By Jennifer Klemmetson
Saving water has been a hot topic of conversation for years – and not just in the irrigation industry – with drought conditions in most of the country. However, saving water isn’t the only challenge the industry faces. While homeowners are driving the market for technology advancements, technology cannot solve all problems. That’s where the human factor comes in.
Watering efficiently, saving water and saving money are goals that homeowners might come to you with. Getting there, though, can be an obstacle that you, as the irrigation professional, have to overcome to complete the job and keep your client happy. The following are four challenges that irrigation techs like you face, and how you can find solutions to grow your business.
Challenge 1: Mixed sprinklers on a zone
A homeowner comes to you asking about some new rotary sprinkler heads he’s heard about. Supposedly they save water; supposedly they will lower his water bill. Can you replace his broken spray heads with these new rotary ones? The homeowner thinks saving money and water sounds like a great idea.
Solution: By upgrading sprinklers to rotary heads, this homeowner, like most people, is trying to be more water efficient. However, by leaving some spray heads on a zone and adding some rotary heads, problems may arise.
There may not be a warning on the rotary nozzle packaging, informing users of the need to replace all the sprinklers when installing rotary heads on a spray zone, but that’s what you should do. A spray head may apply water at 1.6 inches per hour, while a rotary head may apply 0.4 inches of water per hour. Now imagine running this one zone with these two nozzles for 20 minutes. What happens? Some spots will get about half an inch applied, and other spots will get just over a tenth of an inch. This uneven coverage won’t lead to the desired results – grass might look great in some areas, dead in some, and just plain muddy or flooded in others.
Instead, when switching from spray to rotary nozzles, be sure to change out the entire zone, ensuring better results and a more water-efficient system.
Challenge 2: Reducing runoff
The house at the top of the hill always has water running from their sloped lawn, across the sidewalk and down the street after every irrigation cycle. You’ve calculated and recalculated the runtimes and the application rates, but there’s still water puddling at the bottom of that hill. What else can you do to reduce this runoff, and water their yard more efficiently?
Solution: Runoff is a big problem for many irrigation techs when faced with a scenario like this one, with an elevation change on the system. It happens when water gathers at the lowest points of the pipes while the system is off. It can lead to maintenance problems, wasted water and even higher bills for your client. But there is a way to reduce these problems, and help your client achieve their goal of saving money and water!
“Without check valves, the water just drains down,” Borneman said.
But check valves help to contain unpressurized water within the lateral lines, reducing the runoff that your client has seen.
Check valves can be found in drip irrigation or installed on sprinkler systems.
Challenge 3: Educating end users
Homeowners often don’t know all the ins and outs of their irrigation system. They’re relying on you to know how to install, program and use their system for optimal watering to ensure healthy plants and an overall beautiful landscape. Homeowners also rely on you to teach them what they need and why they need it.
Solution: “A lot of times, end users have a tendency to let the price become a determining factor in how they run their irrigation,” said Raul Gonzalez, vice president of industry relations for Ewing.
They might think they want the cheapest option upfront, but you can show them that a more expensive option now could save them money in the long run – and it’ll increase the price of the job for you, adding to your bottom line while making your customer happy with a more efficient system.
Talk about all the different options with your clients. Let them know what’s available for their system and what they can add on to increase the efficiency. And don’t forget to tell them that you can do this for them! Talk about the water-saving capabilities of the various components, and show them how that translates into financial savings.
Challenge 4: Recruiting and hiring the best staff
Many contractors say their number-one challenge is finding qualified people.
“Finding people, getting new people, training them – that’s their biggest challenge,” said JR Richards, Ewing’s executive vice president of talent resources.
Solution: While this problem isn’t unique to the green industry, there’s an increasing lack of skilled irrigation technicians and people entering the field. Sometimes, employers don’t have a strategic plan for filling open positions. Instead, they hope the right person will materialize out of thin air.
That probably won’t happen very often! Be prepared to recruit and train people so you can develop that right person you had hoped would just fall into your lap.
Develop a plan to train the employees you find, whether they’re new to the industry or just new to your business. Partner them with a “mentor,” an employee you trust to show them the ropes. Or teach them yourself. Find local educational opportunities through associations or suppliers, such as Ewing, that may offer classes or hands-on events to which you can send your newbie.
You solve problems for your clients for a living – whether that is saving them water, money or time. They come to you with a request, and you make that a reality. But you can run into challenges of your own along the way, as you work to improve irrigation efficiency in your community, educate your clients, and develop your business and staff. Don’t forget about the resources available to you when you need a little help.
Jennifer Klemmetson is content marketing strategist at Ewing Irrigation and Landscape Supply, Phoenix, Ariz. For more information, visit www.ewingirrigation.com.