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Drip irrigation: A drop at a time

April 29, 2020 -  By
Team laying drip irrigation (Photo: Enviroscape L.A.)

Drip irrigation makes up the bulk of the services Enviroscape L.A. performs. (Photo: Enviroscape L.A.)

The average microirrigation or drip irrigation system boasts 90 percent efficiency. For Luis Andrade, you can’t get much better than that.

“Drip is already one of the most efficient forms of irrigation,” says Andrade, irrigation category manager for SiteOne Landscape Supply. “How do you improve on something that is already at its peak?”

It’s because of this optimal performance that drip irrigation has surely — albeit slowly — grown in popularity, and Andrade predicts the market to triple in the next few years.

Other things that have made drip irrigation even more efficient are improvements in check valves to prevent water waste and the addition of copper tubing to prevent plant roots from growing in and around systems. But, industry experts and contractors agree there are still a few barriers that keep contractors from fully embracing all of the benefits of drip. Andrade says a lack of education and training is one such factor that makes drip irrigation more popular in some regions of the country than in others.

“In some areas where drip isn’t as common, it’s probably due to a lack of understanding,” he says, adding that SiteOne Universities, the Irrigation Association and local distributors and manufacturers are all great places to learn more about drip irrigation. “We need to do more training on drip so contractors can understand it better.”

Installation and maintenance costs also can be a barrier to the growth of drip. Bryan Lester, general manager and vice president of marketing for Andy’s Sprinkler, Drainage & Lighting, headquartered in North Dallas, Texas, says drip irrigation makes up just a small percentage of the company’s work. Andy’s Sprinkler, Drainage & Lighting is a $19 million company that provides 70 percent sprinkler repair, 20 percent drainage and 10 percent lighting services to an 85 percent residential, 15 percent commercial clientele.

Team laying drip irrigation (Photo: Enviroscape L.A.)

Conserve and preserve In some cases, drip irrigation can cut customers’ water usage in half. (Photo: Enviroscape L.A.)

The company typically adds a few drip zones to existing systems in areas of the landscape with special needs, like flower beds, gardens and around older trees that need a direct water source. In hot, dry Texas, Lester says drip also can keep nonnative plants hydrated during drought conditions without flooding other parts of the landscape that are drought resistant. However, he says it can be more costly to retrofit existing systems to drip because the parts are more expensive.

“There is a steady demand for it, but even with the talk of water conservation, it hasn’t moved the needle on our sales very much,” Lester says. “We get customers who like it and who are interested in it, but then they see the cost to retrofit their current system and decide they are OK with what they have.”

Increased maintenance needs also can be a drawback to drip. Because system components sit so close to the surface, they are susceptible to damage from lawn maintenance equipment and even from squirrels, rabbits and other critters that have been known to chew on them, Lester says.

“Drip systems are more fragile and prone to damage,” he says. “The repairs and maintenance help keep us in business, but our goal is never to install something that will need to be fixed six months later.”

Despite challenges that other contractors face, drip is the lifeblood of Mike Garcia’s company, Enviroscape L.A., in Redondo Beach, Calif. The $1 million company provides sustainable landscape design and irrigation services to an 80 percent residential, 20 percent commercial client base.

“We do just about everything with drip irrigation and are one of the only contractors in L.A. to do so,” says Garcia, the company’s founder. “We can install other types of irrigation, of course, but 98 percent of what we do is drip.”

Garcia says drip irrigation aligns with the company’s philosophy to partner with nature to ensure healthy landscapes. When turf and landscapes receive the appropriate amount of water, plant material is healthier, requires fewer pesticides and fertilizers and encourages populations of “good bugs” in the soil, he says. His customers are mindful of their impact on the environment and appreciate that drip systems can cut their water usage in half.

“Today’s buzzword is sustainability — people are concerned about the planet,” Garcia says. “Drip irrigation works in tandem with sustainable yards.”

Lester agrees that drip irrigation is an important addition to the company’s service offerings, particularly for eco-conscious customers. While it remains a small segment of the business for now, Lester says the company still markets its drip services, and all of its technicians are fully trained in drip installation and maintenance.

Andrade says offering drip irrigation can be a good way for companies to differentiate themselves from the competition. It can help certain clients solve niche problems — like car dealerships that don’t want to get their inventory wet or shopping centers and apartment complexes that have heavy foot traffic. Drip irrigation is also an easy way for builders to earn Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification credits.

“Drip has been used for some time,” Andrade says. “But as contractors get more informed and trained, it’s only going to continue to grow.”

About the Author:

Emily Schappacher is a freelance writer based in Cleveland.

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