Is Your Landscape Irrigation System Ready for Winter?

Image result for winter residential landscape(Note: Portions of this article originally appeared in SportTurf Magazine)

The dreary days of November remind us that it’s time to start thinking about preparing your irrigation systems for winter.

Here are some tips for winterizing an irrigation system:

Preventing Pipe Damage

Of course, water expands when it freezes. Since automatic irrigation systems are usually buried only about twelve inches below the surface of the soil, any water left in the system over the winter (even a mild winter) will certainly freeze. This causes damage to pipes, fittings, valves, and sprinklers. And this damage can be expensive and time-consuming to repair next spring. So, preventing winter damage by properly winterizing the irrigation system is important.

The following video clip demonstrates the consequences of failing to do so:

 

The most common method of winterization is to use compressed air to force water out of the irrigation system. However, some irrigation systems are equipped with automatic or manual drain valves. These do not require compressed air to winterize. Check with your installing contractor to determine if your irrigation system has automatic or manual drain valves.

If you’re not sure, then go ahead and use compressed air. Using compressed air on an irrigation system equipped with automatic or manual drain valves will not harm the system components, and will ensure the irrigation system is properly winterized.

Selecting an Air Compressor

Air compressors are available in various sizes. A properly sized air compressor is critical in order do effectively and efficiently blow air into the irrigation system, forcing any water out. The most common portable air compressor (representing about 80% of the portable air compressors in use today) is the 185 portable air compressor. This machine is rated at 185 cfm at 100 psi at full load.

This type of compressor can be found through a contractors’ equipment rental shop, and it’s more than adequate for most residential and commercial irrigation systems. Smaller 5 h.p. electric air compressors, even if they’re 100 psi, do not deliver enough volume of air to adequately winterize an irrigation system.

How-To: Compressed Air Winterization

When using a compressor to winterize your system, follow these steps:

  • Shut off the water to the system at the point of connection. The system shut-off valve may be either a ball valve or gate valve. It should be located in the basement or directly behind the water meter.
  • Next, open a zone valve to relieve the system pressure.
  • Attach the air hose from the air compressor to the blow-out point. The blow-out point is usually located directly behind the backflow device. The blow-out point may be a quick coupling valve, a hose bib, or a boiler drain.
A note of caution: The expanding air coming from the air compressor into the irrigation system will get hot and may melt the plastic pipe. Carefully check the temperature of the air hose connection at the blow-out point. Slow down or stop momentarily if it feels too hot! Cycling through each zone two or three times for short intervals will prevent too much heat buildup.

 

  • Set the pressure regulator on the air compressor at 50 to 80 psi.
  • On smaller residential systems, where the zones are typically about 10 gpm or less, open one electric remote control valve manually. Then cycle through all the other zones two to three minutes by manually opening each valve or by electrically operating each valve at the controller. Opening one valve manually will help to keep the air compressor from building up too much pressure, while assuring an adequate volume of air to thoroughly blow out all the water in the system. (On larger systems, it may not be necessary to open one valve manually.)
  • Allow the air to flow through each zone until water and water vapor no longer appears from any sprinklers in the zone. Start with the zone with the highest elevation in the system or farthest from the point of connection. Blow out each zone successively toward the point of connection. It’s a good idea to cycle through each zone two times, to ensure no water is remaining.

How-To: Automatic Drain System Winterization

Some systems are equipped with automatic drains that open when the system pressure falls below 10 psi. For these systems, it is usually only necessary to turn off the water.

  • Open a drain valve after the point of connection.
  • Winterize the backflow device and controller (See “Backflow Preventer Winterization” below.)

Some irrigation systems incorporate automatic drain valves on the laterals with manual drain valves on the main line. The manual drain valves will be located in small valve boxes at the end and at low points on the main line. Open the drain valves, and allow the water to drain out completely. Then close the drain valve.

How-To: Manual Drain System Winterization

If your system is equipped with manual drain valves:

  • Locate the drain valve for each zone and the main line. The manual drain is usually located in a small valve box at the end of the zone and at every low point. Also, the main line will have a manual drain at the end of the line and at every low point.
  • Open each drain valve, allowing all the water to drain out, and then close the manual drains.
  • Winterize the backflow device and controller (See “Backflow Preventer Winterization” below.)

How-To: Backflow Preventer Winterization

The backflow preventer is the plumbing device attached to the outside of your house. It is the source of water to the irrigation system, and it can can freeze and burst in only a few hours of below-freezing temperatures. So winterizing your backflow preventer is critical.

Here’s how: (Refer to the above diagram.)

  • Turn off the main shut-off valve to the system (1).
  • Using an adjustable wrench, remove the outlet drain plug or spigot (5) on the outside piping.
  • Turn valves (3 and 4) to a 45-degree angle (half-open/half-closed position).
  • Cover/wrap the backflow valve and all copper pipe with a large towel or blanket.
  • Place 2-3 gallon bucket underneath drain (2) and open the drain valve. Generally, 1-2 gallons of water will empty into the bucket. Once all the water has drained out of the pipe, close the drain valve.

How-To: Controller and Rain Sensor Winterization

To prepare the irrigation controller for winter, simply turn the controller to the off or “rain shutdown” position. (You can also disconnect the power and remove the battery, but this is not necessary.) Do not allow the controller to cycle through an irrigation schedule without water in the system. 

If your irrigation system is equipped with a rain sensor or a soil moisture sensor, it’s not usually necessary to cover or remove the sensor for the winter. Check with the manufacturer to make sure your rain sensor does not require any special instructions for winterization.

How-To: Pump Winterization

If you have a submersible pump (i.e., located in a lake, stream or pond), the check valve at the pump must be removed to keep the discharge hose from freezing. The best way is to simply remove the pump and discharge hose from the water each winter, and reinstall in the spring.

If you have a centrifugal pump, follow these steps:

  • Remove the drain valve (located at the base of the pump housing) and store it for the winter.
  • Disconnect the power supply, to prevent the pump from being accidentally turned on without any water. (A pump running without water will quickly burn up.)
  • If the pump is drawing water from a lake or stream, you must remove the intake hose or suction line completely from the water and store it for the winter.
  • If a check valve is located on the discharge side of the pump, it too must be removed and stored for the winter.

Leave It to the Pros

As you can see, preparing an irrigation system for winter can be a complicated process. A knowledgeable professional is essential to minimize damage caused by freezing. An improperly winterized irrigation system can be an expensive proposition next spring.

Join Us at the 2017 Irrigation Show in Orlando!

Show Is Set for November 8-9, Education Conference for November 6-10

Irrigation Show 2017 is the only national trade show designed specifically for irrigation professionals. It’s where the irrigation industry comes together to network, learn and promote irrigation.

Nearly 5,000 distributors, dealers, contractors, consultants and growers are expected to attend this year’s event. You’ll have the opportunity to:

  • Check out innovative products, technologies and services.show2
  • Explore new suppliers.
  • Learn about the latest business trends and irrigation best practices.
  • Network with current business partners and with industry leaders who share the Ohio Irrigation Association’s commitment to efficient irrigation.

For exhibitor information, including booth space fees, assignment, and 2017 floor plan, click here.

Educational Opportunities

While enjoying sunny Orlando, be sure to attend some of the many irrigation seminars and classes that are offered. You’ll learn concepts and practical skills you can implement immediately.

244IrrigationShow2015LongBeach_boxScheduled classes offer:

  • Real-world applications and irrigation case studies.
  • Current techniques, field-tested information and best practices.
  • Instructors with industry expertise and proven teaching experience.

One-hour seminars will provide detailed coverage on a focused topic in landscape irrigation. Seminars are open to all attendees with a full registration. Participants will earn 1.00 CEU for each hour. This year’s topics will include:

  • Irrigating Green Roofs
  • Pressure Regulation to Improve Irrigation Efficiency
  • Basis of Design
  • Top 5 Employment Law Issues Facing Contractors

For a complete list of irrigation education classesclick here.  For a complete list of irrigation seminarsclick here.

A Proven Winner

Attendance at last year’s Irrigation Show was up double digits. Exhibitor presence was strong, and new product introductions were plenty.

In fact, research of past shows has indicated a strong correlation between show attendance and future sales. Specifically, within 12 months of the show:

  • 77% of the attendees purchased a product or service as a result of contacts made at the show.
  • 90% of the attendees contacted exhibitors met at the show.
  • 90% of the attendees visited exhibitor websites based on information from the show.

Check out this promotional video from last year’s Irrigation Show: 


 Sources:

Irrigation Association

Green Industry Pros

WaterSense Celebrates 10-Year Mark

Over the past decade, EPA’s WaterSense program has sparked a market transformation all across North America for irrigation products that save water, energy, and money.

The program was recently threatened by Trump administration budget cuts. (See related article, “AWE Fears WaterSense May Lose Funding.”) But that threat is on hold for now. (See box below.)

Let’s take a look at some of the program’s accomplishments in the last 10 years…

Label and Certification Milestones

Since 2007, more than 21,000 product models of plumbing fixtures and irrigation controllers have earned the WaterSense label for efficiency and performance.  More than 5,000 new models earned the label in 2016 alone. Nearly 68 million individual labeled products have been shipped to date. 

Beginning in 2006, WaterSense certification programs have focused on water-efficient techniques and technologies for certified irrigation system designers, auditors, and installation and maintenance professionals. Since then, thousands of irrigation specialists have been certified and gained an edge in the competitive marketplace.

The Three “P’s” — Products, Practices, People

In an effort to reduce the waste of outdoor water, the EPA program has promoted the three “P’s”— products, practices, and people. This includes:

  • Designing water-smart landscapes that are well-suited for the local climate
  • Installing WaterSense-labeled irrigation controllers, and
  • Hiring WaterSense-certified irrigation professionals.

Their efforts have paid off. For instance, in 2016, the number of labeled irrigation controllers increased by an impressive 63% over the previous year.  These new, web-based models allow users to adjust their irrigation systems via an app on their smartphone.

What’s Next?

In 2017, the WaterSense program is focused on product labeling for pressure-regulating sprinkler bodies. The idea is that large amounts of water can be wasted whenever spray sprinklers operate under higher-than-normal pressure. In other words, significant water savings can be realized by regulating this pressure. To this end, the program recently released a draft specification for these new pressure-regulating sprinklers.

Let’s Keep It Going

The AWE is working to ensure that the WaterSense program can continue unabated. But they need help. Which is why they are seeking signers of letters supporting their proposed legislation to keep it going. To join in this effort, click here.


Environmental Protection Agency

Alliance for Water Efficiency

Interior Appropriations Subcommittee

Wi-Fi-Based Irrigation Technology Explained

Are you still in the dark about how to best incorporate Wi-Fi-based irrigation technology into your business?

The national Irrigation Association recently aired a webinar focused on the growing popularity of this technology, as well as the advantages and opportunities it brings to the landscape irrigation market. (See related article, “Internet-Based Smart Irrigation Systems.”) To purchase the IA webinar, click here.

Landscape Management magazine recently spoke with webinar presenters Stuart Eyring, president of Hydro-Rain, and Chris Klein, CEO and co-founder of Rachio. Here are some highlights of that interview:

How They Work

Q: How do Wi-Fi irrigation controllers work?

Chris Klein (CK): A Wi-Fi-based irrigation controller uses the homeowner’s Wi-Fi network to connect to the cloud. That’s where a lot of the process and scheduling takes place, and then that information is sent back down to the controller. You can have access to it through an app on any device you want—a desktop computer, mobile phone, tablet, etc.—and they all communicate with the same computers in the cloud.

Q: Have you seen examples of Wi-Fi controllers being used to upgrade older systems?

CK: Yes, this is happening at a rapid pace. Eighty-five percent of our customers are replacing working controllers, and it’s just as easy as replacing any other controller.

Q: How do you program Wi-Fi controllers?

Stuart Eyring (SE): In terms of programming, the smartphone apps dramatically add to the ease of which programing is done—it’s much better than programming a typical display controller. But there’s a difference in comfort level in terms of where the user base is coming from. There is a transition point to getting people comfortable with this.

Weather Station Access

Q: Traditional smart controllers had their own weather instruments on-site, but Wi-Fi-based irrigation controllers now have access to millions of weather stations. How do they get evapotranspiration (ET) information?

CK: We use a variety of weather data providers and run them through equations to get ET. This process is getting more and more sophisticated. The other cool thing is homeowners can choose a weather station, which promotes continued engagement with their irrigation system.

SE: In our case, we use the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Weather Service database in the U.S. Internationally, we use a database out of Norway. But it actually can be very helpful to have a rain sensor at the location, as well, because it can improve reliability.

Q: So you can add other sensors to a Wi-Fi controller?

SE: Yes, we’ve seen an increase in the use of sensing devices like weather stations and moisture sensors on-site that improve the quality of data.

Connections, Security and Updates

Q: What happens to the controller if it loses the Wi-Fi connection?

SE: The majority of the data is kept in the cloud, but there is a basic operating program that’s stored on the actual controller. While the controller won’t typically make any adjustments based on environmental conditions while in that mode, it will continue to run. When the connection is reestablished, the adjustments will begin again. This is typical across manufacturers.

Q: How do you protect security in terms of Wi-Fi and passwords?

SE: Security definitely can be a concern to a homeowner when they allow someone access to their network. But there is a difference between a contractor connecting to a homeowner’s network and connecting through the cloud. In an ideal case, the homeowner is sharing an access code through an app that would allow their contractor to control the system through the cloud, but not have access to the homeowner’s network.

Q: What happens if I buy my controller today and in 60 days it’s out of date?

CK: Updates to the firmware and the app happen automatically, so customers always have the latest and greatest version. In terms of hardware, who knows what will happen in the future, but as of now, our Generation 1 and 2 products work the same.

SE: In most cases, you won’t even know the firmware has been updated unless you go in and look at it. 

(The above flyer can be downloaded and customized for your business. Ewing Irrigation and Landscape Supply offers it to irrigation contractors as a free sales tool.)

Opportunities and Support

Q: What are the business impacts and opportunities that can be enjoyed by contractors venturing into this arena?

CK: There is a great opportunity to impact a contractor’s business by having a number of connected customers. By installing that product and working with them you have a connection with them. You can stay in touch, the homeowner knows where to go for help and it presents an opportunity for customer retention.

Q: What about support? How do you help contractors when they are stuck?

CK: We have a dedicated contractor phone line and can be reached through email and chat, too.

SE: We have noticed that there is really more upfront hand-holding required. But once the Wi-Fi-based irrigation controller is installed and operating, support requirements go down. That’s because of the ease of the interface and how intuitive it is. Getting started can be challenging, but once contractors get the hang of it, it’s really very easy.


Sources:

Landscape Management

Irrigation Association

Incorporating Green Infrastructure into Irrigation Systems

As an irrigation specialist, if you’re not already on the “green infrastructure bandwagon,” what’s holding you back?

The green infrastructure (or GI) movement is growing in communities throughout the U.S.  In its position statement, the national Irrigation Association has officially recognized GI as “a promising new market” for irrigation contractors, manufacturers, and suppliers.

(To access the Irrigation Association’s 2014 webinar titled “Green Infrastructure: The Role of Irrigation in Stormwater Management,” Click Here.)

What Is It, and Why Is It Important?

In a nutshell, green infrastructure utilizes living plant material to create a more natural method for stormwater mitigation. GI tools include vegetated swales, rain gardens, porous concrete, green roofs and rain barrel installations.  (See related article, “Rainwater Harvesting: Rain, Rain, Don’t Go Away!“)

Why is this an important topic for irrigation and landscape professionals?

Well, for one thing, in our current era of heightened water quality concerns, new state and federal investments are being aimed specifically at green infrastructure.

“The opportunity here is to be a resource for water quality managers and sustainability professionals.” That’s according to Paul Lander (Ph.d, ASLA, LEED AP), a consultant with Dakota Ridge Partners in Boulder, Colo.

“In almost every city across the nation, they’re going to have a whole suite of things on their plates. If there’s an opportunity (for irrigation professionals) to be seen as a resource, the profession’s going to go a lot further, and we’ll get more resources coming our way to help with this green infrastructure movement.”

It’s All About Runoff

The big issue, of course is stormwater runoff. Particularly with combined sewer systems, where the stormwater pipes connect to the sewage pipes. Combined sewer systems are found in approximately 860 municipalities across the U.S.. These are mostly concentrated in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, and Great Lakes.

Not only is this a waste of stormwater, but the sewage treatment facilities are not designed to handle the large volume of water that occurs from a rain event. With as little as a 1/4 inch of rainwater, the combined systems will overflow the rainwater mixed with untreated sewerage into the local waterways.

You may recall when Ohio’s stormwater runoff issues became national news in 2014. That’s when the pollution in Lake Erie forced the City of Toledo to shut off its water supply. For three days.

Green infrastructure has been heralded as a more efficient and effective solution to these water pollution issues than traditional gray infrastructure.

For Municipalities and Neighborhoods

John  Farner, Government and Public Affairs Director for the Irrigation Association, recently explained that, at the municipal or county level, GI refers to the patchwork of natural areas that provide habitat, flood protection, cleaner air, and cleaner water for the community.  (See related article, “Can the Ohio River Be Saved?”)

With neighborhoods, on the other hand, GI refers to stormwater systems that mimic nature by soaking up and storing water. Many states and municipalities (such as Philadelphia) have adopted holistic approaches to watershed management that strongly feature green infrastructure. 

Unfortunately, landscape overwatering is commonplace, Lander said. And it’s the bane of water quality managers. These local, state and federal officials are tasked with ensuring compliance with regulations to minimize ill effects on water sources.

“Increasingly, nonpoint-source pollution, like irrigation runoff, is coming under scrutiny by these folks,” Lander said. Landscape and irrigation professionals who aren’t familiar with nonpoint-source pollution are behind the times, he added.

Opportunity Missed?

Not only that, but they’re missing out on a huge opportunity to partner with water quality managers in pursuit of GI projects.

“It’s all the little things around us that in aggregate can have a big impact,” Lander said. He believes the onus is on the professional irrigation community to step up and participate.

Why? “Sites need green infrastructure and green infrastructure will need smart irrigation,” he said.


Sources:

Irrigation Association

Irrigation Market Watch

NPR.org

How Do I Become a Certified Backflow Tester?

It’s the question most frequently asked by Ohio IA members: “How do I become a certified backflow tester?” 

But before we get into the details of the certification process, let’s explore the reasons behind the testing in the first place.

Why Is It Needed?

Irrigation system backflow devices help protect a home’s drinking water from contaminants such as lawn fertilizers and pesticides. The state of Ohio requires that these devices be tested on an annual basis. 

But this testing can only be done by individuals who have been certified by an approved testing school. This is a legal requirement. In Ohio, there are two such schools: APHC Backflow School and Ohio Contractor Training.

Backflow Disasters

In order to fully appreciate the importance of backflow testing, we need to see the consequences of backflow mishaps.

For instance, in December of last year, a backflow incident in Corpus Christi resulted in the city’s water being contaminated by an asphalt emulsifier known as Indulin AA-86. When a backflow valve in the city’s industrial district failed, about 24 gallons of the petroleum-based chemical were released into the city’s water supply.

Officials ordered a four-day tap water ban for the city’s 320,000 residents. Schools were closed. Several cases of illness were attributed to the tainted water. In the end, the cause of the crisis was eventually traced back to the city’s failure to enforce a testing requirement for its backflow devices.

Similar incidents occur more frequently on a much smaller scale. To view a list of 14 separate incidents compiled by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, click here.

State-approved certification for testers serves to keep these issues to a minimum.

Back to Certification…

There are several requirements which must be met prior to testing certification.

  1. First of all, you must have at least five years of experience working in the plumbing or water purveying industries.
  2. Then you must attend a three-day training course provided by one of Ohio’s approved testing schools. Here you will learn about extensive regulations enforced through the EPA, the Ohio plumbing code, and various municipalities. You’ll also learn how to dismantle and repair various types of backflow devices.
  3. At the end of the course, you must pass a practical exam.
  4. Finally, you need to apply to the Ohio Dept of Commerce for certification. If you meet the state’s requirements (e.g., you have a clean legal background), then you must take the state test. Once you pass the state test, you’ll receive your backflow testing certification card.

The following video clip from Sean Mullarky, owner of TriState Water Workssummarizes the certification process: 

 

Once you’ve met all the requirements and received you certification, you may then test backflows for irrigation systems.

But wait!  Every three years, state law mandates that you must be re-certified. This requires an additional one day of training and yet another practical exam.

The Benefits – More Work

Certified backflow testers are in high demand. Because Ohio law requires that irrigation systems be tested annually, potential customers will be seeking you out for this service.

We can help promote your testing services. Once certified, your name will be placed on the Ohio IA’s list of Certified Backflow Testers. This list is the second most trafficked page on our website, so it’s sure to generate new business for your company.

Get Started

If you’re ready to begin the certification process, contact APHC Backflow School or Ohio Contractor Training to get started.


Sources:

Ohio Codes 

TriState Water Works

Offgridsurvival.com

It’s Spring Sprinkler Tune-Up Time!

As spring temperatures begin to warm the earth, it’s time to prepare your landscape irrigation system for another season of watering.

Although it’s always best to hire a qualified professional contractor when performing tasks like spring start-up, if you’re an experienced do-it-yourselfer, you’ll want to follow these tips:

Timing Is Everything

First and foremost, you need to make sure spring has indeed sprung. Since the soil beneath your landscaping is always the last to thaw, use a shovel to confirm that the ground is frost-free 12 inches down. Starting your sprinkler system while the ground is still frozen can result in damage to the pipes. If it’s still hard as a rock, wait another week and try again.

Then check the settings on your sprinkler to make sure they are appropriate for your landscape’s watering needs, and replace the back-up battery in the timer/controller, if necessary.

Go with the Flow

Before turning on any water to the system, double-check that all manual drain valves are returned to the “closed” position.  When you first turn the water back on, be sure to open the system main water valve SLOWLY to allow pipes to fill with water gradually. Failure to do so can result in a high-pressure surge called “water hammer,” resulting in burst pipes and damaged valves.

Ensure that the sprinkler flow is unobstructed by checking for rocks, dirt, sand and other types of debris that could block your sprinkler heads. Keep an eye out for spray heads that may have become buried, allowing debris to accumulate around them during the winter.

Also, bear in mind that nozzles and sprinkler heads are designed to withstand normal wear and tear of irrigation, but not errant lawn mowers or snowplows. It’s important to replace all cracked, chipped or worn components.  A broken or leaky sprinkler can wreak havoc on both your landscaping and water bills.

Valves and Pressure Gauges

The valves in your irrigation system regulate the distribution of water throughout; they are its heart. Which is why you need to visually inspect each valve to determine that it’s operating properly. Verify the proper operation of each station valve by manually activating all zones from the controller.

It’s also important to make sure the water pressure is at a safe operating range.  A system with too much pressure will result in cracked pipes, busted valves, sprinkler head leaks and inefficient watering.

To this end, you may wish to invest in a water pressure gauge that can be used to measure water pressure in your home and yard. These devices typically connect to a hose faucet and give you a good idea of the pressure in your irrigation system. (Suggested operating range is typically 40 -65 PSI.) Hint: If water is “misting” out of your sprinkler heads, your pressure is too high and should be reduced.

Think It’ll Rain? 

Most modern irrigation systems are equipped with a rain sensor. This device should also be checked prior to activating your system in the spring. Here’s how:

  1. First, consult the systems operator’s manual to determine the proper setting for testing your unit. (For example, some systems must be set to the “manual all stations” setting to test them. If that is the case with your system, you cannot test it on the “manual single station” setting.)
  2. After properly setting the irrigation system control, check the system to make sure it came on. (You may need a helper to assist you.)
  3. Once you have confirmed that the sprinkler is running, depress the plunger located on the top of the rain sensor.  The sprinkler system should stop irrigating within a few seconds. 
  4. If watering does not stop when you depress the plunger, you’ll have to troubleshoot the system. Confirm that all wiring connections on the sensor and on the sprinkler control unit are tight. Check to make certain that the jumper tab, also called a jumper wire, was removed when the rain sensor was hooked up to the control panel.

Also be aware that the disk inside a rain sensor can become clogged with dirt or insects, which can keep it from functioning properly. Consult your operator’s manual for the correct procedure to clean the disk.

A Word about Backflow

A backflow device has been installed on your irrigation system in accordance with Ohio state law. This device prevents a cross-connection from occurring between the drinkable and undrinkable water in your home.

Spring is a good time to have your backflow preventer tested, as annual testing of the device is required in the state of Ohio. This testing can only be done by individuals who have been certified by an approved testing school. Backflow testers must have at least 24 hours of training in the classroom and hands-on test lab.

To locate a certified backflow tester in your area, Click Here.

Leave It to the Pros

Again, it’s best to leave all spring start-up tasks to the professionals. A qualified service technician will go through your irrigation system zone by zone and check every irrigation spray pattern for optimum turf and plant coverage, as well as check each sprinkler head and valve for any leaks. He can also test and clean your rain or weather sensor to ensure top performance.

Lastly, the technician will program the controller for the proper irrigation schedule, based on your landscape and weather conditions, as well as neighborhood watering restrictions.


Sources:

Hunterindustries.com

Rainbird.com

Homeguides.sfgate.com

Help Wanted – Irrigation Installation Foreman, Columbus (OH) Area

Environmental Management LogoEnvironmental Management, Columbus, Ohio
Experienced Landscape Irrigation Installation Foreman Needed

Help Wanted — Irrigation Installation Foreman needed for installing and maintaining underground irrigation systems for both residential and commercial clients according to EMI standard operating procedures.

Position requires previous irrigation experience and/or electrical experience.  Foreman works in cooperation with Landscape Design/Sales, Landscape Division Operations Manager, with quality and customer satisfaction as top priority.

Communicates and resolves all issues related to installation to ensure the installation meets the specifications of the design and client.  Able to properly maintain and complete daily paperwork needed to report service activities to customers and EMI administration.  Able and willing to communicate with customer when needed.

Position may require working off hours and weekends to service residential clients.  Must be available to work extended hours, weekends and during inclement weather.

The employee must provide leadership and work direction for Irrigation Crew Laborers.  They are responsible for vehicle operation, equipment operation and adherence to EMI established safety procedures.

Salary based on experience, ranging from $17.00 to $25.00 an hour

For more information on available career opportunities, please call EMI Employee Services at 614.876.9988, or visit us at www.landscapepros.com.


About Environmental Management

Environmental Management Inc. is one of the largest landscape companies in the Columbus, Ohio, and Central Ohio areas. Environmental Management designs, builds and maintains hundreds of attractive, quality outdoor environments for both residential and commercial properties. Their experienced and hardworking professional staff provides the most comprehensive array of landscape services available in today’s marketplace – and they’re dedicated to exceeding expectations, everyday!

Winterizing a Landscape Irrigation System

(Note: This article originally appeared in SportTurf Magazine)

Winter ImageThe dreary days of November remind us that it’s time to start thinking about preparing your irrigation systems for winter. Water expands when it freezes. Since automatic irrigation systems are usually buried only about twelve inches below the surface of the soil, water left in an irrigation system in freezing climates over the winter, even a mild winter, will certainly freeze — causing damage to pipes, fittings, valves, and sprinklers. Damage caused by a frozen irrigation system can be expensive and time consuming to repair next spring. Preventing winter damage by properly winterizing the irrigation system is important. Using compressed air to force water out of the irrigation system is the most common method of winterization. However, irrigation systems equipped with automatic or manual drain valves do not require compressed air to winterize. Only the installing contractor will know if an irrigation system is equipped with automatic or manual drain valves. If you are not sure what type of irrigation system you are winterizing, then use compressed air. Using compressed air on an irrigation system equipped with automatic or manual drain valves will not harm the components of the irrigation system, and will ensure the irrigation system is properly winterized.

Selecting an Air Compressor

Sulliar 185 Portable Air Compressor

Sulliar 185 Portable Air Compressor

A properly sized air compressor is critical in effectively and efficiently blowing air into the irrigation system, forcing any water out. Air compressors are available in various sizes. The most common portable air compressor, which represents roughly 80% of the portable air compressors going into rental fleets today, is the 185 portable air compressor. This machine is rated at 185 cfm at 100 psi at full load. You can find one through a contractors’ equipment rental shop that is more than adequate to get the job done for most residential and commercial irrigation systems. Smaller 5 h.p. electric air compressors, although capable of delivering 100 psi, are not capable of delivering enough volume of air to adequately winterize an irrigation system.

Compressed Air Winterization

The first step in winterizing an irrigation system is to shut off the water to the irrigation system at the point of connection. The system shut-off valve may be a ball valve or gate valve located in the basement or directly after the water meter. Then open a zone valve to relieve the system pressure. Attach the air hose from the air compressor to the blow-out point. The blow-out point is usually located directly after the backflow device. The blow-out point may be a quick coupling valve, a hose bib, or a boiler drain. In this technical drawing the blow-out connection is the quick-coupling valve located in the valve box.

A note of caution: The expanding air coming from the air compressor into the irrigation system will get hot and may melt the plastic pipe. Carefully check the temperature of the air-hose connection at the blow-out point. Slow down or stop momentarily if it feels too hot! Cycling through each zone two or three times for short intervals will prevent too much heat buildup.

 

Winterizing an irrigation system with compressed air

Air Compressor Settings

Set the pressure regulator on the air compressor at 50 to 80 psi. On smaller residential systems, where the zones are typically about 10 gpm or less, open one electric remote control valve manually and cycle through all the other zones two to three minutes by manually opening each valve or by electrically operating each valve at the controller. Opening one valve manually will help to keep the air com- pressor from building up too much pressure while assuring an adequate volume of air to thoroughly blow out all the water in the sys- tem. On larger systems it may not be necessary to open one valve manually. Allow the air to flow through each zone until water and water vapor no longer appears from any sprinklers in the zone. Start with the zone with the highest elevation in the system or farthest from the point of connection, blowing out each zone successively toward the point of connection. It is a good idea to cycle through each zone two times to ensure there is no water remaining that might settle into a low point in the lateral pipe.

Automatic Drain System Winterization

Although using compressed air is the most common method for winterizing an automatic irrigation system, there are two other types of automatic irrigation systems. The first type is a system equipped with automatic drains. The automatic drains open when the system pressure falls below 10 psi. For these systems it is usually only necessary to turn off the water. Open a drain valve after the point of connection. Prepare the backflow device and controller for winter as noted below. Some irrigation systems incorporate automatic drain valves on the laterals and manual drain valves on the main line. The manual drain valves will be located in small valve boxes at the end and at low points on the main line. Open the drain valves, and allow the water to drain out completely. Then close the drain valve.

Manual Drain System Winterization

An irrigation system equipped with manual drain valves requires you to locate the drain valve for each zone and the main line. The manual drain is usually located in a small valve box at the end of the zone and at every low point. Also, the main line will have a manual drain at the end of the line and at every low point. Open each drain valve, allowing all the water to drain out, and then close the manual drains. Winterize the back- flow device and irrigation controller as noted below.

Backflow Winterization

Backflow Installation Detail

Typical PVB backflow installation.

There are two backflow devices utilized in landscape irrigation systems. The most common is a pressure vacuum breaker. Open the top of the pressure vacuum breaker and remove the internal discs and springs. Storing these components near the irri- gation controller makes them easier to find next spring. Turn the handles on the two ball valves and all test ports to a partially open 45 degree position. Ball valves, when fully closed or fully open, will trap water in between the ball and the valve housing. The valve housing will crack during a freeze if not left partially open.

Some newer pressure vacuum breakers are freeze resistant, with a built-in relief valve to protect the internal components and the body from freezing. It is not necessary to remove the internal components in these devices.

The other type of backflow device used in irrigation system is a reduced pressure principle backflow device, or RPZ. It is usually best to remove this device completely during the winter and store indoors. Then cap the pipes to the irrigation system. If removal of the RPZ back- flow device is not possible, carefully follow the manufacturer’s instructions for winterization. Each manufacturer has specific instructions for winterizing their reduced pressure principle backflow device.

Irrigation Controller and Rain Sensor Winterization

To prepare the irrigation controller for winter, simply turn the contoller to the off or rain shutdown position. You can also disconnect the power and remove the battery but this is not necessary. It is important not to allow the controller to cycle through an irrigation schedule without water in the system because the remote-control valves require water to move through the solenoid assembly to cool the assembly.

If your irrigation system is equipped with a rain sensor or a soil moisture sensor, it is not usually necessary to cover or remove the sensor for the winter. Check with the manufacturer to make sure the sensor does not require any special instructions for win- terization.

Pump Winterization

Submersible pumps, located in a lake or stream, have a check valve at the pump which needs to be removed to make certain the discharge hose does not freeze. It is adviseable to simply remove the pump and discharge hose from water each winter, reinstalling it in the spring.

Centrifigal pumps have a drain valve located at the base of the pump housing that needs to be removed and stored for the winter. The power supply for the pump should also be disconnect- ed to prevent the pump from being accidentally turned on with- out any water. A pump running without water will quickly burn up. Additionally, if the pump is drawing water from a lake or stream, the intake hose has a foot valve located at the base of the suction line. So it is necessary to remove the intake or suction line completely from the water and store it for the winter. Sometimes a check valve is also located on the discharge side of the pump. This check valve needs to be removed and stored for the winter.

Preparing an irrigation system for winter can be a complicated process. A knowledgeable professional is essential to minimize freezing water damage. An improperly winterized irrigation system can be an expensive proposition next spring.

Internet-Based Smart Irrigation Systems

Internet-based smart irrigation system technology is rapidly expanding throughout the industry, particularly for residential usage.web-based

Internet-based smart irrigation system technology is even featured in Forbes magazine, “Tired Of Wasting Water With That Dumb Sprinkler? Meet The Smart Sprinkler Controller.” This irrigation system technology allows residential users to control and monitor their sprinkler systems from anywhere in the world using a web browser or iPhone/Android app. It also uses the homeowner’s wireless internet (wifi) to access a live stream from nearby weather stations.  As a result, residential users are provided with real-time weather data, without the need to install a personal weather station or rain sensor.

lawn1Using adaptive algorithms to generate custom and dynamic watering schedules from this weather data, the smart controller automatically determines the optimal watering schedule for the irrigation site. The system automatically adjusts watering cycles, duration and frequency for optimal results in any weather condition. Some smart controllers will even take into consideration local watering restrictions.

swat_logoWeb-based irrigation systems are certifiable through both the EPA’s WaterSense program and the Irrigation Association’s Smart Water Application Technologies (SWAT) testing.  For a comparison of WaterSense and SWAT testing protocols, click here.

Let’s take a look at some of the web-based irrigation systems currently available…


Skydrop

Skydrop’s WiFi-based smart controller entered the market in September of 2014. The company is based in Lehi, Utah, and promotes its product as helping residential users to abide by local watering restrictions. (“Don’t be a lawn bandit, and don’t risk hefty fines.”) According to Skydrop, the typical homeowner can install and set up its controller in less than 30 minutes.

Malibu-GardenIn addition to using real-time weather data, the Skydrop smart controller also measures soil moisture to determine how much water the landscape is losing.  Like most other internet-based systems, the Skydrop device is programmed by zone according to soil type, plant type, sprinkler type, slope and shape. The  Skydrop controller can also be integrated with other smart home systems such alarm controllers, solar heating/cooling, and outdoor lighting.

logo-90The controller includes a “cycle and soak” feature to eliminate or reduce runoff when landscapes are sloped. The company claims that watering each zone separately and only when required results in an average reduction in water usage of 35%. The Skydrop smart controller has qualified for the EPA’s WaterSense® Certification, yet the company does not plan to pursue SWAT testing at this time.

The Skydrop controller operates eight zones plus a master valve/pump, and is expandable to 16 zones with an expansion unit. The retail price for the Skydrop 8-zone controller is around $300, and the expansion unit retails for $50.


Hydrawise (Hunter Industries)

flowerHydrawise was recently purchased by Hunter Industries. The Hydrawise smart controller provides interactive online reporting and alerts that allow the user to view water usage for each watering cycle or the water flow rate at any time. Email alerts notify the user of water flows (e.g., due to a broken pipe or faulty valve) when no zone is currently running. Alerts can also be configured when the water usage for an irrigation zone changes by more than 10% (such as, from broken spray heads or faulty wiring).

Hydrawise2ColorTrim260Hydrawise is one of the products which does not require port forwarding on the user’s router in order to control the irrigation system from anywhere in the world. Rather, wireless functionality is provided inside the controller; the user enters a wireless password on the controller itself.

hydrawiseAccording to Chris Foster, Midwest Sales Manager for Hunter, the Hydrawise system utilizes Cloud technology, allowing the residential user and support technician to “meet in the cloud,” thereby preventing any potential security risks.  “Hydrawise is fourth-generation technology,” he said.

The Hydrawise controller is available in 6- or 12-zone models; expansion modules allow an individual system to be expanded up to 36 zones. The product is WaterSense certified and was the winner of  The Australian Backyard Innovation Challenge in 2015. Hydrawise has not been SWAT tested. Pricing is available through a Hunter distributor.

According to Michael White, Vice President of Turf & Landscape Sales for Automatic Irrigation Supply, one of the best features of the Hydrawise system is the professional support that is now available through Hunter Industries.


Cyber Rain

The Cyber Rain smart controller is manufactured by Israel-based Galcon, which is owned by Kibbutz Kfar Blum.  According to the company, Cyber Rain was the very first central irrigation product to earn the EPA WaterSense certification (in 2012). It also claims that the Cyber Rain controller can reduce water costs by up to 40% annually. Cyber Rain is SWAT approved.

LogoCyberRain1Cyber Rain supplies a small device called an “Access Point” that is plugged into a router so that the controller can access the internet using Cloud technology. The Access Point communicates with an unlimited number of Cyber Rain controllers through its own two-way wireless network. The standard radio can communicate up to 200 feet, while the longer-range radio can reach up to two miles with the optional antenna.

downloadCyber Rain offers a Smart Scheduling Wizard to set up the water-wise irrigation schedule customized to the particular landscape. For zones with dense soil or on a slope, for instance, the Cyber Rain smart controller offer a cycle and soak feature to avoid run-off.

Controllers are available in 8-, 16- and 24-zone models. (The optional antenna can be attached to increase range.) Prices for the residential systems range from $500 to $600.  Professional installation is not required for the residential systems, but appears to be recommended.


Rachio

Rachio introduced its first product (“Iro”) in 2014; Iro is an intelligent irrigation controller that is powered by Rachio’s cloud-based software.  It an be rachio-logo-for-web-300px (1)controlled either through a web-based dashboard or through an intuitive Android or iPhone app. During setup, the homeowner’s smartphone sends a signal to the Iro, connecting it to the internet through a WiFi network. It then communicates with Rachio’s cloud-based software. The company claims that installation and setup take less than 30 minutes with no special tools or expertise required.

The Iro will automatically check the local weather forecast and issue adjustments based on evapotranspiration and precipitation data to match soil moisture depletion. The Iro also learns from the customer’s adjustments over time. As a result, users can personalize the balance between water use and the level of plant health in each zone.

Irrigation-Flowers013Iro’s Smart Cycle will automatically schedule cycle and soak irrigation events to eliminate or reduce runoff when landscapes are sloped and/or the infiltration rate of the soil is less than that of the precipitation rate of the nozzle for the given zone. A virtual rain sensor will suspend irrigation events if rain is forecasted within the next 24 hours.

Iro controllers are available in 8-zone ($199) and 16-zone ($249) models. The Iro system has received the EPA’s WaterSense certification. Rachis is SWAT tested and has earned the prestigious EPA WaterSense label for irrigation efficiency.

Comparison of Residential Web-Based Smart Irrigation Controllers

 SkydropHydrawiseCyber RainRachio
SmartPhone CompatibleYesYesYesYes
Ipad/PC CompatibleYesYesNoYes
Android CompatibleYesYesYesYes
Uses Real-time Weather DataYesYesYesYes
Provides Online ReportingYesYesYesYes
Uses Cloud TechnologyYesYesYesYes
WaterSense CertifiedYesYesYesYes
SWAT TestedYesNoYesYes
Do-It-Yourself InstallationYesNo
YesYes
Professional SupportNoYesNoYes
Interfaces with Other Home SystemsYesYesNoYes
Includes Cycle and Soak FeatureYesYesYesYes
No. of Zones Available8, 166, 12*8, 168, 16
Price$299.99-$348.99 $260.00-$310.00$499.00-$599.00$199.00-$249.00

*May be expanded up to 36 zones.


The Future

Having recently attended a trade function focused on what water management will look like in the year 2065, Automatic Irrigation’s Michael White firmly believes that the web-based systems are crucial to allowing homeowners to be better stewards of water resources.  “Twenty-five years from now, water will cost much more than it does today,” he said. Consequently, “These new systems are good for the consumer and they’re good for the industry.”

(Editor’s note: Rachio’s data was corrected and updated from the original post based on additional information provided by the manufacturer.)


Sources:

U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Reclamation, “Weather- and Soil Moisture-Based Landscape Irrigation Scheduling Devices”

Every Drop Counts…July Is Smart Irrigation Month

water

It’s that time of year again…July is Smart Irrigation Month and, as usual, there are many ways  for businesses and consumers to participate in the campaign.

First launched in 2005, Smart Irrigation Month continues to gain traction each year as consumers and irrigation specialists alike recognize the positive impact efficient irrigation and water use provides to all of us.

Give this a try!

Place a few empty tuna cans around your lawn while you’re watering and measure how long it takes your sprinkler to fill them with a half inch of water. Then, try watering that amount of time twice a week, gauge how your landscape responds, and adjust based on weather conditions. Or simplify by replacing your standard clock timer controller with a WaterSense labeled irrigation controller.

Smart Systems

Among the strategies being presented to consumers, first and foremost is proper programming of automatic watering or sprinkler systems to deliver just the right amount of water at the right time. Additional strategies include:

  • smartProper landscaping, keeping soil healthy, mulching and routine landscape maintenance
  • Investing in an irrigation system that uses the best, most flexible, components, has “smart” controls, and meets code requirements
  • Watering during the evening and early morning to prevent evaporation, taking soil type and sprinkler placement into consideration
  • Maintaining the sprinkler system regularly by adjusting sprinkler heads, repairing leaks and monitoring pressure

WaterSense

According the the EPA’s WaterSense website, adopting water–savvy habits also is essential to maintaining and extending our communities’ water supplies, especially during peak use. WaterSense partners with manufacturers, retailers/distributors, and utilities to bring high-performing, water-efficient products to the marketplace. WaterSense also partners with professional certifying organizations to promote water–efficient landscape irrigation practices. Since the program began in 2006, WaterSense has helped consumers save a total of 1.5 trillion gallons of water, resulting in more than $32.6 billion in water and energy bill savings.

Smart Ideas

Since July is the peak month for water consumption, the national Smart Irrigation campaign is encouraging industrial firms and professionals to promote smart irrigation practices and technologies, as well.   Here are some of the many  “Smart Ideas” to promote the national campaign that are listed on the Irrigation Association website:

  • SIM_LogoAdd the Smart Irrigation Month logo to your web site, ads, customer presentations, field signs, invoices and more.
  • Submit a press release or letter to the editor of your local newspaper.
  • Ask employees to add the Smart Irrigation Month logo to their e-mail signature block.
  • Hand out Smart Irrigation Month bumper stickers at your next contractor meeting.
  • Host a live demonstration of water-saving irrigation technologies, in the field or at your location.
  • Feature water-efficient products and services in displays, ads, promotions and product demos with the Smart Irrigation Month logo.
  • Use a banner, outside signage or counter sign to encourage customers to ask about how smart irrigation can save water and money.
  • Smart Irrigation Controller RebateMake smart irrigation the theme of sales calls.
  • Stick a Smart Irrigation Month label on every box that goes out the door.
  • Give awards to customers and/or business partners who promote water-efficient practices.
  • Volunteer to speak to a local homeowner association, garden club or civic group.
  • Distribute copies of the Smart Irrigation Month coloring book at a farmers market or county fair.
  • Ask your local radio station to play a public service announcement, promoting July as Smart Irrigation Month.

What are YOU doing to promote Smart Irrigation Month?  Remember…Every Drop Counts!


Sources:

Irrigation Association, http://www.irrigation.org/Resources/SmartIrrigationMonth/SmartIdeas.aspx

EPA WaterSense,  https://www3.epa.gov/watersense/pubs/efficient.html

 

 

Help Wanted – Irrigation Installation Foreman Columbus, Ohio Area

Environmental Management LogoEnvironmental Management, Columbus, Ohio
Help Wanted – Experienced Landscape Irrigaiton Installation Foreman

Irrigation Installation Foreman needed for installing and maintaining underground irrigation systems for both residential and commercial clients according to EMI standard operating procedures.

Position requires previous irrigation experience and/or electrical experience.  Foreman works in cooperation with Landscape Design/Sales, Landscape Division Operations Manager, with quality and customer satisfaction as top priority.

Communicates and resolves all issues related to installation to ensure the installation meets the specifications of the design and client.  Able to properly maintain and complete daily paperwork needed to report service activities to customers and EMI administration.  Able and willing to communicate with customer when needed.

Position may require working off hours and weekends to service residential clients.  Must be available to work extended hours, weekends and during inclement weather.

The employee must provide leadership and work direction for Irrigation Crew Laborers.  They are responsible for vehicle operation, equipment operation and adherence to EMI established safety procedures.

Salary based on experience, ranging from $17.00 to $25.00 an hour

For more information on available career opportunities, please call EMI Employee Services at 614.876.9988, or visit us at www.landscapepros.com.


About Environmental Management

Environmental Management Inc. is one of the largest landscape companies in the Columbus, Ohio, and Central Ohio areas. Environmental Management designs, builds and maintains hundreds of attractive, quality outdoor environments for both residential and commercial properties. Their experienced and hardworking professional staff provides the most comprehensive array of landscape services available in today’s marketplace – and they’re dedicated to exceeding expectations, everyday!

Ohio CENTS Show Offers Irrigation Training Classes

Here is the schedule of irrigation training classes at the 2016 Cents Show In Columbus, Ohio January 11-13

The 2016 CENTS Show offers seven technical irrigation training classes at this year’s show. From water conservation to trouble shooting irrigation controllers, the CENTS Show has an extensive list of irrigation classes.

Below is a list of the training classes being offered

Click here for the complete schedule

Water Conservation and Cost Savings

11 Jan 2016
10:30 am – 11:30 am
C226
Scott Knowles

Scott KnowlesSaving water is a hot topic in many drought stressed parts of the nation. Lack of water is a very good reason irrigation systems must monitor and reduce water usage.

Even in the Midwest, where abundant water is more often the issue, owners of irrigation systems want to save the precious resources and money via Smart irrigation practices.

The Irrigation Association is leading the way to help consumers and green industry professionals understand water conservation. Smart Irrigation is a slogan and a category of vitally useful products and practices that can save 35-40% of the water “normal” irrigation systems and practices use.

Come learn to use Smart Irrigation practices and products as a money-making opportunity that provides your clients cost reduction and environmental benefits.

Sponsored by: The Wolf Creek Company

2016 Landscape & Irrigation Industry Trends

Capture the Growth

Tom Barrett PortraitTom Barrett will keynote the Ohio Irrigation Association’s Annual Meeting.

6:00 pm, Monday, January 11, 2016 – at the Ohio Irrigation Association’s Annual Meeting

Well known throughout the landscape industry, Tom Barrett,  has a reputation of being an innovator and accomplished corporate growth and change agent.Tom’s presentations empower people to become masters of change, rather than victims of circumstance by developing tools for transformative thinking.

Sponsored by: Hunter, Rain Bird & Toro

Irrigation Pipe Connections

12 Jan 2016 12:30 pm – 1:00 pm ONLA Garage, Hall E

How to make the common pipe connections for a landscape irrigation system.  Most consider pipe connections simple and easy, but there are some things to know to make long lasting connections that won’t fail in the future.  We’ll cover the tips to successfully make common pipe connections.

Sponsored by: Ohio Irrigation Association

Irrigation Trouble Shooting-Controller Repair

12 Jan 2016 2:30 pm – 3:00 pm ONLA Garage, Hall E

When my irrigation won’t come on where do I start looking for the problem? Is it the controller? Are the stations off, run times off or is there a mechanical problem?

Sponsored by: Century Equipment

Making Irrigation Wire Splices

13 Jan 2016 1:00 pm – 1:30 pm ONLA Garage, Hall E

Wire connections tend to be the most common electrical problem for a landscape irrigation system.  Several  easy and inexpensive wire connectors exist to help contractor make good field wire splices.  We’ll examine the most common and show how to use them.  Will also talk about the Best Practices to make a good wire connection.

Sponsored by: Ohio Irrigation Association

Irrigation Trouble Shooting-Hydraulics (Tues)

12 Jan 2016 2:00 pm – 2:30 pm ONLA Garage, Hall E

Why do some stations come on and others do not? Is there a hydraulic problem or an electrical problem? Learn the difference in open and closed valves.

Sponsored by: Century Equipment

Irrigation Wire Path Diagnostics

11 Jan 2016 3:30 pm – 4:00 pm ONLA Garage, Hall E

How to quickly determine the nature of irrigation field wire problems using a multi-meter at the controller will be demonstrated.  A time saving method to find out what issues are present on the field wiring before hunting for issues around the property.  Participants will receive a chart of possible problems and shown how to use a multi-meter to with the chart.

Sponsored by: Ohio Irrigation Association

Irrigation Trouble Shooting-Hydraulics (Mon)

11 Jan 2016 1:00 pm – 1:30 pm ONLA Garage, Hall E

Why do some stations come on and others do not? Is there a hydraulic problem or an electrical problem? Learn the difference in open and closed valves.

Sponsored by: Century Equipment

Marketing – The Ultimate Growth Engine for Irrigation Contractors

The Economy is Good

A Plant in a pile of gold coinsThe economic recovery is in full swing and, for the landscape industry, it is predicted that 2015 total industry sales will exceed pre-recession level sales. A recent Forbes article by Bill Conerly stated, “The economic outlook for the United States in 2015 looks solid.”

Profitability is up, home starts are up, and the home improvement market is forecasting accelerated growth through the first quarter of 2016.

Yes, business outlook for landscape and irrigation contractors is excellent.

The question is how can you capitalize on the growth?

The short answer is marketing. And it has never been easier or more affordable to stand out from the crowd than in today’s internet-driven consumer marketplace.  Yet, in our digital age, marketing has never been more confusing. In short internet marketing has a lot of noise, jargon, and confusing best practices. You need a website, you need SEO (whatever that is), Adwords, Google, and this social media thing drives me bonkers. I’ll ask three marketers what to do and I get six answers.

How do you cut down the noise? Most companies simply give up. Maybe they’ll send out postcards or take out an ad in the local lifestyle magazine because that’s what we’ve always done.

First Things First – Outstanding Customer Service

Green LawnDespite all the change and chaos, as some things change, while other things stay the same.  Great customer service never goes out of fashion. Take care of your existing customers while your competition offers panic driven discounts. Know your customers. Talk to your customers. Great customer service is all about communication.

Great customer service also means great quality. The value proposition of your company depends upon delivering what a customer wants. It also depends on delivering it when your customer wants it. Finally, delivering all this at a value a customer expects is what separates you in the market. Quality has never been more important.

Satisfied customers are still your best source of new customers. The value of a referral will always be number one. Several landscape industry studies have discovered that over 70% of homeowners add an enhancement like an irrigation system to their landscape because their neighbor has added an irrigation system to their landscape.

Brave New World – The Internet

The bright side to developing referrals is that the internet easily allows us amplify and develop excellent ratings. Conversely a poor rating can cost your business. Over 80% of consumers Google your business before they ever call you. A five or four star rating can put your business over the top. But how do you get there?

Start with Your Website

With the widespread adaptation of smart phones and tablets, it is critical to have a mobile responsive website – a website that effectively communicates your message across all platforms. We recently completed a consumer Facebook advertising campaign and discovered over 80% of our audience viewed our ad on a mobile device.

If your website is over two years old it probably needs to be upgraded.

An effective website is more than just a beautiful internet brochure. Your website has two primary audiences. The first audience is Google. Google will deliver over 70% of your web traffic. Google ranks you website on three primary criteria:

  1. Relevancy – does your website contain the term being searched by the consumer?
  2. Recency – a newer post on your website will outrank an older post on your competitor’s website. So it you are not continuously adding information to your website you will loose your Google ranking.
  3. Location – today’s web browsers tell the search engines where the consumer is located and will deliver the consumer to the nearest available business.

Content is King to Google

All the beautiful pictures in the world will not help Google find your website. Google reads text.  It takes words and more text is better than less.

It takes the correct words consumers use when searching for an irrigation contractor, which are not the words we use to describe ourselves. Knowing that consumers, when searching for an irrigation contractor search “sprinkler” and “lawn sprinklers” more often than searching for “irrigation,” “irrigation contractors,” and “automatic irrigation systems” is important.

Going Local

Google My BusinessOne of the greatest advantages a local irrigation company has over a national company is being “local.”  Your location and the markets you cover has to be clearly identified within your website, preferably on your home page.

Google My Business is a free service that allows you to set up your business to appear on the right side of Google search results. It takes about an hour to set up and allows your customers to review and rate your business. You’ve likely seen this when Googled a company or a local business and their Google My Business profile showing up in your search results.

Developing Your Sales Funnel

A good website, one that is both attractive to prospective customers and easily found by search engines, is the starting point for developing a sales funnel.  At this point you are further ahead than 80% of your competitors.

Once an interested client reaches your website ask yourself, “What happens next?”

funnelDeveloping a relationship with prospective customers is often the most misunderstood aspect of marketing.

Where do you start?

How do you do it?

You start with an email. Emails are forty times, not 40%, more effective at converting a prospect into a customer than any other media available today. I know this seems hard to believe given our aversion to spam. However, spam is an unwanted email. The key distinction between spam and an email that you want to read the email; you don’t want to read the spam.

There are two primary factors to consider when developing an effective email campaign. The first factor is developing content that your prospective audience wants to read and see. The second factor is building an audience that is interested in your business.

Think Like Your Clients

Content comes first because you cannot build an audience without information. The landscape industry is a very visual, life-style industry. Your audience wants a beautiful landscape. Think like your customers. Take pictures; take lots of pictures. Post them on your website. Write a brief description about your projects. Gather testimonials from your satisfied clients and tell their story to your prospects.

Remember, 70% of homeowners add a feature to their landscape because their neighbors did. Build on the momentum.

The Top of the Funnel

Next build your audience. If you offer something valuable, your prospective clients will give you their email address. Free E-Books offers are great ways to attract prospective clients. Gather as many email addresses as possible.

Send emails regularly through one of the many online email marketing solutions. These programs help you set up marketing automation based upon your subscribers’ activity, allowing you to target messages that are interested in working with you and your company.

Social Media Adds Support

After you have setup your website, developed an email marketing campaign, social media can add support to your marketing. Facebook, Pinterest, and Houzz are visually attractive consumer social media outlets that can broaden your audience and reinforce your message.

Advertising Doesn’t Work; Marketing Does

The average U.S. consumer is exposed to over 3,000-brand messages everyday. It’ is no wonder that advertising doesn’t work. However, people love to buy (they hate to be sold). Developing relationships with prospective clients has never been easier.

Make it fun, informative and attractive.

And you will be on your way to creating the ultimate growth engine for an irrigation company.

Help Wanted – Full Time Irrigation Service Technician

Full-time Irrigation Service Technician

Service TechnicianLeading irrigation contractor, Rain One in Columbus, Ohio, seeks experienced irrigation service technicians for irrigation systems.

We’re looking for a mechanically-minded individual who is self-motivated and eager to help our established base of customers.

Job requires working with pipe and fittings, troubleshooting low-voltage electrical systems and communicating with customers.

Knowledge and past experience in the irrigation trade helpful.

Willing to train the right individual who brings the right core skills of mechanical ability, ability to work independently and superior customer-service approach.

Requirements

A Valid driver’s license is required.  Hourly wages based on skill level.

Benefits include holiday pay, vacation, health insurance, and a retirement plan after one year of employment.

Incentive pay program for productivity and customer service.

Relocation assistance available.

 Apply Online or Mail

Apply on-line at www.rain1.com – About Us – Careers, or

Rain One LogoEmail Your Resumé

or mail your resume to P.O. Box 321 Blacklick, OH 43004

Irrigation Training at the 2015 CENTS Show

Diving into Irrigation Installation

 Scott Knowles, The Wolf Creek Company

Scott Knowles, Wolf Creek Company

Tuesday, January 6 from 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.

Location:
Ahlum & Arbor Tree Preservation
1740 Walcutt Road
Columbus, OH 43228

This intensive day-long workshop will provide classroom discussion combined with hands-on exercises so participants gain live experience on the process, steps and basic skills needed to complete the successful installation of a landscape irrigation system.

Participants will get to see and learn from real-time demonstrations of: solvent welding PVC pipe and fittings, the process for making proper threaded connections, joining poly pipe, building valve manifolds, attaching sprinklers, making good wire connections, wiring controllers, and basic controller programming.

We’ll stop just short of digging, so you’ll gain an understanding of the full range of installation skills, tips and best practice techniques from onsite preparation to the end goal of flowing water.

(Sponsored by Ahlum & Arbor Tree Preservation)

Register with the Ohio Nursery and Landscape Association

 

Irrigation Service Technicians:
Training Intensive & Test Preparation

John Newlin Portrait
 John Newlin, Quality Services

John Newlin, Quality Services

Thursday, January 8. Part 1 from 9:30 am to 12:30 pm. Part 2 from 1:30 pm to 4:30 pm

Location: The Greater Columbus Convention Center

This intensive two part training prepares technicians to: install, test, troubleshoot, diagnose, service and repair commercial and residential systems and provides a review of the components of the Irrigation Association’s Certified Irrigation Technician exam.

You’ll learn how-to review the plan, allocate equipment & material for the jobsite preparation, and review best practices for site preparation that include: locating utilities, flagging the job, checking water pressure and testing existing components.

The instruction includes training on pipe gluing, head installation, diagnostics and troubleshooting of electrical and water elements.

John will review OSHA requirements and safety processes that should be implemented to support the team with preparation, equipment maintenance and on the jobsite.

Register with the Ohio Nursery and Landscape Association