How Smart Irrigation Reduces Property Management Costs

Smart irrigation controllers are getting smarter, sharing the same status as building intelligence and those fully accessible, trendy thermostats that feed off of big data.

With new smart irrigation systems, apartment property owners and managers can quickly access a wealth of data regarding irrigation system performance via smart phones, tablets, and the old stand-by desktop computers. Real-time data that includes water consumption by the gallon and data identifying trends means properties can get quick, easy-to-understand analysis on the performance of the system through the Internet.

Not only will the apartment landscaping look lush and green, but property owners will be able to more closely monitor expenses. Savings of up to 30 percent are possible and, best of all; newer systems don’t require hefty capital investments compared to earlier satellite technology.

How Smart Irrigation Works

Commercial Evapotranspiration Technology (ET)-based controllers act like a thermostat for an apartment property’s sprinkler system, telling it when to turn on and off, while using local weather and landscape conditions to tailor watering schedules to actual conditions on the property. Instead of irrigating using a controller with a clock and a preset schedule, ET controllers allow watering schedules to better match plants’ water needs while minimizing runoff.

Duration, frequency, and soak times are set by several factors. Weather data combined with geographical location, sprinkler type, plant type, soil type, and a fine tuning option, enables the smart irrigation controller to irrigate with precision. Also, problems with output – such as a malfunctioning zone – can be identified through the flow sensor with a swipe of the screen or click of the mouse anytime, anywhere.

Commercial Properties and Water Conservation

Water conservation is more critical than ever, as a significant portion of the nation remains under drought conditions. And more eyes are focusing on landscape irrigation and its effective use.

The U.S. government has stepped up water conservation efforts in recent years with the establishment of WaterSense, which focuses on individual consumption. Since the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) inaugurated the program in 2006, WaterSense and its partners have educated communities, organizations, and individuals on saving water. Last year, the program updated its new homes program to include multifamily units.

According to a WaterSense report, outdoor water use accounts for about 70 percent of annual consumption in the West and Southwest U.S. Meanwhile, water usage rates are escalating an average of 8 percent per year.

Adding to usage is, according to the EPA, is an estimated 50 percent loss of water through landscape irrigation because of overwatering, evaporation, or poor irrigation design or maintenance. A typical commercial property uses one million gallons of landscape water each year and overwaters by 380,000 gallons, industry data suggests.

Old Residential Irrigation Systems Can Over Water

Often, an outdated or non-compliant irrigation controller is the culprit for over watering. Older systems irrigate based on a manually inputted schedule that usually doesn’t take into account weather, plant type, soil, or local conditions. Typically, those systems are only accessible on property and can’t be reprogrammed remotely. That can create some unattractive situations for the property, not to mention unneeded expense.

For example, let’s say the irrigation crew wants to do a little extra watering within a particular zone and sets an additional run for after hours, which isn’t all that uncommon. But an unexpected storm pops up (trust me, they happen in Texas!) and the property gets a wasteful, double dose of moisture. What’s worse is that prospective residents driving by might question why the property’s irrigation system is operating in a downpour.

With an older residential irrigation system, the water will continue to run until pre-programmed cutoff time is reached or someone manually stops the sprinklers. With new smart technology, the maintenance superintendent can access the system through a password-protected Internet site and shut the system off immediately – from the comfort of home.

Smart Irrigation Controllers Conserve Water & Money

Implementing newer smart controller technology is a good way for multifamily properties to make a contribution to water conservation, no matter where the apartment property is located. Real-time reporting enables more than a bird’s eye view of water consumption, which is helpful when reconciling water bills. Also, the ability to closely monitor the system enables users to identify broken main lines, lateral lines, sprinkler heads, and other problems that lead to dramatic waste.

The technology can be retrofitted to older systems by simply replacing the controller and flow sensor. A wireless system retrofit for the flow sensor is even in the works.

Unlike many investments, payback on converting to or installing, smart irrigation technology is quick, and the savings can be substantial. A recent six-property project with a national retail bank estimated an annual savings of 9.8 million gallons of water for $56,000 savings in the first year. Project payback was estimated at 3.3 months.

Like everything else, irrigation technology is becoming more and more advanced. In an industry where data and convenience are key drivers, smart irrigation controllers make sense for multifamily.

 


President, Earthworks

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Chris Lee is President of Dallas, Texas-based Earthworks, which specializes in multifamily housing landscaping. He is a contributing author to Landscape Management magazine, licensed irrigation specialist and a Toro Intellisense certified technician. Chris studied business at the University of Arkansas from 1990-94 and horticulture and landscape design at Tarrant County College from 1999-01. He has been employed at Earthworks since 1998.

  • I can’t agree with your article more. I manage properties in the Phoenix area and summer water bills can kill profit margins quickly. Automating the irrigation to run at the most beneficial times has saved me tons of money in the past. This can even save the typical homeowner a great deal of money.

  • Jody

    I completely agree as well. Based on seeing water rates rising everywhere it makes good forward-thinking sense to invest in the “smart technology” emerging in irrigation.

    A manufacturer I would recommend is Baseline Irrigation. They utilize patented soil moisture sensors that are very accurate and provide true on-site water management with savings of in excess of 50% over traditional management methods. Sites can be managed via a smart phone, tablet or centrally managed through a cloud-based website interface offered by Baseline.

    I’ve tried rain sensors and mini weather stations historically on my numerous sites, but they haven’t provided the level of management and water savings that the Baseline system can…and does. My investment in smart irrigation has provided me with quick payback and a greater level of savings long-term. Check for local government or municipal grants or rebates as well to help offset the investment.

    Great article Chris, thanks.

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