Costing Out An Irrigation System
Ok. Stay calm. Let’s see how we’re going to handle this.
A number of questions enter my mind as I think to myself, who are these people? How did they find me? Let’s look at where they live and do I cover that area. Some other questions I ask myself is, who are these people? Do they sound like someone I’d like to work for? I wonder how many other contractors they’ve called before me. Are they just shopping?
Before I go any further, I now want to qualify them. If you have staff, this can be a staff person responsibility. They can ask these questions and qualify the lead. It will save your time for more productive work.
I will try to walk you through the steps that need to take place to be able to give this potential client a fair price – that is a price that allows you to make a reasonable profit for the hard work you are about to agree upon. Let’s think about the main steps involved in working up the installation price for them.
Before I go much further, I want to advise you that even though you may put in four or more hours on this proposal and spend time visiting the site, you may not get the job. However, if you qualified them properly, you at least put the percentages on your side.
All of these questions need to be thought through to be able to go ahead to step 2.
What are some of the other considerations that come into play here? Well the main one will be workload – how much work do I already have booked and how much more do I need? This is a key decision maker as to how hard you will try to land a job. Let’s say you make up your mind and want to go after this one, what’s next?
Make an appointment and drive on out to meet them. But, before you leave the yard set the tripometer to 0 that way you will know the distance to the site. Also time the ride so you know how long it should take to get there. You need this depth of information to be able to work out the cost and your estimate price that you are going to submit, hoping to land this one.
Once you’ve arrived, make a note of the distance and time. Now did you bring any goodies to show the potential client to woo them over – clear cased sprinklers, valves, pieces of pipe, promotional video or DVD, etc? If so hold on for a second. We need to do a meet and greet and introduce ourselves and our company. Remember – the first impression is the lasting one and you only get one chance to make a first impression.
Oh yea, that dirty installation shirt and pants – loose them! I would hope that you would keep a spare clean not heavily wrinkled set of sales clothes in your vehicle – and you would change before arrival. I don’t think it will go over very well if you do a strip tease in the driveway and the husband is watching – maybe if it’s a desperate housewife situation you may end up with the job after all.
Ok, let’s begin. You need about one hour to do your work so if they are retired with lots of spare time slip them the video/DVD and ask them to watch it while you go to work.
We use a Site Information Form, so the first thing I want to see is the water meter, be it inside or out. Find out the size of the meter and the service line size (city water supply line). This and all the other information will be written on the Site Information Form.
Next, measure the water pressure and flow with your pressure flow gauge. This is a gauge that you can buy from your supply house in most cases. If you don’t have one of these devices don’t worry – grab a bucket and a stop watch, ready go, turn on the water start the stop watch, 10 seconds later, stop the water. Measure the water, say 2 gallons, multiply the volume of water by 6 and you will have the maximum flow for GPM or gallons per minute, should equal 12 gpm.
Now, check out where the controller could be installed – downstairs, outside, in the garage or maybe elsewhere. Be sure to ask the homeowners so they are in agreement.
Check to make sure the receptacle has power, approximately 120vac @60Hz will do. If it does not work check another plug close by and ask the homeowner to have the broken one fixed by a licensed electrician.
Let’s get out the roll-a-tape or cloth tape measure and run some measurements. Find out how long the driveway is from the road to the outside corner of the garage. Jot this down. Now measure from the property line back to the same corner of the garage. This is known as triangulating so that you can put these measurements down on a piece of paper and come up with a plot plan to lay the heads out, so you can come up with a total head count for the job. I actually do this on graph paper and make a scaled hasty sketch as I take the measurements and plot sprinklers as I think they will be placed.
Once you have measured the entire area, and don’t leave anything major out or it will cost you money. Continue to plot sprinkler heads in what is known as the trouble areas – the spots beside walls, driveways, sidewalks – known as hard areas or hardscapes. Some contractors flag the job as they go so they can show the potential client where the sprinklers will be placed. If you want to be fancy flag each station’s sprinklers in a different color for visual effect. To do this you will need to know how to create zones or stations and that comes next.
You measured the water and know how many gallons of water should be available to design the irrigation system with. Designers Rule: Use only 80% of the total amount of available water so that some is left for whatever – next phase of the project, lower water volume in the future due to age, other things that can affect the volume of water available to operate the system. There is nothing worse than doing all your homework, designing and installing a superb system and then turning it on and finding out something is wrong with the water pressure and the system won’t work properly, or as we say as per design.
Designers Rule: Combine like plant material and exposures together.
Looking at the site drawing for our design, (shown in number 5 , we can see that there are some small areas and larger areas. Designers Rule: Choose the sprinkler nozzle that fits the area as close as possible.
Sprays 5’ – 15’
Rotary nozzles 13’ – 24’
Mid sized rotors 16’ – 30’
Rotors 22’ – 35’
Sports Rotors 40’ – 65’
Ok, layout the rest of the sprinklers, divide them by the 10gpm we are going to use, be sure to keep grass and plants on their own stations as well as sunny areas, shady areas and slopes. These are all to be separate water zones or stations, and by the way sprays put down three times the amount of water than rotors due to what is known as PR or precipitation rates – so do not combine them on the same station. The only exception to the rule is the new rotary nozzles have matched PR rates with some rotors and only when matched can they be combined on the same station or valve.
Now count up all of the components that make up this design and write them down on. Start with the sprinkler heads, nozzles, valves, pipe, fittings, valve boxes, clamps, wire, controller, rain sensor, wire connectors, screws, nipples, and any and all other components. Whatever you miss here – you pay for! (We’ve developed an Excel bidding form sold at www.watermgm.com
Of course you have already established an account with a reputable supply house that will give you terms, a discount price and will have everything you need in stock right? If not, do your homework and get it done.
Next, take your cost price and add up the cost of each item. Taxes you paid need to be included in theses prices so you can recover them. Total all of the numbers to come up with a material cost price – the price you paid. Hopefully this should match your suppliers invoice total for the material you have bought. You can’t always buy exactly what you need so you have to take extra in box lots or bag lots. These can be used for future jobs and service work so don’t count them as part of the material cost for this job.
Your done right – wrong! What about your overhead costs, labor costs, known as fixed and variable costs. You need to know how much your office, phones, yellow page ads, insurance, bonding if required come to for the year. You also need to know how long it takes to drive to the job, how much gas, how much labor it costs to get your crew to the jobsite, vehicle maintenance cost for driving that distance – usually worked out as so many cents per mile – about 50 cents per mile.
Add up all of these costs and then you now need to decide how much money you should have left over when you are completely done this project. In other words how much profit do I need to make to allow my company to prosper? 100%? You will never land a job. 10%? You will work yourself out of business because you will not be able to make enough money. A guideline for you is somewhere between 25% to 35% markup on the project price. This is for residential. For commercial it will need to be slightly lower, about 20%. You should investigate your market place and come up with your own percentage points. Large commercial and golf are their own animals and I tend to leave that work to the companies that specialize doing large projects.
You will need to have an estimate form that you present to the client showing the major component make, type, model, and quantities. Do not leave them with a drawing even if it is a sketch (for obvious reasons) unless they sign with you and give you a deposit typically 10% - 40% the more the better and whatever your laws allow.
Ok, I think you’re good to go, so go and get some work. Good luck.
Editor's Note: Lorne Haveruk, principal of DH Water Management Services, is a certified irrigation auditor, certified irrigation designer, and a certified irrigation contractor. Lorne specializes in teaching others the fundamentals of irrigation, water efficient design service, and facilitating central control system implementation throughout North America and Europe. He has been actively saving water since 1991. You can contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.watermgm.com