save time and water for kayaking and tubing. He is a former kilt model, and hears hummingbirds.
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