Historians will eternally debate whether the first person to register a patent for the sprinkler was J. Lessler of Buffalo, NY, in 1891, or J.H. Smith, who some claim introduced the first rotary lawn sprinkler with a spinning head in 1897.
What is known for sure is that, in 1932, California fruit farmer Orton Englehardt invented the first-known impact sprinkler. Englehardt patented it and eventually sold the rights to his nextdoor neighbors, Clem and Mary La Fetra, who founded Rain Bird in 1933.
It was through Rain Bird’s efforts that the large-scale production and sale of sprinklers to the general public grew.
Sprinklers, of course, revolutionized irrigation practices on farms and industrial sites and changed the way crops were cultivated. Such systems supplanted furrow irrigation, which consisted of digging trenches between rows of crops.
But demand for sprinklers for the residential and commercial markets did not begin in earnest until the late 1940s. With suburbs multiplying exponentially in the 1940s and ‘50s, the need to maintain manicured lawns grew, and consumer demand for sprinklers took on greater importance throughout America’s front and back yards.
Back in the ‘50s, in addition to Rain Bird’s impact sprinkler, there were other small manufacturers making sprinkler heads. Although we didn’t realize it then, yesterday’s conventional sprinklers released enormous amounts of water and proved wasteful overall, but they were effective.
Now we live in a time when water reserves are increasingly scarce and valuable. In many of the Sunbelt states as well as the west, water conservation is becoming a fact of life. So, out of necessity (and also to avoid fines), one must retool the distribution method of water with precision and efficiency.
The 1980s: A Sprinkler Rain-naissance In 1982, Ed Hunter, founder of Hunter Industries,
Incorporated, introduced the PGP rotor; it was a ¾-inch singlestream rotor, and the first matched-precipitation sprinkler across all arcs and radii. “The PGP rotor introduced a new innovation,” says Troy Leezy, marketing manager at Hunter Industries. It was the beginning of the sprinkler revolution. Other manufacturers introduced similar products and helped fill the demand.
About the same time as Hunter was introducing the PGP, Karl Kah, a principal in K-Rain, was also designing a stream rotor. As the rotor grew in popularity, matched precipitation rates gained more notoriety. All the major brands offered a rotor in its line. Today, rotors are still an important product.
In the ’90s, K-Rain introduced its arc-memory-clutch rotor. If some kids were playing with the rotor, it would reset itself. Their Super Pro was introduced later, with additional features like its patented flow shut off. This allows you to reduce the distance and flow proportionally, and helping to conserve water.
Someone once said, “The success to building a business is to find a need and fill it.” That is what happened when the impact sprinkler was launched back in the ’30s. Then, the inline conventional sprinkler heads grew in popularity. Now, with the introduction of the rotor and an expanding market, the game was on for manufacturers to use their technology and develop new products.
It was almost like a perfect storm. Demand was growing, but awareness of water sustainability was also growing. Municipalities and water districts were beginning to call attention to the need for water conservation.
In 1997, Nelson Irrigation, a manufacturer of agricultural irrigation products, formed Walla Walla Sprinkler Company and introduced the MP Rotator to the landscape market. It became an industry-wide game changer.
Mike Baron, national water management and specification manager at Toro Irrigation, Riverside, California, remembers when the MP Rotator first came on the market.
“I was the field marketing effort for Nelson at that time,” recalls Baron. “The high-uniformity, low application rate was fairly novel for a spray head.”
When the MP Rotator was originally introduced, it was “not as a water saver but as a problem solver,” Baron says.
Cut to 2007, when Hunter and Nelson announced the sale of the MP Rotator to Hunter Industries. Leezy was with Hunter when the MP Rotator was acquired. “Nelson did a great job with the product,” Leezy says. “The timing of the acquisition occurred at the time when the industry was embracing high-efficiency nozzles.”Jeff Kremicki, marketing manager with Hunter Industries, says that the company’s high-efficiency MP Rotator exhibits “higher efficiency than standard spray nozzles. It fights the wind, it’s easy to install and it’s easier to retrofit.”
Indeed, the introduction of the MP Rotator has created a win-win for everyone: Once again, demand for a rotating nozzle grew, and once again, to supply the market, the major brands began to introduce their own version of a rotating nozzle.
“There are more options today for spray head nozzles than ever before because the need to increase irrigation efficiency has grown substantially,” Baron said. “Up until the MP Rotator, all spray heads would increase the precipitation rate when you reduce the distance of throw.”
Rain Bird introduced its rotating nozzle, and K-Rain introduced its rotary nozzle with fixed patterns of 90, 180, 360 degrees. “The market wants an adjustable rotary nozzle,” says Pat McCurdy, director of marketing at K-Rain. “We are proud to say that we will be introducing our version shortly.”
Toro leveraged its expertise and developed the first gear-driven, rotating nozzle for a spray body. “It’s adjustable, maintains matched precipitation even after arc and radius adjustment,” Baron said. “Compared to other rotating nozzles, our Precision Rotating Nozzles help speed up watering times by 41 percent.”
However, the rotating nozzle category is not without its problems.
The matched precipitation and low-volume output presents a different set of problems. “We heard,” McCurdy continues, “Yeah, it’s a great product, but here’s what we don’t like about it.” Among the areas that need improvement: easier installation, higher uniformity, and a better water window.
What is meant by a water window? That’s when watering restrictions, either voluntary or mandatory, are in place, so the property owner has a limited time to get their landscape irrigated. “We love the uniformity and adjustability of the MP Rotator, but we’re putting the water down too slowly.”
Toro took a different approach to low-precipitation and low-volume sprinkler heads. How do we get the efficiency of the MP Rotator without the need to double the watering time? Baron says, “Toro hit the market in 2008 with its Precision Series Spray heads. With no moving parts, there is less to go wrong; it is also less expensive to manufacture and therefore made to sell at less than half the cost of a rotating nozzle.”
These spray heads range from 5 to 15 feet in range and offer nine different spray patterns (from drip to micro to rotating sprays). “The real difference and what makes them unique is that engineering took what was standard, 60-yearold spray technology—high flow, high precipitation and not very uniform—and revolutionized the distribution process,” says Jeff Miller, marketing manager for Toro Irrigation. “Our patented H2O chip produces oscillating streams that achieve up to 35 percent lower flow rates than standard and adjustable nozzles. Our nozzles will fit any manufacturer’s spray body.”
Toro spray heads also feature the XFLOW. When the nozzles are damaged or cut off by maintenance equipment, the XFLOW shuts off the spray head and keeps that geyser from wasting water and creating a possible hazard or liability for the property owner.
A brave new, wet world
As water conservation becomes an increasingly mandatory consideration, advancements in sprinkler technology continue to improve. Rain Bird has built its reputation by responding t o a c h a n g i n g industry. They developed a rotating nozzle, but they’ve also been a longtime producer of VAN (variable arc nozzle) sprinklers. Recently, Rain Bird debuted its High Efficiency Variable Arc Nozzle (the HE-VAN) in select markets.
“The HE-VAN has a head that puts the emphasis not in the precipitation but in the distribution uniformity and a lower scheduling coefficient that provides even coverage and shorter run times than traditional variable or fixed arc nozzles,” says Tracy Tucker, senior product and channel development manager at Rain Bird.
The primary benefits of the HE- VAN include a distribution uniformity greater than 70 percent, and the scheduling coefficient (the measure of how long it takes to get to the driest spots) of less than 1.6.
“In addition,” Tucker says, “it looks like a rotary nozzle and it has a stream that delivers a larger droplet size, which means greater wind resistance. Because it’s a variable nozzle, you can set it from 0 to 360 degrees and it’s available in 12 and 15 feet throw.”
Tucker explains that the HE- VAN is perfectly suited for today’s business landscape. “There are so many retrofit opportunities today,” she says. “They have a residential application to reduce water; that’s one primary application. We’re seeing that on the commercial side as well, a lot of retroactivity and maintenance work.”Beyond the HE-VAN, Rain Bird still carries its entire line of MPR (match precipitation rate) sprinklers. “Those nozzles are an industry standard,” Tucker says.
The HE-VAN, she says, will fit competitive spray heads and it has a matched precipitation rate with Rain Bird’s existing MPR lines.
“In addition, our exclusive ExactEdge technology offers a feature that provides tactile feedback,” says Tucker. “When you adjust to their desired arc setting, it allows you to lock the arc into place to get a strong, consistent right edge.”
Now that you’re armed with all this information about sprinkler heads, you’re ready to roll. As you embark on your next retrofit or new installation, you’ve got your piping, your valves, and your smart controller chosen. All you need to determine is what sprinkler heads to use. As you can see there are now a plethora of excellent products from which to choose.