Turf Magazine - November, 2008

CENTRAL FEATURES

High-End Components for High-End Lawns

Keith Harvey is committed to turf quality and water conservation
By Don Dale

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 landscape plants.

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 maintenance program. Sprinklers in the HC3 Smart System are built of commercial-grade components and audited after construction.

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 the system.

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 says.

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.