Choosing the Right Sprinkler Head: Sprays vs. Rotors

Choosing the Right Sprinkler Head: Sprays vs. Rotors

The Right Sprinkler Head for the Job

Ever since the 1970s, irrigation experts have been debating the merits of the rotor sprinkler head vs. the spray head.

Of course, each job site presents its own challenges and requirements. But there are some general situations that make either spray heads or rotor heads the best choice.

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According to Pete Diebolt, president of Diebolt Landscape in Mohnton, Pennsylvania, the type of head selected is dictated by the irrigation system design. “The heads are going to have all different lengths of throw and uniformity coefficient. The distribution pattern, wind, slope and other design factors would have a bearing on the size nozzle and how to program the zones to run,” Diebolt said.

The system design already takes into consideration a host of environmental factors: wind or shade, elevation changes, the square footage of the area to be watered, etc.  After that, choosing between a spray head and a rotor head comes down to a few other factors.

Let’s explore the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Spray Heads

More properly called “fixed spray heads” these heads are smaller and spray a fan-shaped pattern of water. Nozzles are typically interchangeable and determine the pattern and radius of the water throw (e.g., half circle, full circle, etc.) Specialty patterns are also available for long, narrow areas.

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Spray heads are usually spaced up to 18 feet apart. Water pressure must be between 20 and 30 PSI of for these heads to operate properly. Note: most spray heads start to create lots of mist at pressures above 45 PSI, resulting in poor sprinkler performance.

Spray Head Advantages

Designed for smaller areas, spray heads will disperse more water in a shorter period of time. So they’re a good choice for areas near patios or other hardscaping that is not intended to get wet.

While spray heads are less expensive than rotors, their installation requires more pipe, trenches and valves.

Justin Moseley is the irrigation manager for Nelson Landscaping in Edmond, Oklahoma. He believes spray heads definitely have their place.

“For flower beds, we use nothing but pop-up spray heads. If it’s a smaller area, from eight to 20 feet, we’re doing spray heads,” he said.

Spray Head Disadvantages

Spray heads are more prone to clogging then rotors, so they often require more maintenance, Moseley said. “In Oklahoma, we have hard water that causes calcium deposits to build up in the nozzles. About every five years, depending on water quality, you’ll have to replace the internal filter on that nozzle.”

Rotor Heads

Rotor heads utilize changeable nozzles that emit water as a single stream over an adjustable. Best example is the “impact” rotor sprinkler, which makes a distinctive ticking sound. But impact rotors are quickly being replaced by quieter, smaller, gear-driven rotors.

The rotor sprinkler head is much more flexible when it comes to spacing; they can be spaced from eight to 65 feet apart. Bear in mind that traditional rotors spaced more than 20 feet apart require much greater water pressure than spray heads — 45 psi, with an operating range of 25 to 65 psi.

Rotor Head Advantages

Rotor heads are usually the better choice for larger areas of turf. They have a low precipitation rate, so they will evenly cover more area over a longer period of time.

About Rotary Nozzles

While the terms “rotor” and “rotary” are often used interchangeably, they really are two different mechanisms.

“Rotor” is a general term that describes the various types of sprinklers that rotate streams of water back and forth or in circles over the landscape.

Rotor heads emit a single stream of water as they rotate.

“Rotary” heads produce multiple streams of water that rotate around the nozzle, resembling rotating spider legs. Depending on the mode, rotary heads have a general radius between 15 and 35 feet.

Compared to standard rotor heads, rotary heads are very small — the same size as the standard nozzle on a spray-type sprinkler. So they fit onto the smaller spray head pop-up bodies.

But these heads produce much less mist than standard spray heads, making them more efficient, and often promoted by water conservation agencies.

“Rotors are used in applications where large areas of turf need to be irrigated, and greater coverage distance is needed, such as on athletic fields,” said Kelsey Jacquard, product manager at Hunter Industries.

And because they allow more time for water absorption, they’re ideal for slopes. With a larger head than spray-type models, they easily provide more coverage, according to Diebolt. “The coverage might be three or four times the square footage. Labor savings is incredible,” he said.

Rotor Head Disadvantages

Rotors and rotary nozzles require less pipe and trenches, but the rotors themselves are more expensive than spray heads.

In addition, rotors may take longer to install than spray heads because their ultimate positioning is not immediately evident, according to Moseley.

“You have to set them and then recheck them after they’re installed. Whereas with pop-up sprays, once I flush them out, I can set a nozzle and know which way it’s going to spray. Be it a fixed or adjustable nozzle, I can set it where I don’t even have to have water running through it to be set. Rotors need a little more fine-tuning,” he said.

Rotor heads are also spaced further apart, so the material cost can be a little more than that of a spray head, Diebolt added.

Rotor or Rotary?

When determining whether to use a standard rotor or rotary nozzle (see sidebar), Jacquard offered this general rule of thumb: “Distances under 15 feet are best irrigated by rotary nozzles, and distances above 35 feet, by rotors. In between those distances, what type of sprinkler head to use is a matter of preference by the designer or contractor.”

Customer Education

For both rotors and spray heads there are plenty of product options. The challenge can be in educating the customer on their individual benefits.

“The cost difference between them is significant, so it’s important to educate the customer on why you are going with triple the amount for one head versus the other,” Moseley said.

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Getting Into Snow Business

Getting Into Snow Business

Snow Removal Can Help Keep
Your Business Afloat in Winter

Snow and ice removal is an alluring business for landscape and irrigation contractors who need to keep their people and equipment employed once the temperatures drop.

Should you consider adding snow removal
to your menu of services?

Nearly three-quarters of professional snow removers are landscape contractors during the warm weather, according to Lawn & Landscape magazine. And of the 294 members of the Ohio Landscape Association, 61% offer snow removal services.

But only one-fourth of Ohio Irrigation Association members advertise snow removal services on their websites. If you don’t currently provide snow removal, there are several reasons why you may wish to consider including this service in your portfolio.

No Business Like Snow Business

Clients want a single source for all their property maintenance needs. Adding snow and ice removal to your services allows you to touch base with current customers during the winter. It can also help get your foot in the door with new property owners.

Of course, the snow and ice removal business is either feast or famine, since it all depends on Mother Nature. In addition, snow and ice services can be just as large and complex as any landscape or irrigation project.

But savvy contractors can still find ways to turn a winter profit by establishing sound operational procedures and business systems.

John Allin, a snow and ice consultant based out of Erie, Pennsylvania, says that snow removal can be a very profitable business. “It actually has a much higher margin than landscape or irrigation work, generally speaking,” he said.

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In return for your time and effort, you’ll create a new profit center, while keeping your most valuable employees, and staying connected with your clients throughout the winter months.

Costs and Contracts

Allin thinks contractors should treat the snow removal component of their business as a separate entity, with its own set of expenses and its own revenues.” The primary costs to consider when getting into the snow removal business are:
Snow business

  • Equipment (plow, snow blower, salt sprayer)
  • Labor
  • Fuel
  • De-icer
  • Truck and plow maintenance
  • Increased insurance premiums

Also, keep in mind your vehicle(s) will need to be replaced every 10-15 years, depending on frequency of use.

You can address the “feast or famine” concern of snow removal by offering a few different types of contracts. Customers with flat-rate contracts will pay a single fee for the whole season, whether it snows 10 inches or 10 feet. Others may pay for each visit, or for the number of inches of snow removed (“per-push” contracts).

Ohio Average Annual
Snowfall Data

City Avg. Snowfall
Akron   47.4″
Cincinnati   11.2″
Cleveland   68.1″
Columbus   27.5″
Dayton   12.3″
Toledo   37.7″
Youngstown   62.8″

Source: Current Results

Doug O’Bryan, owner of O’Bryan Grounds Maintenance in Akron, Ohio, covers his costs with a mix of contracts: about 30% flat rate to 70% per-push. He said he’s learned to be discerning about his clientele. “We probably get about a quarter of the work we quote,” he said. “If we’re getting it all, then we’re quoting too low.”

Chris Beutz, a Minnesota contractor, took a while to strike the right balance of flat-rate contracts to per-push jobs for his business. “We don’t want to have 80 or 90 percent flat-rate contracts, because if we have a snowy winter then we lose money pretty easily. On the other hand, we don’t want to have all per-push, because then if there’s no snow for a month, you have no revenue, and how are you going to pay your fixed costs?” Beutz found that a 2:1 ratio of flat-rate to per-push tends to cover his costs.

Another primary consideration for O’Bryan is a client’s location. “If I already do two or three plazas on a corner, I want to get the rest of the work on that corner,” he said. “Because if we have a loader stationed nearby, and it’s only seeing two or three hours of use, if we can get some nearby accounts and use it for four or five hours, all the better.”

A Well-Trained Crew Is Key

Snow business

Creative Commons Image by Arlington County

“Train your crew like you would train your landscape or irrigation techs,” says John Allin. “You wouldn’t send a guy that you just hired out to repair an irrigation system; you can’t do that with plow guys either.”

Of course, snow plowing is often a time-sensitive, graveyard-shift job. And the hours are often long and hard.If your customer’s parking lot must be cleared before 9 a.m., your crews need to be geared up and out the door at 3 a.m.

Still, things happen, so you’ll need to be prepared for all eventualities.

“Anything you can plan for, or write down ahead of time saves you that extra worry when things go wrong,” O’Bryan said. “We expect a certain number of absences, so we have a certain number of extra employees on standby. They might not go out, but a lot of times they do.”

Why Not?

So if your irrigation or landscape business struggles at this time of year, we suggest you consider offering snow and ice removal. Who knows? It may be just what your business needs to sail through the long months of an Ohio winter. Image

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Should You Be Offering Irrigation Service Contracts?

Should You Be Offering Irrigation Service Contracts?

Service Contracts Can Get Your Business Through the Seasonal Slump

“If not for maintenance, I wouldn’t be in business today.”

That’s how one irrigation contractor recently described the value of maintenance services for his business. At this time of year in particular, maintenance can be the key to survival in the landscape irrigation industry.

Beyond Winterization

Service ContractsNo doubt you are already offering winterization and spring start-up services to your new and existing customers. But an irrigation service contract would go beyond that.

With a service contract, customers pay you a monthly fee to perform general maintenance on a regular basis. By offering your clients an annual service contract, you can augment your month-to-month income by maintaining irrigation systems year-round.

It’s a great way to provide your business with a stable, reliable income while also keeping your customers’ irrigation systems in tip-top shape. And a service contract can save a customer large sums of money in repairs. So it’s a win-win for both you and your clients.

Service Contract Do’s and Don’ts

  • Do: Try selling service contracts on every install.
  • Do: Make it easy for customers to see the cost of adding a service contract.
  • Do: Explain the value of a service contract to customers who need help.
  • Do: Stay in touch with customers who don’t yet have service agreements.
  • Do: Explain the bottom-line costs with and without a service contract.

Service Contracts

  • Don’t: Hesitate to offer a service contract to existing customers.
  • Don’t: Assume some customers aren’t candidates for service contracts.

Source: Commercial Integrator

Services to Include

In addition to winterization and spring start-up, maintenance services offered in your contract should include programming controllers to prevent over-watering in November and under-watering in July. Most clients would not make this adjustment on their own, but it can save a significant amount of water – reducing their water bill and helping the environment.

Service ContractsYou’ll also want to include the following services:

  1. Inspecting the controller and ensuring it’s plugged in and functioning.
  2. Updating the time and date.
  3. Checking the connection on all of the wires and ensuring that rain, wind or soil-moisture sensors are connected.
  4. Replacing the back-up battery.
  5. During times of drought, changing the watering schedule to reflect the allowed watering days and times.
  6. Adjusting the Seasonal Adjust or Water Budget on the controller. (This can save up to 60% of the water used over the “set and forget” schedule.)
  7. Turning on each zone and checking for system damage such as:
        • Leaking valves or pipes
        • Broken or missing heads
        • Clogged nozzles
        • Seal leaks
        • Sunken heads
        • Tilted heads.

The Bottom Line

So while winterization and spring start-up are both important, think of them as components in a full array of services which you can provide to your customers through an irrigation service contract. Armed with education and training, year-round irrigation system maintenance can be a natural add-on service opportunity, resulting in happy clients and a more lucrative bottom line.

Need Help?

Do you need help drafting a service contract for your landscape irrigation business? There’s plenty of help online. Check out the following links:

Irrigation & Green Industry
Turf Magazine
Alliance for Water Efficiency
Commercial Integrator

ONLA 2019 Member Summit Set for Dec. 11-12

ONLA 2019 Member Summit Set for Dec. 11-12

Two-Day Member Summit to Focus on Management Skills

Team management will be the theme of this year’s Ohio Nursery and Landscape Association (ONLA)  Member Summit. The 2019 ONLA summit is a two-day, intensive program for business owners and key decision makers.

This two-day retreat is specifically designed for owners and key decision makers who want to take their management skills to the next level and develop a productive, efficient workplace.

ONLA Member SummitWhen:
December 11-12, 2019

Nationwide Hotel & Conference Center
100 Green Meadows Drive South
Lewis Center, OH 43035

$399 per person, includes all meals and education sessions.

Advance registration is required!


Hotel Reservations:
Discounted rates start at $139.00. Reservations can be made HERE or by calling Nationwide Hotel at 614.880.4300 and mentioning Ohio Nursery and Landscape Association.

What You Can Expect

At the 2019 ONLA Member Summit you can expect to:

Hone your leadership skills.
Learn best practices for cultivating high-performance teams.
Network with like-minded professionals and sponsors.
Get energized and motivated to create lasting, positive changes in your career and business.

Click Here for the 2019 Member Summit Schedule.
Keynote Speakers

Jim Paluch, President, JP Horizons, Inc.

ONLA Member SummitFor the past 30 years, Jim has motivated thousands of individuals and organizations across North America to strive toward excellence. He has written hundreds of articles and been published as an industry expert dozens of times.

Jim has a remarkable ability to help audiences address obstacles and discover opportunities that lie between their current state and their future desired state. His talent in facilitating a group, and creating a collaborative effort where ideas and solutions can emerge, always produces inspiring results for everyone involved.

Jon Petz, CSP

ONLA Member SummitWhether he’s focusing on performance mindset, deeper client and team engagement, customer surprise and delight, or growth at all organizational levels, Jon Petz offers much more than “just” a keynote!

A former sales and marketing executive, Jon led his teams to break-away performances withing various industries and environments. Jon is an engagement and performance expert, who has delivered motivational keynote programs for world leading brands, industry and association conventions, and organizations of all sizes.

Jon has authored three books, two of which, Boring Meetings Suck and Significance in Simple Moments, hit the business best-sellers list. His work has been featured by the Wall Street Journal, CNBC, ABC News, Success Magazine, and The Globe & Mail, among others.

John Kennedy, Owner, John Kennedy Consulting

ONLA Member SummitFor nearly two decades, John Kennedy has inspired well over 250,000 audience members throughout North America, Europe, Australia and the Caribbean with his world-class training programs.

John’s success was galvanized in the hospitality and tourism industry, as a restaurant and hotel executive with a strong sense of teamwork, sales and leadership. John’s client list includes: American Bus Association, The Baltimore Ravens, Marriott Hotels, Orvis, U.S. Air Force, Bermuda Gas, Elizabeth Arden, Taco Bell, Canada Bread, as well as more than one hundred local, state and federal government agencies and associations.


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Irrigation Show Set for December 2-6, 2019

Irrigation Show Set for December 2-6, 2019

Grow Your Business at Irrigation Show 2019

Show will be December 2-6  at the Las Vegas Convention Center

Did you know that the Irrigation Association’s annual Irrigation Show is the world’s biggest trade show dedicated to irrigation professionals? It’s where the irrigation industry comes together to network, learn and promote irrigation.

Register by Nov. 1 to save on education classes, full registration and exhibits. Discount housing is also open, and attendees can book their hotel online.

To download the Irrigation Association’s 31-page Registration Brochure, click here.

Collaborative Effort

This year’s Irrigation Show is being co-located with the National Ground Water Association and American Rainwater Catchment Systems Association. The collaboration hopes to provide an action-packed week focused on the one resource we all strive to manage responsibly — water.



The show floor will give you a firsthand look at all of the latest products, services and technologies in landscape irrigation to help you expand your business, satisfy customers and grow your bottom line. With two days to explore the exhibits, you can:

  • Inspect the latest technologies at the new product contest and watch the judging
  • Find solutions to ancillary landscape markets such as ponds, waterscapes and outdoor lighting.
  • Check out new and innovative products, and services.
  • Explore new suppliers.
  • Learn about the latest business trends and irrigation best practices.
  • Network with current business partners and with industry leaders who share the Ohio IA’s commitment to efficient irrigation.

For exhibitor information, including booth space fees, assignment, and a 2019 floor plan, click here.

Educational Opportunities

One of the top reasons for attending the Irrigation Show and Education Week is the comprehensive educational offerings.

Education Week offers five days of seminars, technical programs and education classes conducted by some of the industry’s leading experts and researchers. You can discover the latest cutting-edge research, technologies, techniques and best practices in landscape irrigation, while earning valuable CEUs.

This year’s “Industry Insights” promise to take the educational sessions to a whole new level. Here’s a taste of the new and different topics being offered during Industry Insights:

  • The Irrigation Consumer Bill of Rights
  • Mobile apps for water conservation in turfgrass
  • The H-2A & H-2B guest worker program
  • Severe weather and ways to protect your crew and clients
  • Social media and how to use it in your business
  • Rainwater collection Wi-Fi technology and how to incorporate it in your business
  • Research updates and reports from around the country

These sessions vary from 30- to 90-minute formats and include everything from single presentations to panel discussions.

Certification Exams

Exams for the following certification programs will also be available at this year’s Irrigation Show:

Irrigation Association


Sprinkler System Maintenance Tips

Sprinkler System Maintenance Tips

Improve Your System’s Efficiency and Avoid Costly Repairs with Routine Maintenance

Did you know that your irrigation system accounts for between 50% and 75% of your home’s monthly water usage? Did you also know that more plants die from overwatering than underwatering?

Those are just two of the many reasons that regular maintenance is needed to keep your sprinkler system running efficiently year after year. Here’s another:  Damage from lawn equipment or improper winterization can result in costly leaks and other serious problems.

An Ounce of Prevention

Here are a few simple checks to perform on a monthly, annual or periodic basis to ensure your sprinkler system is operation at an optimal level:

Every Month During Growing Season…

Inspect the controller and make sure it’s plugged in and functioning.

Check the connection on all of the wires and sensors.

Adjust sprinkler head positions and spray patterns to avoid watering sidewalks or structures and to provide necessary clearance over growing plants.

Remove obstructions that prevent sprinklers from distributing water evenly.

Check the pressure. Pressure can change over time and negatively affect your system’s efficiency. If the pressure is too high, it’ll result in significant runoff.

Inspect your system for leaks — a huge water waster. This step requires the help of your irrigation contractor. He’ll not only check for leaks and broken or clogged spray heads; he can also advise you about common problems to watch for between visits.

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Once a Year…

Winterize, winterize, winterize! This routine maintenance procedure is critical. Overlook it, and you can expect costly damage to your system. But this is something best left to the professionals. Your irrigation contractor has specialized equipment to flush out the water that could otherwise freeze, resulting in cracked pipes, valves and other parts. (See related article, “How to Winterize Your Landscape Irrigation System.”)

Get your back flow checked. Federal and state laws require that your backflow connection be tested annually by a state-certified tester. (This is typically part of the winterization process.)

Once in a While or As Needed…

Now and then, it’s a good idea to have your system audited. Hire a Certified Irrigation Auditor to conduct an audit and uniformity test. If your system is watering unevenly or improperly, he can make the necessary adjustments.

Replace your controller’s back-up battery whenever you replace your smoke alarm batteries.

Adjust the watering schedule to reflect the current season and irrigation needs of your landscape.

With the proper routine maintenance, your irrigation system will serve you well for seasons to come!

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