The irrigation arsenal

October 16, 2018 -  By

Every industry has an array of gadgets that aim to save time and labor, and the irrigation industry is no exception. There are many tools and accessories contractors can add to their arsenals to get the job done quickly and keep their clients’ systems running efficiently.

Irrigation contractors and industry experts share some of their favorite items that contractors should have on hand.

“New tools and accessories can help contractors be more efficient, reducing their time and efforts,” says Paul Donofrio, owner of Outdoor Water Solutions in Sarasota, Fla. “This ultimately reduces their costs and makes their businesses more profitable.”

Pressure gauge and adapters (Photo: Ewing Irrigation)

Photo: Ewing Irrigation

Pressure gauge with adapters

One basic tool that irrigation contractors should use is a pressure gauge and the adapters to go with it, says Jeffrey Knight, director of learning and development for Ewing Irrigation & Landscape Supply, headquartered in Phoenix.

“I would think this is something most contractors know and have,” he says. “But when I am out in the field doing repairs with them, very few seem to have pressure gauges with the necessary adapters.”

Pressure gauges are used to diagnose pressure problems in an irrigation system and help contractors isolate pressure restrictions. They also can be used to determine if the static pressure at the property is sufficient for the irrigation system before it’s installed. There are a number of adapters—such as a hose thread adapter, a Pitot tube and a sprinkler tee adapter—that contractors can use to perform more specific pressure testing. Pressure gauges and adapters cost around $50, Knight says.

“This tool is important because one of the biggest components that ensures the functionality of a sprinkler system is proper pressure,” he says. “A 15-foot sprayhead only sprays 15 feet at a certain pressure, so you have to make sure it’s accurate.”

Multimeter (Photo: Ewing Irrigation)

Photo: Ewing Irrigation

Multimeter

“Irrigation contractors need a good multimeter, and they need to know how to use it,” says John Taylor, president of Taylor Irrigation Services in Houston, a $1.3-million company that provides 80 percent irrigation, 15 percent drainage and 10 percent lighting services to a 90 percent residential, 10 percent commercial clientele.

A multimeter can be used to test and diagnose all the electrical components of an irrigation system, including the power source, the transformer, zone connection ports or modules, wires and solenoids. It also can help contractors diagnose electrical issues, such as loss of power, dead modules, shorts, cut wires and bad connections. Basic multimeters can cost from $20 to $40, while higher-end units that can be used on two-wire jobs can cost from $200 to $300.

“Frankly speaking, a contractor who is good with this tool could make a living with it alone given the volume of electrical problems out there and the fact that many contractors bypass finding the source of electrical problems and instead suggest a client run new wire,” Taylor says. “This is a disservice to the client and prevents many contractors from learning a skill that makes them very valuable, not to mention profitable.”

Station master (Photo: Ewing Irrigation)

Photo: Ewing Irrigation

Station master

Another tool Taylor suggests is a station master, which is essentially a multimeter focused specifically on low-voltage irrigation that takes the guesswork out of troubleshooting electrical issues. Taylor says this tool is not as robust as a multimeter but does most of the same work. He advises contractors to also purchase a toning wand, which helps make sense of messy wires. Since most station masters do not come with a grounding rod, Taylor buys a small gauge steel rod from a big box store, cuts it into nine-inch pieces and then bends the last few inches of one end to make a mini grounding rod that fits in the pouch that the station master comes in. Contractors can expect to spend between $100 and $200 for a station master, which can be purchased with or without the toning wand.

“When toning wires, the grounding rod is a lifesaver on the job site,” Taylor says. “Electrical troubleshooting can be intimidating if you are not familiar with the base components, but learning to use this tool will make you a real pro and allow you to make some money while providing additional value to your client.”

Micro-Zipp (Photo: Micro-Zipp)

Photo: Micro-Zipp

Micro-Zipp

In addition to being an irrigation contractor, Donofrio is also the inventor of the Micro-Zipp, a handheld device that allows technicians to quickly and easily insert drip emitters and barbs into a variety of polytubing. Unique to microirrigation installation, the tool inserts emitters directly into standard 0.5-, 0.75- and 1-inch polytubing in one step. Often, irrigation technicians have to prepunch holes into the polytubing with screw drivers or other sharp objects, which can be an unsafe, time-consuming task. For large installations, contractors also may experience hand soreness and fatigue. The Micro-Zipp handles cost from $20 to $25 and each individual Zipp socket costs around $4.

“I was inspired to invent the Micro-Zipp through necessity,” says Donofrio, whose company provides 70 percent irrigation system maintenance and 30 percent installation services to a half residential, half commercial clientele. “Having worked in the irrigation industry for 15 years, I felt there had to be a better, more efficient method to install drip emitters and barbs into polytubing.”

Cable saw (Photo: Ewing Irrigation)

Photo: Ewing Irrigation

Cable saw

Knight says a cable saw is another useful tool always found in his bag. A cable saw is a thin cable with handles on either end that can be used to cut PVC pipe by sliding it back and forth. It’s especially helpful in tight spaces where contractors don’t have enough room to work with a traditional saw or pipe cutter. Cable saws can also save contractors time by allowing them to work in the right area without creating a larger area to work in, which, in some cases, means removing concrete or other hardscapes. Knight says these inexpensive tools can cost as little as $5.

“When contractors are in tight spots, or the piping or valve they’re trying to fix is in concrete, a cable saw allows them to cut pipe,” Knight says. “While a pipe cutter is best, sometimes you aren’t afforded that much room to work.”

Fitting saver (Photo: Ewing Irrigation)

Photo: Ewing Irrigation

Fitting saver

Knight also recommends a fitting saver, which removes pipe from glued joints so a new pipe can be inserted. A fitting saver saves fittings that would otherwise be unusable when a pipe breaks inside them. The accessory fits on most portable electric drills and comes in 0.5-, 0.75- and 1-inch sizes. Being able to save and reuse fittings allows contractors to do repairs a lot faster. Fitting savers cost around $65 each.

“Sometimes you have a cut or a break where the pipe is solvent welded inside of a fitting,” Knight says. “The fitting saver goes on a drill bit, so contractors can drill the piece of pipe out of the fitting and use it again. If you can’t save the fitting, you have to cut the whole thing out and reassemble the valve manifold, which takes a lot of time and labor.”

About the Author:

Emily Schappacher is a freelance writer based in Cleveland.

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