HomeownerHelpful Info: Outdoor Projects

Sprinkler Systems

Sprinkler Systems Educational Content

Sprinkler heads. The most commonly used sprinkler heads are pop-up spray and rotor heads, impact rotors, and gear-driven rotors. Spray heads put out a lot of water in a short amount of time. Rotor heads cover larger areas and have a slower output. An experienced sprinkler system contractor can advise you on which heads will work best for your yard. If the wrong heads are installed, or if the heads are installed too far apart, the whole system will be inefficient. Your grass won’t get what it needs. Unfortunately, these practices also reduce the cost and work involved in the system installation. Less-than-reputable contractors routinely install cheaper systems with too few sprinkler heads. If your sprinkler system isn’t installed well, you’ll end up wasting water and money. When evaluating proposals, be sure to compare them equally.

Zones. A sprinkler system zone is a section of the system that can be turned on and off individually. Most systems have multiple zones for two primary reasons. The first is water pressure. The water pressure you get from the municipal water supply can affect how your sprinkler system works. If all the heads ran at the same time, there might not be enough water pressure for the system to function normally. Watering a section 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 without wasting water, you need to get the right amount of water to the right place. Zones let you adjust the amount of water in different spots around the yard. The front yard might be one zone, for example, 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. Modern controllers turn the water on and off in different zones according to the schedule you set. Most controllers also let you designate how much water each zone gets. Be sure to program the controller so that the different sections of your yard are watered adequately. This keeps your lawn beautiful and your water costs low.

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 it’s best to 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. Rapid evaporation and wind make watering the lawn in the middle of the day ineffective.

Rain and freeze sensors. A rain sensor saves water by keeping the system off during or following a heavy rain. After all, the ground is already saturated and doesn’t need irrigation. A freeze sensor prevents the system from running during freezing and near-freezing conditions. During freezing conditions, spray and mist from the system could create dangerous slick spots. Many cities require these sensors. Whether they’re required or not, all systems should have them to avoid accidents.

Automation and smart technology. Most new sprinkler system controllers are Wi-Fi or Bluetooth enabled. This means they can connect to a home automation system as well as local weather stations for real-time weather updates. Accurate weather updates mean that you won’t need extra rain or freeze sensors. Your system’s watering schedule will also be smarter.

Experts recommend giving your lawn an inch of water per week during the growing season. The grass will likely need 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 given your lawn enough water: 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 a few places to ensure that the sprinkler system is watering evenly.

Clogged nozzles on sprinkler heads. Retracting sprinkler head nozzles can get clogged with dirt from time to time. Check your system periodically to ensure that all the nozzles are working.

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

If you live in an area that is prone to drought conditions, consider a drip irrigation system. Drip irrigation is a popular way to water the lawn, especially during the summer. These systems are installed below the soil and send low-pressure water to plants. This is done via tubing placed directly at the plants’ root zones. This method lessens water evaporation because the water gets directly to the roots. Another advantage of drip irrigation systems is that they can be retrofitted to existing sprinkler systems.

Irrigation systems are typically low maintenance. Regular seasonal maintenance, however, keeps the system working efficiently year after year. In the spring, your system will need a start-up service. The service tech will make sure 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, have your system winterized to prevent pipes from freezing.

In most areas, anyone working on sprinkler systems must be a licensed irrigator or licensed sprinkler technician. New sprinkler installations may also require a permit. Depending on the job’s scope, some repairs may also require permits.

The lawn sprinkler business is very cyclical, and the middle of summer is the busy season. If you’re planning to install a sprinkler system or have one serviced, plan for the off-season, if you can. Scheduling the work for late fall or winter can help you avoid potential delays.