Drought is still a problem in a large portion of our country, and experts say it’s going to keep on being one for some time to come, especially in the West. A water audit is meant to show your clients how much water they’re using. Equally as important, by retrofitting their irrigation system, they can not only save water, but save money on their water bills. More customers than ever are requesting water audits and many more irrigation and landscape contractors are offering this service.
Have you ever wanted to perform a water audit for a customer, but were daunted by the advanced mathematical calculations involved? What if there was a way to do it without having to be a math whiz? Well, now there is.
A nifty little tool, called the ‘Irrigation Audit App,’ is the brainchild of Salt Lake City, Utah-based Hydro- Rain’s president, Stuart J. Eyring. “I developed it to make irrigation auditing accessible to a much broader audience,” explains Eyring. “Typically, it’s been the domain of irrigation professionals.”
Now, this free tool is available to anyone who wants to perform a water audit, and you don’t have to be a CLIA (certified landscape irrigation auditor) to do it, or to understand it. The app can be downloaded from Hydro-Rain’s website.
“Going through an audit process is computationally intensive,” says Eyring. “One of the reasons is the complex math involved. Traditionally, you have to complete a worksheet, by month, for every zone, and calculate a schedule. And the ET data required hasn’t been easy to come by. I just wanted to take all those things and make it much simpler, so that many more people could do it.”
A page on the website explains the methodology behind the app. But with this app, there’s no need to know how to solve the “Penman-Montieth Equation,” nor to know how to use any of the other mind-bending, complex formulas involving scheduling multipliers and distribution uniformity that traditional water audits involve. The app does the math for you. The ET has been computed for all landmasses of any significant size around the world.
Richard Daigle teaches a CLIA certification class at the Irrigator Technical Training School he owns in Ontario, California. Besides learning the traditional Irrigation Association-approved method, his students also learn Hydro-Rain’s new app. “First, we do an audit by the traditional method, by hand, with all the catch cups. It takes six or seven hours. Then we add up everything and go through all the formulas that the IA puts out.”
“Then, after we’ve obtained those numbers, we put a laptop in front of everyone, and have them do another audit for the same site using the Hydro-Rain Irrigation Audit App. It takes them about 45 minutes, and they end up with a set of numbers very close to what the traditional method obtained.”
Daigle says that he’s taught and worked with the app hundreds of times over the past two years, in all of his CLIA classes. It’s worked so well that he’s amazed by it.
“The great thing that Hydro-Rain did was to make it so somebody with limited computer skills can sit there and just pop in the numbers. They end up just a few percentage points off what a traditional audit would get.”
Daigle analyzes this from a client’s perspective. “If you go to a property manager and say, ‘I’ll do your audit, and it’s going to take nine hours at $150 an hour,’ that manager then has to think long and hard about how much return on investment he’s going to get from that.”
With the app, an irrigation contractor can quickly show a property manager how much water he’s currently using, and how much he can save, say, by changing to more efficient nozzles, or from sprays to drip.
The contractor can explain that he can shave the customer’s water bill by 25 to 30 percent, from, say, $10,000 a month to $7,000 a month. And the property managers just go, ‘Wow!’ data is input, the results will automatically include a distribution uniformity rating (the quality of watering coverage on a scale of 0- 100 percent). Possible solutions for stations with low uniformity are identified. You’ll also get a monthly sprinkler system schedule for each station, and suggestions for customizing that schedule.
Eyring, who is himself a CLIA, insists that his app isn’t going to put anyone out of business. “The app doesn’t replace what a CLIA does,” he says. “Large and complicated sites are still best left to the professionals.”
Concern about water conservation in the face of increased drought is the main reason Eyring developed the app. He wanted to make it easy for any green industry person or homeowner to assess the performance of an irrigation system and create an efficient watering schedule in a short amount of time. Hydro- Rain’s goal is to greatly multiply the number of audits that are actually done, leading to greater water conservation on a large scale.
But why would a home or business owner bother with this, when many cities provide free water audits? “Yes, they do,” Eyring admits. “But in reality, only a handful of people will ever request one.” One of his motivations is to take a city from performing 400 audits a year and have it become 4,000 a year, without ever eliminating what CLIAs are doing.
He cites this example: “Recently, I visited a medium-sized city in Colorado,” he says. “The city has a small team of professional auditors that do a couple of hundred audits a year. But there are tens of thousands of water users in that city; the auditors only get to a very small percentage.”
“We’ve done studies about how irrigation controllers are actually used by homeowners. What they show is that these controllers are adjusted on a very infrequent basis, usually just once or twice per year—and that’s mostly to turn systems on or off.”
Eyring says that many conservation districts have a “tuna can test” on their websites, but contends that the tests are too complicated and very hard to translate into watering schedules.
Daniel Martinez is an independent irrigation repair technician and the owner of Daniel’s Sprinkler Service in Riverside, California. He learned the app last November, and has used it successfully many times since then.
“It takes just a couple of minutes to set up your catch-cans. Then you just wait ten minutes, run a cycle, then punch your totals into the system, and it calculates them right away. You can do a complete, quick water audit, measuring the efficiency of the system within 15 to 20 minutes. It works very well, and it’s really simple to do.”
Martinez says that in addition to helping him create a watering schedule, it makes it easy to show customers the places where their coverage isn’t ideal. Then, he can easily determine what products would work better in their system, or he can tweak the existing ones to save water.
He’s been able to achieve dramatic water savings for his clients.
“I’ve had customers with $300 to $400 water bills. Just by changing their cycles and limiting runoff, using the app, I’ve been able to cut their bills by $150 to $200 dollars.” A 50 percent savings? Not too shabby.
Daigle especially likes the fact that the app strips the math out of the audit process. “Our industry’s not really good with numbers,” he contends. “The guys in the field, mowing, trimming, doing manual labor and getting full of mud—a lot of them have eighth-grade, ninth-grade educations. They can’t take a CLIA class and pass the first time. It’ll take them 15 tries to do it, and their employers aren’t going to pay for that.”
“But with the app, their bosses can say, ‘Go play with this at home.’ Once they get it, they can start earning money with it right away.”
Daigle says the app makes it “so easy. All someone has to do is pull out his iPad or smartphone, and say, ‘Look at the results.’”
He emphasizes that property managers and other customers need to be able to do more than just look at results; they also need to understand them. “One property manager handed me a three-inch thick book that some auditor compiled. He told me, ‘The auditor handed me a bill for $7,000 and said this book would show me how to save water. But I don’t know how to read it.’”
“This app is very consumer-friendly,” say Daigle. “People say, ‘I get this.’” It makes the contractor who uses it a success, making it more likely that a manager will say, ‘Do another property for us.’”
Go to: irrigationaudit.hydrorain.com to download the app. Give it a try, and see if it works for you.