Watering the lawn and garden gets a high tech upgrade that saves water and money.
From high above the world, images taken by NASA of California in June show a parched, dry landscape that had once been green. As drought conditions continue in the western United States, municipalities and states are enforcing ever stricter rules on water usage.
Restrictions put into place by the state in July prohibit residents and commercial water users from using drinkable water to hose off sidewalks and driveways, water lawns or gardens to the point of causing runoff, wash cars without a shutoff nozzle and using potable water in non-circulating fountains, according to the San Francisco Gate. Water wasters can even be fined up to $500 per day for flagrant misuse of water.
Restrictions and water moratoriums aren’t limited to dry regions. Even municipalities in water-rich New England enforce bans in the summer months to save precious H2O.
So how do you make sure homebuyers’ lawns are green and their garden beds bloom?
Automated irrigation manufacturers are engineering lawn irrigation products and sprinkler systems that can save anywhere from 20 percent to 60 percent on water bills through a system of smart controllers, pressure regulating rotors, high efficiency sprays and drip irrigation.
Control in the Customer’s Hands
Cyber Rain lays claim to being the first company to gain the EPA’s WaterSense label on its line of irrigation controllers, which feature cloud technology that both downloads the next day’s weather and gives homeowners the ability to set the optimum watering schedule and be alerted to any issues at the tap of a mobile app.
WaterSense, like the better-known EnergyStar, is the EPA’s voluntary product standard for efficiency, in this case, water efficiency.
The Los Angeles-based manufacturer, which was purchased by Israel-based irrigation giant GalCon in January, pushes the controller’s “plug and play” adaptability and the simplicity of its programming.
“Each customer’s account has a ‘Smart Wizard.’ There are only five parameters that customers need to concern themselves with: Plant type, soil type, sprinkler heads, sun or shade, and slope,” says Cyber Rain CEO James Krug. “It’s all photo-based, so the customer simply has to select the photo of the grass or soil closest to what they seem to have and it recommends the optimal run schedule.”
Customers who plug in the information can save between 20 percent and 40 percent on their water bills, according to Krug. The system will also plug directly into the control wires provided by the makers of many sprinkler systems.
The mobile app (for iPhone, Android and Blackberry) is what Krug may be most excited about. Customers can see their watering schedule, make changes to it, see the daily weather forecast, halt the system completely, and receive notifications about potential issues with the system. It’s also free.
“Most other companies charge for the ability to download the weather, usually between $5 and $10 a month, but because of our [web] architecture there is no cost,” Krug says.
Dripping Towards Water Savings
Drip, or micro-irrigation, technology uses a network of plastic pipes to carry a low flow of water under low pressure to plants, according to the University of Colorado. Water is applied much more slowly than with sprinkler irrigation. It is a far more efficient way to water lawns or gardens than sprinkler systems, at 90 percent efficiency versus 50 percent to 70 percent efficiency. It is so efficient that many water utilities exempt landscapes irrigated with drip from restrictions during drought, according to UC.
Rain Bird’s copper-colored XFS Dripline with Copper Shield for sub-surface drip irrigation not only helps save on water bills, the copper chip also prevents plants from growing too close to the line. Copper is less dangerous than chemical options, which are being banned by some states, according to Rain Bird’s national homebuilder account manager Anthony Dabruzzi. “It’s the same technology that has been used in shingles,” he says.
Rain Bird also offers a smart controller, the ESP-SMTe Series, that has the potential to save up to 65 percent on water bills over conventional irrigation controllers, Dabruzzi says. However, Dabruzzi says Rain Bird installers advise customers against tinkering with the controller after it’s been programmed. The ESP-SMTe system utilizes onsite weather conditions and calculates how much water was used by grass and decides if it needs to water each day. It also measures rainfall down to 200th of an inch.
Andy Conrad of Mulligan’s Landscaping in Northfield, Minn., says his company has installed more than 100 of the Rain Bird smart irrigation controllers in the past year.
“They’re a very good system for homeowners, essentially once our techs set them up, the homeowner doesn’t have to and shouldn’t do anything to them,” he says. “It saves the homeowner on their water budget and water usage for the rest of us.”
Conrad says the manufacturer has been responsive to questions his installers have had about their products and his customers have been pleased with the results.
“When you can take the smart controller with high efficiency heads, rotors and sprays, then you’re getting a very top dollar system,” he says. “The people who have them are absolutely ecstatic.”
Sensors for Sun and Snow Save Money
Hunter Industries offers several technologies that not only save water by deciding when to water, but can also shut down the irrigation system during rain and freezing conditions, which are not only practical, but can also protect the system from frost damage.
Hunter’s Solar Sync ET sensor is an advanced weather sensor that calculates evapotranspiration (ET) and adjusts Hunter controllers daily based on local weather conditions. It also measures sunlight and temperature and uses ET to calculate a value to send to the controller, which modifies its pre-programmed run time for that specific day.
Every Hunter AC-powered controller is EPA WaterSense labeled when paired with a Solar Sync smart device. Because the Solar Sync is an add-on device, a previously installed controller may not have to be replaced.
By integrating Hunter’s Rain-Clik and Freeze-Clik sensors, the system halts automatically during rain or freezing conditions. Adding the Solar Sync to a Hunter controller can save between 25 percent and 30 percent of water, and Hunter product manager John Wascher says homeowners can save another 30 percent on water bills with the MP Rotator multi-stream nozzle. The return on investment of such a system could be less than a year, and if the contractor makes use of rebates available through their WaterSense approved products, the ROI can be even lower.