Back in the game

Features - Irrigation

Jim Davis took a brief hiatus from his irrigation company, but has returned and is designing plans for one of the largest buildings in the world.

September 6, 2013
Lindsey Getz

As a landscape architect, Jim Davis got into irrigation consulting after recognizing a need for an irrigation-focused consultation service in the Midwest. While irrigation consulting companies have always been common in more mature irrigation markets like Florida, and California, there were very few in the Midwest. So he launched Landtech Design in 1994 with a sole focus on the commercial market.

“There was definitely a gap to be filled,” Davis says. “I started with just myself hoping that within a year or so we’d have the need to hire someone else to assist with the design work. But that need came in only six months and the business grew very quickly from there. After a year and a half we had two designers, while I was focusing on sales.”

Taking a break.
Davis says part of what sets his company apart is the team’s credentials and experience. “We are all certified irrigation designers with the Irrigation Association, and two of us are also certified landscape irrigation auditors through the IA,” Davis says.

“We’re also WaterSense Partners with the Environmental Protection Agency and have a strong background in landscape architecture as well as horticulture and geology. Most Midwestern landscape architects don’t have a strong background in irrigation – so we wanted to provide the service that they needed but did not possess because they often don’t have the irrigation background.”

After nine years of business in Indianapolis, Davis took a position with Toro in St. Louis, and put Landtech on hold for a while. Six-and-a-half years later, the economy took a downturn and Davis decided that re-launching Landtech was the right decision. While staying in St. Louis, Davis reunited with his two designers. Though Davis runs the business from St. Louis, he says the majority of Landtech Design’s work is out of state, and about 95 percent of the work it does is for projects still in the design phase.

Areas for improvement

Three things one irrigation consultant wishes contractors would improve on the job.

Although Jim Davis owner and founder of Landtech Design, says that he doesn’t always work directly with contractors, from time to time his consulting firm is retained to oversee a project’s installation. When he does, he has some specific advice for contractors. Here, Davis gives three items where contractors can improve.

Valve box placement. “It would help if contractors could put more thought into positioning and placement of valve boxes,” Davis says. “This is something that isn’t always given a lot of thought up front, but if you have them located inconspicuously and at the right height, people won’t be tripping over it them. Little things can make a big difference to the client.”

Installation of drip tubing. “I’d love to see contractors develop more experience and take more care in installing drip tubing,” Davis says. “Drip tubing depth, spacing and placement is really critical and needs to be given more attention than it often is.”

Controller expertise. “All controllers are a little different and sometimes the programming is rushed and the contractor may not go through all the fields that come up on the screen,” Davis says. “Overall it’d be great if contractors became more familiar with today’s weather-based controller technology.”

“Even when it’s here in St. Louis, it’s usually a project that hasn’t been built yet, so if you went out to the site there may be some existing buildings still on it,” he says.

“These days we can get a good view of things using Google Earth and other satellite images, which typically eliminates the need of visiting the site. You have to know about soil conditions and climate, but we rely on engineering studies for that information.”

A big deal. One of the company’s most noteworthy projects is the Kingdom Tower, soon to be the world’s tallest building at 3,200 feet, twice the size of the Empire State Building.

Built in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, the tower, designed by Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture, will be a mixed-use building featuring a luxury hotel, office space, serviced apartments, luxury condominiums and the world’s highest observatory.

While it’s not Landtech’s first job in the Middle East – it’s consulting on approximately a dozen jobs in the region – the building’s status is one-of-a-kind.

But, from an irrigation standpoint, Davis says that it’s not much bigger than any other project. The project will have approximately 18 acres of outdoor space.

But that’s not to say there aren’t a variety of challenges.

The region’s plant material is quite different than what is common in the United States, and water is also an issue. The building sits in a harbor that is adjacent to the Red Sea and while there is plenty of salt water available, the region is relatively short on potable water.

“How we apply that water will be very efficient and most of what we design will be done with drip irrigation – applying it very efficiently,” Davis says.

“The use of sprinklers that pop up and throw water in the air would not be efficient in a region that is not only incredibly windy but very hot, causing water to evaporate quickly. Drip irrigation will be critical to this project.”

The irrigation system will include technologies such as UV sanitization, a fertilizer injector system, weather-based sensors and a central control system that will allow the entire operation to be manipulated remotely.

Maximum value.
Efficient water use has always been part of the Landtech mission and influences its entire approach to designing systems for all projects. That focus on water use is one of the biggest changes since Davis got into the business in the mid-1990s.

“With most of our designs it is rare to have a project where the use of water isn’t a concern,” he says.

“So we’re doing things a lot differently these days. We’re using more state-of-the-art products that can not only reduce water output and make it more efficient but can also offer smarter and more efficient scheduling. Controllers are so important in regulating and self-adjusting today’s irrigation system.”

Davis says that of all the technology that’s come about or products that have evolved, controllers are having the biggest impact. “Sprinklers, drip and valves haven’t really changed all that much but the digital technology now available in controllers has evolved dramatically,” he says.

Landtech’s ability to keep up with the very latest technology and stay ahead of the curve has helped drive some key projects, in its direction, Davis says.

In addition to smart control technology, Davis says that a move into water harvesting has been another major change. “Water harvesting is now a large part of our business,” he says. “Sometimes we just handle the front-end of those projects, which is called ‘scoping’ – or estimating the water needs and cistern capacities for a project.”