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Landscaper turns drought into opportunity – Atlanta Business Chronicle

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While Georgia’s lengthy drought caused hardship for many landscape and garden design businesses, the lack of water also created some opportunities. As homeowners watched their gardens suffer, landscaper Jim Harrington decided to address the water problem head on by developing an innovative water collection system — The Original Rainwater Pillow.

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“When we ran out of water and were not allowed to water, we started looking at rain,” said Harrington, owner of Jim Harrington Garden Designs Inc. “But clients didn’t want to put in a cisternor have a big green tank on the side of their house.”

Rather than a rain barrel or a buried cistern, Harrington’s Rainwater Pillow fits under decks or in crawls spaces on the exterior of a home. Taking advantage of Georgia’s heavy downpours, the system collects water that flows off a roof through three-inch pipes routing it to a “pillow” to hold for future use in outdoor watering of gardens or lawns. Custom-made to hold from 1,000 to 40,000 gallons of water, the pillow is made of heavy-duty industrial strength fabric commonly used by the military to transport fuel, oil or other liquids.

Packaged as a complete kit, the Rainwater Pillow includes the filters, pump, remote control, pillow and all fittings necessary for use. According to the company’s Web site, a homeowner would need 20 rain barrels, which typically hold 50 gallons each, to match the capacity of one 1,000-gallon pillow. While the Rainwater Pillow systems don’t come cheap — the standard 2,000-gallon size pillow kit could run up to $5,000 with installation — it could save homeowners the cost of replacing dying plants when water is in short supply.

“You’re not so much saving a ton of money on the water bill, but gaining the ability or convenience of not having to replace plants,” Harrington said.

Mary Kay Woodworth, executive director of the Metro Atlanta Landscape & Turf Association, said while the drought hit landscapers hard, it also presented an opportunity for them to educate clients and staff about water conservation.

From selecting the appropriate plants for particular locations to using water-conscious irrigation methods, such as drip systems or soaker hoses, Woodworth said landscapers have helped bring the issue of water conservation to the forefront.

Along with its custom design and ability to be placed in different areas of a home, Woodworth said one of the unique features of the Rainwater Pillow is its portability.

“It can be removed from the house or building and moved to another location,” Woodworth said. “In the long run, it is a very affordable option for folks.”

Gabriela Probst purchased a custom-made 2,400-gallon Rainwater Pillow for her home in August to support her extensive garden during the drought. After looking into other water-collection methods, including a buried tank, Probst said the Rainwater Pillow was the best deal.

“I don’t expect that we are going to see a huge financial payback. It’s a long-term thing, but we really did it because we want to keep our trees and landscape alive,” Probst said. “Depending on what priorities are, I would definitely recommend it.”

Launching the company in January 2008, Harrington has sold close to 40 pillows. While growth has been slow and startup costs in the first year have been heavy, Harrington hopes to grow the business by targeting home builders and architects rather than just homeowners.

Making an appearance at several building shows over the last year, the Rainwater Pillow recently received certification as a “Green Approved Product “ under the National Association of Home Builders’ Green Building Standard — becoming the first rainwater collection system to receive this designation. Harrington said he anticipates increased sales as the building industry recovers.

“We want the architects to design it into the house,” Harrington said.

Although many water restrictions in Georgia have been lifted as a result of recent rainfall, Harrington said water conservation in the landscape industry would continue to be an issue in the long run.

“We will always have drinking water,but we will not have a guaranteed source of landscape water until we do moreconservation,” Harrington said.

Woodworth added that as sustainable construction and green-building trends increase in popularity, products like the Rainwater Pillow will be in high demand.

“We will never be able, even with the rainfall we’ve had, to go back to watering whenever, [or] as much as, you want to with potable water supply,” she said.

By Giannina Smith Staff Writer - Atlanta Business Chronicle