4 Tips for Retrofitting and
Upgrading Irrigation Systems
Winterization season is a great time to evaluate your customers’ irrigation systems and suggest retrofitting or upgrading outdated equipment and software for the coming year.
Irrigation technology is continually advancing as sustainability and water efficiency become increasingly important. As a result, the opportunity to enhance sales by retrofitting and upgrading current systems is huge.
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In the past, irrigation systems were upgraded only when they ceased functioning properly. Not so anymore. Today customers may want to augment their existing system with water-efficient controllers or other solutions. They’re seeking out smart controllers and nozzles that use less water and prevent runoff. And they want the convenience of mobile connectivity.
4 Tips to Consider
Here are four tips to consider before embarking on an irrigation system upgrade or retrofit:
#1. Familiarize Yourself with the Currently Installed System
Gather as much information as possible from the homeowner regarding the current system. Determine how old the system is and learn about its efficiency and history.
The simplest way to do this is to review the service calls, noting the required repair type (pipe break, broken sprinkler, bad solenoid, etc.). This information will help you identify trends.
#2. Identify If the System Needs an Upgrade or a Retrofit
Is the intention to improve the existing system’s performance (upgrade) or completely replace it (retrofit)? Retrofitting involves both software and hardware modifications, while upgrading focuses solely on software improvements. Knowing this will help you ascertain the level of difficulty the project will entail and the best options for a successful upgrade or retrofit.
Need Winterization Tips?
For a complete guide to winterizing irrigation systems, check out these past articles:
For instance, a maturing landscape may interfere with the system’s water distribution. (This is especially true for drip irrigation systems.) You may need to relocate the sprinklers or even install a different type of system altogether. On the other hand, the mature landscape may just require more water; upgrading the controller’s software may be all that’s needed to improve distribution and efficiency.
#3. Determine Budget Constraints
Identify the priorities based on the homeowner’s budget. Your preferred supplier can offer cost-effective upgrades that won’t break the bank. On the other hand, systems that require a complete overhaul can be expensive. If the homeowner does not have the cash on hand for such an expense, financing is a great option. (See sidebar below, “Customer Financing Benefits.”)
#4. Consider How It All Fits Together
How does it all fit together? Are the existing hydraulics powerful enough to water everything in the allotted time? Are the rotor zones using matched precipitation rate nozzles? It’s an easy change and will greatly improve the system uniformity. Additionally, in older systems, nozzles can wear out. This is usually indicated when the water stream from the nozzle is ragged and rough. A worn nozzle will also experience a radius reduction.
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How far are your upgrades from the controller? More than 1,100 feet and you may need to run more electrical. Lastly, consider how your customer will be connecting to the controller. Is it through ethernet, cellular, or Wi-Fi? While ethernet is faster and more dependable, Wi-Fi and cellular offer mobile control.
Products for Irrigation Retrofits
Here are a few products and equipment that have retrofit capabilities.
Tucor Hybrid 3D
The Tucor Hybrid 3D is a simple plug-and-play device that allows you to add a master valve, flow sensor, and 1-24 new valves to any irrigation controller using existing wires. It can also convert a conventional controller to a Tucor 2-Wire decoder system. No need to run additional control or communication wires and cables in order to expand the existing system.
Rain Bird Spray-to-Drip Retrofit Kit
Customer Financing Benefits
If your irrigation business is not yet offering customer financing, here are a few reasons to consider it:
Accelerates the Sales Process. Offering flexible financing at the point of sale minimizes pricing objections and helps close deals faster.
Increases Customer Retention. Helping your customer manage his budget and cash flow will create a strong connection that can lead to the next sale.
Delivers a Great Customer Experience. Leveraging customer financing lets you eliminate the sting of sticker shock and shift the conversation away from budget constraints to the value an upgraded irrigation system provides.
Gives Your Business an Edge. Offering customer financing can give you a competitive edge, allowing smaller businesses to compete with larger ones.
Attracts New Customers. Research indicates that the top-performing home improvement contractors offer customer financing. Prospective customers shopping around for an irrigation contractor may be more likely to choose one offering financing options.
This simple kit easily converts each sprinkler head into a 6-port drip emitter watering system. The 1800 Retro internal assembly is easily installed into any existing Rain Bird 1804 spray head bodies to retrofit the current system to Xerigation® products.
Kit includes three) 1 GPH and three 2 GPH drip emitters to allow flow variation, fine mesh filter, 30 PSI pressure regulator, and manifold that connects to 1/4 in. tubing.
Hunter MP Rotators
Hunter’s MP Rotators apply water using heavy droplet streams at a matched precipitation rate. The slower application rate allows water to soak into the soil gently and achieves an even distribution throughout the irrigated area. The MP Rotator can replace the sprinkler head on any conventional spray head body or shrub adapter.
Hunter HCC Retrofit Kit for ICC & ICC2
Hunter also offers a Retrofit Upgrade Kit for its ICC and ICC2 controllers. This kit contains everything needed to upgrade to wifi control using the Hydrawise software — essentially converting the ICC controller to the new HCC controller — including a 3.2″ full-color touchscreen display for Wi-Fi setup, zone testing, and offline programming at the control panel. The Hydawwise software provides easy contractor access to the system via any smartphone.
Baseline Systems BaseStation 3200™
The BaseStation 3200™ supports Baseline’s two-wire technology, as well as conventional wire and retrofit solutions. Its advanced flow management features and flexible communication options allow users to network devices through the cloud or local area networks.
For difficult retrofitting situations or complex irrigation sites, Baseline SubStations can be wirelessly connected to the controller.
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.
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 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.