Sprinkler System Installation (Comprehensive Guide)

This is our comprehensive guide to sprinkler system installation.

Water is crucial to life…all forms of life, including your lawn.

Setting up a sprinkler system can be a challenging process without the right guidance. Furthermore, if a mistake is made, it can be a costly mistake.

Today, we will review everything you need to know about different sprinkler system parts and a brief guide on how to install it all.

Sprinkler Systems:  The Pieces

Before you water your lawn, it’s important to have a basic understanding of the parts of your system and what they are used for.  Knowledge in this regard will make problems that might come up when you water the lawn. 

Water Pump

A water pump is the heart of your sprinkler system.  Water that goes through the system to your lawn needs to travel a long way to reach the sprinkler heads.  To travel that distance, the water needs to be delivered at a higher pressure.

The city’s water pressure is sufficient if you are using a garden hose to feed a sprinkler on top of the turf, but you need the strength of the water pump to send the water to your lawn to ensure proper flow.

Water Meter

The water meter measures the amount of water that is being used when watering your lawn.  The meter will indicate how much water will be delivered to each section of your lawn. 

You can adjust this amount of water running through the meter to ensure that each section receives enough water for optimal growth of the grass.

Controller

The controller serves two main functions in most sprinkler systems.

  1. It manages the watering process and ensures each zone receives the correct amount of water.
  2. It monitors the system for malfunctions and alerts when they occur.  If necessary, the pump controller can shut the entire system down.

The controller is connected to the system and they system sensors to monitor the water pressure and the water flow.

Valve Box

The valve box houses more than just valves. The valve box is placed underneath the turf to house different components of the irrigation system.  It allows the homeowner easy access to the sprinkler valve and other components (sensors, wires, etc.).

The valve box also protects these integral pieces from the elements and accidents.  Properly placed, they can be nearly invisible while still giving the homeowner easy access to these essential parts.

Sprinkler Shut-Off Valve

The sprinkler shut-off valve plays an important role in avoiding or mitigating potential problems that could damage the sprinklers.  With a solenoid valve and switch, a well-designed controller, and a well-wired power supply, the system can shut down when malfunctions are detected.

Proper design of your sprinkler zones and the use of appropriate shut-off valves can minimize sprinkler disruptions and maximize protection.

Back-Flow Preventer

The back-flow preventer protects the water source from contamination and backup pressure should something go awry with the sprinklers.  It prevents contaminated water from the sprinkler lines from back-flow into the homeowner’s potable water source.

Timer

Most modern sprinkler systems have an electronic timer that controls water flow from the water source through the system.  It will determine when the system turns on and off.  It also controls the valves that determine which zone watering will take place in.

Most timers allow you to set a watering frequency schedule to water the lawn systematically.  Some timers allow different zones to adhere to different schedules.

Control Valves

A series of valves control the flow of water through the system.  Water pressure is usually not high enough to run the entire system at once.  So these valves divide your lawn into zones that will be watered independently of one another.

An automatic timer will control the valve opening and closing to follow the watering schedule for each zone.  The valves are connected to the timer with wires through which electrical signals are sent. 

Pipes and Risers

A system of horizontally placed PVC pipes that carry water from the main water supply to the control valves.  The water will then flow from the control valves to the sprinkler heads.  Then, finally, the sprinkler heads to the grass on the scheduled lawn zone.

Short vertical PVC pipes, called risers, extend from the horizontal pipes and are attached directly to the sprinkler heads.

Sprinkler Heads

The sprinkler heads are the final piece of the system.  The sprinkler heads do the physical watering of the lawn.  They are positioned around the lawn in appropriate places that will ensure complete water coverage. 

The most common types of sprinkler heads retract after watering the lawn and rest just below the turf’s surface level.

The heads can come in several different styles that deliver the water to the grass in different ways.  Oscillating heads rotate as they operate and can cover a large area.  Stationary heads spray water that can vary from a full circle to a narrow arc and are directed to cover a specific area.  Low-flow or drip heads deliver small amounts of water directly to planting beds.

Sprinkler Systems:  The Process

Now that you are aware of the specific pieces that comprise irrigation systems and how those pieces function, let’s take a look at a step-by-step layman’s how-to-guide for installing one of these systems underneath your lawn. 

Step 1:  Gather Information

Step 2:  Gather Your Equipment

  • Purchase all of the equipment you learned about in the first section of this article.   
  • Calculate pressure loss through the entire system.  This can be affected by the size of your pipes and changes in elevation.  If you get lost, ask a professional.
  • Make pressure loss adjustments to balance out the system.  This is important if you want the sprinklers to spray correctly.

Step 3:  Map Out the Sprinkler Heads

  • Determine the correct spacing of the heads
  • Select which type of sprinkler head you want to use

Step 4:  Map Out Zones and Pipes

  • Identify the watering zones on your lawn.
  • Identify the valve zones along the pipeline.
  • Map out the routes of the PVC pipes as they run through your lawn.

Step 5:  Access the Water Line

  • Tap into the water supply line that will feed the sprinklers

Step 6:  Dig the Trench

  • Dig 6” to 8” deep
  • Sides should slope inwards at 45°
  • Place the removed earth to one side so that you can fill the trench back in

Step 7:  Install the Valve Manifold

  • Dig a hole slightly larger than the valve box
  • Place the box into the ground over the valves.
  • Attach one end of the manifold to the main water supply

Step 8:  Lay Down the PVC Pipe

  • Connect ¾” PVC pipe to the open end of the valve manifold
  • Lay PVC along the entire trench
  • Use “T” connectors for pipes that shoot off of the main-line
  • Where you have marked for the sprinkler heads, install the vertical risers.

Step 9:  Install The Sprinkler Heads

  • Choose the appropriate head based on the function you need it to serve
  • Before you attach, flush the system so it is free of debris.
  • Connect the heads onto the vertical risers
  • Place heads just below the surface level of the lawn.
  • Fill in around the heads with dirt and sod.

Step 10:  Install the Controller

  • Connect the wires of the controller according to the manual provided
  • Make your final connection to the water supply line.
  • Check to ensure the system is working correctly.

Once you have everything working properly, make sure you water with your sprinkler system correctly. Both underwatering and overwatering can lead to lawn issues and poor grass health.

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The Green Pinky

About the author: Jeffrey Douglas is a horticultural hobbyist that loves everything related to plants and gardening. He specializes in gardens and houseplants.

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