Landscape irrigation overview
Adding irrigation as a business service offering
Irrigation installation, repair and auditing is a business service offering within the landscape industry.
Each service offering you look to incorporate into your business contains a number of different skills and subject categories. Your level of expertise in each of these categories is going to play an instrumental role in your success.
Broadly speaking, rendering landscape irrigation business services in the landscape trade includes knowledge and expertise in many areas. Areas of expertise you will need to be educated in include hydraulics, basic electricity, irrigation design, irrigation troubleshooting, water auditing, pumps, filtration, control systems, job site evaluation for variable costs, the ability to read construction blue print plans, proper installation techniques and more.
General overview of landscape irrigation
The landscape irrigation business involves purchasing different system components that make up an integrated product most commonly referred to as a sprinkler or irrigation system. The sprinkler system is usually constructed with an electric or battery operated control device referred to as a controller. The controller sends an electric signal through the wire to a solenoid which opens and closes a valve, which is often referred to as a zone. That sprinkler valve may or may not be installed below the landscape grade – generally they are below grade.
The irrigation controller functionality can provide functional control over many elements of when the irrigation water will be delivered to the landscape. Irrigation controllers today have many strong technical capabilities to improve the irrigation efficiency of the sprinkler system’s overall performance. A successful company providing irrigation services will be highly trained in how to use and harness the power of the controller used. Proper use of the controller is critical in saving the client water and will significantly enhance the plant material on the landscape site. There are central irrigation controllers which can handle multiple controllers on a site and these systems have a high degree of complexity in keeping the system running properly.
Once the valve releases the water from the valve the water flows through pipe, which is usually either PVC or polyethylene. The water is then dispersed through delivery devices. The delivery device for large areas are through a product generally referred to as a rotor. For medium size areas the delivery device is generally referred to as a spray head. Rotors and spray heads have nozzles which play a very important role in delivering irrigation water in the most efficient manner possible.
For small areas, or instances where the water is to be delivered more precisely, the delivery device is named an emitter or micro spray. A common practice is to have emitters installed in polyethylene tubes which are available in different spacing configurations. These emitters are designed to deliver water at different rates and can be highly configurable.
Other components are often added to the primary sprinkler system to provide additional functionality and higher efficiencies. Examples of these types of devices include rain sensors, freeze sensors, soil moisture sensors, weather stations, and flow sensors. Irrigation system water is prevented from contaminating the potable water supply source through backflow prevention systems. There is a wide range of different code requirements for backflow prevention systems across the country.
The goal of an automated sprinkler system is to deliver the right amount of water in the most efficient manner possible. The sprinkler system may or may not be designed by an irrigation consultant who is a member of the American Society of Irrigation Consultants. These consultants are usually hired for the highest profile project developments in the country. Or, sprinkler systems installed in the country today may be designed by a Certified Irrigation Designer, a landscape contractor, an irrigation supplier, an irrigation manufacturer or another individual familiar with sprinkler system design. These designs are done in a multitude of ways ranging from simple pad and pencil to advanced CAD design programs.
Since the skill level of the irrigation designer can vary to such a large degree, there are many irrigation systems which are installed that are not efficient and do not utilize all of the features and benefits that are designed into the products by irrigation manufacturers. A wide range of problems are created with poor irrigation design. There may be inadequate areas of sprinkler coverage, unnecessary water usage, dead or damaged plant material, damage to property, wide spread system leaks and more.
Today, the majority of the landscape irrigation professionals are not certified through the Irrigation Association. A professional landscape contractor can significantly differentiate himself in the market by being not only a Certified Irrigation Designer but also a Certified Irrigation Contractor. The irrigation Association also offers certification programs for technicians, drip water auditors and landscape water auditors. There is also a certification program for water managers.
Although sprinkler irrigation supplies can be purchased from large retail home centers, and sometimes plumbing suppliers there is a vast network of suppliers who specialize in servicing contractors providing irrigation services. These irrigation suppliers specialize in stocking all of the parts necessary to build a sprinkler system. The irrigation supplier’s inventory will also include complimentary tools, troubleshooting products and repair parts.
Contractors who provide irrigation services benefit from a wide range of services which irrigation suppliers provide. Examples of these services are delivery, financing, technical advice and sometimes even design and take-off services.
A great resource for irrigation tutorials is at the following website location:
Jesse Stryker, a California landscape architect, has developed a very useful irrigation tutorial website.
Landscape irrigation market segments
Primary markets for professionals providing irrigation services are residential sites, commercial properties, sports turf markets, educational institutions, homeowner associations, and park and recreation areas. Each of these markets require the landscape professional to have different sets of irrigation and product knowledge skill sets, not to mention differences in the selling process.
Large sites that have more than 48 irrigation zones most likely will have been built according to properly prepared irrigation design. These sites will have by their very nature more products, components and varying requirements to be managed. The large sites may have a person responsible for the irrigation system, but many times the local person managing that site does not have a strong working irrigation knowledge. This type of personnel may be in-house grounds maintenance personnel or even custodial personnel.
This means that over time sites with large systems may have lost the functionality of the original sprinkler design through repairs or changes in the irrigation controller. If repairs and system improvements are required, large site property owners will most likely turn to the landscape professional who is providing their landscape maintenance. For the landscape maintenance professional this is an opportunity to provide this irrigation repair service.
The person who is providing the irrigation repair service to a large site will need to have a high degree of skills in irrigation troubleshooting.
Some of the skills involved in irrigation troubleshooting include but are not limited to the following.
- Pipe and wire tracking
- Basic electrical knowledge
- Basic knowledge on hydraulics
- The capability on how to program a wide range of different irrigation controllers
- How to use of volt/ohm readers
- Troubleshooting pump and valves
- Working understanding of backflow prevention and pressure valves
- Measuring on site water pressure
- Strong working knowledge of different piping configurations
Large sites have a higher degree of cost exposure on irrigation systems that are not operating at the highest efficiency. Your irrigation repair specialist for this site would provide great value to your customer if they were also a landscape water auditor. As the Irrigation Association states, “A certified water auditor would be trained on how to gather site information, determine irrigation uniformity and efficiency, develop a basic irrigation schedule, make maintenance recommendations and repairs, deal directly with the owner or water manager on managing the irrigation water use.” Also many large sites have central irrigation controllers which are very complex to keep up and running. A top-shelf irrigation repair specialist on your staff is critical for servicing large site accounts.
If you are offering irrigation repair services to smaller sites with 24 zones or less you will probably encounter a greater variability in the irrigation systems quality. That is because the original irrigation design and product installation was probably driven by different landscape professionals. You will be at a competitive advantage if your irrigation repair specialist is both a certified technician and landscape water auditor. Be sure to also refer to the EPA’s WaterSense website to learn more about certification programs to help your business stand out.
The repair specialist servicing this smaller irrigation will most likely have more direct interactions with the owner and the demeanor and customer service focus of your irrigation repair specialist will be critical in driving future referrals.
Whether it is small site or a large site, your irrigation repair specialist must be self-organized and be able to adhere to the processes you have in place. A profit killing situation will occur if your irrigation service repair specialist does not properly bill for the services rendered. Moreover, since irrigation repair specialists often cannot anticipate the products they need to complete repairs, it is highly recommended your company have processes in place that thoroughly account for products purchased from suppliers for customers and specific jobs. You want to bill the right customers.
Irrigation service niche opportunities
With pronounced droughts in recent memory in the Southeast, Texas and now the significant drought in California, property owners are very aware of the need to improve their existing irrigation systems.
Here are some of the key areas you can increase your service revenue with in irrigation services.
Controller upgrades – Today’s irrigation controllers are jam packed with features and benefits to improve the efficiency of the irrigation system. There are plenty of opportunities to identify older controllers which may not have up to date capabilities and upgrade those controllers. There are also a lot of inexpensive controllers which were installed in track homes, or by contractors who went for the lowest price controller on the original installation.
Almost every irrigation manufacturer today has an excellent controller that would provide your customer increased capabilities to improve the efficiencies of existing irrigation systems. Moreover, each manufacturer offers additional accessories that can improve the capabilities of the controller.
By focusing on controller upgrades to your existing and new customers you will be able to uncover a wide range of benefits that will help your word of mouth marketing referrals, improve your sales, set you apart from competition, and uncover more irrigation repair opportunities.
Visit your manufacturer of choice website to focus in on a controller and accessories you can master so you can get your sales and marketing programs put together to increase your profits. Be on the lookout for smart technology and EPA WaterSense labeled products.
Irrigation nozzle upgrades – There are probably hundreds of millions of spray heads installed across the country that are just waiting to get a nozzle upgrade to rotary or more efficient nozzle. Today’s nozzles are significantly more efficient than older model nozzles. Your irrigation nozzle upgrade will include installation of the more efficient nozzles, resetting the controller and a review of the existing system for other efficiency upgrades.
Sensor upgrades – Nothing seems more comical to the general public than when they see sprinkler systems running in rain storms or after significant rain events. Depending on your controller upgrade program you may also be able to include rain sensors, flow sensors, soil moisture sensors and other devices that can enhance a controller.