Help with sprinkler system bidding.

Going from lawn care to offering sprinkler system repair can cause a new comer some problems, especially when it comes to diagnosing problems and bidding on jobs. As we will see in this discussion on the Gopher Lawn Care Business Forum, there is quite a process that must be taken with new irrigation customers to figure out the status of their system.

One lawn care business owner wrote “I have a few lawn care customers that want their sprinklers serviced and I have no clue what I should charge. How should I go about bidding on sprinkler systems? Should I have some kind of fee per zone or per maybe even a per head price?

A second lawn care business owner wrote “most sprinkler companies in my area charge between $40 to $60 an hour. I can’t give you a per zone or head price to shoot for. All you need is one big tree root and you got an hour just digging a single hole. One zone could have 5 pop up heads while another has 14. One zone might not need anything while another needs every head reset and cleaned.

I’d suggest that you charge your customer a fee simply to test the system and see what the status of it is. Any number you give a customer for irrigation work without a test of the system first is going to be a shot in the dark.

If I’m doing sprinkler work it’s usually for either a current client or a referral. So with them, it’s not a problem with an open ended price. If the customer tries to nail me down, I will tell them they can stop me at any time. I can give them a ball park but if I have to dig out a head next to an oak tree, that might be an hour. Then, if I have 4 of those any ball park figure I gave, is out the window and then they will think I am a thief. You just don’t know what you will find once you start digging and unforeseen trouble can be found anywhere on new or old jobs.

If you got a broke wire, you might find it in 10 minutes or it could take 3 hours. If you start digging and find that you got a whole bunch of rock under ground, now you went from 5 minutes a head to 20 minutes a head. If you think a solenoid is bad and it turns out it needs a valve, that is going to effect the final price as well.

When I perform my sprinkler system bids, I run each zone. Then I will walk around and flag every head that needs to be reset, replaced, or moved. I like to use a few flag colors. One color for resetting heads, one for cleaning, one for replacing. Then I write down how many of each on paper per zone with any concerns I may have. You need to walk to each head and not just look across the yard so you can see any leaks.

I also watch for dry spots and any over grown shrubs. Is there any turf over the head? I check to see of the heads make it over the shrubs or not. If they don’t I either need a new head, longer risers, larger sprinklers, or trim the shrubs. If I see a tree trunk is catching the water from a head I may need to move that head or add one. It’s the same with dry spots. If you’ve got compaction issues, you may sell an aeration service.

If it’s an old system and the pop ups are on the same zone as the roters, I may be able to talk the customer into splitting those to 2 zones. The problem with rotors and pop ups being on the same zone is that pop ups need to be run for 15-20 minutes while a roters needs 45 minutes to an hr to put down the same water. It’s against the law to install these different types on the same zone here. In order to water with a roter properly you then over water with the popup.

Pop ups spray a set area and don’t move. So a 6′x6′ area gets a constant bath while that zone is on. Roters have to move so for the same time you put down less water per sq ft. You water more sq ft though.

If the shrubs are mature I may be able to talk them into retro fitting a drip system to conserve water. I also may find wet areas that need drainage work or regrade. You may find some plants like hawthorn with leaf spots from over head water that need a drip line to keep the water off the leaves.

Education is key when it comes to face to face sales. You never have to bash the customer’s current irrigation contractor, just out talk them. I do a good bit of retro fits for drip as well as taking the turf and beds off the same zones. Turf has 4-6 inches of roots while a plants has 18 inches. Turf needs a lot more water and should not be on the same zone

Then with all this information, I break it down for the customer. Often what starts as a simple irrigation test turns into a nice job.”

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