Keeping your lawn green is often easier said than done. Certain types of grass can be a bit temperamental, and all grass requires regular watering to avoid browning and a heightened risk of disease. But how can you be sure that you’re not under- or overwatering your lawn? An automatic lawn sprinkler system can take care of this guesswork for you.

There are more benefits to a sprinkler system than just keeping your lawn green. A sprinkler system will save you the time you would have spent lugging around hoses to water your whole yard. In addition, depending on the size of your lawn, you may be able to conserve water using an automatic sprinkler system versus watering by hand.

Nothing beats having a beautiful lawn, and using an automatic lawn sprinkler system means you’ll have the time and energy to enjoy it. Ready to learn everything you need to know about sprinkler systems? Keep reading!

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Sprinkler System Installation

Installing a lawn irrigation system is definitely a job for the professionals. Sprinkler systems are installed underground, so they require excavation in addition to plumbing and electrical work.

Homes under construction

If you’re building a home or landscaping your lawn and want to install an automatic sprinkler system, contact an installer after any trees or shrubbery are planted and the lawn is graded and ready for sod.

The sprinkler system should be installed before flowers and grasses are planted to avoid disrupting the look of your landscape.

Existing homes

Installation of a sprinkler system in an existing lawn will mean some digging. However, many sprinkler installation companies use excavation and installation methods that minimize the disturbance to your grass, such as making relatively narrow furrows where the pipes are then buried.

The strips of unearthed grass typically take about a month to heal, and then your yard will look like it had never been touched.

Irrigation System Design

Sprinkler system installer connecting underground piping for new irrigation system

The purpose of the sprinkler is to simulate rainfall, but the design is more complex than sticking a few sprinkler heads around your property. There are several factors need to be considered for a design to work, including the type of spray head, the available water pressure, and the nature of the terrain.

If you have a large yard, your system will likely need many spray heads and “zones”—independent sections of the sprinkler system—to provide adequate water to the grass.

A hilly or topographically diverse yard might require several different kinds of sprinkler heads for a single system. A sprinkler system design expert will take into account spray radius and water coverage, making sure that no part of your lawn is over- or underwatered.

Underground piping

The sprinkler system gets its water from your home through a service line or a basement connection using copper pipes.

The underground pipe system in your lawn—which typically uses durable and long-lasting PVC pipes—is then connected to the home. A backflow prevention device ensure that dirty water doesn’t contaminate municipal water supplies.

Lawn sprinkler heads

Close-up image of a lawn sprinkler head spraying water on green grassModern sprinkler heads are unobtrusive and normally not visible unless spraying water, at which point they pop up above ground level. There are several different styles to choose from, including:

1. Mister heads. These sprinkler heads distribute fine-beaded water in a 360-degree spray. They’re a popular choice for medium-sized yards.

2. Rotary heads. This style of sprinkler head is gear driven, has a single-spray stream, and is powerful enough to cover wide areas with water—anywhere from 13 feet all the way up to 80 feet. If you have a lot of ground to cover, an irrigation system that includes rotary head sprinklers just might be for you.

3. Arc spray heads. Arc heads deliver a controlled flow of water at a specific radius and height (the “arc”). These heads are adjustable, making them versatile for any yard type. The various choices of arc heads allow the flow to be constricted or maximized depending on irrigation needs, and they are known for being water efficient.

4. Driplines and bubblers. Driplines are essentially reinforced, perforated hoses that water plants and shrubs near the home’s foundation—you wouldn’t want to spray your home’s exterior with a sprinkler just to water your plants. Driplines can be installed just underground or laid out on the ground, usually hidden by dense shrubbery and vegetation.

Bubbler heads are small, stand-up devices that deliver a gentle canopy of water for a targeted area. Both are popular choices for watering delicate plants and for use near homes.

5. Impact heads. The impact sprinkler head was the first mass-produced sprinkler head and is still in use today, though not often in residential applications. The advantages of an impact sprinkler include the ability to work with low water pressure and its resistance to clogging, but it will be visible above ground, meaning you’ll see this type of spray head even if the sprinkler is not engaged.

Irrigation system controller

What was once called a timer is now known in the lawn irrigation industry as a controller. A sprinkler system’s controller is what makes the whole system virtually hands-off.

Modern irrigation system controllers rely heavily on “smart” technology, including WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity, much like a home automation system. In fact, this technology is so popular (and results in such noticeable energy and water savings) that you’d be hard pressed to find a controller that doesn’t have it, regardless of the price point.

For a controller that runs your sprinkler system efficiently and makes your life easier, look for the following features:

  • WiFi and/or Bluetooth connectivity
  • Smartphone app capability
  • Connectivity to area weather stations
  • WaterSense certification

The ability of the controller to connect to local weather stations is important because the unit will use that data to adjust watering schedules based on the forecast. While older controller models rely on moisture and freeze sensors to prompt you to turn the system off, new controller models do that legwork for you.

The WaterSense certification is another sign of a controller’s efficiency. The US Environmental Protection Agency’s WaterSense program certifies appliances and plumbing fixtures that use water according to the EPA’s efficiency guidelines. When you choose a WaterSense-certified irrigation system controller, you can rest assured that your new controller will prevent the irrigation system from wasting water (and running up your utility bills).

Sprinkler system zones

A lawn sprinkler system is composed of an arrangement of separately functioning zones. The system’s controller activates the sprinkler heads zone by zone, depending on the predicted weather and soil moisture levels.

Designing the zones is a job for the pros—the size and grade of your property, shade coverage, and the specific plants and grasses growing in your yard all figure into the final plan. Your sprinkler system pro will ensure that everything that needs water is covered by a zone equipped with the appropriate sprinkler heads and that the zones are arranged so that water doesn’t pool in any low spots in your yard.

Automatic Sprinkler System Maintenance

Sprinkler system technician testing the functionality of a sprinkler headWhile smart irrigation system controllers make watering your lawn a mostly hands-off activity, you will need to schedule two yearly service appointments: one in the fall, as the weather starts to cool, and another in the spring, when the risk of freezing temperatures has passed.

During a fall maintenance service (also called a winterization service), the technician will:

  • Drain the entire system
  • Use compressed air to ensure no water remains in the lines
  • Shut down the irrigation system controller
  • Insulate and/or cover any aboveground components, such as valves and heads

During a spring maintenance service (also called a start-up service), the technician will:

  • Clean the system of any dirt or debris buildup
  • Flush the system to identify any leaks
  • Test the functionality of each zone
  • Verify proper coverage and spray angle of sprinkler heads, adjusting as necessary
  • Check and clean filters throughout the system
  • Check the controller for proper function and correct schedules, reprogramming if needed

An irrigation system is an investment, and so is your yard, especially if it’s been professionally landscaped. To protect your investment, always hire an irrigation system professional to handle these important maintenance visits.

A sprinkler system that doesn’t function efficiently wastes water and money and can put the health of your lawn in jeopardy. Semiannual maintenance keeps everything in check and ensures that your lawn looks beautiful and stays healthy year-round.

The Bottom Line

A professionally designed irrigation system can help you create the yard you’ve always dreamed of and cut down on labor-intensive lawn maintenance at the same time. You’ll still need to weed flower beds, trim shrubs, and mow the grass, of course (or hire a lawn care pro to do it for you!), but you won’t need to spend muggy summer evenings lugging garden hoses around the yard.

Stay up to date with regular maintenance visits to ensure that your irrigation system performs well for many years, and consult your sprinkler system pro for advice on new gadgets and sensors to make your system even more efficient. The only thing left for you to do is admire your gorgeous lawn.

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