What’s Your Take On Irrigation Licensing?


Licensing for irrigation contractors, yea or nay? Admittedly, it’s a complicated issue and one that generates strong emotional responses from the owners of landscape service businesses.

Let’s start by agreeing that unskilled and unqualified irrigators can and often do great damage to the landscapes that they service and sometimes to the structures — driveways, sidewalks, home foundations, etc. — on these properties, the primary justification for licensing. Often referred to as lowballers, “job gypsies” also damage the industry’s image, not to mention its ability to charge a “fair” price for services performed through shoddy workmanship and poorly performing materials.

Lawmakers that implement licensing and the beauracrats that administer it, insist it helps protect consumers and, ultimately, protects the welfare of responsible companies that design and service landscape irrigation systems.

While laudable, how effective is licensing in accomplishing these goals? It’s safe to say that very few if any service providers feel they need more government hoops through which to jump. Ultimately, however, it’s what professional contractors see and experience in the field that colors their views of licensing, especially since licensing is another cost for them. (New Jersey contractors must pay a $300 initial certification fee, plus a $150 examination fee, according to New Jersey EPA website.)

Is it being enforced fairly and openly in the field? Does it really make a difference in weeding out the dishonest, unfit and careless, under-the-radar operators? Is it helping to protect the integrity of the industry in consumers’ eyes?

According to the Irrigation Association (IA), four states require a license for landscape irrigators: Louisiana, New Jersey, North Carolina and Texas. Five others — California, Connecticut, Oregon, Illinois and Rhode Island — require a license that is not solely specific to irrigation but has provisions that govern irrigation contraction. Florida offers a voluntary license that exempts a licensed individual from local irrigation contractor licenses. Your city or county may require licensing, so it’s always a good idea to check there, as well, before launching into landscape irrigation.


  1. Look no further than licensing for operators whom apply pesticides as an example of how it will go. I have been compliant from day one with the various licenses, insurances and required training. All that compliance costs me lots of time and money. I am periodically inspected and expected to keep records for years and years. It is a hassle and In my mind it only supports a bureaucracy and serves little value to the community or environment. Of course if I am found to break some aspect of the law around pesticides I can be heavily fined and put out of business and all I want to do is spot spray dandelions in my customer’s yards.

    Then comes all the guys who are not compliant who spray and are not encumbered by the bureaucracy as am I. They spray away and the inspectors make no effort to find and stop them, NONE. They are too busy herding the compliant operators to mess the considerable amount of strays. They make no attempts to contact those who may or may not be licensed as it is a nearly impossible task.

    Licensing entities will pick the low fruit and skip the stuff which is hard to reach when it comes to licensing the trades. There will always be operators who ignore licensing requirements and just go about there merry way with no negative consequences. And then there is the low hanging fruit like me who complies and pays the man.

    After 20 years in the business I can tell you I’ve never had a homeowner ask me If I was licensed. All they care about is the lawn being free of dandelions. There is no upside to being licensed and no downside to operating without a license. However, there is downside to being licensed as I am on the bureaucracy radar screen. And as a result I am actually at a greater risk of being fined for non compliance than the unlicensed operator who is off the radar. Isn’t that ironic?

    There is no good reason in Hell to license irrigation contractors, let the market place sort it out. These days, in the markets I serve, bad actors get roasted alive in social media and in neighborhood websites. Professionals who know there stuff and how to treat a customer are rewarded with more work then they can handle.

    The government needs to stay out of the service business marketplace as they add nothing positive to the process.

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