Nov. 23 2010 12:00 AM

Here is the answer

The more important question to ask is Why would you care about a new irrigation system if the one you´ve been installing since you first started your business works just fine?

There are a number of reasons. A lot of new technology has been introduced since you installed that first system, and with all the concerns about water shortages, you need to get up to speed.

A new set of matrices has replaced the old. Doing business today and in the future will not only require all your business skills, but you will need to know how to effectively handle water sustainability. Equally as important, you will need to know how to go about it.

If that’s the direction you’re heading in, it’s time to take another look, especially at 2Wire.

First, let’s see how the two systems differ. In a conventional multi-wire system, you run one common wire plus a hot wire from every valve in the system back to the controller. For example, say you’re installing a fivestation system. The first valve is 20 yards away from the controller, and would require 20 yards of wire. The second is 40 yards away and would require an additional 40 yards. At 60 yards out, you’d require another 60 yards of wire and so on. When you’ve totaled all these yards of wire together, along with the 100 yards of common wire you’d need to thread everything together, you’re looking at 400 yards of wire. With the growing cost of copper, this can potentially blow your client’s budget.

On the other hand, a 2Wire system, as the name implies, is only comprised of two wires. These two wires both originate at the controller, then run to a decoder installed at the first valve in the system. From there, the same two wires run to the next decoder/valve combination and so on throughout the property. So, if you install a 2Wire to that same property mentioned above, you only need 20 yards of wire from the controller to the first valve, 20 to the second and 20 to the third, and so on, for a total of 100 yards of hot wire, in addition to the common wire. The grand total would be 200 yards of wire, versus 400. You can see how this would be a huge cost reduction, not only of wire but installation labor as well.

But is saving money and time enough of an incentive for you to consider 2Wire? Perhaps. However, there are other advantages of 2Wire as well, especially if you’re installing an irrigation system for a large business park or condominium complex, where expansion is planned over a period of years.

“Flexibility is the biggest advantage of 2Wire,” says Ivy Munion, principal with ISC Group, Inc., Livermore, California. “When it comes to ease of expansion, you can’t beat 2Wire. All you need to do is connect the last valve on the project to the new one on the expansion and go from there, without having to dig trenches to accommodate the wiring from the new valves all the way back to the controller.”

A 2Wire system can also solve specific problems on projects that conventional wiring would not be able to accomplish. Munion recalls such an experience: “One of our largest phase projects consisted of three 500 station controllers on 27 building locations, managing 1,500 gallons of water per minute for the entire site. The property manager wanted to be able to control the water use and bill each of the buildings separately. With 2Wire technology, we were able to accomplish this by installing a flow sensor and master valve on each building. Then, we set that valve’s flow threshold levels and regulated it separately from the other sites in the complex.”

Another advantage to 2Wire is the ability to convert an existing controller to 2Wire operation without having to pull the old controller off the wall and replace it with a brand new one. This could be of great benefit for those clients who are looking to retrofit an existing system and may have grown comfortable with what they’ve been using. With 2Wire, your clients are getting the best of worlds: new, modern technology and the comfort of familiarity.

“Retrofitting an existing system is fairly easy,” says Ed Underhill, Underhill International, Lake Forest, California. “To create a hybrid 2Wire system, you just take any two wires that exist in the current conventional system and connect them to a decoder module. That connection then becomes the new 2Wire path that now runs from that point as far away as 8,000 feet.”

Using this technology, Munion converted her client’s existing controller to a 2Wire system by simply creating a “hybrid” controller which would work with both the conventional and 2Wire systems. “We took an entire site that used to have several individual controllers and put it on one master 2Wire system without having to dig up the entire landscape,” Munion said.

With so many municipalities enforcing strict water regulations, many property owners are looking for ways to conserve water. Going from a conventional irrigation system to a “smart” controller using a 2Wire system makes monitoring and regulating water use more efficient.

“The main reason our clients are converting from conventional controllers to smart ones is because they’re not only looking to see water savings, they also want all the other benefits the new systems have that the older ones didn’t,” says John Fordemwalt, president

of Baseline Systems, Boise, Idaho. “The wiring of conventional controllers transmits only power, but the 2Wire system transmits more than power—it can also transmit data.”

This means that some 2Wire systems cannot only be hooked up to valves, but also moisture sensors, weather stations, and flow sensors as well. And this information can be transmitted to a computer, laptop, or even a cell phone to alert property managers to any problems, or to just check on their properties quickly and easily.

“With the new Internet applications and wireless connections, 2Wire can become a complete network that can be managed from anywhere at any time by just about anyone,” Fordemwalt says.

Even with all the new advancements in 2Wire technology, some contractors are still hesitant to explore the new frontier. Fordemwalt believes that this is due to the early days of 2wire when contractors first tried the new system, without having the right tools, or proper training.

“If you want to benefit from the market growth of 2Wire, you should invest in training yourself, or some of your personnel, in troubleshooting,” Fordemwalt says. “In practice, 2Wire faults can be found and fixed faster than conventional wire faults, if you know what you’re doing.”

Troubleshooting a 2Wire system is another area where labor and time is considerably less than with conventional multi-wire systems. If there’s a problem in the old design, you could be spending hours and hours continuity testing to find where the break is and then, after you do find the locat i o n o f t h e problem, you have to make sure you have the right wire connectors. If you’re trying to pick out the one damaged wire from a rat’s nest of many colors, it can be very time-consuming. With 2Wire, you’re only dealing with two colors that loop all the way around the site, making finding a problem a lot easier. You can test the continuity at each point, until you find the spot where it’s been lost.

“If you know how to troubleshoot a conventional wire system, you won’t really have a problem with 2Wire,” says Justin Carver, grounds maintenance manager with Maxwell Landscape Service, Chesapeake, Virginia.

“And because the damaged wire only runs a few feet between decoders and you’re only dealing with two wires, all you need to do is replace the damaged wire and connect the red to red, or black to black and you’re done.”

Since it was first introduced, 2Wire technology training has come a long way. Companies like Underhill and Rain Bird, as well as the Irrigation Association, offer extensive training and classes in 2Wire technology and installation. “2Wire may seem like a foreign language at first, but after contractors install it once, and see just how simple it is, from then on they become fans,” Underhill said.

With the growing popularity in 2Wire systems, manufacturers are looking toward the future, where they’ll not only become more accepted in the commercial market, but with new products driving down the cost of the systems, they’ll start to become attractive to the residential market as well.

“The systems that we’re selling today are a bit more sophisticated than most homeowners really need, but I do see the technology eventually maturing to the point where it’s cost effective for the residential market,” said Fordemwalt.

By that time, the industry will have accepted 2Wire as a viable alternative to conventional multi-wire. Munion sees that trend already happening.

“A few years ago, we had to really persuade contractors on the benefits of the 2Wire system before they’d even consider installing one. Now, we actually have them come to us and say that’s what they want,” she says.

There is no doubt that the answer to the question of 2Wire is a definite yes. The only question that now remains is when that client comes asking for you to install 2Wire, will you be ready?