White Stuff Spells Green for
Irrigation and landscaping contractors in snow-prone Ohio recognize the benefits to be gained from including snow removal in their menu of services.
For instance, homeowners’ associations often seek out four-season maintenance providers. Your business will attract these larger accounts by offering snow and ice removal services. In addition, keeping your crews employed all year will help you retain your best workers.
Here are some things to consider before you branch out:
Many landscaping contractors already have access to some of the most expensive equipment needed for snow removal, such as skid steers, track and wheel loaders, and pickup trucks. But what about irrigation contractors whose services do not include general landscaping? You can still get into snow business by renting the necessary equipment. (See infographic below.)
Some essential snow attachments manufacturers recommend for skid steers and loaders include snow blades, angle or push brooms, snow blowers, snow pushers, scrapers, and buckets.
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Snow blades work hydraulically to stack snow high and cleanly, even on uneven terrain. An angled or V-shaped blade provides added versatility, since it can be used to angle and direct snow. V-blades work best in open spaces, and are most effective on hard surfaces such as pavement or concrete. But straight blades are the most popular type of blade attachment, and are often more affordable.
For lighter snowfalls, angled or push brooms are ideal for sweeping less than six inches of snow. An added benefit is that these attachments can be used year-round to remove dirt, leaves, gravel, and other debris.
A snow blower attachment is used to blow snow into a pile or dump truck with a truck-loading shoot. It can remove large amounts of heavy, wet, or icy snow in a single pass.
Ohio’s First Snowfalls
Below are some compiled statistics for the earliest snowfalls of at least one inch in Ohio’s major cities:
As the name implies, snow pushers are designed to push snow straight ahead; they can neither load nor lift. Pushers are ideal for clearing sidewalks, small parking lots, and driveways. Heavy snowfalls may be too much for some pushers, and wider pushers can be challenging to maneuver. Because pushers require a skid steer or loader with a lot of torque and traction, selecting a pusher attachment with the proper size and weight for your equipment and application is essential. (Bigger isn’t always better.)
Use a scraper attachment to remove hard-packed snow and ice. Be sure to get one with a self-sharpening cutting edge that easily slides under ice and stubborn snow.
These attachments are used to scoop and transport large volumes of light snow. Because buckets have no electric or hydraulic parts, they require minimal maintenance. During warmer months, they can be used to move wood or mulch.
Spreading salt or other ice-melts is another key component of any snow and ice removal system, as it protects your customers from accidents on their properties. Spreaders attach to the rear of a vehicle and disperse salt or sand at controlled flow rates and high speeds. There are also simple handheld models available for smaller areas.
Contractors can opt for a variety of ice-melts, including sodium chloride (rock salt), calcium chloride, potassium chloride, magnesium chloride, or any combination of these, depending on the outside temperature and application area. (For instance, magnesium chloride is considered the most eco- and pet-friendly.)
Of Plows and Pickups
Snow removal contractors often opt for compact equipment because pickup trucks are too cumbersome to fit into tight spaces.
However, compact equipment is more difficult to transport quickly from job to job since it requires a trailer, which is why some contractors prefer the versatility of a pickup truck with a snowplow. If your business owns a medium-duty truck, you can purchase a snow plow package from your local distributor. The system can be mounted to the frame of your existing trucks and easily removed when not in use.
If you’re just getting started in the snow removal business, here are a few final tips to consider:
Use bulk spreaders whenever possible, as ice melts are cheaper when purchased in bulk.
Take advantage of a downloadable weather app so you can make educated decisions based on current weather data.
Consider joining an association like the Snow and Ice Management Association (SIMA), which offers an extensive library of resources to help you quickly gain the skills needed for success.
Make sure your crews enjoy working long hours and at night. Snow removal is not for the faint of heart!
Equip Expo: October 17-20, 2023
midwestGREEN: November 6-7, 2023
Ohio irrigation and lighting professionals will want to mark their calendars for two green industry trade shows happening in October and November.
About Equip Expo
This month marks the 40th anniversary of Equip Exposition, the annual green industry exhibition featuring more than 1,000 exhibits that now draws more than 25,000 attendees.
1984: OPEI launches the International Lawn, Garden & Power Equipment Exposition (EXPO), the industry’s first trade show.
2007: OPEI merges the International Lawn, Garden & Power Equipment Exposition with the Green Industry Expo, creating GIE+EXPO.
2021: OPEI rebrands GIE+EXPO as Equip Exposition and opens a branch office in Louisville, Kentucky.
For more than 20 years the show has been located just over the river at the Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville, making it a popular event for Ohio green industry professionals. Of course, it wasn’t always called Equip Exposition. (See sidebar, “Equip Exposition Timeline.”)
The Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI), expo sponsors, expanded this year’s show to include increased exhibition space, advanced education, additional entertainment, and improved logistics and food options.
In addition to the green industry products on display and Equip Expo’s 30-acre outdoor demonstration yard, there are plenty of educational sessions for irrigation and lighting professionals. (Click on each course title for additional information.)
Over the last four years Ohio’s landscape irrigation industry has experienced some dramatic changes. In this presentation, Tom Barrett will cover current issues for those working in Ohio’s landscape irrigation industry. This presentation includes industry trends, research, best practices, and field implementation techniques.
The inclusion of Fire and Water elements within a landscape design can create captivating outdoor spaces with profound effects on the user experience. Blending fire pits, fireplaces, and fire woks with fountains, swimming pools, and spas together in a landscape design entices people to spend more time outdoors, connecting with nature, and enjoying an enriched outdoor living experience.
OPEI is the voice for the outdoor power equipment industry. As such, OPEI is keenly aware of the trends, challenges and opportunities facing the industry. From expanding software solutions to new equipment technologies like autonomous mowers and more efficient engines, Chuck will share what to have your eye on as we close out 2023 and prepare for 2024 and beyond.
midwestGREEN is scheduled for November 6 and 7, at the Greater Columbus Convention Center in Columbus, Ohio.
How to Avoid Wiring Problems
When Installing Landscape Lights
Low-voltage landscape lighting offers a pleasant alternative to glaring floodlights.
Artfully placed outdoor lighting can look as beautiful and natural as the landscape, whether strategically positioned to accent plants and other features or safely illuminate steps and pathways.
But any installation missteps with low-voltage wiring will likely lead to a system failure somewhere down the line. Here’s a list of dos and don’ts from lighting professionals to help you avoid problems when working with low-voltage wiring.
Don’t Skimp on Wire Connectors
Less expensive wiring materials are not best for the job. For example, twist-on wire nuts, commonly used in household wiring, are not waterproof and should not be used to splice direct-buried wire. Non-waterproof wire splices can cause current to leak to ground, resulting in the controller and transformer running hot. This significantly reduces the life of the controller.
Moonlights are a type of downlighting that mimics the moon’s soft, cool natural light.
When strategically placed high up in trees and angled downward, the light peeks through the branches rather than shining directly into a specific space. Always opt for a cool-temperature white bulb for the most natural effect.
To avoid a sloppy look, plan for wire management before installation so that no cords are readily apparent. Use appropriate tree-friendly screws, spacers, and zip ties when attaching fixture wire.
It’s important to use wire connectors specifically designed for direct burial. These waterproof connectors are usually filled with silicone and provide a reliable underground wire connection. They typically consist of a twist-on cap to join the wires and a silicone gel-filled sleeve to keep moisture from entering the splice.
However, these connectors are not reusable. When repairing a bad splice, you’ll want to use a new wire connector.
Do Check Your Voltage
Even with LED lighting, it’s still important to check your voltage, which should be between 10-15 volts for LED’s. Too little voltage and your lights will be too dim; more than 15 volts could short out your system.
LEDs are not very forgiving above 15 volts, as they can disable your system quickly and without warning.
Don’t Use Frayed Wire Leads
Frayed wires can result in multiple wiring issues. If only a few pairs of your stranded wire are making electrical contact, you’ll notice a voltage drop. You’ll also risk an electrical short and create a fire hazard.
Wires that are clean and straight provide the best possible connection, resulting in fewer potential issues. Some contractors solder the wire leads together to ensure sufficient contact.
Do Use a Hub System
Lighting systems most often fail at a connection point. So fewer connection points mean fewer potential problems. A typical “daisy chain” design system creates two connection points (ergo, two weak spots) at every fixture throughout the landscape.
A hub system is a better design. Having each wire linked to a central transformer eliminates half of the potential points of failure. Troubleshooting a hub system is also much easier since you only need to locate one junction box rather than individual connections.
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Don’t Reuse Wiring
Wiring is usually the least expensive component of any landscape lighting job, but it’s also one of the most important.
Reusing wire when retrofitting or redesigning a lighting system is a temptation contractors should avoid. When you reuse wiring, you’ve taken ownership of it, so future problems become yours.
When installing new wiring, removing the old wire is not always necessary if it’s not in your way. The exception would be if the new wires cross the old wires at any point. In that case, removing the old wiring can avoid confusion down the line.
Do Bury Wires Properly
Burying the wires is your last step. Lay the system out, hook up your lights, test your voltage, and (if possible) view the results at night before burying the lines.
Run the wires along the sides of hardscapes rather than through planting beds to avoid shovel points and other potential hazards. When you do need to cross a landscape, place wiring in a protective conduit or bury it deep enough to avoid the reach of any lawn equipment.
Unique Irrigation System
“Prints” Water With Precision
More than ten years ago, Irrigreen CTO Gary Klinefelter first imagined applying commercial printing technologies to irrigation system design.
Noting that inkjet printers spray just the right amount of ink in carefully controlled patterns, he wondered why irrigation systems couldn’t do the same. As it turns out, they can.
What Is Irrigreen?
Irrigreen is a digital sprinkler system, a type of robotic sprinkler that uses printing technology to create water patterns that conform to the specific outline of any lawn. Water streams do not overlap. As a result, Irrigreen uses about half the water of conventional irrigation systems.
This unique system “prints” and executes a precise watering plan, placing water where and when needed – never on driveways or sidewalks. The system also includes a smart controller to measure weather patterns and adjust the irrigation schedule to further reduce water waste.
Check it out:
Last year Irrigreen introduced XP, the third iteration of its product, now including functionality that predicts and adapts to water pressure and flow changes. The company was founded in 2013 by Klinefelter and CEO Shane Dyer and currently holds 35 patents on its product. According to Dyer, most installations are residential, but commercial and municipal projects are on the horizon.
How It Works
Irrigreen employs one centrally placed sprinkler head for each six-to-eight heads needed for a traditional system. Each Irrigreen head has 14 nozzles to spray water at different distances. By rotating 360 degrees, each head covers about 2,000 square feet. So instead of using 40 or more sprinkler heads for the average residential property, Irrigreen needs only five heads to cover the same area.
Want to Know More?
Click the links below for online tutorials regarding Irrigreen installation, programming, and calibration:
The Irrigreen app allows homeowners and/or irrigation professionals to map out a watering pattern in any shape right from their mobile device. They can see a Google Earth view of the property and “place” digital sprinkler heads in the yard to see how many they need for full coverage. The app can also recall the last three years of rainfall and temperature data to determine how much water Irrigreen will save compared to a conventional mechanical system.
According to Scott Knowles, president of Wolf Creek Company, an Irrigreen distributor, the robotic sprinkler system “brings lawn irrigation forward into the digital age. It’s a good option for contractors who want to get out ahead of the competition by adopting advanced technology.”
Educating the Market
So far, lack of awareness has been the company’s biggest challenge. “People don’t know there is a better way to water their lawns,” Dyer said. So, to educate the market, Irrigreen developed an online tool that helps prospective customers assess the costs and benefits of installing the new technology.
“[With the online tool] we can show how much water they will save with the Irrigreen system and how much a system for their yard will cost,” Dyer explained.
Benefits to Pros
Because it uses only five sprinkler heads, the Irrigreen system streamlines installation. It also uses 80% less trenching and PVC piping – and the valves are located inside the sprinkler head — making installation about three times faster than a mechanical irrigation system.
About 80% of the company’s current business is retrofits. Most of the time, the old sprinkler heads can be capped off instead of removed, and existing piping is reused.
What the Critics Say
The Irrigreen system is not without its critics, however. Christopher Null, a technology expert and product reviewer for the online platform TechHive, voiced his concerns in January of this year. While providing an overall positive review (he found mapping the yard with the mobile app to be easy and “kind of fun”), Null stated that Irrigreen is still “a little rough around the edges.”
For instance, Null claims that the Irrigreen system must be installed from scratch and cannot be retrofitted to an existing irrigation system. Since Dyer asserts that most of the company’s current business is retrofits, perhaps Null means that retrofits require an irrigation professional and are not suitable for a DIY project.
Null said the weather-based controller was “a bit confused” during his testing. (It failed to skip the watering during a freak hailstorm and cold snap.) Also, Null thought the manual controller was disconcertingly unsophisticated, “a bare circuit board mounted inside a plastic box” with three poorly labeled buttons. “Hang on to the (very beta) manual if you ever plan to open the box.”
The online quote tool indicated that Null’s 6,100-square-foot yard required five sprinkler heads totaling $3,280. However, he was confident that his yard would need at least eight heads – still considerably less than the 20 mechanical heads in his existing system.
Null concluded that Irrigreen is promising but still “has some growing to do.”
Most of the comments on Reddit indicate that the company’s technology is excellent, but its customer service is abysmal.
You Be the Judge
Is Irrigreen the wave of the future, or does it still have some hurdles to overcome? As an irrigation professional, you be the judge.
Keeping your irrigation and landscaping crews safe during the busiest time of the year can be challenging.
But heat stress, stinging and disease-carrying insects, and poisonous plants are all seasonal hazards your crew members will face.
Did you know that, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the green industry is one of the more dangerous in the U.S.? The occurrence of nonfatal occupational injury or illness is 87% higher for landscapers than for private industry as a whole. And the rate of fatal injuries for landscaping services is five times higher.
You can take steps to prevent an unfortunate incident from occurring on your watch.
Does your company provide regular and ongoing safety training? Reinforced training is a critical component of an overall safety protocol. Be sure to augment company-wide training sessions (such as regarding heat-related illnesses) with daily safety reminders.
Creating a Culture
Is safety part of your company’s culture? If not, here are four steps you can take to change that:
Follow OSHA instructions precisely. Learn about all local, state, and federal safety regulations to proactively prevent problems.
Develop documented safety policies based on hazard assessments of standard job sites.
Create a solid training program around your safety policies to address all potential hazards your workers may encounter.
Evaluate training effectiveness. (For instance, you could administer a brief quiz before and after training sessions to determine if your workers have retained the information.) Observe your crews on job sites following training to ensure safety policy compliance.
And if your crew members have experienced any close-call incidents, incorporate those situations into your training and safety policies as well.
Keep ‘Em Cool
Make sure you provide your crews with the proper gear and supplies:
Plenty of water
A first-aid kit
Access to an air-conditioned work vehicle or cooling towels
If the job site offers no shade, have a canopy or tent available to provide some protection. Offer crew members the option of wearing light-weight long-sleeved shirts and wide-brimmed hats to protect them from the sun. (Light-colored breathable fabric is the best choice for company uniforms.)
Of course, part of being prepared involves starting and finishing early this time of year. Ramp up your site visits on the hottest days to double-check your crews’ safety. Your workers are busiest now, and it’s easy for them to lose track of time, so designate a crew member to encourage water breaks. On days of extreme heat, allow crews to knock off early.
OSHA and NIOSH have developed a Heat Safety Tool app that helps landscaping crews assess heat risk, identify signs and symptoms of heat-related illness, and administer first aid in a heat-stress situation.
Poisonous Plants and Pests
Poisonous plants, stinging insects, and disease-carrying pests should also be on your radar. The key to avoiding all of these problems is to minimize skin exposure.
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Workers who come in contact with poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac can promptly use preventive wipes to remove the urushiol oil, so make sure these wipes are part of your crews’ PPE. They also must clean any clothing and tools that have come in contact with the plants. Make sure they never burn any of these poisonous plants, as breathing in the oil particles results in an immediate medical emergency.
Important to Know
If a first responder or your company representative reports a safety incident – a legal requirement in some circumstances – the result is often an OSHA inspection.
You may be cited for failing to comply with OSHA standards if your company does not have a documented safety program. The current penalty for a first-time safety violation is $15,625 per citation.
Crews can minimize the risk of disease-carrying pests by removing all mosquito-breeding standing water at the job site. Since rodents and wildlife often carry ticks, removing leaf litter or overgrowth will minimize the risk of contact. Wasp and hornet sprays, insect repellents, and even mosquito netting can all be included in your safety supplies.
Set a Good Example
The safety chain of command always begins with the business owner or manager. If you’re not committed to safety, your workers will know. Be sure to do whatever you ask them to do. For instance, show up on job sites with the same PPE you expect your crews to wear.
Commit to your safety training schedule, even if your projects are under time constraints. Show your crews that you prioritize their safety.
The safety of your irrigation and landscaping crews is a big responsibility. By mitigating common hazards, you’ll demonstrate to your workers that you’re invested in their well-being.