Much like the heart pumps blood throughout the body, pumps and valves are integral parts to any irrigation system, and key to its success or failure.
“If any of those fail, then nothing else is going to work,” says Andy Paulson, irrigation foreman at Salt Lake City-based Simms Landscape. “That’s the backbone of the entire system.”
And in some parts of the country, specialized equipment like booster pumps are a necessity to bring enough water to the system. That’s certainly the case for Chris Haase, president of Haase Landscape in Spokane, Washington, who has 35 years of experience in the irrigation industry.
“This area here is so rural…so we have a lot of properties that are on wells. We don’t have domestic water everywhere in this area, so sometimes we have to put booster pumps in to get the pressure up,” he says. “It’s very helpful in getting enough water.”
Start off on the right foot.
Haase says because of Washington’s climate, his company installs a lot of irrigation systems.
“In our areas, we are prone to wildfires, so we put a lot of fire line irrigation in, and we add pumps in extra zones to water those areas around the properties,” he says.
According to Haase, the first step in installing a successful system is to do your research and see exactly what kind of pump and other equipment will be needed.
“One of our designers comes out to take a look at the property and evaluate the area,” he says. “They will find out what their water system is like right now, whether it’s a well or domestic, and if they have enough water. We’ll do a pressure test and gallons test on the water and determine if we need to add the pump to it.”
Paulson also urges the importance of making sure you have the right equipment for the pressure needed.
“I feel like a lot of the time, with our clients, irrigation is a mystery. It’s something that happens underground, and something they don’t see.” Andy Paulson, irrigation foreman with Simms Landscape
“It’s about sizing everything correctly,” he says. “Is my valve and main line and everything going to be able to handle what I need it to do? Also, do I have the supply to handle the demand?”
Jake Francesconi, president of Grass Roots Landscaping on Cape Cod, says installing pumps and valves should be easy.
“The preparation and planning are key to any job, but even more so for irrigation,” he says. “If you have a good plan of action, and you know exactly what you’re getting into, problems don’t happen.”
Francesconi adds that doing your due diligence can also keep installation crews from having to make on-the-fly decisions or having to change course midway through the project.
“Have everything pre-flagged, know what kind of pressure you’re looking for and get it all laid out in terms of where the valve boxes are going,” he says. “You’ve just got to put everything together correctly and know that it has the space to work. Don’t just jam anything in any place and make sure to expand to a second box if need be.”
While the technology behind pumps and valves hasn’t changed too much over the years, Francesconi, Haase and Paulson all say that irrigation customers have fully embraced “smart” technology – or automation.
“I feel like a lot of the time, with our clients, irrigation is a mystery,” Paulson says. “It’s something that happens underground, and something they don’t see. And the only time they see it is if there’s an issue. But with the smart technology, it gives them the opportunity to monitor it from anywhere.”
Not only is the smart technology nice for the homeowners, but it’s convenient for the irrigation companies, too.
“I can make adjustments on the fly and I can do them from anywhere on the lawn or even offsite, to make sure the client’s property is staying as good-looking as it should,” Paulson says. “It’s convenient for us, but a lot of times now, the customer wants the upgrade.”
Haase says the latest irrigation clocks have been a game changer as well.
“The technology with the clocks is crazy – with the apps and being able to start them and turn them off anywhere, it is nice,” he says. “Even at my house, my clock is app-driven. So, when a crew goes to mow at my house, I can turn off the irrigation system with my phone. I don’t have to ask my wife to do it or go over there or anything.”
What to watch.
But even with all these advancements, problems can still occur.
“The number one thing that goes wrong, other than heads and coverage, is valves,” Paulson says. “If your valves are not working correctly, then nothing’s going to operate right for you.”
Paulson says the most frequent problems are either a wiring issue where the valves are not turning on and off, or an obstruction in the valve that keeps it from closing all the way.
Haase says inadequate water pressure is a regular obstacle his crews face, which harkens back to Washington’s geography.
“We also have a lot of mountains around here, so sometimes the water pressure is not that great when you get to the top of a mountain and want to build your house on a domestic water system,” he says. “Sometimes we get into iron deposits in our water – or calcium. We have a lot of calcium. So, we get buildups and things like that. Sometimes we have filters on them for the iron. Most of the calls we get are because of the equipment failing.”
Supporting the system.
Paulson says filtration is an important step for maintaining pumps and valves in Utah as well.
“We service a lot of systems (here) and they use secondary water,” he says. “So, if you’re pulling off of a secondary source, you have to monitor pulling debris in. It all comes down to filtration.”
Haase says his crews are on each client’s property at least once a year to blow out the system at the start of the season. He adds that with proper maintenance, pumps and valves can last a long time.
“Most of the times the pumps run pretty good, if you keep it clean and protected,” he says. “Valves can last for 20-plus years if it’s a good brand. Pumps last five to seven years usually.”
Paulson says maintenance can encompass a lot of things, but the root of it should focus on the system’s wiring and connections.
“As far as the maintenance goes, the most complicated thing you can get into is a wiring issue from the controller to the valve itself,” he says. “And on the install side, you’ve got to make sure you’re using good connectors and things like that. So, it lasts as long as it can. You can do everything right, but if your connections aren’t sound, they’re not going to continue to operate correctly for you.”
Francesconi says getting eyes on the valve box a few times a year, usually in the spring and at the end of the season, can also prevent headaches down the road.
“Keeping the valve box clean and putting some gravel underneath it so it doesn’t get overrun by vegetation is important,” he says. “You’ve got to keep them clean when you do the blowouts and everything else, so they aren’t overwhelmed with leaves, debris or mice.”
Francesconi says he’s seen a lot of animals get inside a valve box and hibernate.
“When you’re doing the winterization, you’ve got to make sure to get them clean,” he says. “You don’t want stuff burrowing underneath there because it’ll be a nice little shelter for them all winter.”
Like with anything else, preventative maintenance is essential and keeps small things from snowballing into bigger issues. Paulson says you should stick to a routine maintenance schedule.
“Usually on our properties, we do monthly site checks,” he says. “And cleaning filters and running through the entire system are part of that site check. So, we can make sure everything’s top-notch for our clients.
“We tell our clients it’s a preventative thing – because it is,” Paulson adds. “If we keep everything at 100%, then you aren’t going to call us down the road because you have dead spots in your lawn or something like that.”
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Lawn care can often times be all about the number of properties that can be treated in a day. From dawn to dusk, it’s all about getting one more lawn in.
And with all that use, it’s important to maintain hoses, reels and spray rigs in order to keep them running efficiently.
“It’s like checking the oil and tire pressure in your car. If they’re properly maintained, they’ll keep working every day,” says Jennifer Wing, marketing manager with Hannay Reels.
Keep it clean.
While it’s the last thing LCOs want to do at the end of the day, Wing says taking the time to clean your reels and hoses can be crucial to keeping them in working order.
“For reels and things like that, it’s always important to keep an eye on the dirt and grime buildup on the hose reel and the hose itself,” she says. “So, (I suggest) quick wash-ups every so often to clean out hidden areas of dirt that can damage the hose or the reel components. (This) will just make things last longer and work better.
“Especially after a tough or dirty job, it might be wise to wash things down quickly because dirt can hide in certain areas – especially on a power reel with a chain guard,” Wing adds.
However, don’t fret if crews forget to hose things off every once in a while, because John Kucera, director of engineering at Coxreels, says the equipment can handle it.
“When pertaining to reels, operation is rarely impeded by poor maintenance. The working components are well protected by the inherent design,” he says. “The nature of the industry is rough and tough, and our product line fits right in line with that type of work. A reel does not need to shine to do its job.”
Even so, Kucera does say a good scrubbing every now and then is still necessary.
“This, of course, does not mean that the product should not be cleaned,” he says. “Landscape and lawn care are tough on equipment by default because of the abrasive nature of the environment. Depending on the location of the reel on the equipment, cleaning to remove abrasives around the bearing and swivel joints can help extend component life.”
Kucera says the chemical used in one’s lawn care rig shouldn’t have an impact on the equipment’s maintenance schedule.
“Most products used in the lawn care industry are mild enough that internal damage cause by them is negligible,” he says. “Best practices to prolong the life of equipment is to keep it relatively clean and to address any corrosion as soon as possible.”
Don’t let it deteriorate.
Corrosion is one of the most common problems that can occur from improper maintenance. Wing suggests investing in noncorrosive equipment to play it safe.
“If you’re using harsh chemicals, it’s always important to be careful of spills around a hose and its components, and the hose reel,” she says.
“Reels constructed in noncorrosive materials, like aluminum or stainless steel, are always recommended when you’re working with harsh chemicals like fertilizers and pesticides. If a spill occurs, any piece of equipment should be washed down as soon as possible to prevent any chemical reactions.”
The elements are known to do their damage, too.
“Leaving it outdoors in inclement weather can have a significant impact on the reel,” says Jerry Medley, vice president of sales & business development at Coxreels.
“The pieces that break or need to be repaired on any reel in the industry are from wear and tear on component parts like swivels, or seals inside of a swivel.” Jerry Medley, vice president of sales & business development, Coxreels
If corrosion is spotted, Kucera recommends immediately cleaning, lightly sanding and painting any broken powder coat showing signs of rust.
And the problems caused by corrosion are not always eye-catching. Medley says even the smallest parts can get damaged and, if left untreated, the destruction will begin to spiral.
“The pieces that break or need to be repaired on any reel in the industry are from wear and tear on component parts like swivels, or seals inside of a swivel,” he says.
Medley adds that while hoses are made to take a beating, they are one element of the operation that is damaged the most.
“People run over hoses, they’re out in the elements. Eventually your hose will need to be replaced as well,” he says.
Kucera adds that over time, seals and hoses are bound to degrade.
“Because of the abrasive nature of the work, damage to the protective coatings of the steel is common and not letting this damage fester is the best way to extend the life of your equipment,” he says.
Make it last a lifetime.
Wing says reels that are kept up thoroughly should have quite the longevity.
“As far as the reels go, it usually depends on wear and tear and things like that,” she says. “We’ve had some reels that are used daily last for decades. If they get damaged, they may need replaced. But if they are maintained properly and are serviced regularly, they can last a very long time.”
Medley and Kucera say they know lawn care operators who are still using reels that are decades old.
“We build these things very robust and very industrial in construction and design,” Medley says. “And that’s because the industry is very rough. We build these in such a way because we know these things take an absolute beating.
“If they are properly maintained, you should never have to replace them,” he adds.
And while these reels might not look the prettiest, Medley says they can still get the job done.
“It might just look dull and dingy and you’ll have places where the powder coat or the paint on the equipment might crack,” he says. “You just keep it relatively clean and dry.
Spot the small stuff.
As Medley mentions, even the smallest parts of the reel need to be maintained to keep it operating correctly.
“There’s a lot of working components in a reel,” Wing says. “You have swivel joints and chains, and things like that. You always want to check the joint connections and make sure they’re secure. A lot of manufacturers recommend different lubrication intervals – usually 40 hours of use.”
Ignoring the swivel joints can cause the reel not to spin anymore, meaning LCOs will have to manually unwind and rewind the hose.
Other parts to keep an eye on include bearings, pinlocks and even the motor on power reels.
“There are also bearings on each side of the reel, and they allow the reel to rotate easily,” Wing says. “Bearings eventually wear depending on use and the working conditions of the reel. So, people may notice resistance or tugging.”
Wing adds that the pinlocks keep the reel engaged during travel, so the hose doesn’t unwind while the truck is on the road. “Checking the spring on the pinlock to see if it’s starting to wear is important. These are easily replaceable,” she says.
An extra tip Wing has for lawn care operators is to occasionally make sure the reel is firmly attached to their rig.
“Make sure the reel is still securely bolted to the truck, the trailer or the cart,” she says. “They aren’t welded into these vehicles so checking they are secure is necessary. Things can loosen over time, especially depending on the road conditions where they are.”
Once Taylor Milliken is home and all calls and texts have been returned, the cell goes away for a while. But that wasn’t always the case. Last year, Milliken changed up his routine when it came to his cellphone activities.
“I put my phone on my docking station to charge in my room,” says the owner and president of Milosi in Nashville, Tennessee. “It stays there for several hours intentionally. I have caught myself many times reading emails, texts, etc., with my children vying for my attention. I started doing this last year and it has helped me so much.”
Here’s Milliken’s average day.
The mornings I am training, I usually return home for breakfast or am having a protein shake on the go. It’s all over the board. My commute is about 15-20 minutes and I listen to Christian music, leadership podcasts on Spotify, or I am listening to a book on Audible. I listen to more podcasts and books than anything else. I work from home more than anything. If it’s a long training day, I may not start until 8 or 9 but if it’s an off day, then I am usually working by 6:30 a.m.
In the morning, when I am on my “A game,” it’s read a devotion or scripture, make coffee, train, eat breakfast and workday startup routine: confirm top 3 goals/tasks for the day (I use the Focus Planner), update (software we use), review calendar and communicate as necessary, spend about 15 minutes making sure all important e-mails have been responded to, and start on my #1 top priority for the day.
I have lunch on my calendar from 12-1 every day, but I don’t follow this like I should. Usually, if I’m at the office or out, I have either a smoothie from Smoothie King, chicken from Chick-fil-A or a salad or sandwich from Panera Bread. If I’m at home, it would be something like a sandwich or a healthy meal that is on my meal plan – the latter is not as often as I’d hope.
After lunch, I am in several meetings per week so I usually will have meetings. I also like to check on my emails and review where I am at on my goals/tasks for the day. It’s like a mid-day check-in with yourself.
If I finish the day at the office, I leave between 3 and 5 p.m. I finish most days in meetings or at home. Phone calls and focus on email stops around 5:30-6 p.m. but always bleeds over to a fault.
Cooking is a huge passion of mine. So, after dinner, if we are having a traditional dinner then I am helping clean and wrangle our three kiddos. Our goal is that nobody sits down until everyone sits down. This helps our kiddos build a sense of teamwork. I do work a little most nights to stay on top of the endless emails and planning it requires to keep things moving in the right direction, but it’s been greatly reduced as I have been able to add great people to our company.
At night, I like to review my notes from the day and mind-dump anything that I need to tackle the next day or plan over the next few days to a week. I feel like this helps me relax while falling asleep. Also, I try not to look at the phone or computer for the last 30-60 minutes before bed. Studies show this affects sleep quality. Since I have trouble falling asleep, I use this to help.