Pick your focus

PHOTOS COURTESY OF PRECISE IRRIGATION DESIGN & CONSULTING.

In the landscape world, irrigation designers range from those installing a drip system in a garden planter box to those planning a multimillion-dollar combination system for a large commercial complex. The first designer can put pencil on paper if he wants, but that is not good enough for the second designer. Fortunately, there is a lot of design software available to choose from.

In general, there are two types of upmarket software used to design irrigation systems that are accepted by landscape architects, engineers and construction managers working on a variety of projects.

For a general landscape company that designs irrigation as part of a larger job, a good choice would be landscaping software that also has irrigation design capabilities.

Icons in the software are assigned to all irrigation parts, such as sprinkler heads.
An irrigation design on RainCAD can be utilized alone or layered into a landscape plan.

For a company designing complex and extensive irrigation systems, specialized CAD software, such as RainCAD, is the only way to go, says Russ Prophit, owner of Precise Irrigation Design and Consulting in Winter Haven, Fla. He started using the program in the early ‘90s when it was being developed.

“There’s software out there that makes your life a lot easier,” Prophit says, and for him this is it. The program by Software Republic (www.softwarerepublic.com) claims to be a “complete stand-alone design system” that will handle any irrigation job, and it requires a prior knowledge of both irrigation systems and computers for a quick and friendly interface with a new user.

“The speed is tremendous, especially when you do your material takeoffs,” says Prophit. The program comes with complete CAD design functions and a large database of irrigation equipment and parts from major manufacturers. It is customizable for any equipment manufacturer, he notes, as he uses some oddball equipment from small manufacturers, which he can import himself or from those companies’ databases.

Software like this allows the irrigation designer to customize everything from icons to functions, and it can make automatic calculations of factors such as friction loss or pipe velocity, or be set to allow the user to do them manually and individually. It follows irrigation standards set by the Irrigation Association, says Prophit, who is certified by that organization as a designer, contractor and auditor. He is also a beta tester of the program for Software Republic.

Prophit uses another program from Software Republic, called Irricalc, to make his calculations for estimating and budgeting. It can be integrated into RainCAD, but he says according to the company, the two programs will be merged this year and available from one platform. Irricalc has a water usage and scheduling feature that allows controller run times and the cost of water to be projected, as well as evapotranspiration rates for different regions.

These features allow irrigation costs to be reported to the client, but RainCAD also has an estimating and budgeting function that allows the user to bid accurately on jobs. The user inputs material and labor costs for a precise tabulation, or the program can calculate cost as a percentage of the job. Alternately, a materials list can be e-mailed or faxed to a parts house for an estimate, eliminating the need to update prices in the database every year.

“It can be a little intimidating,” Prophit says of the software. His company offers a training course, and he says someone with a knack for software could design a simple residential irrigation system after a two-and-a-half-day course. Software Republic offers other software packages that can be layered into RainCAD for complete landscape design.

Russ Prophit, owner of Precise Irrigation Design and Consulting, prefers to use the irrigation-specific software RainCAD, but many designers use a more general landscape design program.

Scott Anderson, landscape designer at Springtime Landscape and Irrigation Company in Bend, Ore., does a variety of landscape construction design/build projects, with irrigation a central component in many of them. His projects range from municipal parks to highway roadsides to major shopping centers, and Anderson uses PRO Landscape software from Drafix Software (www.prolandscape.com). The CAD-based program comes with several functions that design a complete landscaping project in one package.

“I can tackle just about anything with this program,” Anderson says, including detailed irrigation components and systems. PRO Landscape comes with an image function that incorporates photos or drawings into a layered design.

The program can import a CAD file from an architect to provide a ready-made base plan, or the user can scan in and scale a plot plan from a client’s drawing or photo. Important elements such as buildings and sidewalks can be traced in to leave a clean base plan. A design can also be drawn in from Springtime’s measurements at the site. Anderson, as a subcontractor, can take in another company’s landscape plan and draw in the irrigation over it.

PRO Landscape comes with “libraries” of irrigation components from major manufacturers, and Anderson can customize the irrigation library by creating his own manufacturers list.

Anderson has been using this software since 1999 and likes the evolution of the program. It started as a straight CAD program and is still compatible with imports from any other CAD-based program, allowing more elaborate irrigation designs from other contractors to be imported. PRO Landscape doesn’t allow auto-designing of an irrigation zone, but Anderson can draw in the sprinkler heads, for example, and the program will automatically draw the pipe in between and calculate the length.

All the other design elements of a landscape are included in the PRO Landscape package, so plants, lighting, buildings and other elements can be incorporated in any irrigation setup. It also has a 3-D feature and a photo call-up feature that add to the attractiveness of a design and improve the client’s ability to understand and appreciate the design.

It also has a proposal function that can take irrigation information and compile materials reports, help provide an estimate and bid, and give an overall budget. “I can run a report and it will tell me how much pipe is in the ground,” Anderson says. He says the company doesn’t utilize the full extent of the software, such as its inventorying and invoicing capabilities.

Like RainCAD, this is not software that is immediately friendly to a new user without prior experience. However, Anderson says that he can bring somebody into the company and, within 30 days of gradual use, train them to create designs with it. He says the software company also has good technical support, which is always critical.

The landscaper who wants to use software to draw up his irrigation plans isn’t limited to these two programs. There are many out there. WaterMark Pro (www.sciencehill.net) is an equivalent program to RainCAD, as Idea Spectrum (www.ideaspectrum.com) is for PRO Landscape.

There is also online design capability available for an hourly rate, as shareware or free. For the landscaper who builds simple, residential systems, component manufacturers offer free design resources; for example, go to the Rain Bird website at www.rainbird.com/iuow/resources/tools_software.htm.

There are also some free online sites for the landscaper who wants to learn the basics of irrigation design. At www.irrigationtutorials.com, all the aspects of a simple system are available in detail, though the user would have to draw the ultimate design out by hand. Basic design elements for sprinkler and drip systems are there, along with a lot of explanatory material right down to flow rate calculators.

Don Dale is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor. He resides in Altadena, Calif.