How Diverse Is Your Workforce?

How Diverse Is Your Workforce?

Companies With Diverse Work Teams
Make More Money


We live and work in a global village where diversity abounds.

As a green industry contractor, if your work team does not include a variety of racial, cultural, and age groups, your profits could suffer. At the very least, your business is missing a key ingredient for growth.

Just the Facts

Consider some statistics. Boston Consulting Group recently found that companies with a diverse workforce make more money than those with staff uniformity. In addition, companies with diverse management teams produce almost 20% more revenue than their homogeneous counterparts.

In the words of global industry analyst Josh Bersin, “Workplace diversity leads to innovation. Inclusive companies are 1.7 times more likely to be innovation leaders in their market.” If your irrigation business struggles with a particular issue, hiring a more diverse leadership team could be your answer.

The Multi-Generational Workforce

The U.S. labor force has become increasingly multi-generational, with 50-year experts working alongside young recruits fresh out of school.

Here are some of the benefits of employing staff from various age groups: 

1. Knowledge Sharing: Older employees offer wisdom and institutional knowledge, while younger staff contribute fresh ideas and technological expertise.

2. Improved Creativity: The unique life experiences of employees from different generations can lead to creative solutions.

3. Adaptability: A multi-generational workforce combines the wisdom of experience with the receptivity to change offered by younger generations, helping companies navigate evolving markets.

4. Better Understanding of Customers: A multi-generational workforce helps businesses better understand their customers’ preferences and needs across various generations, resulting in greater customer satisfaction and loyalty.

5. Employee Engagement and Retention: A multi-generational workforce that fosters a sense of inclusion boosts employee engagement, job satisfaction, and retention.

Source:  The Power of 10

Online decision-making platform Cloverpop revealed in a two-year study that inclusive work teams make better decisions, outperforming individual decision-makers about 87% of the time.

What’s more, your company can attract more job applicants if it reflects diversity in the workplace. According to a 2020 Glassdoor survey, 76% of job seekers believe workplace inclusivity is an important factor to consider when determining employment offers.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is a term business leaders use to encompass all efforts to make their staff feel accepted and supported at work, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, age, or socioeconomic background.

While you can incorporate DEI practices into many aspects of your company, most initiatives are led by Human Resources, supporting current team members and ensuring equity when hiring. For instance, DEI recruiting software is available to help employment managers overcome unconscious biases that could disrupt the hiring process and ensure that job opportunities are open to all qualified candidates.

Where to Begin

Convene a meeting with your entire company. First, introduce the topic, explain why diversity and inclusion are important, and lay the ground rules for the discussion. These may include:

  • Any information shared will remain confidential.
  • Everyone should actively participate in the conversation.
  • Every contribution is significant.
  • Everyone should listen without judgment.

Then, begin brainstorming answers to the following questions:

–Article Continues Below–

  1. How diverse is our overall workforce? Our leadership team?
  2. Can our corporate culture be viewed as biased or exclusive?
  3. What can we do to make our company more diverse and inclusive?
  4. How can we attract potential employees from a more diverse labor pool?
  5. How can we promote our commitment to workplace diversity?
  6. What challenges might we face in our efforts to become more inclusive?

After adequate discussion time and opportunity for input, gather the results of your brainstorming session and outline a clear action plan. You can then appoint a committee or designate an individual team member to serve as diversity officer to follow through on the approved plan.

Need Help?

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) offers many online resources to help facilitate your company’s journey toward workplace diversity. Here are just a few:


Sources:
Featured Image: Adobe, License Granted
Irrigation & Lighting
G2
Glassdoor
Cloverpop

2023 Plant Hardiness Map: Impacts to Irrigation

2023 Plant Hardiness Map: Impacts to Irrigation

Using New USDA Zones to
Market Your Business


The USDA’s new plant hardiness zone map (PHZM) places Ohio in warmer sectors. What will that mean for irrigation and landscape contractors?

According to the new map, the average lowest winter temperature across the country is now 2.5 degrees warmer than it was in 2012, the last time such a map was charted. Viewable in an interactive format, the 2023 hardiness zone map was created digitally, relying on detailed and more precise data than before. Map users can zoom in on specific ZIP codes and locate roads within each zone.

Ohio’s New Hardiness Zones

Like the 2012 PHZM, the new version shows Ohio falling almost entirely within Zone 6, with an average lowest winter temperature between minus 10 and zero degrees Fahrenheit. But Zone 6B now encompasses a considerably larger area than it did in the 2012 map.

Much of central Ohio, along with areas to the northeast and northwest, still lies in Zone 6A, which ranges from minus-10 to minus-5. (According to the 2023 map, the only remaining pocket of Zone 5b is in northeastern Knox County.)

The warmer Zone 6B ranges from minus-5 to zero and now includes much of southern Ohio. But it also includes a section of Northern Ohio west of Toledo and extending to Pennsylvania, which is warmed by the moderating effects of Lake Erie. As a result, Ohio’s Zone 6b is significantly larger than the 2012 map indicated.

Warmer still is Zone 7A, making its first appearance in Ohio. This zone, ranging from zero to 5 degrees, now includes a narrow swath of Greater Cleveland just inland from Lake Erie and the southernmost tip of the state.

–Article Continues Below–

Impact on Irrigation and Landscaping

Regions across the state have warmed, making them suitable for plant species that previously could not have survived there. Here are some of the ways warmer regions can impact landscape and irrigation professionals:

  • Longer growing seasons and the likelihood of increased heat will compel homeowners to consider more efficient water usage and adopt more sustainable irrigation practices.
  • Extended growing seasons require adjusting planting schedules and vigilantly maintaining plants during the longer summers.
  • Homeowners and landscapers may choose from a broader range of plants, allowing for more diversity within a landscape.
  • Landscapers must proactively monitor and manage increased pest and disease challenges caused by warmer temperatures.

Promoting Your Business Through the New PHZM

Evolution of
the PHZM

1927 – Harvard University publishes the first known U.S. map with eight climatic zones in the Manual of Cultivated Trees and Shrubs Hardy in North America.

1928 – USDA publishes a map depicting average annual minimum temperatures in 11 zones across the United States. 

1938 – Harvard University publishes enhanced plant hardiness map using previously unavailable temperature data from the U.S. Weather Bureau.

1948 – Harvard University publishes a revised and updated map, incorporating new weather data.

1960 – USDA develops and publishes the first official Plant Hardiness Zone Map [PHZM], which eventually became the standard for assessing plant hardiness in the United States.

1990 – USDA publishes updated PHZM, utilizing data from about 8,000 weather stations over a 12-year period.

2012 – USDA develops the first digital PHZM, utilizing 30 years of weather data.

2023 – USDA publishes revised digital PHZM, utilizing data from 13,412 weather stations over a 30-year period.

Source:   Medium

You can help your customers understand the ramifications of the new PHZM while also promoting your irrigation business. Here’s how:

Explain the Map

Familiarize customers with the PHZM. Explain to them how the local climate is changing, offering more plant diversity and longer growing seasons, but also likely requiring more efficient irrigation – not necessarily more water. Provide them with a link to the updated interactive map so they can drill down to their local area.

Offer a Variety of Options

Stay current on the newest and most efficient smart controllers and system components, and offer various options for your customers to consider. Maintaining a strong relationship with your local irrigation distributor will go a long way toward ensuring familiarity with the latest products.

Incentivize

Offer rebates or other incentives to encourage action (such as retrofitting inefficient irrigation systems with smart systems). Inform customers of any rebate programs available through WaterSense, their local water utility, or irrigation system manufacturers.


The 2023 PHZM update highlights the impacts of climate change on our local environment, presenting both new opportunities and challenges. Responding proactively to these changes can help ensure sustainable landscapes while also promoting your business as a green industry leader.


Sources:
Featured Image: Adobe, License Granted
USDA
Cleveland.com
Medium

’Sno(w) Problem!

’Sno(w) Problem!

White Stuff Spells Green for
Enterprising Contractors


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:

Essential Equipment

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.

–Article Continues Below–

Snow Blades

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.

Snow Brooms

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.

Snow Blowers

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:

Columbus 1 inch, Oct. 22 (1925)
Cleveland 1.4 inches, Oct. 18 (1972)
Cincinnati 5 inches, Oct. 19 (1989)
Toledo 1 inch, Oct. 20 (1992)
Akron 2.9 inches, Oct. 20 (1952)
Dayton 4.8 inches, Oct. 19 (1989)
Youngstown 2.6 inches, Oct. 30 (1993)

Source:  Weather.gov, Extreme Weather Watch

Snow Pushers

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.)

Scrapers

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.

Snow Buckets

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.

Spreaders

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.

Final Tips

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!

Sources:
Featured Image: Adobe, License Granted
Green Industry Pros
Irrigation & Lighting
Big Rentz
Jobber

Gearing Up for Equip Exposition and midwestGREEN

Gearing Up for Equip Exposition and midwestGREEN

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.

Equip Exposition
Timeline

  • 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.

Educational Opportunities

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.)

Basic Irrigation Repairs
Electrical Troubleshooting
Anatomy of an Irrigation System
Basic Controller Operation
Wi-Fi & Connected Device Knowledge for Green Industry Professionals
Expanding Your Business with Landscape Lighting

Also, the Irrigation Association will administer certification exams for all levels of industry professionals on the first day of the expo, Tuesday, October 17, from 12:30 to 5:30.

Equip Exposition is scheduled for October 17 through October 20, at the Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville.

About midwestGREEN

The 2023 midwestGREEN conference (previously known as MGIX) offers a robust exhibit space, unique networking opportunities, and educational sessions with impactful speakers.

The two-day conference is sponsored by the Ohio Green Industry Association (OGIA), and OGIA members receive a substantial discount. Click here for  the complete Event Guide.

Educational Opportunities

All 48 educational sessions are included in the registration cost. Here are some workshops of particular interest to irrigation and lighting professionals:

Ohio’s Landscape Irrigation Industry Insights
Speaker: Tom Barrett | Ohio Irrigation Association

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.

Fire and Water
Speaker: Nick Berger | Hidden Creek Landscaping

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.

Innovative Lighting Design Techniques and New Technologies
Speaker: Adam Marette | Wolf Creek Company

Latest in Equipment Trends
Speaker: Chuck Bowen | The Outdoor Power Equipment Institute

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.


Sources:
Featured Images: Equip Exposition and Adobe (Licenses Granted)
Equip Exposition
midwestGREEN

Low-Voltage Wiring Dos and Don’ts

Low-Voltage Wiring Dos and Don’ts

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.

Moonlighting?

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.

Source:  Volt Lighting

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.

–Article Continues Below–

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.


Sources:
Featured Image: Adobe, License Granted
Irrigation & Lighting
Volt Lighting
Family Handyman
The Lighting Zone

Irrigreen Hopes to Reshape the Industry

Irrigreen Hopes to Reshape the Industry

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.


Sources:
Featured Image: Irrigreen
SG Voice
Forbes
Minneapolis Business Journal
PR Newswire
TechHive

Summer Safety for Irrigation Crews

Summer Safety for Irrigation Crews

Preparation Is Key to
Avoiding Summer Hazards


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.

Be Prepared

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
of Safety

Is safety part of your company’s culture? If not, here are four steps you can take to change that:

  1. Follow OSHA instructions precisely. Learn about all local, state, and federal safety regulations to proactively prevent problems.
  2. Develop documented safety policies based on hazard assessments of standard job sites.
  3. Create a solid training program around your safety policies to address all potential hazards your workers may encounter.
  4. 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.

Source:  Irrigation & Lighting

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
  • Wasp spray
  • Sunscreen
  • 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.

–Article Continues Below–

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.


Sources:
Featured Image: Adobe, License Granted
Irrigation & Lighting
American Journal of Industrial Medicine
Lawn & Landscape

Promoting the Benefits of Irrigation Audits

Promoting the Benefits of Irrigation Audits

Audits Help Customers Save Water
During Smart Irrigation Month


Summer is here, and Smart Irrigation Month is fast approaching. What better time to sell your customers on the benefits of irrigation system audits?

An audit can provide extensive insight into a homeowner’s system, ensuring that water is applied properly to each area of the landscape. Successful audits deliver the information needed to create an irrigation schedule that will maximize system efficiency and save your customer money. Even systems that are routinely maintained can benefit from an occasional audit.

First Things First

Properly performed irrigation audits always begin with a system inspection. Working from a site map will help you thoroughly analyze the irrigation system’s mechanics, starting with the point of connection. Closely examine all vital information, including backflows, flow rates and pressure.

Faulty or degrading components are often easily identified, but it’s also important to check sprinkler head alignment. Improperly aligned heads produce spray patterns that can misdirect water to non-targeted areas and seriously compromise efficiency.

Getting Certified

The Irrigation Association offers Certified Landscape Irrigation Auditor (CLIA) training for irrigation contractors. The certification process involves two steps:

  • Successfully completing the CLIA course, and
  • Passing the three-hour written exam on irrigation audit procedures, soil-plant relationships, irrigation scheduling and equipment/technology.

(Note: Submitting an independent water audit is no longer a requirement to become certified through the IA.)

Certification allows contractors to differentiate themselves as providers of the most professional level of service.

Interested? To enroll in the online course, click here.

Common sprinkler head issues include:

Once you’ve identified problems and made the necessary repairs, it’s time to move on to the performance test.

Performance Testing

Precipitation rate (PR) and distribution uniformity (DU) are the two primary performance measures for an irrigation system. Most auditors evenly space their catch-cans in a grid-like pattern across each individual irrigation zone.

Recommended catchment device spacing is as follows:

  • Fixed spray heads – place catch-cans halfway between sprinkler heads.
  • Rotor sprinklers with less than 40-foot centers – place catch-cans every one-third of the distance between heads.
  • Rotor heads with greater than 40-foot centers – place catch-cans every one-fourth of the distance between heads.
  • For irregularly shaped areas, place cans in a uniform grid, pattern five to eight feet apart for fixed spray sprinklers and 10 to 20 feet apart for rotor sprinklers.

After you’ve placed the catch-cans across an irrigation zone, run that zone for 30 to 60 minutes. (The longer the run time, the more accurate your results.) Then measure and record the water depth for each catchment device. Repeat the procedure for each zone.

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Precipitation Rate Calculation

Calculate PR by averaging the depth of water in your catch-cans after one hour of run time. For example, if the average depth of 20 cans is 0.75 inches and you ran the zone for 30 minutes, the PR would be 1.5 inches per hour.)

After you’ve calculated the PR for each zone, you can set the run times. For instance, if you want to apply 0.5 inches of water in one irrigation cycle and the PR is two inches per hour, you would set the zone for 15 minutes.

Distribution Uniformity Calculation

About Smart
Irrigation Month

Smart Irrigation Month was created by the Irrigation Association (IA) as an annual initiative to promote the social, economic and environmental benefits of efficient irrigation during the month of July.

First launched in 2005, Smart Irrigation Month has gained traction each year, as homeowners and the green industry recognize the importance of efficient irrigation during the hottest summer months.

The IA offers a host of Smart Irrigation Month resources for marketing your company as a leader in water-efficiency practices with customers, business partners and peers.

Calculate DU by first averaging the depth of the lowest 25 percent of your catch-cans, then divide that figure by the overall average of all cans.

In other words, if you used 20 cans per zone, and the average of your five lowest cans is 0.5 inches, then you’d divide 0.5 by 0.75 to give you 67 percent. Typically, a DU of 70 percent is considered excellent. Irrigation systems with lower than 60 percent uniformity produce uneven distributions and should be adjusted for more uniform coverage.

Helpful Tools

Audit Guidelines to assist irrigation professionals with fieldwork procedures, techniques, and performance calculations are available through the Irrigation Association.

Looking for a comprehensive irrigation audit worksheet? Click here for electronic format. Click here for a printable form.

Selling It

Irrigation audits are the most effective way to ensure that system components are being used properly. According to industry experts, the typical savings homeowners can expect from a water audit is between 40 and 60 percent.

With in-ground systems and running at night, it’s easy for problems to go undetected. Auditing addresses those problems; it optimizes your customers’ water usage while still maintaining their landscape’s appearance and saving them money — good for them and good for the planet.


Sources:
Featured Image: Creative Commons photo by John Johnston
Irrigation & Lighting
North Carolina State University Extension
Lawn & Landscape

 

Cultivating Exceptional Customer Service

Cultivating Exceptional Customer Service

Irrigation Professionals Benefit from a
“Client-First” Approach


Spring and summer are critical for the green industry.

As an irrigation contractor, the next few months are likely your busiest season, when your customers depend on your expertise to assist them in keeping their landscapes green and healthy.

Customer relations are the lifeblood of contracting; small businesses rely on repeat customers and word-of-mouth referrals. Loyal clients can leave positive online reviews resulting in business growth and increased service opportunities.

Customer Service Basics

Let’s start with a review of the basics straight from the customer service textbook:

  • First impressions are critical. You must present yourself professionally whenever you’re meeting potential clients. Never be late — ever. Remain courteous at all times.
  • Be accessible! Make it easy for your customers to reach you. Return phone calls and emails promptly. Keep all communications clear and concise.
  • Manage an angry customer with tact and finesse. Always remain calm, recognizing that the client is most likely mad about the situation – not you personally. Listen carefully so you can properly address his concerns. By successfully resolving such conflicts, you’ll make life-long customers.
  • Mistakes happen. But you can turn a misstep into a positive customer experience by addressing it promptly and responsibly. Don’t make excuses. Ask how you can fix the mistake and then do it.
  • Respect your client’s property by cleaning up as you work. Never leave your customer with a mess.

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Going Above and Beyond

Upgrading your customer service from good to exceptional will help your irrigation business stand out from the competition. If you’re ready for that, here are some of the most important ways you can go the extra mile for your clients:

Empower Your Crew

Take as little time as possible to make the right decisions for the job. Make sure your crew members use their time efficiently. It helps to train and empower them to make critical decisions. Customers should not have to ask the crew leader, who then must ask the account manager, who then must ask you or someone else. Properly trained crew members should be able to answer those questions and repair that sprinkler head.

Is Your Company’s Culture
Customer-Centric?

You can take your company’s customer service standards to the next level by ensuring that your company culture reinforces the critical value of the client. Here are some tips for creating a customer-centric culture for your irrigation business:

  • Define the behaviors and skill sets that support exceptional customer service and align those behaviors with your business practices.
  • Identify areas where your current business culture does not reflect a “customer-first” approach. Realign these areas to support the desired behaviors.
  • Advise your staff of the ways the organization is changing its structure and business strategy to become more client-focused. Then enlist their help.
  • Ensure all employees are engaged with their work, especially front-line workers. Employee engagement and customer satisfaction are closely correlated.
  • Reward exceptional customer service. Even small gestures or recognition by peers can have a big impact.
  • Hire individuals who uphold your service goals. Create a profile for hiring with input from employees who provide the best customer service, and evaluate applicants for both service aptitude and irrigation experience.

Spend Time at the Site

Arrange for you or your account managers to visit client properties regularly, especially if a landscape is sophisticated or the customer is highly involved. Spending time on the property boosts the customer’s confidence in your work. You can drop the homeowner a quick note explaining any issues you’ve identified and your plans to address them.

Communicate Always

Keep in touch with your customers, even during the off-season, so they remember your business. Regular communications provide opportunities to evaluate the property and make suggestions, such as system upgrades. Social media posts and monthly newsletters are great ways to keep your clients current on your business, the irrigation industry, or general landscape information. Encourage referrals and repeat customers by including discount codes.

Customize Your Services

Cater to each client’s individual needs. Don’t treat them generically.  Make an effort to assure your customers that you and your team know exactly what they want. Build rapport by welcoming client feedback and then implementing it. Your whole crew should know your customers by name.

Putting It All Together

In today’s competitive environment, it takes more than common sense and courtesy to rise to the top of the customer service game. Extending yourself and empowering your crew to go the extra mile on behalf of your clients will position your irrigation business as an industry leader.


Sources:
Featured Image: Adobe, License Granted
Contractors Reporting Services
Hydro-Rain
Irrigation & Lighting

Five Landscape Lighting Trends to Watch

Five Landscape Lighting Trends to Watch

Ramp Up Your Lighting Business
This Spring


The popularity of landscape lighting for residential properties shows no signs of slowing down.

Whether it’s used to illuminate pathways, highlight landscape features, improve security, or create an inviting atmosphere for guests, outdoor lighting has become a go-to improvement for homeowners. Here are five of the latest landscape lighting trends:

LED Lighting

Not surprisingly, more homeowners are switching to LEDs for energy efficiency and longer lifespan. LED bulbs last around three to five times longer than conventional fluorescent bulbs and 30 times longer than incandescent bulbs. [See sidebar, “Incandescent Bulb Ban.”]

By switching to LEDs, your customers can expect lower utility bills, less maintenance, reduced carbon emissions, and less waste from the disposal of burned-out bulbs. And since LED lights are now available in a variety of colors, you can customize architectural lighting to match the style of your customer’s home.

Incandescent
Bulb Ban

In May of last year, the Department of Energy issued a new ruling that requires lighting products to meet new standards. As a result, the manufacture and sale of most incandescent and halogen products will be phased out by August 1, 2023.

The new measure bans the sale of bulbs that produce less than 45 lumens per watt. However, incandescent and halogen bulbs purchased before the phase-out date may still be used.

Directional LED lights can be used for dramatic effects, such as highlighting an accent area or creating contrast. Also, LEDs are more durable and much cooler than other bulbs, so they’re safe around children, pets and plants. What’s more, they don’t attract insects, making outdoor living spaces more enjoyable.

Solar Lighting

Homeowners looking for the most cost-effective and sustainable way to enhance gardens and walkways have made solar lighting very popular right now. The huge advantage of solar is the zero operating cost. While the initial outlay for a quality solar fixture can be high, your customers can recoup this cost pretty quickly.

There are a couple of drawbacks, however. Solar lights recharge just fine in direct sunlight, but partial shade, rain or overcast skies can diminish their effectiveness, resulting in low light output or short running time.

Most solar landscape lights are less bright than electric fixtures. They provide ambient lighting, tending toward a bluish hue. In other words, they’re ideal for garden pathways, but their use as security lighting is limited. According to Bob Vila, the average solar path light delivers the equivalent of a 40-watt light bulb.

Smart Lighting

Smart outdoor lighting systems allow homeowners to control their lights by phone, tablet or computer. All lighting can be adjusted by app instead of a control box. Timers can be set, lights can be brightened, dimmed, or color changed with a few taps on a smart device.

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Smart lighting systems offer increased security, as they can be pre-programmed to turn on and off automatically, whether your customer is home or away. Notifications can be sent directly to the homeowner’s phone in the event of a lighting malfunction.

Smart systems can also be equipped with motion sensors — perfect for illuminating pathways.

Color-Changing Lights

Color-changing lights add a unique touch to your outdoor space. Your customers can choose from a variety of colors — even create custom combinations. This type of lighting is often reserved for special occasions, such as holidays, but can be used at any time of year.

Christmas, St. Patrick’s Day, Halloween, and Independence Day can all be colorfully celebrated with just a few clicks on a smartphone. Sports enthusiasts use color-changing outdoor lights to root for their favorite teams on game day.

Ambient Downlights

The warm, welcoming effect of downlighting is very trendy right now. Downliights are designed to simulate the natural light emitted from the sun, moon and stars. Mounted on walls, ceilings, or trees, they highlight a property’s ground-level features by creating a downward illumination.

Downlighting is used less for security and more to create ambiance and  accentuate a home’s exterior layers and textures. It can be installed on just about any overhead structure. An added benefit is that downlighting keeps light pollution at a minimum.


Sources:
Featured Image: Adobe, License Granted
SFGATE
Hevilite
AP News