Green Industry Pros Can Now Plug and Play With ‘Smart’ Technology
There will always be an aspect of the green industry associated with the old-school, get-your-hands-dirty-type work synonymous with landscaping and turfgrass management. At the same time, two segments of the landscaping industry are front-runners in the race for practical, user-friendly technology that makes an impact both in quality of life and on the bottom line.
Over the last two years you’ve probably noticed an increase in the usage of remote control apps, the number of smart irrigation controllers on the market and other technology-based practices working to cut costs and save labor.
Let’s look at how these user-controlled systems have changed the landscape for homeowners and contractors alike.
Smart Irrigation @ 2 a.m.
Water scarcity is a real problem. What hasn’t been publicized quite as much is how homeowners and contractors can do their part to work on preserving water and becoming smart about their irrigation techniques. Some of the current issues facing the irrigation industry include a dwindling number of water sources as the demand increases, rises in costs and outdated delivery systems. A widespread problem: most existing irrigation systems are simply not adjusted frequently enough. As the weather and rainfall changes throughout the year so should your irrigation techniques. While controllers make watering easier, you must remain diligent and adjust your watering schedule regularly based on plant type, spacing, temperature, weather and rainfall.
It’d be nice if irrigation systems took those things into account for you, right? Hello, smart controllers. Avoid over-watering, excessive run-off and giving the entire neighborhood’s sidewalks a bath. Smart controllers that run based on local weather conditions are also called climate-based controllers. These controllers use different sources for weather data such as on-site sensors, internet data or connecting with a local weather station. Another way smart controllers determine the needs of the plants is through measuring the moisture in the soil. Soil moisture-based controllers use a probe near the root zone to determine whether the plants are satisfied or require more moisture.
The most important feature for a new smart irrigation controller on the market is the ability to control your system via smartphone. For a homeowner, this is a great tool giving you an abundance of control over your watering schedule – from anywhere. Stuck in the airport waiting to get home? Cut your home lawn irrigation system off prior to the rainfall and save a few bucks. If you’re a contractor, no longer will you have to make emergency stops to a client’s house or adjust your entire schedule based on the weather. With an app-controlled system, you can monitor and adjust your customer’s watering from your smartphone. Forget the 2 a.m. wake up on Saturday morning, sweating bullets and questioning whether or not you remembered to turn the system off at a client’s house.
Shut the system off on your phone, send a text to let the customer know you’ll stop by on Monday and get back to your beauty sleep.
One new and unique product on the market for smart irrigation is the Rain Bird LNK WiFi. This tiny, not even 2” piece of technology allows users to convert and control their existing ESP-Me and TM2 irrigation systems via the company’s app on their smartphone or tablet. The LNK WiFi Module operates over a local wireless network and through the app, users have total control of their system from anywhere.
The controller many homeowners and contractors are already familiar with, can simply be converted to a smart irrigation controller by inserting the module. Once you add the controller to your local WiFi network, you have complete control over the system – enable “Automatic Seasonal Adjustments” to save water which allows the app to collect local weather data from the internet. The controllers runtime can be adjusted on a daily basis to meet the changing needs of the landscape.
The warm, welcoming vibe from one’s home should extend beyond the doors and into the backyard. Low voltage landscape lighting is something that can take a yard from special to spectacular (when done right, of course). Outdoor landscape lighting features can be used for a variety of reasons like lining a walkway as a safety precaution, decorating your garden, deck or pool area or providing a spotlight for a unique part of your house. The combinations are endless. However, most landscape lighting ideas include a mixture of pathway, flood, wash and accent lights. An extensive variety of shapes, styles and colors are available through most lighting vendors in finishes like bronze, centennial brass, desert granite, metallic and more.
Not convinced it’s a substantial trend? 45% of all landscape upgrade projects involved exterior lighting and specific to lighting projects, 20% were related to “smart lighting” according to Houzz’s 2017 Landscaping Trends Survey.
Today, the intoxication of total control through the push of a button on our smartphones is experienced throughout the landscape lighting segment. No longer is there a need to finagle with the transformer box when a problem arises – risking injury and possible catastrophe – simply adjust the ‘digital sliders’ via smartphone to dim the accent light a bit or change the pool house up-lights to a bright blue for the 4th of July party. ‘Smart lighting’ systems operate via WiFi or Bluetooth, with each having their pros and cons. When using a WiFi connection, contractors cannot setup the system without access to the homeowner’s wireless IP address which is not easily accessible. However, the WiFi connection allows for a much-larger signal range which can be critical on larger properties. Installing an app-controlled system via Bluetooth is almost as simple as plug-and-go and does not require access to any of the homeowner’s networks.
The FX Luminaire Luxor ZDC controller is the ultimate lighting system for outdoor automation. Providing the user control of all fixtures including adjustable zoning, dimming and color via smartphone or tablet, the Luxor ZDC controller can create a timely, perfect atmosphere for events, parties or relaxing nights with the family. Boasting one of the most in-depth lighting apps on the market, the Luxor ZDC controller manages to be user friendly while allowing for almost unlimited flexibility when it comes to zoning, dimming and color control of your lights.
The Importance of Quality and Code
As the demand for new low voltage landscape lighting and other “smart” irrigation products increases, so will the number of competitors in the market. As with any job, the bitterness of poor quality work remains long after the sweetness of a low price is forgotten. (Ben Franklin said that, and the gentleman usually knew what he was talking about.) Therefore, it’s important to pay close attention to product labels and the presence of proper certification.
Many landscape professionals believe that since these systems are low voltage, they are not regulated and do not require listings. To avoid the costs associated with having a product tested for listing by UL (Underwriters Laboratories) or ETL (Electrical Testing Labs), more and more manufacturers are flooding the market with unlisted, unmarked products. The truth of the matter is low voltage power systems can cause fires and injuries if attention is not paid to their proper use and installation.
Article 411 of The National Electric Code relates specifically to Lighting Systems operating at 30 Volts or less and how they must be listed. All 12V Landscape Lighting Systems sold in the landscape industry fall under this class and code.
Plain and simple, the fixtures, transformers, cable, connectors and all lighting products Reinders sells and your company installs must be labeled and listed for use or we are violating the National Electric Code. We encourage you to stick with manufacturers that have their products properly tested for safety by a nationally recognized lab like UL or ETL. If it has been tested and listed, there will be a label indicating it. This will prevent inspectors from flagging jobs, associated fines, unnecessary liability issues, and most importantly, avoid fires and injuries.