Keith Harvey is a turf guy
who specializes in quality irrigation systems for home lawns. To him,
quality is measured in turf quality and the amount of water conserved.
The owner of Rebel Rain, Inc. in Gretna, Neb., Harvey
only installs irrigation systems. Since starting his business in 2004, he
has gotten a reputation as a premier installer for medium and upscale
residences. He has intentionally kept his company small to maximize quality
and profit. His company once had four employees, but he says that the cost
of workers’ compensation and other benefits were too expensive, so he
cut back to two employees.
Harvey is an experienced turfgrass professional. He
has an associate’s degree in turfgrass management, was a
subcontractor building tees and greens for golf courses around the country,
and even built and served as superintendent of Patio Greens Golf Course in
Omaha. He then went to work in the landscaping and nursery industries. It
was all part of an education in how to manage good turfgrass and other
|Photo courtesy of Rebel Rain.
||Photo courtesy of HYDROLogic.
|A Rebel Rain lawn features many zones and well-placed sprinklers
for watering efficiency.
||Sprinkler heads are always of the best components.
Eight years ago he started installing home irrigation
systems on the side and hasn’t looked back. He says he has gotten
most every job via referrals from satisfied customers. The Omaha area has
been in a huge residential construction boom, and he has been able to
synchronize his skills with the needs of homeowners with brand-new yards
they want to vegetate.
By the same token, he has evolved his irrigation
systems over the years to give a homeowner what he considers a
top-of-the-line system—it’s the only kind of system he will
build. He has always focused on product quality and the goal of achieving
good lawns with a minimum use of water.
When Harvey gets a sales lead, he has a strict
methodology he follows to make sure he is going to give that homeowner the
best system he can. In his first meeting with a prospective client he
focuses on education.
“Every customer has to know what he’s
purchasing,” and how it contributes to a great lawn, Harvey says. The
main problems he sees with lawns around Omaha are that property owners
don’t have much time to water, the water bills are high, and cheap or
poorly designed irrigation systems leave uneven watering patterns and dry
spots, which leads to wasted water, poor turf and a dissatisfied customer.
He essentially gives a prospective client a lesson in
irrigation, citing factors such as soil type and fertility, irrigation
components and quality mowing. He then walks the yard and identifies
hydrozones, or areas of the yard that should be watered similarly. One
problem with poor lawns is often that the same sprinkler heads and schedule
are used for the entire lawn, when, in reality, zones such as shady areas
or those along a hot driveway need their own timing.
So, the first major part of a Rebel Rain sprinkler
system is various irrigation zones that will each be properly watered.
Harvey draws up a basic irrigation design, and turns that design over to
his parts supplier, HYDROLogic, to create a computer design with head
placement, pipe alignment and other elements in place. Then, he presents
the design and an estimate to the client.
“Out of about 76 estimates I’ve sold 74
jobs,” Harvey says.
A Rebel Rain system generally costs more than another
contractor’s due to more irrigation components, and because Harvey
insists on using only commercial-grade parts. For example, all of the
separate zones require extra valves. Where a large home lot might have
seven to nine valves, his will have 13 to 18. He also uses flow-control
valves, which cost more.
He also recommends that homeowners install weather
stations, and estimates that about 80 percent of his clients do so. He uses
Weathermatic controllers that have the capacity to translate the ET rates
from the weather station to the watering schedule. The final element is the
match-precipitation sprinkler head, which he insists on using to ensure
even distribution on all types of heads. He uses only Rain Bird heads.
“This brings water conservation to the
forefront,” Harvey says. He is now going one step further. He has put
in about 60 hours of training on the new HC3 Smart System by HYDROLogic.
The HC3 system utilizes trained and certified
installers, like Harvey. Harvey installed his first system in October.
“We have a whole department dedicated to
educating the dealers,” says HYDROLogic marketing director, Max Beer.
There are several extra requirements demanded by the HC3 label, which begin
with a certified installer. Major required components are a smart
controller and a weather station that, tied together, will adjust
irrigation timing based on ET rates, rainfall, soil type and other elements
on a daily basis. The weather station must be within 25 miles of the
installation. The system will also have a master valve that protects the
property in case of a line break.
Other component requirements are efficient, matched
sprinkler heads that are spaced in patterns recommended by the
manufacturer, and they must have a minimum scheduling coefficient factor of
2.0. There are other specs for the HC3 system for components (such as for
pipe and valves) and for design (special engineering for sloped areas, for
example), as well as rules for water quality and velocity.
|Photo courtesy of Rebel Rain.
||Photo Courtesy of Hydrologic.
|Fertigation, including this fertilizer tank, is part of an efficient lawn
||Sprinklers in the HC3 Smart System
are built of commercial-grade
components and audited after
One of the critical guidelines of the system is in the
setting up of hydrozones. These micro-areas of the yard take factors into
account such as soil type, sun exposure and watering needs of the
particular grass species or other plant materials. “No sprinklers
irrigating conflicting soil, plant, slope or differing solar radiation type
may be controlled by the same control valve,” according to specs of
Finally, Beer says, the installed system must undergo
a third-party water audit by a company-certified auditor that looks at
factors from sprinkler placement to leak detection.
“Basically, we’re installing high-quality
irrigation systems that are very conservation conscious,” Harvey
Another Rebel Rain specialty is the use of fertigation
units to provide nutrition for the lawns. He uses them as a way to get the
most plush, green grass with good buildup of microorganisms in the soil.
Harvey uses YardFeeder fertigation units and 2 to 5-gallon fertilizer tanks
(he may put in more than one tank on a large residential yard).
The Rebel Rain season is from April to December, and
during that period he typically installs two irrigation systems per week.
He also installs high-quality outdoor lighting
systems, which he sells in conjunction with an irrigation contract. Still,
the core of his business is irrigation, and he is intent on evolving his
installations to get the highest efficiencies possible.
Don Dale is a freelance writer and a frequent
contributor. He resides in Altadena, Calif.