The irrigation industry is experiencing a renaissance of technology development. Now, more so than ever, consumers can find irrigation products that use advanced sensors, Wi-Fi and app-based capability to automatically adjust watering schedules, communicate problems and save water, giving consumers more data and power to control irrigation systems than ever before.
“Smart” irrigation systems irrigate landscapes efficiently. Without wasting water, these systems use technology to know when and how much to irrigate. The days of being beholden to a clock and calendar are over. We are now using real-time data to apply the right amount of water at the right time of day.
By investing in smart irrigation technologies, you can be sure to save water, money and time in caring for your landscape. Here are three irrigation technologies worth considering on your next upgrade:
Weather-based controller. These controllers adjust the irrigation schedule based on local weather conditions. There is a wide range of products in this category with various weather inputs and landscape-specific adjustment factors. These controllers self-adjust and require very little intervention when programmed correctly.
Sensor-based controller. These controllers rely on soil moisture sensors placed below ground in the root zones of the landscape to determine if and for how long to water. Systems with a sensor-based controller can be scheduled to run based on soil moisture and the specific water needs of your landscape.
Rain/freeze sensors. Irrigating in rain and freezing conditions needlessly wastes water and can damage your landscape. Rain sensors prevent irrigation systems from running during rainy conditions. Rain/freeze sensors add the ability to stop irrigation when temperatures approach freezing to prevent damage to the plants. These devices can reduce overall water usage and help extend irrigation system life.
One size does not fit all, so consult with a certified irrigation professional when you’re ready to upgrade. To find an IA-certified professional to design, install, maintain or audit your irrigation system, visit www.irrigation.org/hirecertified.
Maintain your system & consider high-value upgrades: Why & how often?
Irrigation systems need regular maintenance to keep them working efficiently year after year. Damage from lawn equipment or improper winterization can cause leaks and other serious problems that can cost you a significant amount of wasted water.
Here are a few checks to perform on a monthly, yearly or periodic basis to make sure you’re maximizing your investment.
Adjust sprinkler heads. Remove or correct obstructions that prevent sprinklers from distributing water evenly. Adjust sprinkler head positions and spray patterns to avoid watering sidewalks or structures and to provide necessary clearance over growing plants.
Check the pressure. Pressure can change over time and negatively affect your system’s efficiency. Too high of pressure can result in too much water applied too quickly, causing runoff.
Inspect your system for leaks. Leaks are a huge water waster. A good contractor can perform regular maintenance checks for leaks, broken or clogged spray heads, and other problems. Ask your contractor to show you common problems to watch for between visits.
Winterize in colder climates. An irrigation contractor with specialized equipment will flush out water that could freeze and crack pipes, valves and sprinklers. It’s easy to overlook this type of maintenance but forgoing it could result in costly damage to your system.
Have your system audited. Hire a professional to conduct an irrigation audit and uniformity test to verify areas are being watered evenly and appropriately. Make necessary adjustments.
Rain/freeze sensors. These inexpensive sensors can be retrofitted to almost any system and help save water by turning your system off in rainy weather.
“Smart” controllers. Weather- or soil moisture-based controllers evaluate weather or soil moisture conditions and then automatically adjust the irrigation schedule to meet the specific needs of the landscape. These controllers take the guesswork out of watering your landscape, thus saving water over time.
Before you upgrade, look for savings. Many water utilities offer rebates for certain water-efficient products. Before upgrading your new system, consult with your local water provider to take advantage of any rebates in your area.
Why you should use a certified irrigation professional to install, maintain & upgrade your system
Selecting and installing an irrigation system is an important investment for any homeowner or business. An irrigation system ensures that your other investment — your lawn or landscape — is nurtured and sustained.
When it comes to who you contract to do the work, their qualifications and expertise matter. Certified irrigation professionals have demonstrated expertise to assess your specific needs and design and install a system that will maximize both your water savings and the needs of your landscape.
As a consumer, you have the right to conduct thorough research to ensure the professional you hire will perform the job to the standards and quality you expect. Use this guide to determine whether the irrigation professionals you interview are right for the job.
Start by assessing the professional’s qualifications. A certified irrigation professional should be able to tell you about their formal training, references, certification by the Irrigation Association and contractor’s license. These items show a contractor has demonstrated basic knowledge and skills required for the job.
IA certification means the contractor has passed exams that demonstrate in-depth knowledge of proper irrigation practices. To maintain their certification, contractors must complete continuing education, helping to ensure that they are up to speed on new developments in irrigation practices. Other qualified organizations that offer irrigation training include irrigation equipment manufacturers, colleges and trade schools.
A contractor should also have a basic business license. Belonging to various trade associations shows a contractor’s commitment to the industry and desire to keep up with technological advancements and irrigation standards and trends. In addition, a professional irrigation business should be able to discuss how it provides safety training and education for its employees to ensure they perform their work in a safe and consistent fashion.
A contractor should be able to readily provide proof of professional certifications, training and any state or local government-required licensing.
Reputable irrigation professionals will carry appropriate insurance policies. The contractor should have worker’s compensation insurance to protect you from potential liability if one of the contractors working on your property gets hurt while on the job. They should also have general liability insurance with limits between $300,000 and $500,000 for residential work, to protect you in case of unexpected and unintentional problems on your property, like flooding or landslides.
Any professional irrigation contractor should be able to provide you with certificates of insurance.
Bids & contracts
When seeking a professional irrigation contractor, obtain more than one bid so you can compare prices and work offered. Request all bids in writing and make sure they include the same details, such as irrigation product brands. The lowest bid is not necessarily an indicator of the best value. Contracting with a licensed and certified professional may cost more, but the value of an appropriately chosen, correctly installed irrigation system can make up for these extra costs over time.
When you do choose a contractor, insist on a written contract for your protection. The contract should include proper identification of workers (including names and licensing numbers), a complete description of the work to be done and materials to be used, payment arrangements, details on product or work guarantees, approximate date when the work will be completed, and a statement saying the contractor will clean up and remove debris after the job is finished. If any changes are made, ensure they are made in writing.
Most importantly, an irrigation professional should have in-depth knowledge of how to properly assess the water needs of your property, how to design an efficient system that saves you water and how to instruct you on proper system use.
A smart irrigation system is only as smart as the professional who installs it and the customer who uses it. Make the most of your investment and hire a certified irrigation professional. To find an IA-certified professional to design, install, maintain or audit your irrigation system, visit www.irrigation.org/hirecertified.
Jack Karlin is the Program Administrator for TWCA. His interest is in using policy and the built environment to create livable and sustainable communities.