For the winners of the 2022 Changing the Landscape Awards, putting in the time and effort made a big difference in the end result. In one case, that came in the form of practice and training preparing for one day of installation. For the other, several years of retrofits and education made a meaningful difference. Either way, they’re projects that the winners can be proud of.
Irrigation category winner | Sponsored by Dawn
Dwayne Anthony, owner of Anthony’s Irrigation in Highland, California, obtained his contractor’s license in 1979, when he was 21 years old. He was eager to take the test as soon as he was able, taking night courses and working during the day to follow his father’s footsteps as a contractor. He started out as a full landscape irrigation contractor, partnering with others in the business occasionally rather than taking on employees.
About 10 years ago, he started paying closer attention to water efficiency as a way of making the best use of what was available in his region of California. Anthony, the winner of this year’s Irrigation category sponsored by Dawn Industries, dug into the details around different types of sprinkler heads and other equipment to make better use of his customers’ resources and developed himself as an advocate for efficiency, dropping installations in favor of making updates to current systems.
“I started making recommendations to customers,” he says. He would point out the benefits of a high-efficiency nozzle, or of a weather-based irrigation controller, and take the time to explain them. “A lot of customers really liked that approach. It was probably 50% of my work, just going in and doing retrofits with high-efficiency products.”
As a part of his retrofit work, he found out about the rebates that East Valley Water District, which operates in his Southern California area, offers for conversion of equipment like rotary nozzles and drip irrigation systems. He told his customers to take his invoice and submit it to the district to take advantage of those rebates.
“And East Valley started seeing my letterhead go across their desks more frequently than any other contractor,” he says. “They had inspected a lot of my jobs already for the rebates, so that’s what got me in the door.”
In late 2015, the district developed a plan for offering controller retrofits on request to residents, with the program funded by a grant, and asked Anthony to bid for his services in doing the installations. Not long after, he was working with the district to make the program a reality.
Critically, the district also took Anthony’s professional suggestion for the selected controller to heart, so he could be certain that what he was installing would work and that homeowners would feel comfortable adjusting it as needed.
Doing his part
Initially, he was staggered at the idea of all of the potential clients he would have to visit to fulfill the program. “It was overwhelming at first,” he says. “But once I got rolling with it, it just became like a normal day, with a nice, constant workload coming at me.”
Though the retrofit program has slowed down thanks to saturation, he estimates that he installed about 300 controllers in the first year. “We’re at about 1,400 controllers, which amounts to about 1,300 residences,” he says.
He would receive listings for customers requesting the controller upgrade, do the work and help them understand how to use the technology best. He’d review the stations and check for issues, then give the homeowner some ideas about potential changes that could help. While many who requested the new controller would just point him to the device and let him work, others had questions.
“I’d try to assure them that the weather-based controllers will adjust on a daily basis to control their water usage to what’s needed per day,” Anthony says.
But changing out for a weather-based controller is just one step for an irrigation system that makes the best use of water, he says. During his review, he’d look for additional areas where they could make upgrades.
“When I speak with customers, I try to convince them that they need to keep looking forward. Don’t stop with just the controller,” he says. “The controller can only do so much.”
Most of the water used by East Valley, which is settled right next to the base of the mountains, comes from aquifers. Thanks to the district’s forward planning and Anthony’s work, those underground aquifers are at about 80% capacity right now.
“We’ve saved a lot of water over the years,” he says. “It’s very self-satisfying for me. Being in the industry as long as I have, and seeing the drought happening right before my eyes, it feels good that I’ve done my part.”
Counting the water saved over time from the first installations up through the current day as the project shifts to a smaller scale, Anthony estimates that the program has saved a little more than 65 million gallons of water, conserving about 15,000 gallons per household per year.
While Anthony is moving on from the East Valley project and retiring this year, the program itself will continue. The grant that initially fed the retrofit program is running out, so the rebate program will be handled on demand as residents ask. Anthony will let other local irrigation professionals handle those jobs, though. The way he looks at it, he’s put plenty of time into giving the East Valley district a better chance at using water responsibly.
“I look at that 80% of water in our basin, and it just makes me feel good to know that a little of bit of that is mine,” he says.
Lighting category winner | Sponsored by Brilliance LED
Expectations were high for a homeowner in Dunwoody, Georgia, who was looking for a way to illuminate their pool house and the architecture surrounding it.
It wouldn’t be an easy installation. Pillars had to be considered, to keep them both from being washed out or shading other elements. The reflective surface of the pool needed to be incorporated as well, to enhance the light but not create glare. But the biggest challenge was literally blocking the way: installing ground well lights on very expensive patio pavers and flooring using core drilling.
But Santiago Montoya, CEO of RN Lighting LLC in Auburn, Georgia, was confident that his small team of four was up to the task. Montoya, the winner of this year’s Landscape Lighting category sponsored by Brilliance LED, has been working in landscape lighting for about eight years, and with RN Lighting for about four years of that time.
When a local builder working on the property suggested that Montoya take a look at the lighting, he included that several other lighting professionals had talked with the homeowner. The client was asking for challenging, precise work, and others had balked.
“But once we got out there, we went over the property to find out exactly what the homeowner wanted,” Montoya says. “I gave him several options.”
The main focal point coming from the back of the main building needed to center on the poolhouse. “With this beautiful property, they wanted to do really subtle lighting,” Montoya says. “They didn’t want to take too much away from the surrounding landscape and the pool.”
Some fixtures were already downlighting the center columns from the pergola, and Montoya suggested replacing those with more hidden fixtures with a darker finish to help hide the light source itself. “But that would only work for those center columns and not the outer columns,” he says. “The other option for the design was to do in-ground well lights.”
Practice makes perfect
The problem is that running those lights meant using both wet and dry core drilling to bore precisely into 20-inch by 20-inch marble and concrete tile and pavers to install both lights, he says. One wrong move and the expensive flooring would crack. But before he could even start drilling, the placement had to be perfect. There would be no second chances to adjust.
“It was a long process of about two weeks, going at night to test different demos of the distance from the columns to get the exact lighting we wanted,” he says.
“Core drilling has been becoming very popular in the lighting industry,” he says. But just because it’s picked up in popularity doesn’t make it any easier. Montoya and his team studied core drilling techniques from other lighting contractors and practiced to find what would work best for this project.
“I was studying, reading, watching videos,” he says. “Everything helps. You never stop studying.”
He connected with a local supplier to source some of the materials similar to the marble and concrete flooring surrounding the pool. With that in hand, he was able to start putting some of those concepts into action. The team tested their core drilling methods and trained on getting it right without damaging the materials.
“It’s just practice. Practice makes perfect, right? There was no room for mistakes. We had to take our time,” Montoya says.
Even once they had the method down, Montoya and his team worked on it repeatedly to make sure everyone knew what they needed to do to complete the job correctly. “With any design you have in mind, it’s always good to practice and go over it several times with your team to make sure that it’s done properly,” he says. “There’s always room for improvement, but precision and consistency come with practice.”
Even with the core drilling covered, providing power for the lights was an additional headache. During the initial walkthrough, as they were planning fixture placement, Montoya also needed to consider how they could run wiring through the flooring. Fortunately, instead of grouting, the tiles were joined by polymeric sand. Montoya’s crew was able to lift each heavy title with prybars to get wiring to the fixtures.
“We had to be really precise with the whole project,” he says. “It’s not just with the positioning or core drilling for the lights. You have to be very precise in moving the tiles, making sure the pavers and polymeric sand still settle at the same level.”
The installation process itself only took about a day, but that doesn’t include all of the days of preparation and study that went into the project, says Montoya. It was a lot of extra work, but now he knows that every member of his team has the skills to understand how to approach a core drilling project and get the job done correctly. For him, making sure his employees have a variety of skills that they’re keeping sharp is part of a larger business plan.
“I like for all of us to be able to do core drilling, be able to do a gutter mount light or a soffit light,” he says. “We did that design, but we don’t stop there. We keep practicing, because we never know if tomorrow we’ll get another job where even more precision is needed.”
But for now, he and his team can enjoy the finished results of their hard work, he says.
“It was a very long process, but we were successful,” says Montoya. “I’m happy with my team and the results we got, and the homeowner was extremely happy.”