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Installing a Sprinkler System

Things to consider before committing to the project


Installing a Sprinkler System
photo © Kelly Burke

A sprinkler system may seem like an extravagant touch to maintaining a lawn but in many parts of the country they are as common as lawn mowers, and in fact are an excellent way to manage and conserve water when used properly. While it is possible to install a system as a DIY project, it is most effectively done by licensed professionals and in some cases required. The proper selection and placement of sprinkler heads, pump sizing, and installing the piping and spray heads are all jobs that are best left to the experts. And while you I do not recommend undertaking a sprinkler system installation, I highly recommend obtaining the basic knowledge of what the contractors are doing and why they are doing it. An informed customer can obtain the system that is right for their needs for the best price.

Sprinkler placement

One of the most important parts of laying out a sprinkler system is the placement of the sprinkler heads. The sprinkler heads first need to be plotted on a site plan ensuring adequate overlap and complete coverage. Because the spray pattern of a sprinkler head is not uniform, the outer edge of the spray should touch the nearest sprinkler head. Double coverage ensure that the two inconsistent spray patterns coalesce into uniform coverage. Similarly, the heads should be spaced in a square or triangular pattern to ensure head to head coverage. Depending on the size and shape of the yard a variety of different sprinkler heads may be used from full circle patterns to fully adjustable patterns for dialing in particular angles. Sprinkler nozzles can be adjusted to achieve the proper distance of the spray pattern.


Running the sprinkler lines is the part of the job where machinery is most likely to be needed. While trenches can be hand shoveled, machines are able to trench or even pull the pipe and wire under ground. Trenches require backfilling and re-seeding and even more backfilling if the soil settles, while pipe pulling leaves virtually no mess. Soil conditions play a big part in if the job will go smoothly or not with sandy soils being relatively easy to work with and rocky soils posing potential problems. Large rocks or roots can hamper progress and cause the project to take longer than expected.

Water source

Domestic water is increasingly becoming a resource that is not to be wasted on watering a lawn. Using it to water your lawn could be considered an extravagance and in some cases be illegal. Multiple options of water sources available to a typical irrigation system. While a system can be tied directly into a municipal water supply, it can also be fed from well water, gray water, or even treated effluent water. All of which are cheaper and easier on the water supply than municipal sources.

Watering the lawn can go hand in hand with water conservation if the sprinkler system is used properly. One of the real advantages of a sprinkler system is the ability to fine tune the watering times so the system acts as a supplement to rain rather than a substitute. A properly used sprinkler system, during a normal year, will use much less water than other methods of watering the lawn.

Getting the most out of your system

In some states rain sensors are mandatory on new sprinkler system installations, and in any case they should be a part of every system. A sprinkler system should never be a "set it and forget it" operation. Not only should a rain sensor be used to turn the system off in the event of rain but a certain amount of attention should be paid to the weather to avoid watering when rain is in the forecast. The whole purpose of the irrigation system is to efficiently and effectively deliver water to the root zone, watering during a rainstorm is the opposite of that. Healthy, resilient turf does not thrive when it's persistently wet anyway, it should be kept slightly thirsty with roots continually growing searching for water. Watering a lawn, at it's most basic, should be deep and infrequent, similar to the natural patterns of rain. Anything more than that may lead to stunted root growth, a general turf decline, and the myriad of diseases and pests that lie in wait for a lawn to show it's weakness.

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