Weather Based – Smart Controllers
Most homeowners are UNDER irrigating. (No ROI for replacing your irrigation controller)
“Nearly 80% of homes in the study were applying less than the theoretical irrigation requirement .” (Landscape Water Budget)
- “Irrigation is a lot like leakage in that a few large users are accounting for the bulk of the excess irrigation.”
“Analysis is based on aerial photos using a consistent set of procedures for estimating irrigated areas and plant types plus Local Net ET with allowances for irrigation system inefficiencies.”
- Quoted from – 2014 REUWS Update Study WRF Project #4309 William DeOreo, P.E. – Slide 16
In order to have success in marketing smart controllers, there are many factors to consider that affect continuing long term market penetration and sales growth. This discussion assumes that the smart controller is viable and performs well compared to the competition.
Installing a smart controller based on the expectation that it reduces water use by 25% or more without understanding your landscape water requirements may lead to plant health issues due to deficit watering. On the flip side smart controllers can increase water use on properties that previously were deficit watered. Development of a comprehensive Landscape Water Budget is highly recommended.
Let’s take a moment for a quick overview of the landscape and irrigation industry as it relates to landscape water management/conservation and smart controllers.
First, let’s identify the players; there are five major groups that influence marketing and sales of irrigation products. No pun intended… the landscape is changing, but in order to understand water use behavior and what drives it the following are the major players.
- Developers and Builders
- Designers, Landscape Architects and Irrigation Designers
- Installation Contractors, Landscape and Irrigation
- Maintenance and Management Contractors
- Property Owners and Managers
Yes, with water conservation moving more and more into the public consciousness, government oversight (emerging 6th player) will certainly affect change. Sadly, water has always been described as having a finite quantity… only when supply or infrastructure cannot keep up with demand do people show concern! Second, the best way to get my point across is by telling a story…
XYZ Development acquires land and starts the process of developing this parcel of land into a large multi-use project including homes, parks, schools and commercial interests.
XYZ Development hires engineers, architects, landscape architects and irrigation designers to design the project. Of course, XYZ Development wants to keep costs as low as possible, so directs these engineers, architects, landscape architects and irrigation designers to design their projects with a sharp eye toward keeping costs low.
Focusing on landscaping and irrigation the story continues. The landscape architect and irrigation designer are instructed by XYZ Development to design the landscaping and irrigation with the following guidelines in place.
- Keep costs low.
- Design the landscape for a lush (overplanted) landscape for maximum curb appeal. Smaller plants placed close together have lower costs than larger plants. Many landscape architects (driven by the preferences of developers/ owners), do not design landscapes for ease of irrigation and by extension for water conservation. They are primarily concerned with the aesthetic appeal of the landscape. These designs may include non-functional turf areas (only the person mowing the lawn walks on it) and lots of slopes and mounding and irregularly shaped areas that are difficult to irrigate and maintain. As the landscape matures, irrigation management difficulties grow in proportion to the continuing growth of the plant material.
- In order to save money, irrigation designers are instructed to design irrigation systems to water the landscape “cost effectively”. They typically combine trees and shrubs on the same valves/zones/stations and design placement of water distribution devices -emitters and bubblers- for coverage of the first year or two of growth. They seldom take into account the increasing water needs and larger watering footprint of the ever growing and expanding plantings.
The next phase is the construction/installation of the landscape and irrigation systems. Typically landscaping and irrigation are installed after all the other construction elements. Simply put the order of construction is as follows:
- Landscaping and Irrigation
Hopefully infrastructure and buildings have been installed or built at or below budget, if not, then more than likely cuts will be made in the landscape and irrigation budgets. The landscape and irrigation contract is awarded to the lowest bidder(s). The low bidder(s) may be asked to “value engineer” the landscape and irrigation designs especially if there were cost over-runs in the previous projects in the development process.
All of these directives, changes or challenges ultimately lower the operational performance of the irrigation systems. Smart Controllers have no control over irrigation performance!
Now this young landscape with challenged irrigation is sold by XYZ Development and we enter the next phase of the landscape and irrigation systems life. This is the Maintenance and Management phase of the landscape and irrigation. And the players are the owners/managers and the landscape maintenance contractors.
Remember this is a relatively new landscape and irrigation system -typically one to two years old- and the new owners/managers do not expect to pay any expenses for landscape or irrigation system improvements “for the foreseeable future”.
They issue a request for proposal from landscape maintenance companies for maintaining the landscape and irrigation for the property. Based on the preferences of owners or their managers the submitted proposals list specific landscape maintenance practices such as mowing, trimming, weed control, arbor work and more.
In many cases irrigation system maintenance is deferred. Typically irrigation system maintenance, if mentioned at all in the maintenance contract, may have a couple of sentences vaguely outlining leaks will be repaired quickly and not much more. The landscape maintenance contract is awarded and with few exceptions the irrigation system gets the least attention and suffers accordingly. Irrigation system performance continues to fall and eventually the landscape suffers as a result.
In many cases no one knows what the property’s water use should be. The water usage for the property is “what it is” and is established as the baseline for monitoring water use for the property. While there are exceptions, this baseline water use does not accurately reflect the actual water needs of the landscape. In some cases it is too high. One reason for this may be that the landscape, when first installed, needed to be nurtured with extra water (frequent, shallow watering) for the first year or so, to help establish the young plantings, and the schedule in the controllers may not have been altered significantly from the “establishment” program. Properties that have landscapes that are predominately turf, mixed with trees and shrubs, are more susceptible to overwatering simply because maintaining and managing (scheduling) the irrigation systems is more complex compared to drip systems watering desert adapted landscapes.
Conversely, as the landscape matures, drip systems are rarely expanded to water the entire root zone of growing plants; leading to deficit watered landscapes regardless of whether the controller was scheduled to water frequently for a short period of time or infrequently for a long period of time.
The landscape maintenance contractor’s perceived first priority is to keep the landscape green and lush and this perception is reinforced by owner’s/manager’s preferences and vigilant scrutiny. Maintaining and managing the aging landscape and irrigation systems to the expectations of owners or property managers gets harder with each passing year.
Establishing a Landscape Water Budget for the property is highly recommended.
This brings us to the acronym –DIMMMO – typically landscapes and irrigation systems are designed, installed, maintained and managed marginally rather than optimally.
At this point you are probably wondering what does all the above have to do with smart controllers. Smart controllers serve a great purpose when installed under the right circumstances and managed correctly. Success or failure of smart controllers, on any property, is inextricably linked to DIMMMO.
A survey of landscape/irrigation professionals by the Irrigation Association showed that irrigation systems are unlikely to be designed, installed, maintained and operated (managed) correctly.
It is important to remember that smart controllers have no control over poorly designed, installed, maintained and managed irrigation systems.
Keeping this in mind and spending a little time learning about your landscaping and irrigation systems and consideration of DIMMMO can go a long way to understanding how a smart controller affects your property’s landscape water use and just as important, your landscape’s long term health.
Installing a smart controller based on the expectation that it reduces water use by 25% or more without understanding your landscape water requirements may lead to plant health issues due to deficit watering.
Many times smart controllers leave property owners dissatisfied by the fact that they perceived that if they installed a smart controller their water use would be reduced by 25%. They will of course assume that their landscape will not suffer in the process!
On the flip side smart controllers can increase water use on properties that previously were deficit watered. Too much water can lead to plant health issues as well; not to mention the cost of additional water applied. Again, developing an accurate water budget for the property can help tremendously with avoiding these pitfalls during the decision making process.
Less than half of properties are over-watered…
2014REUWS Update Study
WRF Project #4309
William DeOreo, P.E.
It is also important to keep in mind that the controllers presently installed on your property – that are less than 20 years old – are most likely capable of properly watering your landscape if programmed correctly and programming changed frequently for seasonal watering. See WatrWise Consulting’s Controller Scheduling.
Reuws – Residential End Uses of Water – Scottsdale Site Report__Final 053013