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

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

 

 

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

What to Ask When Purchasing a ‘Smart’ Controller

What questions should I ask before purchasing a “smart” controller?

The Irrigation Association®, a non-profit organization supporting water conservation through efficient irrigation, has information on their website to educate consumers about the questions to ask their contractor when considering a “smart” irrigation controller.

Click here to read more. . .

Be sure to read it prior to meeting with your irrigation professional. And before beginning any work, be sure to confirm that your contractor is specifically trained in the installation of the “smart” controller they have selected.