Tech-Ki: Baseline Systems

Aug 17, 2011

BOISE, ID. – A lot of homeowners use a timer to automatically water their lawns.  But, a Meridian company wants to change that.  Baseline Systems makes a moisture sensor that turns sprinklers on or off.  In fact, this high tech product will be used to keep the landscape healthy at the 9-11 Memorial Plaza in New York City.

Baseline’s S-100 is kind of like the thermostat in your house.  But instead of turning your air conditioner on or off, the S-100 responds to moisture in the ground.   Set it once, then, it automatically controls when a sprinkler system turns on or off to maintain that “baseline.”  John Fordemwalt installed one in his lawn six years ago.

John Fordemwalt:  “So I get out the shovel and I dig a little trench and I put the thing in.  My wife’s laughing at me because I don’t get the shovel out all that often.   But two weeks later, she comes in and says to me I want more sensors. Why is that?  That part of our yard looked better. I was overwatering it, I had no idea how long to run my sprinklers.  That was my ah ha moment.”

Before his ah ha moment, Fordemwalt met with Baseline’s founders.  He thought he’d license the technology for something else.  As soon as he saw what it did for his lawn, the former HP exec bought into the company and became its President.  Now, he’s convinced the S-100 is how lawns should be watered.

John Fordemwalt:  “Those sensors are able to monitor exactly how much plant available water there is in the soil which turns out to be a much more complicated problem than most people realize.”

Fordemwalt says the device measures something he calls “time domain transmissibility.”

John Fordemwalt:  ”. . .  which is a fancy way of saying we measure how much electrical signals are slowed down in the soil by the presence of water.”

The American Waterworks Association, a Denver-based non-profit, reports people use about a third of their water outdoors.  Fordemwalt says Baseline’s technology can cut down on wasted water.

John Fordemwalt:   “Take a sponge and you dip that sponge into a bucket of water, and you pull it out, water will run out of the sponge for awhile.   Now, if you squeeze that sponge there’s still a bunch of water in it. That amount of water the soil can hold is an important point to understand because any more water we put on it than that is wasted.”

Clyde Lingo manages a Boise lawn care company.  It’s installed more than one hundred S-100 sensors across the Treasure Valley.

Clyde Lingo:  “We found that if somebody was responsibly managing their water before, we can save usually 15 to 25 percent. If you have a property that was pretty much set the clock and forget it, we were saving as much as 50 percent.”

Lingo’s used the product since it first came out seven years ago.  He helped tweak and improve the S-100s.  Lingo says the latest generation works well, but it may take some time for people to accept this new way to water a lawn.

Clyde Lingo:  “People are scared to fully automate something as important as their sprinkler system. When we have a sprinkler clock it’s still controlled by the homeowner’s emotions, how they think the lawn looks, how often they hear on the radio they should water every week, how hot it is that day.”

Right now Baseline’s business is mainly commercial – schools, city parks, home owners’ associations.  One notable client is New York City’s 9-11 Memorial where nearly fifty moisture sensors will keep the landscape green.  That’s one project Fordemwalt hopes will get the S-100 into people’s lawns across the country.

Copyright 2011 Boise State Public Radio.