Tony Dilluvio has always had an interest in technology.
Dilluvio, owner of Aqua Turf, said he wanted to try Wi-Fi-based irrigation system controllers for a long time, but it wasn’t until his son, Alfred Dilluvio, joined the company that they began to move forward in selecting controllers and offering them to customers.
Founded in 1975, Aqua Turf, based in Elmsford, New York, primarily works with residential customers.
The company offers design, installation and maintenance of irrigation systems along with green roofs, creation of green spaces, water catcher systems, outdoor lighting, outdoor sound systems and more.
“I’ve always been a proponent of Wi-Fi-based control,” Tony Dilluvio says. “I’ve tried to do this time and time again over the last 10 to 12 years. And no one had anything that we really liked.”
Dilluvio predicts the market will shift to offer more large capacity Wi-Fi-based controllers in the near future, which could be used on commercial properties.
How they work.
“You have a controller that is capable of running a program, an irrigation program, but it can be modified remotely through Wi-Fi connection in an app or through a computer interface,” Dilluvio says.
“You can modify the schedule, and you can monitor what’s happening with the use of a flow meter and you can adjust that schedule based on a lot of different things like exposure, plant material, type of soil, the pitch of the landscape, whether it’s sunny and shady.”
The first Wi-Fi-based irrigation system controllers were installed by the company a little more than three years ago. During peak season, Aqua Turf employs about 40 people. The company’s annual revenue is between $1 and $5 million.
“You can also set up triggers in the system,” Dilluvio says. “Such things as increasing the watering times if we have below a certain percent humidity, or suspend the system for three days, if we have an over one inch rain event.”
Irrigation control with ease.
At least 50 percent of new irrigation system installations are controlled with a Wi-Fi controller.
Following installation, the homeowner can operate the system themselves and Aqua Turf can troubleshoot from their office.
“It’s made it a little bit easier to maintain because we can see what’s happening on a property or we can adjust the schedule from our office,” Dilluvio says.
“You can do a little diagnostic on the system from your office.”
Unreliable wireless Internet networks can impact the functionality of the Wi-Fi-based controller, so Dilluvio says it’s important to vet customers carefully before installation.
“We ask a lot of questions before: Are you willing to do this? Are you willing to set it up? Are you willing to check this?” he says. “Make sure that you screen your prospective customer. If they can’t even set up an email account on their iPhone and they want you to hold their hand throughout the whole process (they may not be the ideal candidate).”
Younger homeowners in their 30s and 40s have easily adapted to the technology, but so have some customers in their 50s and 60s.
“It’s made it a little bit easier to maintain because we can see what’s happening on a property or we can adjust the schedule from our office.” – Tony Dilluvio, owner, Aqua Turf Irrigation Systems
Dilluvio adds that a small percentage of existing customers are doing a retrofit.
“We get probably 10 percent or less of existing customers are doing retrofits and more than 50 percent, probably more like three out of four, are doing Wi-Fi-based installations (new),” he says. In some situations, however, a Wi-Fi-based irrigation system controller may not be the best option.
“One of the cons is the Wi-Fi controller is only as good as the wireless network in the house,” Dilluvio says.
“If the wireless network is not reliable or experiences dropouts, people get very frustrated. In 99 percent of the homes the wireless signal is really good.”
With the Wi-Fi-based controllers used at Aqua Turf, the controllers will use the last program that was downloaded to the controller in the instance where a wireless signal is lost, Dilluvio says.
Impact to business.
Wi-Fi-based irrigation system controllers typically cost about 20 percent more than conventional systems.
“We charge probably 50 percent more for a Wi-Fi controller because we have to spend the time setting it up and getting it on the computer, working with the customer to set up their account,” Dilluvio says. A water meter is installed to check how many gallons per minute are being used.
Rain sensors are also installed.
“You’re using a local weather station to get the weather, but sometimes you can have rain on one property and across the street it could be no rain,” Dilluvio says. “Because of the microclimate we always put in a rain sensor in.”
Dilluvio says offering the controllers has been a positive.
“It’s given us an advantage because we are competent and we know how to handle the Wi-Fi installs and we’ve seen the pitfalls,” he says.
“That’s given us a little leg up in the fact that we’re more technologically advanced than your average irrigation company. It’s hard to quantify what it is but from a qualitative version, it’s definitely increased our customer base.”