It wasn’t so very long ago that
the water situation in many
states had reached crisis proportions,
resulting in the implementation of
some of the toughest watering restrictions
that had ever been seen.
You can imagine the amount of rejoicing
when deluges of rain brought
many states in the Southeast back up
to comfortable water levels. In south
Florida, for example, some water restrictions
were actually lifted, as were
those in Georgia and the Carolinas.
come and go in cycles. Although there might be more water to go around
now in certain areas of the country, that doesn’t mean there won’t be
more droughts to come later on down the line. And in areas like south
Texas and the West Coast, the water crisis still rages on, and cities
there are doing all they can to ensure high levels of water efficiency.
Many water agencies believe that irrigation for landscaping
accounts for more than 50 percent of the total amount of water used in
most homes. So it makes sense that if we’re trying to cut back on
water, the first places we should look to are the irrigation systems.
taking a look at your existing client base. How are their irrigation
systems running? Are they overwatering? Is there excess water runoff?
How accurate are their watering schedules? The key word here is
watering. Chances are, many of your clients are watering their
properties using a conventional controller.
This controller is
essentially a clock which sends an electrical impulse to open and close
the valves at a specified time, for a specified period of time. What
these clients probably fail to realize, however, is that they’re
wasting enormous amounts of water. Conventional controllers will
continue watering regardless of rainy days, seasonal changes or plant
material. Without anyone going in and adjusting the clock to take such
variables into account, these controllers will inevitably overwater and
Those interested in saving water should
consider using smart water controllers to regulate their systems.
Rather than following the same watering schedule day in, day out, these
controllers will adjust their watering schedules based on the data they
receive from soil moisture sensors, on-site weather sensors or virtual
weather sources. Using this data, they will calculate ET
(evapotranspiration) values on a daily basis. This will tell the
controllers exactly how much water needs to be applied (no more, no
less) in order to keep the plants healthy. This way, smart controllers
never run the risk of overwatering.
“The frequency of
irrigation and the amount of water necessary to keep an optimal
moisture balance for the entire property is based on data that’s input
in the controller,” says Don Clark, senior product manager at Rain
Bird, Tucson, Arizona. “The controller automatically makes adjustments
daily, based on weather patterns, so what you’ll typically find with
smart controllers is that the rate of irrigation becomes less
If your clients aren’t yet using this technology,
maybe now is the time to introduce them to the features smart
controllers have to offer. Even though there is an initial cost to
upgrading, they will save in water and energy.
Whole new markets
the technology continues to grow more sophisticated, it’s also becoming
easier for novices to use. Not only that, but prices continue to drop
while the demand for water soars. For these reasons, smart controllers
are quickly becoming practical solutions not only for the commercial
market, but the residential market as well. “With all the innovative
and cutting-edge products being produced, manufacturers are making it
easier and more affordable for residential users to upgrade their
irrigation systems to smart control,” claims Jeff Kremicki, product
marketing manager for Hunter Industries, San Marco, California.
cities are offering rebates to homeowners who take advantage of smart
water technology. In San Diego, California, for instance, homeowners
can get enough money back from the city to pay for a smart controller
in full, although this depends on what water district they’re in. And,
in accordance with California’s AB1881 assembly bill, all new
irrigation installations made in the state after 2012 must run on smart
“What we’re seeing in the industry right now is
that the technology is being driven down to the residential marketplace
to meet these impending deadlines, like the AB1881 Bill,” says Brian
Ries, marketing manager for The Toro Company’s Irrigation Division in
What this means is that a lot of
existing systems are going to be out-of-date in the coming years unless
they’re upgraded. This brings us to retrofitting, or replacing a
conventional controller with smart water technology.
a conventional controller is not as difficult as some might think. In
fact, it can be done in less than two hours if you’re quick. Simply go
in and replace the existing controller with a smart controller, do the
necessary programming and you’re done. “The biggest market opportunity
we have is to retrofit our existing customer base with smart
controllers,” explains Mike Mason, president and CEO for Weathermatic,
Dallas, Texas. “I know contractors who are literally making as much
money right now as they ever have because they’re doing nothing but
Where does it get its data, anyway?
does a smart controller perform those calculations? This is a perfectly
reasonable question to ask. Depending on how your smart controller is
set up, the answer can vary.
There are three basic
sources for smart control: soil moisture and rain sensors, on-site
weather stations and virtual weather sources.
Soil moisture sensors determine the amount of water that has already been absorbed by the soil. If it’s
rained recently and there’s a sufficient level of water in the soil, a
soil moisture sensor will relate this information back to the
If there was only a slight drizzle earlier in the
day and the soil still needs more water (but not as much water as it
would on a dry day), a soil moisture sensor will tell the controller
the exact amount of water the turf needs to stay healthy.
weather stations, on the other hand, measure a variety of elements that
relate directly to the weather. Controllers that are weather
station-based will measure temperature, solar radiation, rain fall,
humidity and wind to determine how it will water the turf. Virtual
weather sources are the latest and most exciting of the smart water
sources. What separates virtual weather source-based controllers from
those that run on sensors or weather stations is that they receive all
of their data wirelessly from the Internet, paging networks, cellular
transmissions or other wireless sources.
Using a virtual weather source can be as simple as going to www.weather.com
to get a feel for what your ET value should be, or— even
better—depending on the type of smart controller you have, you may be
able to configure it so that it receives a regular feed of real-time
weather data. As your controller receives this data, it will
self-adjust the run times accordingly. Many states offer their own
weather station networks (such as SIMIS in California), so check with
your state’s agricultural department to see what’s available.
use WeatherTRAK’s ET Everywhere service,” says Ries. “It’s wireless
weather data from literally all over the place.” Programs such as ET
Everywhere pull its data from upwards of 25,000 different sources
across the country, from weather stations at airports, universities and
“All of that data from all of those sources gets broken down and disseminated to our
controllers on a daily basis,” claims Ries. “They’re getting all the
variables they need to determine an ET value.”
Smart technology made easier Thanks to online
weather services, nowadays monitoring your system’s watering schedule
can be as simple as logging in. You can adjust your watering times from
your home computer right before you go to bed, or from your cell phone.
Anywhere in the world where you have access to the web, you
have access to the irrigation system. There are monetary benefits to
web-based systems as well. Because they’re wireless, you can save a lot
of time and money, simply given the fact that you don’t have to run an
Ethernet cord from the controller back to a PC-based computer.
a lot of labor expense in hooking your system up to a centralized PC,
especially if you’re in a city,” claims Steve Springer, senior
marketing manager for Rain Master, Simi Valley, California. “You’d have
to run cables across roads and into parks . . . you can very easily
find yourself spending $50,000 just to get two wires from point A to
point B. In addition, you have to continue to buy new software to keep
up with the new features.
“If you’re running off an Internet system that doesn’t require any software and all you have to do is log in, then right there you’ve solved two of the key complaints you’ll hear for the stand-alone PC-controlled system.”
companies such as Rain Master will allow you to configure your smart
controller to alert you every time something goes wrong.
pipe breaks; with smart water technology, your system will know to shut
down immediately before sending an alert back to central control
telling you what has happened. If you’re running off of a web-based
system, those alerts can go straight to your email or your cell phone.
can even customize your system to receive only the kinds of alerts you
want. Let’s say you manage a property where you’re afraid that someone
might tamper with the field controller. You can actually customize your
system so you will receive alerts every time a change has been made in
one of the programs.
“With our system, there are 16 alerts
that you can program, and you can set the criteria any way you want for
all 16 of them,” says Springer.
feature is another useful innovation in smart water technology. It’s a
sensor that actually measures how long it takes for the soil to dry out
after it’s rained. “If it rains for three days straight and then stops,
do you really want to irrigate the soil for the next three days after
that?” asks Mason.
“Heckno , you don’t! The soil already has
enough water. Our Smart- Line product knows not to apply water during
that time, and knows exactly when it should start applying.” With Rain
Bird’s latest smart controllers, you can even choose between navigating
the controller’s system in English or in Spanish. You can make your
language selection simply by pressing a button. It also includes a
handy programming wizard to help you through the system’s menus and
Crash course irrigation
Irrigation Association hosts a two-day course called the Certified
Landscape Irrigation Auditor program, which teaches students how to
correctly install smart water controllers. Companies such as Rain Bird
offer on-site training for contractors who want to learn more about
“To effectively use smart con trollers,
people should really get some background knowledge,” says Clark. “We
have a free online training program that anyone can participate in,
including homeowners.” Of course, converting to smart water technology
is just the beginning.
If you’re following poor irrigation
practices (for instance, if you have spray heads shooting water out
onto the sidewalk or you’re watering plants that call for less water
than you’re giving them), then it really won’t matter how good your
irrigation watering schedule is because your system still won’t be
“Most people think smart controllers are
the panacea, the silver bullet,” says Clark. “But they’re just one of
the bullets you need in your gun. You have to get the whole thing
running in a smart manner if you want to do things right. I’d recommend
getting an irrigation audit to bring the whole system up to speed.
After you’ve done that, you can augment what you’ve done by installing
a smart controller.”
Smart water technology could mean big
business for you, especially as more states make it a mandatory
requirement for future installations. Get up to speed now to stay ahead
of the curve.