While some irrigation contractors may be hesitant to adopt smart controllers, it may just give them the advantage they need to gain more customers and become more profitable.
“Sometimes, end customers don’t have a lot of respect for the landscape industry, so if a contractor can come in as a water management professional, someone who not just understands but who can use the technology for the purpose of saving their customers water while making their landscape look better, that elevates them to a much higher standard,” says Richard Restuccia, vice president, water management solutions, at Jain Irrigation. “They will automatically start getting more work because they’ll be separating themselves from the competition through the quality of their work.”
Restuccia and Matthew Mikucki, director of product marketing at SiteOne Landscape Supply lay out the ins and outs of smart controllers and how irrigation pros can take advantage of them.
By using smart controllers, irrigation professionals are providing a better service to their customers, Mikucki says.
“You don’t want to have your homeowner running their irrigation system when it is raining out, and you want to be applying the correct amount of water needed for the plant material when you are looking at the overall amount of water being applied, whether it is from rain or from the irrigation system,” Mikucki says. “Overwatering is as much of an issue as underwatering. Overwatering can cause diseases in your turfgrass and potentially allow pests such as mosquitoes to grow.”
Restuccia notes that the water and cost savings for customers are also a plus.
“You have to distinguish yourself from the competition by saying 'we are a water management company, and we may have a higher fee, but because we use smart controllers and manage your water appropriately, we're going to save you money on your water bills that will more than make up what we're charging on our higher fee.'”
Additionally, using a smart controller means irrigation pros don’t have to waste labor driving to a site to adjust the system.
“From its most basic level, having a smart controller means you don't have to physically touch the controller to make an adjustment on it,” Restuccia says. “If someone has a traditional controller, and there’s rain coming or winter is coming, they need to drive to a site to shut the controllers off, and the waste of time, labor and fuel is incredible. Think of one account manager handling 15 jobs. This ability for the times to change automatically for you daily is a huge time saver, and it doesn't cause all that waste that we're trying to eliminate right now in our environment.”
What to know
It’s important to remember that a smart system is not just the irrigation controller, Mikucki says.
Irrigation pros should look at the distribution of water and understand that pressure-regulating sprays ensure the nozzle is performing at the best pressure to maintain optimum performance of the spray head or rotor. Other components of a smart system include precision spray nozzles, rotary nozzles and drip irrigation systems.
“All these products tie back into the smart controller which is the brains of the system. This controller uses an internet connection to determine weather, evapotranspiration and calculate the proper amount of water to apply to the turf,” Mikucki says. “The systems are only as smart as the information entered into the controller. Setting up a drip zone or a spray zone is important to make sure the controller can calculate the proper run time for the zone.”
Mickucki and Restuccia agree that performing an irrigation evaluation, or site survey, is key before upgrading or installing an old system.
“They’re going to have to spend some time learning about the basic soil and plant makeup of the jobsite because all of that impacts the amount of water used,” Restuccia says. “They’ll have to look at the amount of shade on a property, what kind spray heads and rotors are already on-site and more.”
For professionals worried about the time it takes to onboard new technology, Restuccia says that shouldn’t be a prohibitive factor.
Irrigation pros wanting to learn more about implementing smart controllers can look to their manufacturers, distributors and associations for continuing education.
Restuccia adds that irrigation professionals should start thinking about adding the technology now.
“The industry has been slow to adopt because they feel they don’t have the time or labor, but if somebody wants to invest in the technology, it’s time to get on the ball today,” Restuccia says. “There’s plenty of business to go around, and nobody is too late to the game.”
Sidebar: Sustainability all around
So, what happens to the older irrigation equipment once it’s replaced with newer technology?
One option is to enroll in a recycling program, like the one SiteOne Landscape Supply offers.
“The idea of the program is the contractor looks for customers with older and inefficient systems where they can upgrade them to a new system,” Mikucki says. “All the contractor needs to do is pull the old controller off the wall of the homeowner, take it to a SiteOne branch and turn it in at one of the designated drop boxes. A SiteOne associate will help them pick out a new smart controller from one of our partner companies, and the contractor will save 15 percent on the cost of the controller.”
The program began after SiteOne found that there are upward of 30 million inefficient irrigation controllers operating in the U.S. and Canada. The company then partnered with Blue Star Recyclers to recycle the old controllers.
The program runs for two months—March and April.
“There is no limit to the number of controllers a contractor can recycle, but it is a 1:1 returned controller and discount,” Mikucki says. “Right now, we are focused on recycling controllers only. There may be opportunities in the future to recycle other components of the irrigation system, but right now the recycling channel is focused on the electronic waste, so we are taking advantage of that and keeping those old controllers out of the landfill.”
There are other options for irrigation professionals who miss that window.
For example, some irrigation manufacturers like Jain Irrigation Systems, offer smart controller options that attach to a conventional controller, thus making it a smart system.
“It makes it so you don't have to throw away your old controller, and it uses that old controller and makes it a smart controller,” Restuccia says. “We can take over the current controller and download our schedules to it. That way, you don’t lose your old investment, and it’s sustainable.”