How-To: Home Irrigation

Sprinkler watering grass

When you consider that the earth is made up of nearly 70% water, you wouldn’t think there would be any concerns over a water shortage. But, the truth of the matter is that of all that water on our planet, only 3% of it is freshwater, which is safe for drinking, and a good three-quarters of that dinky 3% is located in the frozen ice caps and unavailable!

Add to that ongoing drought problem across the country, and it becomes clearer that we have to take measures now to conserve water, not only for ourselves but for future generations.

Professional Irrigation Systems

Maintaining your lawn and garden is a major source of water consumption. Most of us want to have that lush, green lawn and be the envy of the neighborhood.

For some people, that means dragging out the garden hose with an attached sprinkler and moving it around several times in order to keep the grass sufficiently watered. However, that is also one of the most inefficient ways to water the lawn, and a vast amount of the water is completely wasted.

Installing an irrigation system is the best way to maintain your yard and tightening the reins (no pun intended) on water consumption. It may surprise you, though, as to how much an average irrigation system will cost.

While it certainly depends on the quality of the components you use, it’s not unusual to spend $500 or more to irrigate an area no larger than 3,000 square feet, and that’s just for the parts for the most basic of systems.

Add to that the cost of having a professional installer put the system in for you and you’re looking at a nice chunk of change. Realistically, for a nice system with quality sprinklers, valves, control box, etc. that is professionally installed, plan on spending $2000-$3000.

DIY Irrigation Systems

You can cut that cost down by installing everything yourself, but it’s important that you do it right. That means understanding the role of each type of sprinkler head, installing the controller and the all-important backflow preventer.

To be honest, this is stuff a lot of homeowners don’t want to deal with. However, before you become overwhelmed, check out the websites of Rain Bird and Toro for great consumer information on planning, layout and installation of a do-it-yourself irrigation system.

Watering plants using drip irrigation.
Watering plants using drip irrigation.

Drip Irrigation

For flower beds, plants and trees, you really don’t want to use a sprinkler system. One of the most effective ways to water these areas and use only a fraction of the water is to incorporate a soaker hose or, better yet, a drip irrigation system. A soaker hose is simply a rubber hose that is porous and allows water to slowly seep out of it to the surrounding area.

A drip irrigation system can directly target the roots of your plants and flowers without watering any of the surrounding areas which can save up to 30% of the water used for irrigation. You can also add a little pizzazz to your flower beds by using decorative items to distribute the water. Orbit Irrigation has some cool little bugs that you attach to your drip system.

Water-Saving Tips

There are several things you can do to help cut the waste of watering. One of them I already mentioned, which is using drip irrigation for flower beds, plants and trees instead of a directional sprinkler. Here are a few more tips:

  • Water in the early morning hours, preferably from 5:00-10:00 AM. Watering in the middle of the day means you lose a good 30%-40% from evaporation. Watering at night means you stand the chance of developing fungus on your vegetation.
  • Create irrigation zones. Not all plants are created equal. Some need less water than others. By dividing the lawn and garden into zones, you can incorporate sprinklers, soakers and drip systems throughout for a more efficient watering system.
  • Keep off the sidewalk. No matter how much you water it, concrete doesn’t grow! Adjust all sprinklers to water only the areas that need the water.
  • Inspect your sprinkler heads and hoses on a monthly basis. Clogged heads or a split hose can waste a lot of water.
  • Watch the weather. If Mother Nature is watering the lawn, you shouldn’t be. Consider installing a rain sensor device on your irrigation system that will shut it off automatically when it detects rainfall.
  • Remember that you get what you pay for. Don’t purchase the cheapest irrigation system you can find. Parts will wear out quicker, lines crack and that means more water wasted.
  • Place 2-3 inches of mulch in flower beds to help retain moisture and keep weeds from growing. Make sure you don’t place the mulch directly against the plant.
  • Finally, use an automatic timer/controller. You won’t forget to turn the water off if you get involved watching the big game on TV.

Further Reading


  1. I only use Impact Sprinklers. So much easier to just get the water where you want it. (Never got around to an inground system myself).

    Maybe one day the Feds will outlaw water waster sprinklers like the overhead wave type. So many times I see these ones watering the sidewalk and the side of the house. And some people can’t figure out how the little range limiter works on it, so they just slow down the water flow instead.
    And did you know that manual spot watering can stress your plants? You soak just the plant base a couple times a week and the nasty dry lawn just sucks that moisture quickly away.(My neighbor does this and has lost many new small trees over the years). Consider converting to a desert landscape for your front yard. You still can enjoy the same plants, but without the chemical bombing of grass maintenance. Plus consider putting in a roof drain system that drains under the new desert scape instead of into the street or storm sewers (Minimum 15 feet from the house before it starts to drain for your foundations sake)..

  2. While I welcome many of the points and intentions of the article, as an irrigation professional of over thirty-five years, I must stress some points that may have been overlooked.
    When you hook up any in ground irrigation system to a potable water supply, backflow prevention is extremely important. In fact, many states require different types of devices by law. There is a possible liability issue to the homeowner when they install irrigation systems. Homeowners should check with their local plumbing inspectors to confirm what is required.
    Rain sensors where also mentioned. They typically save approximately 30% of water use. Some states (New Jersey is one)require rain sensors on any new in ground irrigation systems.
    I am glad to see drip irrigation mentioned for being the most efficient method of providing irrigation. Did you know that in-line drip (not soaker hose) is being used successfully all over the US to irrigate turfgrass. Athletic fields, parks and homes are utilizing sub-surface drip to maximize ater savings.
    More information can be found at or (the website of the National Irrigation Association) or

  3. What a great article on Do it your self sprinkler systems. I have been looking at quite a few system until you ran your show last month. I bought the Lawn Belt system and found it to be easy to install and worked as stated on the web site. If the home owner will do a little research on the company web site you can build a system for any need. The company does recommends a back flow prevention device. You do need to check with your local goverment

  4. I was shocked to see that you placed a ‘how to install a sprinkler system’ show on the weather channel and instructed people on how to hook up the main line to a hose bib! This poses a major cross connection violation anywhere in the United States, hence an opportunity for lawn chemicals to backflow into a public water system and poison humans. Can you spell l-i-a-b-i-l-i-t-y….. let me know that next time you decide to teach people how to install a sprinkler…. as a certified irrigation contractor, I could probably help! There are some jobs that should be left to the professionals of their field!

  5. I would like to find out more on collecting rain water from the roof gutters. Saw on your program you had one set up, but I caught just the last part.

  6. I have to agree. Backflow prevntion is probably the most important component of any irrigation system. And as for water savings tips, I think the smartest thing you can do is install a smart controller to run the system. Instead of watering for a set time, every day, you’re watering only based on when the water table in the landscape gets low, based on weather conditions. I prefer the ESP-SMT controller by Rain Bird. But any smart controller will do.
    Sprinkler Systems Portland
    Oregon Irrigation Contractor

  7. How do I put sprinklers underneath my vegetable garden? The rototiller tines typically reach 8″ deep, so any system would have to be deeper; but I don’t know what would be the best method to irrigate a garden. Can you help, please?

  8. The very best tool we’ve found for installing a home sprinkler system is Orbit’s sprinkler system designer. With their free sprinkler system designer you have the ability to enter in your property’s dimensions and the designer generates a parts list and blue print for your project. Try it, you won’t be glad you did.

  9. As a followup to some of these old postings you can bury Lawnbelt deeper (requires a extension to bring the head up to the surface level). You’ll need this if aerating or tilling.

    Also hardware strore sell backflows whhich can be attached directly to the spigot if needed. Lawnbelt also sells them. Hope this helps and happy gardening.

    Cheers, Erik

  10. What a great article . In Zimbabwe we are facing critical water shortages and your article has just motivated me to look into drip irrigation for my lawn. Thank you

  11. The post from Zimbabwe caught my eye. I live in Harare and I’m also trying to get some kind of irrigation system going by using rain water and grey water. Not sure if drip irrigation will work on our lawn but anything is worth a try at this stage.

    • Greetings from Mobile, Alabama, in the United States, Steve!
      Tell us how your drip irrigation system works in Harare. 🙂


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