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There are several great questions and helpful guides on and on this site. Since it's the lawn laying season now, I've started thinking about laying a sprinkler network prior to sodding because it's easier to do so now than after the lawn's established.

Here's a generic drawing of a front yard and the green dotted area is where I want the lawn to be. How do I go about planning a sprinkler network for my lawn and what factors should I keep in mind? I'd like to be such that no water (or as little as possible) falls on the kerb/curb or the driveway or into the neighbour's property.

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In order to keep it general, I haven't listed any dimensions. Do not worry about calculating the exact locations or worry about the curves in the pathway. Also, do not worry about having to cut through the pathway to get the pipes to the other side. I'm looking for qualitative answers that explain how to approach the problem.

The answer I'm expecting is something that addresses these questions (see figure below) or any others I haven't thought of.

  • Do I need to use different kinds of sprinklers in the corners so that they're constrained to not cross into the kerb or the neighbour's yard? If so, can such sprinklers be adjusted to move between different angles as desired?
  • Should I choose a sprinkler with the biggest radius for the center? Can the radius be adjusted or is it fixed for a sprinkler?
  • If there are small patches that aren't covered by the sweep of any sprinkler, should I spend the money on getting another one to cover it or should I just water it manually? (see the small radius sprinklers in the left and the right parts)
  • How deep should I lay my pipes? Would it be helpful to have additional outlets at certain distances along the layout?
  • The most cost efficient way would be to lay the pipes along the shortest distance from a central point to each sprinkler (see right). However, if I want to have a flowerbed along the edges in the future which might need a drip system, should I plan for a layout like in the left?
  • Are there sprinklers that will let you tap out water optionally?

enter image description here

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2 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

First, I have no personal experience with in-ground sprinkler systems i.e. I've not designed or installed such a system, nor have I ever lived in a home that had such a system.

What I do know comes from reading about such systems, watching them being installed on various (gardening, DIY) TV shows, talking with people who have such systems and a friend who installed his own system last year.

Most of what follows comes via the friend who installed his own system:

  1. Measure the area(s) you want to irrigate, then draw out a scaled drawing of the area(s). Add important information to the drawing eg

    • Trees.

    • Flowerbeds.

    • Raised Beds.

    • Hard landscape areas.

    • Areas where you can easily connect into your "domestic" cold water and electrical systems.

  2. Measure your water pressure.

    • Pretty much regardless of the above reading, installing a "Pressure Regulator" is highly recommended.
  3. Divide areas into zones.

    • "Generally" speaking the more zones the better.

    • More zones give greater control e.g. Certain zones might need to be watered more than others.

    • Install a master "Irrigation Control Valve" box ie Gather all "Control Valves" into a single area, this allows for easier maintenance...

    • It's worth making this master box bigger than you initially need and throw in a couple of spare "Control Valves", this will make any further upgrades, expansion of the irrigation system that much easier.

    • Install a "Emergency Shut-off Valve" that shuts off water to the whole irrigation system.

  4. Buy all your major parts online, saves a lot of money (compared to DIY stores).

  5. Don't try to save money on the irrigation piping, get the very best you can afford.

    • A properly designed system will mostly likely use different size piping within the irrigation network ie 1inch (25mm), ¾inch (19mm) & ½inch (12.5mm) diameter pipes.
  6. Before you starting digging, check local and state laws/requirements eg

    Here in Missouri it's against the law to begin excavating before you request utilities are marked on site:

    Missouri law requires that a locate request be placed before beginning any excavation.

    Placing a locate request is free and easy! Call 1-800-DIG-RITE (800-344-7483) or 811 or place your request online using Internet Ticketing.

    The utilities should respond to your request within 3 working days by:

    • Marking the approximate location of their facilities or

    • Notifying you that they have no facilities in your dig site area.

    After confirming utility response, you can then proceed with your excavation avoiding damages.

  7. Even in areas that experience freezing conditions it's not "standard practice" to bury the pipes deep enough so they're unaffected by those conditions, instead it's "standard practice" to drain (blow out via an air-compressor) the system before freezing weather conditions arrive in the area.

    • You don't want to bury the pipes too deep, that leads to more digging. Also you don't want to put the pipes too shallow, that could easily lead to a garden tool (fork, spade, etc) piercing the pipe while you go about your normal gardening work.

    • Burying pipes somewhere in the 10 to 18inch (250 to 450mm) depth range is considered "safe" (a good depth).

  8. Don't connect your irrigation system to an outside tap (though this can be done, it's considered "poor practice"), instead properly plumb it into your "domestic" cold water system.

    • A little more work, but well worth taking the time and cost to-do.

    • When connecting into your "domestic" cold water system, install a "Backflow Device", this prevents water from your irrigation system entering your "domestic" cold water system. Such a device is "generally" required by local building codes and/or your local water company.

  9. Don't go with a battery powered "Timer" (Control Panel), instead go with one that you can wire into your "domestic" electrical system. Again, a little more work, but well worth the effort and cost...

  10. Get "Sprinkler Heads" that have (replaceable) filters, this allows you to easily clean them or replace them.

  11. A well designed system will overlap each sprinkler water zone by about 20%, this ensures good water coverage and minimises dry areas between the sprinkler water zones.

    • Also allows for things like windy days when the wind will effect the distribution of the water.
  12. The "Sprinkler Heads" should deliver water droplets, not water spray (mist).

    • Water spray (mist) results in inefficient watering, a lot of water will be lost to evaporation (and/or wind).

My friend has a friend who designs, installs irrigation systems for a living, therefore he was able to get his friend to design, layout the system and work up a complete parts list. That saved a lot of confusion, time and headache. In general, it would be wise to plan everything in advance on paper before getting hands on.

I'm going to get my friend to read over the above and will correct and/or add anything that I've got wrong, missed.


Below are some resources that I believe should prove helpful/useful:


I hope the above information helps a little.

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What you need to know in order to properly design and install an irrigation system for your landscape is more than can be covered in an answer on this site. (Though Mike Perry did a great job of covering the broad strokes.) The information would fill up an entire website. Luckily someone has created such a site. If you're serious about doing this yourself you must read Irrigation Tutorials.

Mike mentioned this site but I just wanted to add my endorsement for it. It is the most thorough collection of articles on the topic I have read and it is from an independent source who doesn't just pitch their own products.

Once you start reading it all the different factors and calculations may seem a bit overwhelming but as you continue to read and learn it makes more sense.

From the sketches you provided your sprinkler head placements would result in uneven watering. I made the same mistake when trying to plan an irrigation system before I started reading. Proper head placement and spacing is covered on Irrigation Tutorials.

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