DIY Tips for Installing a Sprinkler Irrigation System

A step-by-step guide to installing an irrigation system.

Most homeowners are surprised at how straightforward installing a sprinkler system can be. But it doesn't come without a little elbow grease. In this tutorial we will take you through everything you need  to know from start to finish; you'll soon be enjoying a new sprinkler system while saving thousands in installation cost.

installing sprinkler
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So you’ve decided to install a sprinkler irrigation system to keep your lawn, yard, or other outdoor area hydrated and healthy. Good choice! Studies have shown that investing in an irrigation system can actually lower water bill costs in your home, as regular watering is the healthier and more efficient choice than randomly breaking out your old garden hose.

Keeping your lawn hydrated is not only beneficial for the grass; it will have a positive domino effect on the entire landscape, as each lawn or yard is a complex ecosystem comprised of the plants, soil, bacteria, fungi, worms, and more. If the soil and grass are kept well hydrated, they will be healthy enough to produce the right minerals and nutrients that the other components of the ecosystem are depending on, resulting in a more lush and beautiful landscape.

Best of all, installing an underground sprinkler system doesn’t have to be a whole hassle or require a team of professionals. If you’re looking for ways to figure out how to put them in yourself, you’ve come to the right place.

irrigation system image

Parts List

Be sure your parts match your home's water pressure. See 1A below.

  • check
    Sprinkler risers
  • check
    Sprinkler nozzels
  • check
    Valve manifold
  • check
    Backflow 
  • check
    Timer
  • check
    PVC or poly pipe
  • check
    Fittings
  • check
    Couplings
sprinkler system parts

Installation

1. Careful Planing

Before you start make sure all the "t"s are crossed and "i"s dotted. While the installation of the system takes more manual labor than brainpower, not every city or town allows it to be done whenever you please; you’ll have to make some phone calls. Check and see if your city or town requires you to have any kind of building permit, especially if you live in an area prone to droughts; municipal water ordinances can vary widely from one locality to the next. You’ll also have to check for any underground cables or utilities, and make sure you are aware of their location if you are still allowed to proceed with the system.

1A. Determine Water Pressure & Flow Rate

This will assist in discovering how many sprinklers you will need to properly cover your lawn.

Water Pressure

To figure out what kind of water pressure you have at your home, hook up a water pressure tester to the spigot valve like so:

test water pressure

When testing you well get a reading in Pounds Per Square Inch (PSI). 

Tip: Be sure the rest of the water faucets in your home are off, otherwise it will effect your reading.

Now we need to figure out the flow rate and water meter size. The flow capacity is measured in Gallons Per Minutes (GPM). This is not rocket science so a 5 gallon bucket and watch will do. Fill the bucket and then:

  • divide 5 by the amount of seconds
  • multiply that number by 60

The number you end up with is your GPM.

Tip: If you don't have a 5 gallon bucket handy you can use any size bucket as long as you know how big it is. Then just swap out the 5 in the equation above and replace it with how many gallons your bucket holds.

Meter Size

Now we know the flow rate. So let's move onto figuring out the meter size.

In most cases (in the city) the meter size will be stamped on the meter. You'll see measurements such as  3/4", 1", etc.  If your in a rural area and your water comes from a well then you'll need to look search the well lid or even reference the good ole' manual. 

Now we know our meter size and water flow rate so you can select the best sprinkler and parts that will suit your home.

2. Map It Out

This is all about the measure twice and cut once method. In fact, this is where most armatures go wrong when installing a sprinkler system. There's not many things more painful than digging ditches all to find out you've wasted your effort and need to redig them.

map out sprinkler system

You need to measure the size of your yard and determine how much ground each sprinkler while cover, as well as its water pressure and the water flow of the supply source. Use flags, posts, or tape to mark the location of each sprinkler in the ground while you are working on it.

There are a variety of things to take into account when planning the location of sprinklers, such as the location of trees and plants with strong underground roots, areas of sun versus area of shade, walkways, mulched areas, and other obstacles or structures. Make sure you plot it so that the coverage border of each sprinkler touches the coverage border of the nearby sprinklers so that there are no dry patches in your yard.

Don’t rush these first two steps; an improperly installed system can result in excessive waste of water, time, and energy, not to mention the dangers of interacting with a live electric cable or causing any accidental floods.

So you’ve decided to install a sprinkler irrigation system to keep your lawn, yard, or other outdoor area hydrated and healthy. Good choice! Studies have shown that investing in an irrigation system can actually lower water bill costs in your home, as regular watering is the healthier and more efficient choice than randomly breaking out your old garden hose. 
Even the smallest of hardscape projects can help your yard appear much larger and more put-together. A cobblestone or brick walkway is often the perfect touch to a backyard or to a front lawn. You can then line this walkway with solar-powered lights, painted or decorative stones, a bed of flowers, or other decorations.

3. Obtain Access to the Water Source

At this point, you can decide for yourself if you will be tapping into the main water-service line or connecting the system to a spigot of your own. Either way, you will need some kind of anti-siphon valve, which prevents salt, fertilizers, and other lawn chemicals or minerals from leaking back into the water supply. The specifications of the backflow prevention will likely be given to you as you call around and do online research in step #1.

4. Dig, Dig, Dig

You can rent out a vibratory plow (also called a trenching machine) to make this stage go faster if you’re not in the mood to use a shovel. Again, the specifications here can vary, with some localities allowing a shallow 6-inch trench and others requiring 12-18 inches of depth.

As you dig, try and make the sides slope at a slight angle; this will make it easier to reach in and handle the risers and sprinkler heads. To make the filling stage easier, separate the soil from the sod so returning them to their place goes faster.

As you dig, try and make the sides slope at a slight angle; this will make it easier to reach in and handle the risers and sprinkler heads. To make the filling stage easier, separate the soil from the sod so returning them to their place goes faster. 

5. Connect the Valve Manifold

Dig a hole in the ground that is slightly larger than the size of the valve manifold box. Place it in the ground with one end connected to your water supply line (don’t forget the anti-siphon valve!). Make sure that all clamps are tight and secure.

irrigation valve map
connect valve
backup valve layout

6. Lay Down the PVC Pipeline

This part is fairly simple. You’ll be laying down the pipeline down piece by piece. If you to use a pipe cutter or saw, exercise caution! Wear gloves and safety goggles in case there is any flying debris. Start at the main trench with the valve manifold, using tee connectors to allow branching off from the main line in different directions. When you reach the post, flag, or other marker that you had installed earlier, attach risers with 90° connectors.

This part is fairly simple. You’ll be laying down the pipeline down piece by piece. If you to use a pipe cutter or saw, exercise caution! Wear gloves and safety goggles in case there is any flying debris. Start at the main trench with the valve manifold, using tee connectors to allow branching off from the main line in different directions. When you reach the post, flag, or other marker that you had installed earlier, attach risers with 90° connectors. 

attach pipe elbow

7. Connect Sprinkler Heads

There exists an extensive variety of sprinkler heads, so take your time picking out the right one based on the water pressure, spray trajectory, and other details unique to your lawn and the climate. Installing the heads on top of the risers should be fairly straightforward. Level the heads with the height of the soil.

There exists an extensive variety of sprinkler heads, so take your time picking out the right one based on the water pressure, spray trajectory, and other details unique to your lawn and the climate. Installing the heads on top of the risers should be fairly straightforward. Level the heads with the height of the soil. 

sprinkler head

8. Flush the System with Water

Don’t worry about the automatic controller or timer yet; just conduct a “dry” run by flushing the system through with water one time.

You could also do this before installing the heads, but that usually isn’t necessary.

This step will get rid of dust and debris that might be lining the pipes, which will allow the first “real” sprinkling set to flow more smoothly. This will also let you know if you installed the pipes correctly before you spend a lot of time setting up the automatic timer.

If you notice any problems, retrace your steps and carefully look to see where anything might have been installed incorrectly or if any of the equipment is faulty. Once this is all set, you can feel free to fill the trenches back in with the soil and sod that you had displaced earlier.

9. Connect the Controller

It’s important to connect the sprinklers to an automatic timer, not only for your convenience but so that you can control the frequency and duration of each spray. The wires will have to be connected according to the specification of the timer manufacturer. You will receive all the instructions you need to connect the controller to your newly installed sprinkler system.  I'll leave you with a video which shows the basics of how setting up the controller will look. 

sprinkler controller layout

1 thought on “DIY Tips for Installing a Sprinkler Irrigation System

  • I appreciate you providing a step-by-step guide to the process of installing a DIY irrigation system. It sure looks very simple especially with all the illustrations you’ve provided in your post. I’ve never really tried installing one myself, and I’m afraid that I may just mess up the water system! Nevertheless, I will make sure to bookmark this page and read more articles about installing your own irrigation system for additional learning. Thanks for sharing this.

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