HomeownerEducational: N-Z

Sprinkler Systems

System Components

Sprinkler heads. Different types of heads are designed for different parts of the yard. Sprinkler system heads most commonly used include pop-up spray and rotor heads, impact rotors, and gear-driven rotors. Spray heads typically put out a lot of water in a short amount of time, while rotor heads often cover larger areas and have a slower output. A quality sprinkler system contractor will be able to tell homeowners which heads will work best for their yard’s needs.

Installing the wrong head type in the wrong place or installing the heads too far apart reduces system efficiency and performance. Unfortunately, these practices also reduce the cost and work associated with installing the system. Contractors that are less reputable routinely install cheaper systems with too few sprinkler heads. If a sprinkler system is used improperly, homeowners can end up wasting a substantial amount of water. When evaluating proposals, make sure you compare them equally.

Zones. A sprinkler system zone is a portion of the overall system that can be turned on and off independently from the rest of the system. Most systems are made up of multiple zones for two primary reasons. The first is water pressure. The amount and pressure of the water entering the home from the street may limit the amount and pressure of water a sprinkler system can apply to the yard. If all zones of the system were turned on at the same time, there would probably not be enough water and pressure to run the system correctly. Watering a portion of the yard at a time eliminates this problem. The second reason for using zones is to vary the amount of water applied to different areas. To keep the yard looking its best and limit wasted water, it is very important to deliver the right amount of water to the right place. By designing the zones around the yard’s landscaping, one can adjust the amount of water supplied to different components. For example, the grass in the front yard can be one zone, while the flower beds in the backyard can be another.

Controllers. The controller (also referred to as a timer) is the brain of the sprinkler system. Most modern controllers turn the water on and off in different zones according to the time of day and day of the week. Additionally, most controllers allow the homeowner to designate how much water is applied to each zone. By properly programming the controller so that no area of the yard is over- or under-watered, you can maintain the beauty of your landscape while minimizing water costs.

The best time to water your lawn is between 4:00 and 6:00 a.m. A wet lawn is more susceptible to disease, so you should limit the lawn’s wet period. The wet period begins when dew first forms on the lawn and ends when the lawn is dry. Watering in the evening before dew forms extends the wet period and encourages disease. Because of rapid evaporation and wind, watering the lawn in the middle of the day is not effective.

Rain and freeze sensors. The rain portion of the sensor conserves water by preventing system operation during or following a heavy rain, when the ground is already saturated and needs no additional irrigation. The freeze portion of the sensor prevents the system from running during freezing and near-freezing conditions. During freezing conditions, spray and mist from the system would create an ice hazard on nearby walkways, driveways, and streets. Many cities require these sensors, and all systems should have them in order to avoid accidents.

Automation and smart technology. Most new sprinkler system controllers are equipped with Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connectivity, which enables them to connect to a home automation system as well as local weather stations for real-time weather updates. This technology can eliminate the need for additional rain or freeze sensors and allows for smarter, more accurate watering schedules.

Adequate Water

Experts recommend giving your lawn an inch of water per week during the growing season and more during hot and dry spells. Watering is also necessary during especially warm or dry winters. Here is a good test of whether you have watered your lawn adequately: push the blade of a screwdriver into the ground. You should be able to easily sink three to four inches of the screwdriver immediately after watering the lawn. Test the yard in multiple places to ensure that the sprinkler system is applying adequate water evenly to all areas.

Common Problems

Clogged nozzles on sprinkler heads. It is possible for retracting sprinkler head nozzles to become clogged with dirt or other debris from time to time. You should periodically inspect the operation of your system to ensure that all of the nozzles are properly functioning and do not need to be cleaned or unclogged.

Zones do not turn off correctly. Either a malfunctioning controller or a stuck valve usually causes this problem. To determine the source of the issue, try unplugging the electricity to the controller. If the sprinkler goes off, the problem is most likely with the controller. If it stays on, that’s an indication that the problem is most likely a stuck valve.

Drip Irrigation Systems

In areas prone to drought conditions, drip irrigation is a very popular method of watering the lawn, especially during the summer. These systems are installed below the soil and apply low-pressure water to plants using tubing placed directly at the plants’ root zones to restrict water evaporation. Drip irrigation systems are also common outside of drought-prone areas because they can be retrofitted to existing irrigation systems for efficient watering.

Seasonal Maintenance

Irrigation systems are typically low maintenance, but regular seasonal maintenance will ensure proper functioning. In the spring, systems should be checked to ensure that all parts, including pipes, zones, heads, and controllers, are working correctly. Whether due to wear and tear or an errant lawnmower blade, periodic repairs will be necessary. In the fall, systems should be winterized to prevent pipes from freezing.

Licenses and Permits

Most areas require anyone performing sprinkler system work to be a licensed irrigator or licensed sprinkler technician. New sprinkler installations and plans may also require that a permit be obtained. Depending on the job’s scope, some repairs may also require permits. Before beginning sprinkler work, check with your area’s building inspection office for permit regulations.

Hiring a Contractor

The lawn sprinkler business is very cyclical, and the middle of summer is the industry’s busy season. If you’re planning to install a sprinkler system or have one serviced, consider scheduling the work for late fall or winter in order to avoid potential delays.