Irrigation sensors are an integral component in any new system install, but educating customers on their use is key in making sure the technology lives up to its potential. Recent advances, including wireless receivers, have made today’s irrigation sensors easier to use than their predecessors. The days of hard-wiring sensors, mounting them on buildings and trying to hide them for aesthetic reasons are gone.
Additionally, the signal strength between sensors and controllers has improved dramatically in recent years.
“All sensors are very easy and user-friendly to install,” says Ryan Jardine, founder of Quality Irrigation based in Omaha, Neb. “Depending on what sensor you desire, very little work goes into installation and having a water efficient system.”
Sensor types and goals.
Sensors typically fall into one of a few categories – rain sensors that shut off when the right amount of precipitation has fallen; rain/freeze sensors which feature a temperature gauge to let a customer know when freezing is occurring; moisture sensors, in which a dried out sensor will signal the system to turn back on; and entire weather stations, which can be custom set for specific climate and terrain needs.
But all sensors share the same goals: Making sure systems run as efficiently as possible, which helps customers save money on water bills, and streamlines the service landscape and irrigation contractors provide while limiting callbacks.
Making the sale.
For some contractors, including Ed Montalvo, general manager of Sprinkalawn Atlanta, every new install comes with a sensor. In Georgia, due to water conservation requirements, basic rain sensors are already required on all irrigation systems, he says. More advanced sensors like weather stations are sold based on individual customer needs, Montalvo says.
Unless a customer is strict about their financial budget, a sensor is always included in a new install, Jardine says, who has been using the sensors in the Omaha, Neb., market for more than a decade. About 14 employees work at his company, where the focus is sprinkler system installation and maintenance for both residential and commercial properties. Annual revenue ranges from $1.2 million to $2 million. Apart from water savings, Jardine says clients appreciate the technology’s ability to manage the system automatically.
“Most people (in residential service areas) want the satisfaction of knowing they don’t have to get up at 4 a.m. and turn their sprinkler off,” he says.
In Rexburg, Idaho, where Outback Landscape is based, Chase Coates, who owns the 20-employee company that posts revenue between $1 million and $2 million annually, says irrigation sensors are a harder sell, as most residential customers have their own water wells. To make it an easier sell, Coates will use the angle of energy conservation and saving the customer money on their utility bill. Customers with wells use electricity to power the well, and with a sensor, their well won’t be on all the time and using as much power.
“Most of ours are as an upgrade,” he says. “We will typically try and sell it as a feature that will make it easier for them to take care of (their lawn).” For the large commercial property customers, the rain/freezer sensors appeal due to their liability prevention nature, Jardine says. For example, if a pipe freezes and bursts and the water keeps flowing, the water could then freeze on a walkway and someone could enter the property, slip and fall and sue.
Likewise, Coates says installing a flow sensor on a main water line helps give customers peace of mind if the line ever breaks, knowing their system will not continue watering.
Education and installation.
In all cases, contractors say sensor sales depend on customer education.
“If you come to (the customer) and it sounds complicated, they probably won’t be interested at all,” Coates says.
Landscape and irrigation specialists suggest researching the types of sensors on the market, along with experimenting with using them. They also advise to take time to compare how each sensor works with the needs of their individual customer base.
By spending more time up front educating a customer on which notifications from the sensor will necessitate a service call, Montalvo says he saves money in the long run with fewer service calls.
His company employs about 20 people. Most of their work is in the residential realm, including irrigation, drainage and landscape lighting. Revenue totals about $1 to $1.5 million annually.
A place to stay
We asked some manufacturers for tips on installing rain sensors. Here’s what they said.
Moisture sensors are popular and accurate, but are not a one size fits all. They can only monitor one area of a landscape, Montalvo says. “You can have many micro climates within one property,” he says. On properties where a climate mix is present, Montalvo often uses a smart controller that comes with its own weather station.
Check-ups on the sensors vary by contractor. For Montalvo, he offers a packaged service that typically includes two calls per year. During those visits, sensors will be checked.
At Outback Landscape, a new sensor install comes with at least two follow up checks by a service technician to ensure it is working properly and the customer fully understands how to use the sensor. “We’ve never had one go bad in 11 years,” Jardine says.
The author is a freelance writer based in Cleveland.