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.
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.
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.
Plan Ahead to Promote Your Business During the Industry’s Showcase Month
July is Smart Irrigation Month — the irrigation industry’s showcase month.
So now’s the time to position your business as a leader in water-saving practices by promoting smart and efficient irrigation.
The Irrigation Association offers a plethora of resources to promote your business during Smart Irrigation Month. If you’ve never taken advantage of these marketing tools, you’re missing out on effective ways to enhance your brand.
Social Media Tools
The IA has created several customizable social media tools to help you promote smart irrigation throughout the month of July. Such as:
Social media cover photos for your company’s profile page on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn.
Landscape irrigation infographics and snippets for Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.
Articles on irrigation best practices to include in your company’s monthly blog or newsletter.
Irrigation Apps Can Take Your Business
to the Next Level
Installing, inspecting, auditing, adjusting and repairing irrigation systems requires a lot of information processing. Mobile app technology will not only help manage it all, it can streamline your business.
Let’s take a look at a few of these tools, beginning with the most basic:
Smart Controller Apps
There are a myriad of mobile apps for programming, adjusting and testing smart irrigation systems.—one for just about every type of smart controller, in fact. And they’re easy to use.
Simply download the app of your preferred irrigation controller and you can access any system you’ve installed. Receive real-time alerts, flow data and other diagnostic information, so any issues can be resolved right away.
Especially for Landscapers
Are you a landscaper? Here are some of the most popular apps for streamlining both the business and the green side of your landscaping company.
Harvest Landscape Calculator – Simply enter in the length, width, and depth of the given property, and this app will calculate how much product you need to cover it.
Landscaper’s Companion– This handy reference guide provides information on thousands of plants, as well as digital images.
iScape – Let your customers see their new landscape digitally before you ever start digging. Create a design, then move around the various plants, trees, and hardscapes according to their desires.
Planimeter – This app works with GPS and Google Maps to accurately measure the perimeter, angle, area, and distance of a given environment.
And while each controller’s app is different, most allow you to update a schedule, add or remove watering zones, and monitor the system’s performance, without requiring a visit to the residence.
Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping integrates various types of data by analyzing spatial location and organizing it through maps and 3D imagery.
The ArcGIS platform, produced by Esri, is probably the most widely used application for GIS mapping. It’s the preferred tool for 84 federal agencies, as well as countless state and local entities, including the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
This tool includes a functionality that transports desktop mapping onto the web, allowing irrigation technicians to access all GIS files via their smartphones. ArcGIS integrates with GPS so that infrastructure and system components can be located quickly and easily via turn-by-turn directions.
The result? A better organized team.
The GoCanvas inspection app can analyze the irrigation run schedule to determine if any changes should be made to the controller’s current, calculated and proposed schedules. After each analysis, a summary screen displays inspection results and calculations.
The app also allows you to capture before-and-after photos of repairs, document locations with integrated mapping, and provide details of issues encountered. Your customers will receive clear and concise communications.
Digital or PDF inspection forms and other documents can be stored in the GoCanvas Cloud.
Google-owned AppSheet allows users to create a customized app from a spreadsheet Technicians can access GPS, take pictures, and then upload to Google Suite. Workflows are then created by AppSheet using a designated list of jobs and adding photos as needed.
The tool allows you to automate workflows, which can then be emailed or saved as PDF documents. Can also be configured to send automatic alerts to customers.
As you can see, there are a ton of mobile apps available to irrigation professionals. But some of the best won’t cost you a dime. For instance:
Bosch Toolbox: This app lets you measure your jobsite, document (with photos, video, or notes), and export as needed.
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Milwaukee One-Key: Retain better control of your equipment and tools with this inventory and tracking app. Pairs with the TICK tracking device hidden on your equipment.
PlanGrid: Offers real-time access to drawings, punch lists, and other submittals via any mobile device. Eliminates the need for paper plans on site.
QuickBooks Time: No more paper time sheets or punch cards with this cloud-based time tracking and scheduling app.