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Sprinkler System Installation Guide

Posted on November 23rd, 2022

Sprinkler System Installation. Achieving and maintaining a beautiful, healthy lawn requires regular care and precise watering. A sprinkler system allows you to do this without having to do the work of manually watering your entire lawn. It also minimizes water usage, preventing damage to plants due to overwatering while keeping utility costs low. 

Lawn care specialists can perform a sprinkler system installation for you. A professional installation ensures that your lawn sprinklers work correctly, deliver the right amount of water for the space and prevent unnecessary damage to your property. 

However, it is possible to install an irrigation system yourself. Keep in mind that this DIY project requires electricity and plumbing knowledge. Also, you’ll have to buy materials such as pipes and fittings apart from the system itself. That being said, read on for guidance on sprinkler system installation.

The Anatomy of a Sprinkler System

Before learning about installation, knowing more about what makes up a sprinkler system is helpful. The following information about the parts of a sprinkler system will make reading and following our guide much easier. 

Water Source

While this is not technically part of your sprinkler system, it’s an essential part of your yard’s irrigation system as a whole. A water source can be from a well, the local water company, or natural bodies of water like reservoirs, ponds, and lakes. It should meet your system’s water needs in terms of volume and duration and be reliable. It should also preferably be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. 

Controller 

Also called a timer, a controller is an electrical device that turns your irrigation system’s valves on at set times. Thanks to the controller, you don’t have to manually turn your sprinkler system on and off every day. 

Conventional timers allow you to set a schedule for your entire lawn. However, newer, “smart” timers can schedule zones to be watered at different times of the day. Some even come with moisture sensors that let your timer knows when a zone has been sufficiently watered so that it can shut off water to that area automatically. 

These smart timers can often be controlled remotely via smartphone. However, advanced timers like these are significantly more expensive than basic controllers, so keep that in mind when planning your budget.

Backflow Prevention Device

Water from the main supply line should only flow inwards toward your home and property. However, changes in pressure and other factors can force it backward, potentially contaminating the main water supply with fertilizers, pesticides, and other chemicals from your lawn.

Depending on the laws and regulations in your area, you might be legally required to install a backflow preventer to go with your irrigation system. However, even if it’s not required, it’s still a good idea to have one. This is especially true if your sprinkler system uses the same water source your drinking water supply comes from. 

Water Pump 

This electric device pumps water from a well or natural water source to your inground irrigation system. It ensures a steady flow of water at the right level of water pressure so that it’s pushed easily out of sprinkler jets. 

Second Water Meter

This is a water meter used to measure the amount of water used outside of your home, such as for a lawn irrigation system, filling a pool, and other applications that don’t return water to the sewage treatment plant in your city.

Whether or not you need a second water meter depends on local laws. If you’re not legally required to get one, you might still benefit from a second water meter if you use a lot of water indoors and outdoors. 

If you look at your water bill, there are typically two items you are charged for water and sewer. “Water” is the clean water coming into your property. Meanwhile, “sewer” is used water exiting your home down the drain that needs to be treated. The “sewer” item on your bill typically costs more than “water,” and in most municipalities, the amount you have to pay is based on an estimate.

A second water meter may help you save money on water costs because it accurately measures how much your irrigation system is using, and also because “sewer” charges only apply to indoor water usage. Another advantage of having a second water meter is it helps ensure that all zones in your lawn are getting the right amount of water. 

Control Valves 

Conventional sprinkler systems have several valves that regulate water flow. These control valves divide your lawn into zones and are connected to a timer, which opens and closes them according to the irrigation schedule set. 

Most sprinkler systems water only part of the lawn at a time. This is to keep the water pressure constant and able to operate the sprinkler heads or jets. 

Control valves are housed in a valve box, along with other sprinkler system components, for easy access in case of repairs or maintenance. It is waterproof, sturdy and resilient against pests as well as the elements. 

Shut-off Valve 

If something necessitates shutting your lawn sprinkler system down urgently, such as a sudden freeze coming on, you can simply use the shut-off valve. It’s also helpful for when you want to work in your garden without worrying about the sprinklers coming on and drenching you in water. 

Sprinkler Heads

Many types of sprinkler heads can come with a lawn sprinkler system. Some examples are:

  • Pop-up heads
  • Static or fixed heads
  • Nozzles (full-circle, half-circle, and quarter-circle)
  • Spray heads
  • Rotors 
  • Gear drives
  • Rotary nozzles
  • Bubblers

It is recommended to use just one type of sprinkler head per zone. Otherwise, the area might end up overwatered in some parts and underwatered in others.

What to Do Before You Install a Lawn Sprinkler System

A sprinkler system installation requires planning to ensure the entire project goes off without a hitch. 

Set a Budget

Setting a budget early in the planning phase will give you a good idea of the costs involved in installing an irrigation system. In addition, it helps ensure you don’t run out of funds before the project is finished. 

Some factors to consider when setting a budget are:

  • The Size of Your Lawn

The larger the yard, the higher the costs to irrigate it. Bigger outdoor spaces require more plumbing materials as well as larger sprinkler heads. Additionally, if you have sloped areas in your landscape, you’ll likely need a controller. 

  • If Your Landscape Has Sloped Areas 

It’s much harder to ensure uniform watering in an area that slopes. Apart from the push and pull of wind, you also have to contend with gravity causing water to run downwards too quickly. This wastes water and may even cause soil erosion. If this is the case, it’s best to purchase a controller that can split irrigation runtimes and set water flow at intervals that the soil in a sloped area can absorb. 

  • Post-Project Repairs

Chances are, your lawn might become damaged after you install your irrigation system because you’ll need to dig to lay pipe. Factor into your budget the costs of restoring your lawn to its original beauty. Some things you likely need to do are reseed parts of the lawn and tamp down raised areas. 

  • Type of Irrigation System 

Many lawn sprinkler systems are being sold on the market, and how much one costs depend on its type, size, and brand. Try not to be tempted by purchasing the cheapest option. Instead, opt for a system from a trusted manufacturer with the features you need. 

Check Local Laws and HOA Regulations 

Lawn sprinkler systems involve wiring, plumbing and digging. For this reason, some municipalities require building permits to install them. Additionally, if you belong to a homeowners association, check with them before you start to make sure your project won’t be breaking any of their rules.

Contact 811

You don’t want to dig piping for your lawn sprinkler system and then accidentally hit water, gas, or electricity lines. To avoid this, reach out to 811

This is the national call center, a company that can give you the approximate location of buried utilities. Contrary to popular belief, 811 is not just for contractors or professional excavators. Contacting 811 is a must for everyone who plans to dig into a property, whether it’s for a small project like a garden revamp or a lawn irrigation system installation.

Sprinkler System Installation Guide 

Before reading this guide, remember that instructions may vary among brands and models of sprinkler systems. Be sure to read the included manual. Note also that this guide is for a simple installation that does not require extensive piping under existing walkways and obstacles.

Step 1: Check With Your Dealer

Most manufacturers of lawn sprinkler systems design custom systems for specific areas or regions. Ideally, the one you purchase should be up to code and made to perform well with the water pressure and flow from your water source and the type of soil of your lawn. To confirm, contact your dealer or the manufacturer of your sprinkler system. 

Step 2: Create an Irrigation Map 

Whether you’re doing the installation yourself or plan to hire someone to do it for you, you need to make a map of your property. This allows you or your installer to plan your irrigation system. Unfortunately, making an irrigation map is very challenging, especially for those with no experience in the task. Thankfully, manufacturers are often willing to provide map templates, so you don’t have to start from scratch. 

When creating your map, draw according to scale, such as one 1 inch = 10 feet. Don’t forget to account for outdoor structures, shrubs, trees, and other obstacles. The map should also indicate where the underground lines, valves, and sprinkler heads will go. Create circles to denote the diameter of the spray from a sprinkle head. They should overlap slightly to ensure even coverage of your lawn. 

Step 3: Prepare Your Supplies

In a typical installation, you’ll need:

  • A sprinkler system 
  • Control valves
  • Risers
  • Automatic timer 
  • PVC or polyethylene pipe, cut to the correct measurements for your lawn and system
  • Pipe cutter 
  • Pipe adhesive 
  • String and stakes
  • A shovel 

Step 4: Place Stakes

Based on your map, place a stake at every place where a sprinkler will be, and use string to indicate where the pipe should run. 

Step 5: Dig Trenches

Following the string, dig trenches about four inches wide and eight to 12 inches deep. Another option is to rent a pipe-pulling machine, which lays pipe under the ground without the need to dig. 

Step 6: Lay the Pipe

Place the PVC pipe in the trench and connect its ends to the zone valve using primer and adhesive. Use tees or a suitable pipe fitting to keep each sprinkler in place. 

Step 7: Connect to the Water Source 

Turn off the water at the meter, and connect the control valve box to the water supply line or a faucet. Unless you have experience with plumbing, it’s best to hire a professional if you want to connect directly to the water source or main supply line. 

Step 8: Flush the System 

Turn on the shut-off valve to supply water throughout the sprinkler system. Then, turn on all control valves and allow the water to run until the dirt from the pipes has been flushed out. When you’re done, turn off the control and shut-off valves. 

Step 9: Attach the Sprinkler Heads

Follow the instructions in the included manual of your lawn sprinkler system to attach the heads. You’ll need to connect each one to a riser, ensuring it’s facing the right direction.

10: Connect the Timer 

An electrician would best be able to guide you through this step, as it requires wiring the timer to the control valves.

Professional Sprinkler System Installation by Seasoned Pros

An irrigation system takes the work out of keeping lawns lush and attractive. However, installing one yourself requires a lot of time, resources as well as in-depth knowledge of how it works. 

Unless you have experience in plumbing and electrical wiring, it’s always best to entrust sprinkler system installation to an expert. Apart from saving you from having to do manual labor, hiring a professional also helps prevent accidents that could arise from mistakes in digging, laying pipe, or wiring components.

Turf Unlimited is a full-service lawn care provider offering sprinkler system installation and maintenance. Call us at (888) 649-9919 to learn more about our services.

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