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Ready to install an irrigation system? Get smart with site prep

October 12, 2022 -  By
A smart controller is only as useful as the irrigation system it controls. (Photo: SiteOne Landscape Supply)

A smart controller is only as useful as the irrigation system it controls. (Photo: SiteOne Landscape Supply)

Smart irrigation controllers offer professionals plenty of options. But there are several steps to take before those options can make a difference in the irrigation of a property.

Irrigation experts from Rain Bird, SiteOne Landscape Supply and Horizon Distributors share their strategies for preparing a site for a smart controller.

Back to the basics

Rick Arena, senior training manager for SiteOne Landscape Supply, says a smart controller isn’t a silver bullet. The controller itself is only as smart and as effective as the irrigation system it’s controlling.

To get the best benefits, Arena recommends a thorough check of the preexisting irrigation system on site — if one already exists.

“The first thing is to physically inspect the system to make sure there aren’t any defects out there,” says Arena. “(Check for) any leaks, sprinkler heads and if the system is operating at excessive pressure. If you’ve got an inferior system to begin with, the smart controller isn’t going to make the magic happen for you there.”

Larry Hall

Larry Hall

Larry Hall, business development representative for Horizon Distributors, echoes what Arena says.

“The controller is just a piece of the puzzle,” he says. “You need to know the irrigation layout. What’s critical is, in my opinion, microzoning like plant material. A smart controller is going to water to the specific requirement of a plant type.”

Hall suggests running zones to see what locations the controller waters and adjust based on those findings.

Get in the weeds

Professionals shouldn’t be afraid to get granular when they’re checking the existing system, according to Arena. He gives the example of a broken sprinkler head. He says a pro might look at that head and think, “Well I’ll just replace that head and straighten it up.”

He recommends going further and checking the nozzle in the head, the spacing of the heads in the zone and the operating pressure in that particular case.

Hall explains that with smart irrigation, coverage is extremely important.

“Head-to-head coverage and things of that nature really matter,” says Hall. “You have to have a good system in place where water is getting where it needs to go. It has to be efficient that way.”

Connection concerns

Steve Barendt

Steve Barendt

When using Wi-Fi-enabled smart controllers, Steve Barendt, product manager for controllers at Rain Bird, says it’s common for pros to use their phones to check for Wi-Fi signal strength, but that’s not always good enough. He recommends downloading an app that can measure signal strength.

“It’s a good troubleshooting step if there seems to be a fluctuating signal or inconsistent communication,” he says. “I would also consider the proximity to the router and measure the signal strength at the proposed controller location.”

This strategy could change on a commercial site, where a professional might not have access to a Wi-Fi network due to security concerns. In that case, cellular connection is a popular alternative, according to both Barendt and Arena.

“Most likely on a commercial site, the contractor isn’t going to be given direct access to a network, or you might have to jump through some hoops with their IT folks,” says Arena. “(With a cellular-enabled controller) they can still connect to the internet, just like with your cell phone.”

Rob DiFranco

About the Author:

Rob DiFranco is Landscape Management's associate editor. A 2018 graduate of Kent State University, DiFranco holds a bachelor's degree in journalism. Prior to Landscape Management, DiFranco was a reporter for The Morning Journal in Lorain, Ohio.

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