Do you offer landscape lighting in your menu of services?
If so, we’re here to help you avoid five common mistakes when installing outdoor lighting systems. Let’s get started!
Mistake #1: Designing with Fixtures Instead of Light
There are a lot of impressive fixtures on the market, and homeowners can easily get carried away trying to incorporate them into their landscapes. But, make sure you’re designing with light and not fixtures.
Decide with the homeowners where they want to have light before you determine which fixture is best for creating the desired effect. Once your customers decide what they want to see and experience at night, you can help them make that vision a reality.
If you’re not designing with light, it’s too easy to use a particular fixture in ways it was never intended. For instance, path lights look great when they’re the right size and properly placed along a walkway. But they look out of place in a flowerbed far from any path.
Focus on the light, not the fixture.
Mistake #2: Using Poor-Quality Fixtures
Outdoor lighting fixtures are made with a number of different materials, most commonly aluminum, composite, copper, stainless steel, and brass.
Getting Into the
Irrigation and landscape contractors are increasingly expanding their services to include outdoor lighting.
If your business is ready to “switch up,” you’ll want to take some training courses before performing jobs for homeowners. Although no special license or certification is needed, about six to 10 hours of class time should provide you with a basic knowledge of outdoor lighting.
Training is available through your irrigation distributor and lighting vendors such as Kichler, FX Luminaire, and Alliance.
Cast aluminum and composite are less expensive, but they’re lower-quality materials. Over time, it can oxidize, and the paint will fade considerably. (Powder coating can help extend the life of the fixture, but UV rays will cause it to discolor, chip, or peel.) Likewise, composite fixtures will begin to degrade after relatively short exposure to the outdoor elements.
Stainless steel is durable and perfect for a more modern look, but it must be kept clean to prevent corrosion. Dirt, sand, and other materials can compromise its protective layer of chromium oxide.
Brass and copper are both naturally resistant to corrosion. (They will slowly patinate when exposed to the elements, but they will not corrode.) Brass and copper are more expensive, but they’re also the most durable metals. Several manufacturers offer extended warranties on their brass and copper products.
Also be sure to use thicker-gauge wires with waterproof connections and outdoor-rated LED bulbs for a robust lighting system.
Mistake #3: Blinding the Viewer
If you’ve ever been momentarily blinded by lighting while walking along a pathway or around a pool, you know how annoying it can be. This common lighting mistake is easily avoidable. Never install fixtures in a way that exposes the light source to the eye. The resulting direct glare causes visual discomfort and can obscure the viewer’s vision
Always use glare shields on spotlights and flood lights, and position the fixture in a way that allows the shield to block the light source from viewers’ eyes.
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Mistake #4: Over-Illuminating
There are two causes of over-illumination: high bulb wattages (e.g., using a 50-watt halogen when a 20-watt would be visually more appealing) and too many fixtures positioned close together. (See sidebar, “Ditch the Runway.”)
Ditch the Runway
To avoid over-illumination on pathways, the experts at Volt Lighting recommend positioning path lights in a zigzag pattern.
Alternating the fixtures from one side to the other, instead of lining them up on both sides, offsets the “airport runway” effect and creates a more aesthetically pleasing landscape.
Also, for curved paths, be sure to position the lights so they follow the curve.
An adequately illuminated residence increases security, but the outdoor lighting installer must always consider the customers’ neighbors and be aware of relevant light pollution codes.
You can’t go wrong by consistently adjusting to the lowest possible light level. The light of a full moon has a light level of only 0.01 lumens per square foot (or foot candle). Most path lights project a level about ten times that, while a typical spotlight projects more than 100 times the level of moonlight.
Use the minimum light level for the most aesthetic lighting that still offers safety and security.
Mistake #5: No Maintenance Plan
The outdoor environment can be brutal. Heat fluctuation, precipitation, dust, insect/animal activity, and plant growth all take their toll on an outdoor lighting system. As a result, all landscape lighting requires a certain amount of upkeep.
Advise your customers of all the benefits of annual maintenance, then follow up with them to schedule an appropriate time to provide this service. Here’s a checklist of standard maintenance tasks:
Remove hard-water deposits from fixture lenses.
Bury any exposed wire.
Trim back obstructive plant growth and/or relocate fixtures.
Use a multimeter to test terminal blocks inside transformers and adjust power loads, if necessary.
Inspect and adjust timers inside the lighting control.
As an irrigation contractor, one of the surest ways to enhance your bottom line – as well as your professional reputation – is to develop a solid and meaningful relationship with your distributor.
If you’re ready to make this partnership a priority, here are a few “don’ts” to keep in mind:
Don’t Be a Stranger
The pandemic showed us how to fall back on virtual meetings and transactions when personal interactions weren’t possible or prudent. Now that we’re moving past that stage, face-to-face meetings should re-emerge as the better way to cultivate mutually beneficial relationships with distributors.
Try to stop in periodically so they can make that personal connection. This conveys a clear message to your distributor that the relationship is important to you.
Keep communication candid and frequent. Suppliers often make decisions based on ongoing conversations with their customers. Create a process so that electronic communications in particular don’t get out of hand.
When first selecting a supply partner, keep in mind the three Ps: products, people and proximity.
Products – Make sure your distributor of choice carries the products and brands you prefer, and offers up-to-date and innovative solutions.
People – Gauge the knowledge level of the supplier’s employees. The staff should be well-informed and understand the challenges contractors face.
Proximity – Is the supplier located within a reasonable distance of your shop or job sites? You don’t want to waste valuable time running back and forth if you encounter a problem.
Along those same lines, be honest with your distributors about the size of your business. Don’t over- or under-sell it. Let them know how often you’ll need materials and what’s most important to achieve your business goals.
Don’t Sound False Alarms
If you sound a false alarm one too many times, you’ll get little to no response. For irrigation contractors, this means try not to expect immediate service from your distributor all the time. Reserve calling in favors for true emergencies.
Remember, your distributor is also juggling multiple priorities. He’s servicing hundreds of customers while also interfacing with manufacturers for required stock. You’ll make his life easier (and strengthen your partnership) if you don’t make every situation a rush request.
Don’t Be Afraid to Negotiate
Both you and your distributor must account for every penny. Once you understand how suppliers set price points, you can negotiate mutually beneficial terms (such as preferred product mix and delivery schedules) as well as costs. While it’s okay to purchase a few items online in the interest of cost savings, remember that solid distributor support will benefit your business more in the long run.
However, expecting a trifecta win of best price, best quality, and best service for every product you purchase from your supplier is unrealistic. Cash discounts and special account terms can be just as valuable as the best pricing, and they provide the added benefit of fostering a win-win relationship with your distributor.
If your business is too small to leverage steep product discounts, consider teaming up with a like-minded contractor so you too can enjoy the type of sales volume that qualifies for a discount.
Lastly, to minimize the risk of misunderstandings, put the result of your negotiations in writing.
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Don’t Hesitate to Ask for Help
While it’s important to negotiate your best deal, be sure to ask for help when needed.
Components are continually being redesigned to improve efficiency, and new releases are common. Suppliers are incentivized to stock and promote specific items, so they’ll be glad to hook you up with the latest and greatest products. Don’t hesitate to ask if your distributor offers training for you and your staff.
Occasionally, even highly reputable brands will fail in the field. When that happens to you, make sure your supplier is informed. He’s likely in a position to offer assistance. And if there’s truly an issue with a product, your distributor can go to bat for you with the manufacturer.
More Than Just Dollars and Cents
The makings of a great supplier relationship go well beyond pricing. Of course, you want the best price to get the job done. But professionalism and mutual respect run deeper. Contractors and distributors rely on each other for their very survival.
Prudent professionals on both sides of the counter will work to ensure this valuable association receives the attention it deserves.
Along with July’s intense summer heat comes the prospect of seasonal drought.
In Ohio, we get more than our fair share of 90-degree summer days. These extreme temperatures and dry periods can cause cool-season grasses, such as bluegrass and fescue, to become dormant. That’s when irrigation contractors can expect to receive calls from concerned homeowners.
Have an Education Plan
The prepared contractor has a plan in place to address these customer concerns. You can help alleviate homeowner concerns by educating them on the grass germination and growth process.
Ohio’s Hottest Summer
July 1934 was the hottest month ever recorded in Ohio, setting the following heat records:
Columbus – 106° F
Bowling Green – 107° F
Delaware – 108° F
Cincinnati – 109° F
Findlay – 109° F
Chillicothe – 109° F
Fremont -110° F
Wilmington – 111° F
Hamilton – 111° F
Defiance – 111° F
Gallipolis – 113° F
About 160 Ohioans died of heat-related causes during the week of July 20-26, 1934. More recently, during an extreme heat wave in July 2019, the mercury levels climbed to 112 degrees in northern Ohio.
For instance, explain how different seeds germinate at different times, and the importance of watering longer but less often.
Your customers need to know that dormancy is nature’s defense mechanism to help plants survive tough, stressful conditions. Avoiding it completely during the dog days of summer can be difficult, but there are things they can do to help lessen its impact.
In general, lawns that have gone dormant should be left dormant until cooler weather sets in. Occasional watering will help prevent damage, but don’t overdo it. Overwatering a lawn in an effort to “wake it up,” can be very stressful to the turf.
Inform your customers that bluegrass can typically withstand about six weeks of dormancy before it suffers drought damage. Factors that can accelerate dormancy include secondary heat from buildings or fences, or south-facing slopes.
Seasonal Drought Survival Tips
Provide your customers with these practical tips on how they can mitigate the effects of dormancy on their lawns:
Grow drought-tolerant grasses. Most grasses can withstand some dormancy very well, but some grasses cope better than others. For instance, buffalo grass, fine-leaf or tall fescues, and older varieties of Kentucky bluegrass are the most drought-tolerant species found in Ohio.
Several municipalities within the Columbus metro area maintain watering schedules year-round, but particularly during the hottest months. For example:
Westerville – Addresses that end in even numbers can water grass on even-numbered days, and those that end in odd numbers on odd-numbered days. (This restriction does not apply to flowerbeds, trees, shrubs and gardens.
Delaware – During periods of limited rainfall, addresses that end in odd numbers can water on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday; even-numbered addresses may water on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. All watering is prohibited on Mondays.
The communities of Gahanna, Dublin, Hilliard, Upper Arlington, Powell, Bexley, Grandview, and Granville impose similar restrictions during the driest months.
Newly sodded or seeded lawns should not go dormant. Grass must be well established in order to survive a period of drought. Likewise, lawn that has been damaged by disease or insects does not tolerate dormancy well. It is advised that you water the lawn regularly to keep it green.
Keep turf as high as possible by raising the mowing height to 3-4 inches during the hottest time of the year. This allows for deeper root development, and tall grass dries out more slowly than shorter grass.
Understand a dormant lawn’s water needs. A sleeping lawn needs at least half an inch of water every two to three weeks in order to stay alive. If the lawn is receiving that much rainfall, then there is no need to water at all.
Minimize traffic on the lawn. Foot or vehicle traffic can kill the grass and cause bare spots in the lawn.
Once summer passes, thoroughly water the lawn to wake it up. Apply enough water to penetrate the soil down to the root — about six to 12-inches below the ground. After about several weeks of cooler temperatures and adequate precipitation, the lawn will be green once again.
It’s hard to believe, but we’ll soon be heading into July, and you know what that means…Smart Irrigation Month!
Sponsored by the Irrigation Association, this annual initiative is designed to promote the social, economic and environmental benefits of efficient irrigation. This year’s theme is “Proud of our past. Focused on the future.”
First launched in 2005, Smart Irrigation Month has gained traction each year, as various stakeholders recognize the potential impact of efficient irrigation during the hottest summer months and year-round.
Help Ohio Declare
Smart Irrigation Month
Over the past 17 years, many states have declared the month of July to be Smart Irrigation Month, including our neighbors, Indiana and Michigan. Unfortunately, Ohio has yet to join them. You can help change that!
In past years, numerous states and municipalities have jumped on the bandwagon to officially declare July as Smart Irrigation Month. (See sidebar.)
Landscape irrigation contractors have taken advantage of this opportunity to differentiate themselves and add value for their customers by promoting water-saving products, practices and services. These businesses report that participating in Smart Irrigation Month campaigns has resulted in new customers and increased sales.
This year’s Smart Irrigation Month is also about focusing on the industry’s future and the many ways efficient irrigation will continue to benefit society through more sustainable landscapes. Here are just a few of the innovations that irrigation professionals can anticipate down the road:
No More Wires
Wireless valves will likely become the norm, particularly for larger installations. Wireless technology will use long-range, low-power, wide area networks. Instead of batteries, inline, turbine-based generators will provide power to supercapacitors.
These wireless valves are expected to include ultrasonic flow sensors that use sound waves to determine the flow velocity within a pipe. This technology can provide very detailed alerts to help technicians and homeowners improve system efficiency.
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Some of today’s ongoing labor shortage may be alleviated through drone-based irrigation inspections. These drones can be equipped with a bevy of detectors to replicate – and exceed — human sensory capabilities.
Armed with infrared, thermal and acoustical sensors, irrigation drones will fly to each station and locate problems, which will then be pinpointed on a geographic information system (GIS) map. The data will be collected and used to automatically provide suggestions, such as upgrades to components that fail most frequently. This information would then interface with software that can instantly create work orders, pending human review and approval.
Alternate Water Sources
Alternative sources of water for irrigation will likely become increasingly important in the future, especially in areas of water scarcity. These alternate sources could include greywater, rainwater, and even condensate from air conditioning. Onsite tanks can be used to collect, store and filter the water, which is then delivered to highly efficient subsurface drip irrigation piping.
Using A/C condensation will be particularly helpful for the hottest areas and during the hottest months, when condensate quantities are greatest and evapotranspiration is highest.
Over the past several decades Ohio’s green industry has continued to evolve.
It’s become an art, a profession, a business, a science on the cutting edge of biotechnology, and an industry. Its associated organizations and trade shows have evolved as well.
Let’s look at some recent changes to green industry trade shows with an Ohio connection.
From CENTS to MGIX to MidwestGREEN
The annual trade show for the Ohio Green Industry Association (OGIA, formerly ONLA) has experienced multiple iterations over the years. For more than half a century – from 1964 through 2016 – the show was known as the Central Environmental Nursery Trade Show, or CENTS.
In its peak year of 2002, CENTS showcased 1,357 booths that were occupied by 710 exhibitors, and the number of registered attendees topped 13,000. In subsequent years, however, show attendance began to dwindle, as more green industry professionals chose to transact business online.
In 2017, the event was rebranded as Midwest Green Industry Experience, or MGIX — in an effort to include more of its diverse audience — and the roster of educational sessions was expanded. The trade show itself was expanded in 2018. Then, later that year, the association revamped the MGIX format into a series of networking programs and dropped the trade show altogether.
Well, now it’s back – in a limited capacity and under a new name: MidwestGREEN.
This year, in addition to keynote speakers, multi-track educational sessions, and round table discussions, MidwestGREEN, will also offer 50 exhibition booths for showcasing and demonstrating products in a scaled setting.
MidwestGREEN is scheduled for Nov. 1-3,
at the Columbus Convention Center.
From OFA Short Course to Cultivate
You may know Cultivate as the national trade show hosted annually by the American Horticulture Association (AmericanHort). The event has been held every year (except for 2020) at the Columbus Convention Center since the organization was formed in 2014.
What you may not know is that the trade show traces its roots back to 1930. That’s when the Ohio Florist Association (OFA) held its first Short Course event in a Columbus hotel. By 1964, the Short Course had expanded to 50 booths and drew 1,000 attendants. That figure more than doubled by 1981. With 259 booths, the venue was changed to the Ohio Center and the Hyatt Regency Columbus Hotel.
Cultivate 2021. Photo: AmericanHort.
Ten years later, the Short Course trade show moved to Cincinnati and expanded to 599 exhibitors. By that time, 77% of OFA membership was located outside of Ohio. So the organization changed its name to the Association of Horticulture Professionals. (But it kept the OFA acronym.)
The event moved back to Columbus in 1998 — and there it has stayed. By 2004, the Short Course had become the industry’s preeminent trade show and education series; overall attendance topped 9,800 that year.
By the time the next decade dawned, Short Course was the largest horticulture show in the U.S., as well asone of the largest trade shows of any type in North America.
Then in 2014, OFA merged with the 138-year-old American Nursery and Landscape Association (ANLA) to form AmericanHort. Today, the organization boasts a national and international membership of more than 20,000 green industry professionals.
Following in the footsteps of the OFA Short Course, Cultivate has now become one of the largest trade shows in the country, with more than 650 exhibitors and 100+ educational sessions.
Cultivate ’22 is scheduled for July 16-19, at the Columbus Convention Center.
From GIE+EXPO to Equip Exposition
The trade show that became the Green Industry & Equipment Expo (GIE+EXPO) began in 1984 as the International Lawn, Garden & Power Equipment Exposition. For more than 20 years the show’s venue has been just over the river at the Kentucky Exposition Center, making it a must-attend event for many Ohio green industry professionals.
OPEI Through the Years
1952: Eleven manufacturers charter the Lawn Mower Institute, a nonprofit trade association.
1956: Engine manufacturers are invited to join the organization.
1960: The association changes its name to the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute.
1962: OPEI becomes a member of the American Standards Association (now the American National Standards Institute).
1984: OPEI launches the International Lawn, Garden & Power Equipment Exposition (EXPO), the industry’s first trade show.
2001: OPEI merges with the Portable Power Equipment Manufacturers Association (PPEMA).
2007: OPEI merges the International Lawn, Garden & Power Equipment Exposition with the Green Industry Expo, creating GIE+EXPO.
2010: Hardscape North America (HNA) co-locates with GIE+EXPO.
2017: GIE+EXPO is named the 10th largest trade show in the United States.
2021: OPEI rebrands GIE+EXPO as Equip Exposition and opens a branch office in Louisville.
The event is managed by OPEI, the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute. (See sidebar, “OPEI Through the Years.”)
In 2007, OPEI partnered with the National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP) and the Professional Grounds Management Society (PGMS) to create GIE+EXPO.
In 2010, hardscape and outdoor living products were added to the show when Hardscape North America (HNA) co-located with GIE+EXPO. For many years running, this green industry exposition has reported record attendance and exhibit space; by 2019 it was the sixth largest trade show in the United States.
Like most live exhibitions, GIE+EXPO went virtual for 2020. But in 2021 it came back with a bang, boasting increased attendance numbers (about 24,000) from all segments of the green industry.
At that time, OPEI introduced a new name and brand for the annual event: Equip Exposition. The organization also opened a branch office in Louisville, demonstrating its dedication to the show and its investment in the host city.
The 2022 expo will once again feature more than 1,000 exhibits throughout its 675,000-sq.-ft. showroom and 20-acre outdoor demonstration area.
Equip Exposition is scheduled for October 19 through October 21, at the Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville.
Pandemic Has Boosted Demand for
Outdoor Living Spaces
With more homeowners investing in their outdoor living spaces during the COVID-19 pandemic, the demand for landscape lighting has continued to grow.
As a result, more irrigation and landscape contractors are adding outdoor lighting to their menu of services.
No Place Like Home
For the past two years, homeowners have spent more time and money on home improvement than ever before. And statistics show that residential landscaping has been the top priority during this period. Outdoor areas for cooking and entertaining are being updated, expanded, and illuminated with extensive area lighting.
Did You Notice
Earlier this year, the Irrigation Association replaced its Irrigation & Green Industry publication with Irrigation & Lighting. The new periodical, published quarterly instead of monthly, provides news and information to landscape irrigation and lighting contractors.
The Ohio Nursery & Landscape Association (ONLA) has changed its name to the Ohio Green Industry Association (OGIA). The change is intended to make the organization more inclusive and reflect its commitment to all green industry professionals across the state.
Landscape designers know that one of the most effective ways to decompress when the world has run amok is with soothing low-wattage outdoor lighting. Moonlighting (soft lights that mimic silvery moonlight due to their very high placement in trees or structures) and downlighting (aiming lamps downward to imitate natural light) are two relaxing options that never go out of style.
In addition, homeowners are increasingly opting for smart outdoor lighting, a market that is expected to make strong gains through 2024, according to market research firm Freedonia Group. Smart technology allows users to switch outdoor fixtures off and on — and even adjust brightness and color — through remote control or voice activation.
Amp Up Your Irrigation Business
Does your irrigation business include landscape lighting services? If not, here are a few reasons to consider branching out:
Outdoor lighting is simple to learn and requires no additional licensing.
Outdoor lighting is safe due to the low voltage.
Installing lights is an uncomplicated way to generate more income from a single job, since lighting wire can easily be laid when digging a trench for irrigation pipe.
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Lighting installation does not require a large crew or additional staff.
Including lighting services in your portfolio makes your business more attractive to homeowners who want one contractor to handle all aspects of a project.
How to Get Started
Although no special licensing or certification is needed to install landscape lighting, you should take at least some training before performing jobs for homeowners. It’s a good idea to invest six to 10 hours of class time in order to acquire a basic knowledge of outdoor lighting.
Benefits of LEDs
For low-voltage landscape lighting, LED bulbs are the preferred choice, providing the following benefits to both contractors and homeowners:
LED light uses about a third of the electrical power of incandescent or halogen, and LED lamps can last 20 times longer. Both represent significant cost savings.
Contractors and designers can creatively accent a landscape or outdoor living area by choosing from an array of LED color and temperature variants.
Because LEDs lack both heat and UV light, they are much less attractive to insects.
Time required for bulb replacements and other general electrical issues is greatly reduced.
This training is available through various suppliers (e.g., Wolf Creek Company), as well as lighting vendors (such as Kichler, FX Luminaire and Alliance).
After you’ve received the training, try it out on your own home or that of your friends. This provides you with an opportunity to experiment and hone your skills before you begin customer installations. For example, you can determine how much light is produced by an LEDs of various wattage.
When it’s time to find a lighting supplier, most contractors choose to stay local for the sake of convenience. But you may wish to get quotes from two or three different distributors. Look for one with the best combination of pricing, product knowledge and experience.
Once your service is up and running, continue to learn as much as you can about outdoor lighting designs and products. (You want to be more knowledgeable than your customer!) Education and experimentation are keys to success when it comes to mastering the profitable business of landscape lighting.
Fighting water waste is part of every irrigation professional’s job description. This year’s Fix a Leak Week is a great time to remind your customers of your commitment to water efficiency.
Irrigation System Leaks
One small irrigation system leak — the thickness of a dime — can waste about 6,300 gallons of water each month! Advise your customers of the importance of the spring checkup. To ensure irrigation system components haven’t been damaged by frost or freezing weather, they should always be inspected prior to startup.
Become WaterSense Certified
If you’re not already WaterSense certified, you may want to consider the following exclusive benefits:
Are you WaterSense certified? (See sidebar at right.) If so, now’s the time to let your customers know that you’ve passed an EPA program specifically dedicated to improving water efficiency. So not only can you help identify and correct any irrigation system leaks, you can also ensure their system is performing optimally.
Research has shown that the typical home wastes between 2,000 and 20,000 gallons of water per year due to leaks. Individually and collectively, the leaks in a single home can easily waste thousands of gallons of water every year, costing both the homeowner and the utility.
So during Fix a Leak Week, remind your customers to check for leaky faucets or showerheads, as well as malfunctioning toilets. This will demonstrate to them that you’re serious about water efficiency.
You can also provide them with some simple ways to pinpoint household leaks. Such as:
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Check your household water usage during one of the colder months (January or February). If a family of four is using more than 12,000 gallons per month, there are some serious leaks.
Record the odometer-type number on your water meter. Then turn off all household water for two hours. Then check the meter again. If the number has changed at all, you’ve likely got a leak.
Identify toilet leaks by placing one drop of food coloring in the toilet tank. After 10 minutes, check the bowl. If there’s color in the bowl, you have a leak.
Some Simple Fixes
Many faucet leaks can be remedied by simply replacing worn-out washers and gaskets
Got a leaky toilet? Try replacing the flapper.
For a leaky showerhead, make sure there’s a tight connection between the fixture and the pipe stem. Then secure it with pipe tape (also called Teflon tape).
The Latest Features from Hunter,
Rain Bird and Rachio
Has your business noticed an increased demand for smart irrigation controllers?
That’s because today’s young homeowners are more tech savvy than any previous generation. Having grown up around technology. they enjoy integrating various gadgets into their homes. For them, smart irrigation is a no-brainer.
As with most technology, updates to smart controllers are ongoing. Let’s take a look at some of the newest features for three brands.
Hydrawise, Hunter’s irrigation management platform, has been around since 2011, but is continually being updated with new capabilities.
The Hydrawise cloud-based software is compatible with a range of Hunter controllers, and can also be used to retrofit an existing controller.
Hydrawise technology includes a Predictive Watering™ feature that automatically adjusts watering schedules based on a variety of environmental factors, such as past, current and forecasted temperature, rainfall, humidity, and wind speed. The controller gathers this information via the Weather Underground’s live stream of forecasts and current weather data.
Hydrawise controllers offer the option of adding multiple weather stations, as well as accessing national weather stations (such as those located at airports).
Wi-Fi capability is built into the Hydrawise controller. But for homeowners who do not yet have Wi-Fi, these controllers include a touch screen that enables easy programming without Wi-Fi connectivity.
And it offers manual seasonal adjustment settings from 0% to 300% when programming offline.
Hydrawise software is available via web login, and as a downloadable app from the Apple® App Store or Google Play™ Store. And it can be voice activated through Amazon Alexa, HomeSeer, or Control4devices home automation technologies.
Optional add-on flow meters are easy to install. Every Hydrawise controller has built-in meter sensors to generate interactive reports of water usage and watering activities, as well as automatic alerts in the event of broken pipes or faulty valve wires.
An 8-zone Hydrawise HPC smart controller retails for about $330.
The ST8-2.0 is Rain Bird’s 8-zone smart controller with an improved Wi-Fi connection and app connection speed. (Note: Wi-Fi is not built in; an add-on module is required.)
Rain Bird’s downloadable app is available from the Apple® App Store or Google Play™ Store.
The Rain Bird app is fully customizable, so every zone can be set up with a different name, photo, frequency, start time and run time.
The controller’s automatic seasonal adjust feature takes into account season, local weather, temperature and humidity. Forecasts are based on zip code averages and on-site weather stations.
Architecture Lab rates the Rain Bird ST8-20 as one of the best for its water-saving features.
Extensive testing and EPA certification ensure a minimum of 20% water savings over other conventional devices available on the market.
The ST8-2.0 also has a Rain Delay feature, which allows homeowners to manually stop scheduled irrigation for up to 14 days. Afterward, irrigation will begin again according to the automatic schedule. It also can enable manual watering for a single zone or all zones.
The Rain Bird app also enables notifications to be sent regarding watering events, freeze warnings or whenever watering has been delayed. And it can provide water usage reports to maximize efficiency.
The ST8-2.0 uses manual controls with an LED display as well as voice control via Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. It’s available in both indoor and outdoor models for around $160.
Rachio is a relative newcomer to the irrigation industry, having been founded in 2013. As a result, the company produces only smart irrigation controllers; conventional controllers are not available.
The Rachio 3 8ZULW-C is an 8-zone smart controller that can be Installed in 30 minutes or less without the use of special tools. As with Hydrawise and Rain Bird, the Rachio downloadable app is available from the Apple® App Store or Google Play™ Store.
The 8ZULW-C uses a system called Weather Intelligence Plus to provide “hyperlocal” weather scheduling, by combining Weather Underground data (from national weather stations, satellites and radar) with data from 270,000 personal weather stations, so forecasting is accurate to the location of the controller. The Weather Intelligence Plus system includes a self-healing feature that will automatically switch to the closest reporting station if the selected weather station stops reporting data for three or more days. Rachio will then send a notification of the change via email.
With the Rachio 3 series, setup is a snap. Pop off the magnetic cover to expose the wire clip terminals. Then, using your fingertip, easily slide the wire leads into the connectors – no tools required.
Once the leads are connected, plug in the controller, pop the lid back on, and continue setup via the Rachio app.
This Rachio controller has an operating temperature range of -31 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit, and includes both rain and soil sensors. In addition, it offers multiple “skip” features that allow users to automatically skip unnecessary watering due to rain, wind or freeze. Water usage and savings reports provide both real-time and historical data.
The 8ZULW-C controller works with most major smart-home platforms, such as Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit, and Google Assistant. The Rachio 3 8ZULW-C retails for about $250.00. (A weatherproof enclosure is sold separately for $29.) Optional flow meters are available as an add-on.
The U.S. plumbing code is designed to ensure that the water delivered to an irrigation system never returns to the potable water supply. But without a backflow prevention device, problems can occur, such as the following chilling tale:
A Backflow Horror Story
In December of 2016, the city of Corpus Christi, Texas, received a dirty water complaint from a large asphalt producer. Despite flushing the property’s water main twice, residents reported a “white sudsy liquid” flowing from their taps.
Because the asphalt company had failed to install a backflow preventer on its water line, the corrosive chemical Indulin AA-86 was entering the line whenever water pressure on the property rose higher than the pressure in the main. This caustic emulsifying agent can burn eyes, skin and respiratory tracts. And 24 gallons of it had leaked into the water supply. Indulin AA-86 cannot be boiled out of tap water, so the city had to place a four-day ban on water usage until the emergency passed.
Degree of Hazard
“Degree of hazard” is a core concept in backflow terminology. It refers to the level of risk posed by a particular substance when it enters a water supply. An example of a low hazard would be food dye, which may be aesthetically unpleasant, but poses no threat to human health. Low hazard materials are also called “pollutants.”
Examples of high-hazard materials are motor oil, pesticides, fertilizers, and animal waste. These all pose a risk to human health, and are classified as “contaminants.”
Backflow incidents occur more often than you might think. That’s why an increasing number of municipalities are mandating the installation of backflow prevention devices – for residential as well as commercial properties.
Two Types of Backflow
There are two types of backflow incidents: backpressure and back-siphonage. Backpressure occurs whenever water pressure on a property becomes higher than the water pressure in the mains, forcing used water back into the system. Back-siphonage occurs whenever water pressure in the mains drops below that of the property, sucking non-potable water from the property’s water line and depositing it back into the mains.
Some backflow devices will prevent only one type of backflow, while others will prevent both.
A backflow incident involves three factors:
A cross-connection between two water lines
Hydraulic forces (either back-siphonage or backpressure
A hazard, resulting in non-potable water.
Backflow Prevention Devices
While the public will be protected from any type of backflow device on a homeowner’s property, the homeowner himself will be protected by having a separate device for the irrigation system. Without it, the property owner could end up drinking toxins or water contaminated by bacteria.
The three most common backflow preventers are:
Pressure Vacuum Breaker (PVB) — the simplest and least expensive device; prevents back-siphonage only.
Double Check Valve Assembly (DCVA) – prevents both back-siphonage and backpressure; good for underground irrigation systems; not rated for conditions with a high degree of hazard.
Reduced pressure zone (RPZ) – most complex and expensive device; prevents both back-siphonage and backpressure; good for conditions with a high degree of hazard.
All of these devices work to protect the entire irrigation system. A fourth type of backflow device, the atmospheric vacuum breaker (AVB), is installed on each individual zone.
Become a Backflow Tester
The Ohio Plumbing Code requires that every backflow prevention device must be tested at least once a year. If you’re already installing these devices for your customers, why not go the extra mile and become a certified backflow tester? Backflow testing is a lucrative business, especially now with increased demand for greywater and rainwater collection systems.
Backflow Training Centers
Here are the locations of Ohio’s major backflow training centers:
Do You Have Ready Answers to These
Frequently Asked Questions?
Both customers and potential customers have a lot of questions when it comes to landscape irrigation systems. Here are some of the most common, along with our best answers.
Q: Why do I need an irrigation system? My area gets plenty of rain.
A: In Ohio, turf grass needs about an inch of water per week. So unless your property receives at least that much rain regularly each week, you probably need to irrigate. But nature doesn’t work that way. Even areas with rainy climates can experience dry periods. Your landscape can suffer damage after only a few days without water. You simply can’t count on annual rainfall to adequately meet your landscape’s needs.
Does Your Website
Need an FAQ Page?
Most digital marketing experts believe that an FAQ page can improve your website’s Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and also help convert first-time visitors into customers.
Here are three reasons why you may wish to consider adding an FAQ page to your site:
It improves user experience. Users looking for a quick answer to an easy question do not want to comb through pages of information. An FAQ page offers them a central place to find their answers. Be sure to keep answers concise and include links to more detailed information elsewhere on your website.
It helps establish customer trust. An FAQ page demonstrates to customers (and potential customers) that you are invested in helping them find solutions. It also helps to distinguish you as an authority within your industry, contributing to customer confidence.
It provides customer insight. By identifying common questions your customer may have, you’ll develop a deeper insight into their needs, desires and challenges.
But an irrigation system also prevents you from overwatering your landscape. Too much water can be harmful to your soil, drowning your plants, encouraging root rot and other diseases, and causing weeds to germinate. An irrigation system puts you in control of the amount of water used on your landscape.
In addition, irrigation systems support hydrozoning, the grouping of plants with similar water needs into irrigation zones. These zones not only encourage a healthy landscape, but they can save both water and money.
Q: Will I save money by installing my own irrigation system?
A: Perhaps, but only in the short term. A professional irrigation contractor has years of experience designing and installing the most cost-effective and efficient landscape irrigation systems. Most have received specialized training and certifications, and they utilize specialized equipment to significantly reduce installation time.
Most homeowners are not knowledgeable about the numerous factors that must be taken into account when designing and installing an irrigation system. Soil conditions, land grade, plant location and sun exposure all must be considered for proper installation. Are you proficient in PVC piping, valves, controllers, drip lines, sprinkler heads, and all the other system components? Probably not.
A properly designed and installed landscape irrigation system requires a professional in order to save money (and headaches) down the road.
Q: Why do I need to shut down my irrigation system for winter?
A: When water freezes, it expands. Irrigation system pipes are not buried beneath the frost line. If all of the water is not removed from your system’s pipes, valves, and sprinkler heads before the first deep freeze, your pipes will crack, resulting in costly repairs.
Winterizing your system is a job best left to the professionals. Attempting to blow out your own sprinkler lines using an inadequate air compressor can result in water left in pipes. When this happens, you can expect freeze damage that must be repaired before spring startup.
Q: What’s the advantage of a smart irrigation system?
A: A smart irrigation system will you save you both time and money. Smart systems optimize your sprinkler run time. That means they always water at the right time of day for the right duration and according to weather conditions. They keep you from overwatering, which not only wastes water and money, but can damage plants.
With a smart system, you won’t have to make manual adjustments to your irrigation system due to unpredictable weather. A smart irrigation system can also shut itself down whenever a leak is detected.
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Q: Will I have to shut off my irrigation system when it rains?
A: Most irrigation contractors will recommend installation of a rain sensor. This device will automatically turn the irrigation system off whenever rainfall occurs. Once the rain ends, the sensor dries out and is reset. So, even if you’re away from home, your system knows what to do.
Q: How does a drip irrigation system compare to an above-ground sprinkler?
A: As opposed to sprinkler heads which spray a planted area above ground, drip systems soak the ground via tubes that are buried just below the surface. The emitters within the tubes slowly deliver water directly to the base of the plants.
Drip irrigation is ideal for landscape beds with plenty of plants and shrubs, as it can help reduce the risk of plant disease associated with high levels of moisture. Drip lines can be incorporated as a separate zone within a larger overall sprinkler system.