The effort pays off with increased sales and expertise.
Pretend for a moment that you’re a customer looking for a contractor who installs irrigation systems.
Would you prefer to contact Contractor A at www.irrigationinstaller.com instead of Contractor B at www.certifiedirrigationinstaller.com? Didn’t think so.
Irrigation installer Cliff Claus, the owner of Affordable Sprinklers in Belleville, Michigan, came to the same conclusion more than a year ago. That’s when he decided to earn certification from the Rain Bird Training Academy.
Becoming a Rain Bird-certified residential and light-commercial installer (for systems with pipes 2-1/2 inches or less in diameter) has made a huge difference in his business, Claus says.
“Being certified helps me stand apart from the competition,” he says. “There’s no testing or licensing requirements here in Michigan (for irrigation installers), so a guy who knows nothing about irrigation can get into the business. I wanted my customers to enjoy the peace of mind that comes with knowing they’re dealing with a top-tier professional installer.
“When it comes to selling installations, I went from getting about 66 percent of bids to nearly 90 percent,” he adds. “And I know from customer feedback that most of that increase comes from my certification.”
Whether installing irrigation systems is your firm’s sole focus or one of several landscaping services offered, certification offers several benefits, notes Robert Pfeil, the manager of training services at Rain Bird.
“Certification helps customers make a choice about who’s a good irrigation installer.”
“Our certification program uses rigorous, hands-on training about proper irrigation principles — following procedures and practices that ensure proper system installations,” he explains. “Once contractors go through this process, they can communicate to customers that they have the skills and knowledge to install systems properly.
“There are a lot of contractors who do installations, and customers usually have no idea who is a good contractor and who is not,” he adds. “Certification helps customers make a choice about who’s a good irrigation installer.”
“Certification gives contractors instant credibility,” says Sherrie Schulte, the certification director for the Irrigation Association (IA), which offers a variety of certification programs (irrigation.org). “They receive third-party accreditation that they’ve passed a test and know what they’re doing and have the knowledge to do the job right. It also shows a commitment to the industry because it requires continuing education to maintain our certification.”
Moreover, contractors who earn either Rain Bird or IA certification qualify to apply for a partnership with WaterSense, a U.S. EPA program. This opens up new business opportunities because some government contracts and other projects require a WaterSense affiliation to submit bids, Schulte says.
“It’s a significant feather in their cap — another point of differentiation,” Pfeil adds. “If the EPA says this individual is following best-practices in water efficiency, it’s one more reason why a customer should choose that contractor.”
Schulte also points out that some states and municipalities already require some form of certification to bid on certain kinds of irrigation work.
Rain Bird’s basic certification course requires at least 1,200 hours of installation experience and three years of industry experience. To qualify, contractors must take an eight-hour, irrigation-installation class; an eight-hour maintenance and trouble-shooting class and an eight-hour irrigation-design class, either through the Rain Bird Academy, a junior college or the IA, Pfeil says.
A score of 70 percent or better on an ensuing quiz then qualifies participants to advance to the next step: a 3 1/2-day-long workshop at Rain Bird facilities in Tucson, Arizona, that includes hands-on installation experience. Rain Bird charges $1,600 for the basic-level workshop.
The last step is an exam, which can be taken immediately following the workshop or on a later date; a score of 70 percent or higher is required to achieve certification. The University of Arizona
Testing Center independently grades the exams, Pfeil says.
“One big differentiator for our program is the hands-on component that requires people to install a system and demonstrate their skills,” Pfeil says.
Contractors with at least five years of industry experience and 240 hours of installation experience don’t need to take the workshop. Instead, they can verify their skills via a half-day, hands-on skills test and a half-day written exam (the fee is $600). A third path toward certification for contractor with even more experience also is available. (Details at
The IA offers seven certification programs, including irrigation contractor, irrigation designer, landscape irrigation auditor and landscape water manager. All certifications require varying levels of experience, and they are industry-specific, not geared toward any one manufacturer’s equipment.
“Now I understand the hows and whys of system design.”
All of the programs are self-study, although there may be courses available to help contractors prepare to take an exam. Participants then must pass an exam that can be taken on a computer; they’re proctored at 400 to 500 designated facilities nationwide, run by an independent testing company. Contractors also may take traditional paper-and-pencil testing when available. In addition, contractors must submit 20 units of continuing education every two years to maintain their certification, Schulte says.
Certification fees vary by level, but IA members receive a substantial discount, Schulte notes. Annual certification-renewal fees are required.
Sound Business Investment
Claus says the Rain Bird certification was well worth the investment, noting he is listed on the Rain Bird website as a certified installer — a status he also touts on the company’s Facebook page and website. (The IA also lists certified contractors on its website.)
“I thought I knew everything I needed to know, but I still picked up a lot of good information that now allows me to design a truly customized irrigation system for customers,” Claus says.
“Before, I’d have to consult with the manufacturer first … take time to make phone calls or wait for return calls,” he explains.
“But now I understand the hows and whys of system design, which allows me to give customers more for their money.
“I’m really glad no one else around here has that certification.”
Ditto for Contractor B at www.certifiedirrigationinstaller.com.
Test Your Irrigation Know-How
The following questions are from the Irrigation Association’s certification exam. Sorry, they won’t give you a leg up on the next test since they are “retired” and no longer used in the exam.
1. Wind is measured in terms of all of the following EXCEPT:
2. Soil texture describes:
A. arrangement of individual soil particles
B. size and shape of individual soil particles
C. amount of organic matter contained in the soil
D. individual soil particles