March 23 2020 06:00 AM

Learn how new technology improves pumps and valves.

When one thinks of “trendy” items, irrigation components don’t pop immediately to mind. Nonetheless, there are some identifiable trends in terms of two major ones: pumps and valves.

Pump trend #1: Variable frequency drive

Variable frequency drive is much more than a trend; it’s the biggest innovation in pump manufacturing in the last 20 years or so, as it’s vastly improved the way irrigation pumps operate. “In a VFD pump, the power ramps up slowly instead of all at once,” says Calvin Hale, director of education at Gicon Pumps and Equipment, Haltom City, Texas. “This is a lot easier on a pump’s motor, and as a consequence, they last much longer.”

There are other benefits to this slow ramp-up besides greater pump longevity. “VFD gives you constant pressure, not an up-and-down cycling,” says Hale. “So, when you’re using matched precipitation nozzles, you get full coverage all the time.” You also get a constant flow.

“VFD gives you constant pressure at a wide range of flows versus the old style of all-or-none,” says Laremy Kamas, commercial pump station sales manager, south region, for Rain Bird Corporation, Azusa, California. “With the older style pumps without VFD, you’d have to add pressure regulation devices because of zone flow and pressure changes across a system.

“For example, with a constant speed pump, if you were putting out 100 gallons a minute at 70 psi, then turned on a zone so that now you’re putting out 20 gallons a minute, the pump would have more horsepower available to produce more pressure,” says Kamas. “The result would be misting.”

VFD does add a bit to the cost of a pump, but few pumps today are sold that don’t include this feature. “We just discontinued the one non-VFD series we were still selling for light commercial and large estate homes because the control and efficiency are just not there,” says Kamas.

A VFD can also be retrofitted to an older pump that doesn’t already have it.

Pump trend #2: Wi-Fi and smartphone control

Today, everyone wants to control everything via smartphone, including irrigation contractors and site managers. “Fifteen or so years ago, the only type of remote notification you could get would be a page sent by a pump station on a golf course, and all that would say is, something’s wrong, come check it out,” says Kamas. “Now we have technology that lets us log into a pump station remotely from any internet-capable device. You can be notified that a pump is out of commission right away, not five days later when the mowing crew finally comes and sees that thousands of dollars’ worth of landscape material has burned up from lack of water.”

“Remote monitoring capability also saves a lot of money in labor costs,” says Hale.

Pump trend #3: More houses, more pumps

Pumps are more popular than ever before, particularly the horizontal centrifugal type. Bill Rosser, district sales manager at SiteOne Landscape Supply branch in Plano, Texas, has personally observed this trend.

Plano is a suburb of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, a tech-boom area with a lot of new housing developments. “We’re seeing a lot of demand for booster pumps here, more frequently today than we did 10 years ago, primarily because of population growth and the increased demand on the municipal water supply to maintain water pressure,” says Rosser. “A pump is often required because the pressure from the mains is not sufficient to operate home irrigation systems.”

Valve trend #1: Less brass, more glass-filled nylon

“Valves have traditionally been made out of brass,” says Joe Holohan, director of sales at Buckner Superior, Torrance, California. “But that market is becoming smaller and smaller and has been moving rapidly toward plastic (glass-filled nylon and PVC) in-line valves. When you get outside of the western part of the United States and specifically California, the brass valve market gets considerably smaller.”

“However, there is still a strong market for brass master valves from public agencies and water purveyors,” adds Richard Greenland, technical service manager at Buckner Superior. “They’re also desired for use in large commercial applications.”

Brass valves are durable; many that were installed 50 years ago are often found to still be operating. Their decline in popularity is mainly due to the material’s much higher cost. But it’s not as if the newer types lack quality. “Higher-end nylon valves are equal to and, in some cases, better than brass,” says Jeffrey G. Johnson, PE, senior product manager, commercial rotors and valves, Rain Bird, Azusa, California.

He adds that the choice of brass over nylon or PVC is also a regional preference. “The majority of brass valves are sold in Southern California, the southwest U.S., and in some rugged-use pockets internationally like the Middle East.”

Valve trend #2: EPDM diaphragms

Traditionally, valve diaphragms have been made of black rubber. Now, many are being made of ethylene propylene diene monomer, a synthetic rubber. Robb Kowalewski, product manager, valves and micro irrigation at Hunter Industries, San Marcos, California, says the trend toward EPDM diaphragms is being spurred by the increasing number of splash pads, padded nonslip surfaces fitted with various nozzles that shower, spray, mist and shoot streams of water being installed in parks and playgrounds as a safer alternative to pools. “These things use a lot of chlorine, and that chews through black rubber components,” says Kowalewski. “EPDM has chemicals in it that make it much more resilient to chlorine.”

The increasing use of reclaimed and recycled nonpotable water for irrigation is another reason manufacturers toughened up valve inner components. “Reclaimed and recycled water tends to be much higher in chemicals, notably chlorine,” says Johnson. “We have to make sure the materials that are inside the valves can withstand those chemicals. When you have nonpotable sources, almost any manufacturer will go to using EPDM for the diaphragms.”

Valve trend #3: More filtration

The increased use of reclaimed and recycled water has also brought with it an increased need for filtration, as this water can contain solenoid-clogging dirt, debris and algae. “We have something at Hunter called Filter Sentry for our ICV valves,” says Kowalewski. “This works by scouring the filter clean with a wiper that slides up the screen when the valve opens. It continues to scrub the filter’s upper part during valve operation.”

All the other major valve manufacturers have similar scrubbing devices attached to their filters. These scrubbers sometimes can be added later, after a valve has been installed.

The author is a contributing editor to Irrigation & Green Industry and can be reached at pouncerspy@gmail.com.