“How often should I water and for how long?”
Contractors everywhere hear these same questions from their residential customers, season after season. The bright side? Those customers understand the need to set up an optimum irrigation schedule. It’s the homeowners who don’t grasp or care about proper irrigation scheduling who contractors worry about, particularly as drought and water restrictions make headlines daily.
“Humans are creatures of habit, and we find comfort in routine,” says Jeff Stoddart, water conservation manager for Rain Bird Corporation. “That extends to when we water our lawns and for how long. Unfortunately, Mother Nature doesn’t necessarily follow a pattern. That’s why we all need to figure out the best way to adjust our irrigation systems to apply just the right amount of water.”
Some homeowners are simply concerned with having green grass and healthy plants at all costs, while others are more environmentally conscious. Watering restrictions in various parts of the U.S. and the current drought situation in California have certainly raised awareness of the need to use less potable water for landscape irrigation, even in areas that typically have plentiful precipitation.
“Frankly, many homeowners haven’t had to care much about irrigation system efficiency because water has been historically inexpensive throughout most of the U.S.,” Stoddart explains. “That’s changing. Now that more water agencies are raising their rates, homeowners are feeling the effects of water restrictions in their pocketbooks, and they’re being forced to honestly evaluate their water use.”
Often, a good first step to evaluating an irrigation system’s water consumption is to perform an irrigation audit. Audits reveal issues both large and small, from pipe leaks to rotors that are out of adjustment. They can also demonstrate the need to make changes to an existing system’s design, like incorporating drip irrigation in certain areas of the landscape or switching out standard sprays for those with pressure regulation.
“Simply making a few changes can lead to a far more efficient system that will use less water for years to come,” Stoddart says. “Those changes can also lead to a healthier, more attractive landscape, which appeals to everyone, not just those who want lower water bills. Regardless of a customer’s motivation, there are solutions that can make a tremendous difference in overall water consumption.”
Education is key
There’s no doubt that irrigation system manufacturers are building more water-saving features into controllers, sprays and other components. However, ensuring these features actually get used in the right ways often comes down to education.
Often, homeowners simply say they don’t understand how their controller works and are hesitant to modify its current program for fear of “screwing things up.” Certainly, in the past, some residential controllers were fairly complex, but manufacturers are working at making them more user-friendly and easier to program. Today’s smart controllers that use weather data and on-site weather stations to schedule irrigation can provide a “set-it-and-forget it” solution that appeals to many residential customers. However, even customers with smart controllers need to understand basic irrigation concepts.
“Smart controllers are making customer education even more important,” Stoddart says. “If customers don’t understand the differences in scheduling caused by factors like sun exposure, soil type, temperature and so on, they won’t fully comprehend how their smart controller works. Explaining all these things may be time-consuming for contractors, but doing so will pay off with happier, more satisfied customers in the long run, as well as fewer call-backs.”
Whether a customer’s controller is smart or not, contractors who take the time to learn all of its features, demonstrate them to customers one-on-one, and leave behind simple, easy-to-understand materials will find themselves ahead of the game. “Unless contractors are willing to adjust controllers multiple times per year for each and every customer, it’s in their best interests to educate customers on how to change and manage their own irrigation system schedules,” Stoddart says. “Communicating with customers and investing the necessary time to explain the ins and outs of schedule adjustments will enhance a contractors reputation as a water efficiency expert who’s truly there to help.”
PHOTOS: RAIN BIRD