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Irrigation Licensing??? What do you think?

Discussion in 'Irrigation' started by ALTERAIN, Dec 23, 2004.


    ALTERAIN LawnSite Member
    Posts: 10

    Just wanted to get a general Idea what average joe irrigation guy thinks about requiring a licence for irrigation contractors. Is it a good idea?.... What should be reqired to obtain a licence?......In our area I think it would be a good idea. Keep pricing where it should be and most contractors educated on issues other than irrigation. We are currently talking about this in our local irrigation association chapter, and have to come up with some solutions so any input is valued.
  2. aquamtic

    aquamtic LawnSite Senior Member
    Posts: 303

    I see your from New Hampshire- I am just south of you in RI. As you probably know we already have a license in place for the past 2 years. It has weeded out alot of fly by night guys and has improved somewhat our local industry.

    The problem that still exists and is being worked on due to our talks in our local RI Irrigation Association- The exams need to be updated and the enforcement needs to be made. They have some hefty fines in place but no one is patrolling as well as they should.

    Just this past year a hand half a dozen jobs lost to guys that are cutting the price in half. I'll drive by the property and notice that they didnt even install a backflow then they dont show up to winterize or when there is a problem. Guess who is getting the call??? This is pretty sad!!
  3. jerryrwm

    jerryrwm LawnSite Bronze Member
    Posts: 1,274

    Texas has had an Irrigation Licensing Act in place since the 70's. It was a long and arduous process and took a lot of effort to get it in place and then a lot of effort to keep the license in place due to Sunset Legislation. Seems we were fighting every two years to keep it in place.

    The biggest opponent of the Irrigation Act was the Plumbing Board and their members. They had a cash cow - permits, that the irrigators were having to sub out to various plumbers. They were charging the irrigators for the permits.

    It does take a lot of self policing of the industry to make it effective. It is tough to see 'fly-by-niters' installing systems without a license and no permits and poor installations, and no one doing anything about it. Most municipalities don't have the manpower, (or the interest) to be able to keep an eye on all the irrigation systems being installed.

    Over the last few years the laws have gotten tougher, the fines higher, and since the irrigators now fall under the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality - TCEQ, there are more field investigators available to handle complaints. The one problem with this is that they really only handle complaints from the consumers. Still no way for irrigators to effectively file complaints.

    The qualifications for licensing require some previous experience in irrigation, but that is not necessarily adhered to. Candidates must successfully pass a 32 hr. course before sitting for the examination. The examination covers, general irrigation knowledge, backflow prevention, irrigation hydraulics, and design problems. In the past the failure rate for first time examinees was over 50%. It is coming down, but still pretty high.

    There is no business practises part of the test, and no levels of licensing. You are licensed as an irrigator and that means one is allowed to do any scale of irrigation from residential all the way to the largest irrigation systems out there.

    As to pricing. Just like any other industry, you cannot legislate stupidity, so there will always be lowballers. Even if they are licensed. Profit motives differ and you will always run into the goofball that gives the business away. But usually they fall into the "Two and a Half Year Irrigator" category. They get the license and 2.5 yrs later they are gone.

    Since the enactment of the Irrigator's Law there have been over 14000 licenses issued in Texas. However there are only about 3500 active licenses in the State. Lots of attrition every year.

    But it takes a lot of effort to make it work.

    One of the most effective ways in dealing with unlicensed installers is to turn them into the local plumbing inspectors. But they need to catch them in the act. When I have found unlicensed irrigators messing up some poor schmuck's yard, I have called to the plumbing inspectors and requestd a final plumbing inspection for the irrigation system. Just told them that I was from "XYZ Sprinklers" and that we were ready for a final inspection at "123 Any Street". It usually doesn't take very long for an inspector to be sent out to that address to see what the hell is going on once they look through their files and find out there was never a permit even pulled. They get shut down pretty quickly and usually get some sort of fine. If they get dinged enough, the City will usually take action and turn it over to the TCEQ for further action.

    Keep at it. The irrigators license puts everyone on a pretty level field when it comes to properly installed systems.

    Jerry Rasmussen
    Tx Lic Irrigator #1452
  4. JimLewis

    JimLewis LawnSite Fanatic
    Posts: 6,841

    I think anyone who installs a backflow device should be licensed and well educated.

    Beyond the backflow device, I don't know whether I favor licensing for irrigation systems or not. My state goes a little overboard in their licensing for irrigation, IMO. They make you memorize all sorts of crap that you will never use. For instance, one of the questions I got when I took my test had to do with markings on copper pipe. Copper what? We've installed over 100 systems and I've almost never run into copper pipe. Once in a great while we run into it. I just call a plumber and pay him to tap into it for me and then I go PVC from that point. Why do I need to know about markings on copper pipe when 99% of the homes around here don't use it? It's rediculous.

    Another example, I had to memorize the following Acronyms and these were on the test;

    ASHRAE American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers

    AHAM American Home Appliance Manufacturers

    ICBO International Conference of Building Officials

    CABO Council of American Building Officials

    SMACNA Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors of North America

    CISPI Cast Iron Soil Pipe Institute

    Those are just a few of the 20 or so acronyms I had to know.

    Why the heck would I ever need to know that B.S.??? We install very nice, well designed irrigation systems. And have done so for years and never once have I run into anything that required me to know one of these acronyms.

    I had to read and remember info. from over 300 pages of the Uniform Plumbing Code. 90% of it was stuff I'd never use in installing residential irrigation systems. But I had to read and know it anyway to pass the test.

    I had to know and memorize all the details about every different type of pipe out there (PB, PE, PVC, Copper, Iron, ABS, you name it.) Which is a little rediculous being as the only kind of pipe any irrigator in my area ever uses is PVC. I can't even BUY another kind of pipe from any of my irrigation supply stores. (well, except PEX). And not only did I have to know the details on all of these kinds of piping, I also had to know and memorize the installation standards, welding standards, etc. for each of these. Utterly rediculous!

    These are just a few examples. Suffice it to say that our state goes a tad overboard in their licensing requirements. So it's caused me to believe that maybe licensing isn't such a grand idea.

    Part of the problem I have with licensing in general is this: Homeowners can do whatever they want and install a totally messed up system without any training or licensing whatsoever. But if they want to hire someone to do that work for them, that person has to be licensed and go through all sorts of training and education. It doesn't make sense. If the homeowner can do it without any training or licensing, why is the standard so much higher for a contractor? I've seen tons of homeowner installed irrigation systems. Never have I seen a good one. And I've seen tons of irrigation systems installed by landscape / irrigation contractors too. Some very good. Some not so good. Some installed by licensed contractors, some installed by guys who were not licensed. Still, even the worst system installed by a contractor beats the best system I've ever seen a homeowner install.

    If it were up to me, this is how it would work; I'd make licensing required only for backflow. From there, it would be buyer beware.

    THEN, I'd get together with an irrigation association (one that offered certification) and create a massive advertising campaign. So every time you turned on the TV or radio you heard an ad like this;

    "Did you know that thousands of people each year hire contractors to install sprinkler systems and end up with poorly designed systems that waste water or don't water adequately? There is only one way to make sure you hire a contractor who is professionally educated. And that is to insist in hiring a contractor who is certified with the Oregon Irrigation Contractors Association. Don't waste thousands of dollars on some yahoo who doesn't really know what he's doing. Call the Oregon Irrigation Contractors Association today for a free list of certified installers in your area. We persoally educate, train, and certify each contractor to insure that you get a properly designed irrigation system the first time. Call today for your free list. You'll be glad you did."

    Then, the message gets out to the community that if they want a good contractor they should call the Irrigation Contractors Assoc. But you are also indirectly giving the homeowner permission to hire some hack if he wants. And I don't see a problem with that. If a homeowner wants to hire some hack to install a system that simply throws water around everywhere, I don't see a problem with that. That hack will probably STILL install a better system than the homeowner would have.

    Well, that's my 2 cents.
  5. MikeK

    MikeK LawnSite Member
    Posts: 145

    I totally agree that all states should require Irrigation contractors to be licensed. This will eliminate the fly by night operations and improve the product that the consumer receives. Here in MN, the customers do not know the difference and there are so many Poor contractors... It makes me sick to see the poor quality of work that these contractors are doing
    However, these states should not try to re invent the wheel with their testing. We already have an excellent test in place to prove your knowledge ( or lack of it) with the Irrigation Associations Certified Irrigation contractor Test. It's a pretty in depth exam that will quickly separate the men from the boys.
    All the states would have to do is require that their contractors are CIC's
  6. Turf Dancer

    Turf Dancer LawnSite Senior Member
    Posts: 681

    Well said Jim!
    I'm sorting through all this crap and studying for the test and I can't figure out why we have to know all the stuff they are saying we need to know! The Oregon Landscape Board needs to revamp the whole process!
  7. kipcom

    kipcom LawnSite Senior Member
    from indiana
    Posts: 352

    Indiana..indoor plumbing you have to be licensed....outdoor, only for the backflow.
  8. Critical Care

    Critical Care LawnSite Bronze Member
    Posts: 1,654

    I think there should be licensing for irrigation and I think that there definitely needs to be some nationwide standards because right now it’s a total mess. You can safely say that currently the only standard is that there is no standard.

    Jim, I agree that some items on the irrigation exam were stretching it, but even beyond the irrigation section I thought that having to basically memorize so many of the Oregon Administrative Rules and Revised Statutes was a bit too much. I once had a physics teacher who had a state award for science teacher of the year type of thing, but this guy always gave us open book exams because he knew we would never memorize everything. “That’s not how life is, but you need to know where to find the answers!”

    The reason I believe there should be a license is for several reasons. First of all, the license can set the professional apart from the non-professional. Secondly, as a professional, you can charge professional rates. Thirdly, in this state, if you have your license then it automatically says that you carry insurance and that you’re bonded. Fourthly, it places you on the same playing field as construction contractors, plumbers, electricians, and other professional contractors. And fifthly, an unprofessional person could easily not only screw up an install job, but without knowing beans about anything could also tap into a domestic water system disregarding the need of a backflow device.

    The LCB (Landscape Contractors Board) of Oregon also will investigate complaints; will meet with parties, and can perform arbitration as well as issue judgments. It also can issue fines, (look at page three of this publication) http://www.oregon.gov/LCB/docs/Newsletter/december03newsletter.pdf.

    I’m one that believes that there has to be some control, and that means licensing. However, this control shouldn’t be so rigid, and so demanding as to make it a nightmare for anyone getting into or operating an irrigation business.
  9. Michael A. Snyder

    Michael A. Snyder LawnSite Member
    Posts: 1

    I have been asked by one of the contributors to this topic to weigh in on the issue and I am happy to do that.
    I am the administrator for the State Landscape Contractors Board of Oregon (LCB) which regulates the landscape construction industry in Oregon.

    To address the irrigation topic specifically it is important to realize that the licensing requirement to install irrigation systems for decorative vegetation in Oregon is based upon a competency test. The license for an "irrigation only" license now contains three exam sections: (1) laws and rules; (2) irrigation; (3) Backflow installation. All the sections are multiple choice questions, there is no "practical" demonstration required.

    What I would like to emphasize about the current system is this: irrigation systems, excluding the backflow assembly, are not inspected by any building code official in the state of Oregon. The work is not subject to permits and therefore not inspected to see if it is hydraulically sound or properly installed. This is different than other building professions in Oregon in that almost all the work a plumber, electrician, or homebuilder performs is subject to design review, pulling a permit and subsequent inspections for quality and proper installation. Consequently the exam process the LCB administers is a consumer protection component to promote at least a minimum level of competency in performing this work. As we all know this does not guarantee a good job, but the person who passes the test at least knows more than the person who "just walks off the street" and thinks they know how to install irrigation systems. Even plumbers are not tested in irrigation systems and they are not allowed to install irrigation systems in Oregon.

    The laws and rules are given so a person learns about the laws that govern this industry in terms of contracts, employee/employer relationships, advertising, license requirements and other issues that relate to how a person(business and individual) operate within the state of Oregon.

    The Irrigation test is given to an individual who is required to show a minimal level of competency in the hydraulics, sprinkler types, piping, plant requirements, and construction of an irrigation system.

    The Backflow test is a plumbers exam which used to be a written exam plus a practical exam administered by the plumbers in Oregon. However, this became cumbersome to the plumbers and they handed the administration of the exam over to the LCB but must review any changes to the exam. The ability of a licensed landscape contractor to install a backflow device on a potable water supply or irrigation and water features was a result of a convincing lobby back in 1987 which arose out of the need for a landscape contractor to not have to "wait" for a plumber to install a backflow device for an irrigation system. It was also very costly to the consumer and if limited ability was granted the consumer would benefit. This was a hard battle and it ended in the current exam system to test for competency in this area since there was not a "apprenticeship program" for landscape contractors to learn this plumbing knowledge. The backflow device is a plumbing fixture and normally needs to be installed by a licensed plumber. As I stated the exam is written by the Plumbers and they make the requirements for the exam, thus the "copper piping", code references, etc. that another person commented on earlier as being ridiculous. The LCB doesn't control the content of this exam but is continuing to make recommendations to the chief plumbing inspector about the exam questions. The relationship is good and it needs to remain that way.

    The LCB is commissioned to promote consumer protection, contractor competency and fair competition in the landscape contracting industry. The Board does this by requiring a level of competency for the person doing the work. This should, in theory, protect the consumer and raise the level of contractor competency. The Board also requires all businesses to be licensed, carry a bond and proper insurance (consumer protection) and either be owed by or employ a licensed landscape contractor who has passed the competency testing in the field the business is practicing. The board carries out enforcement actions against those who are not properly licensed and also performs an effective dispute resolution process between licensed businesses and consumers totally funded by the license fees of those in the industry, that is, at no cost to the consumer. No public tax dollars are used to carry out the mission of the LCB.

    Licensing is an important issue for landscape contractors and businesses in Oregon. It is something the industry should be proud of and value. It isn't easy to get licensed, but once a person and a business is, they have a duty to live up to the responsibility it holds and to improve the perception the consumer has of the landscape industry by doing conscientious work and upholding the laws that govern this industry.


    Michael A. Snyder, CLP
    LCB Administrator
  10. Rotor-Man

    Rotor-Man LawnSite Member
    Posts: 126

    I'm still on the fence on this issue. In Mich. no license for irrigation installation, but backflow installs are regulated, and are supposed to be installed by licensed plumber[I use a master plumber for all the inside copper and backflow installation personally]. The gripe I constantly hear about "Leveling" the playing field because someone's insurance might cost more than the competitor on the otherside of town, or higher labor costs, are to me a mute point and nothing more than "A Cost Of Doing Business"! Look around their are numerous stories of so-called Licensed individuals that do worse work and are constantly being fined, and they just come back again under a different name.
    Did a winterization for a new customer this past fall that had just moved into the house from out of state. I took one look and just shook my head, 1" p.v.c. dangling all over 60 ft. length of the basement, no drain, and the connection to the meter was made by the contractor and not a professional plumber with a pvc tee and he must have used a whole pint of pipe dope to try to cover up the constant drip coming out of the fitting. This was installed by one the larger sprinkler companies in our town. Needless to say I ripped it all out and had my plumber install copper to the pvb on the outside.
    So in my opinion whether you are licensed or not, does not always make you more professional, nor does paying a fee to all the irrigation ass. so that you can have their little symbol on your business card make you a better designer of a irrigation system.

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