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Weather wonders: A look at weather-based irrigation

October 15, 2020 -  By
Crew member using weather-based irrigation. (Photo: Pacific Landscape Management)

Weather-based irrigation controllers can save up to 20 to 30 percent more water than manual controllers. (Photo: Pacific Landscape Management)

Finding ways to save water is always top of mind for irrigation contractors. Bob Grover, president at Pacific Landscape Management, is a big believer in weather-based irrigation controllers (also known as smart controllers) as a water-saving solution.

“We are huge advocates, not only within our customer base, but also to the industry locally and nationally to have people adopt weather-based irrigation control,” Grover says. “We find it saves 20 to 30 percent (more water than) typical manually operated controllers.”

The company has promoted weather-based irrigation for over a decade and moved to using Weathermatic weather-based irrigation controllers and software about a year and a half ago.

Pacific Landscape Management is a $28 million company offering irrigation, landscape maintenance and construction for commercial clients. Here, Grover discusses how he’s moving his clients to weather-based irrigation control.

LM: Can you talk about the benefits of weather-based irrigation control?

Grover: The cool thing is they are web-based platforms. You have the technology in the cloud and adjust the programming in the cloud and then it connects to the controller and sends that information down to the controller. So, in addition to being able to have it work in automatic mode, you can access the controller from your cellphone or from your desktop without physically accessing the controller.
The system adjusts daily based on the weather that just happened and gets you accurate, quick changes to water less when you don’t need it and water more when you do.

LM: How have your customers adopted these systems on their sites?

Grover: We have aggressively promoted it within our customer base, and we might have 25 percent adoption after promoting it for 10 years. I think there’s a little bit of a disconnect sometimes relating to water cost and water increases.

It can be expensive. A typical controller might cost $500, and these cost $1,500 to $2,000. And, you have to buy a weather station. You have to pay for the communication because it’s based on a cellphone technology fee (which was $20 with past weather-based products). It does cost you, but it has a return on investment.

What Weathermatic has done is similar to a lot of other computer technology- and software-related services. They said, “We’re seeing trouble with contractors selling it. How about we go to a subscription model?” So, they cover (the controller) and charge the communication fee in their subscription. It also includes the fee to cover the cost of the product, bringing the communication fee to $40-$50. So, for double the cost of the previous communication fee, you get all the hardware, and they cover warranty and upgrade for life. We sold about 150 weather-based irrigation systems when we were using a different product. In the first year we offered the subscription-based model, we sold 250.

I believe that on 75 to 80 percent of our properties, it makes financial sense. The smaller the site is, the less water that they use, the less likely you’re going to get a realistic return on investment. The bigger the property, the more likely it’s going to be a no-brainer.

LM: What advice do you have for other irrigation contractors looking to implement this with clients?

Grover: The biggest thing is it’s not completely plug and play. You have to tweak the program over the first year or two to get it in fully operational automatic mode.

We’re a large enough company that we have a water manager. His entire goal is helping lead and train our people in how to use this technology and other water-saving technologies. Landscaping is becoming more technical, and it’s complicated, so you need to be committed to learning and you need to be committed to continuing to learn and to educate your customers.


Abby Hart

About the Author:

Abby Hart is the former senior editor of Landscape Management. A native Clevelander, she spent 10 years in Chicago, where she was operations manager of a global hospitality consultancy. She also worked as managing editor of Illumine, a health and wellness magazine; and a marketing specialist for B2B publications. Abby has a degree in journalism from Boston University’s College of Communication.

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