Sprinkler System Features
We have an extensive list of FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions). If you have questions you don't see answered below, look for the answer in our FAQ section.
This list was prepared to help individuals who are planning to have a sprinkler system installed by a professional installer. It is a list of issues and features which might be found in a sprinkler system. A hundred irrigators will design the same systema hundred different ways, and no way is necessarily better than the rest. By comparing this list of issues and features to what each irrigator offers, however, you should be able to get an idea of how the bids compare to one another.
These instructions are written for homeowners living in warm climates. Additional considerations for winterizing the system need to be taken into account in colder climates.
It is also our sincere hope that by the time you finish reading this page, you'll think to yourself "Boy, I sure learned some important and helpful things here", that you write down or print out these points so you can ask your various bidders whether they are going to include these features or not, and, that you can't wait to donate a few bucks to us to show your gratitude for this free advice.
The staff at WaterTips.com
- Two to four bids is a reasonable number to obtain. Obtaining too many bids is not considerate of the irrigators who spend their time to make the estimates.
- The cheapest bid is not necessarily the one you should accept. There are two ways to come in with the lowest bid. They either have to cut back on the features to save hardware and installation costs, or they have to bid so low that they cannot afford to stay in business. It is rare for the lowest bidder not to resort to one of these approaches, as the market is very competitive. If your irrigator has not been in business for at least 5 years doing irrigation full-time, you cannot count on this person being available when you need them. If your irrigator is cutting a lot of corners and installing fewer sprinklers, you will end up wasting water. Most people use several hundred dollars of water each year on their lawns, so a lower installed cost (lowest bid) can often be the most expensive choice by far when long term costs are concerned. An irrigation system is an important investment. It is not the time to look for the lowest bidder.
- Many people do not know how to choose an irrigator, so they choose largely irrelevant things like whether the irrigator showed up at exactly the appointed time, or was he 10 minutes late. They look for someone who has a nice friendly manner about them. They are susceptible to someone who pays them a lot of compliments- what a pretty yard they have, etc. None of these things have any bearing on the quality of the system they are going to install. Become informed about irrigation system features, and ask cold hard questions about the equipment and layout approaches they will use to install the system in your yard. If the guy you are talking to is a sales person, not an irrigator, find another company to deal with. You'll understand after reading this horror story.
- Be sure your irrigator is licensed. The license number should be prominently displayed on all advertisements and on the business card. If you do not see the license number in print on a business card or letterhead, call the Board of Irrigators to verify that your irrigator is licensed.
- Consider connecting system before PRV (pressure reducing "valve" or regulator) to make your house pressure independent of irrigation system operation. If the system is installed after the PRV the house pressure is more likely to be affected by sprinkler operation. Many irrigators don't want to do this because it usually requires them to add some form of additional pressure control- an extra expense.
- In fact, regardless of whether they connect before or after the PRV, they probably should install a PRV for the irrigation system alone. Spray systems should operate at 30-40psi, and homes rarely run that low. If you have high pressure you will get lots of misting and have poor watering uniformity and high evaporation rates.
- A master valve is a good feature to turn off the main line between waterings and reduce excess pressure. It can also greatly reduce the water loss in the event that a station valve leaks.
- Automatic drains are not recommended in warm climates. Freezing is not an issue and valve leaks are hidden by automatic drains. In cold climates automatic drains are helpful.
- Be sure you have a sprinkler system shutoff valve in addition to the backflow preventer.
- A 1-1/4 inch or larger main line should be used in most residential systems to reduce velocity and water hammer. If the main is sized correctly it is usually not necessary to tunnel under the drive.
- Sch 40 pipe should be used only on pipe that is always pressurized (not controlled by a valve). SDR 21 pipe (or SDR 13.5 for 1/2" pipe), referred to as "class 200 pipe", is adequate for any pipe that is controlled by (downstream of) a valve. The main line can be SDR 21 if a master valve is used. In cases with particularly low pressure, SDR 21 pipe may be adequate in all locations.
- Use a 1" DCA underground back flow preventer for most residential installations. Don't bother saving $5 to $10 on a 3/4" backflow preventer because if it ever needs repair, it is far easier to find parts for 1" units. Some areas, however, require RPZ devices which are installed above ground.
- Ask for the flow of the largest station. The maximum should not exceed 12, or at the most, 16 gpm for a 5/8" meter. If they do not know the flow of the largest station find another irrigator.
- Hunter Pro-S, Rain Bird 1800 series or Toro 570Z pop up sprinklers are most commonly used.
- We recommend Hunter PGP or better yet, Hunter I-20 sprinklers when rotors are used.
- Do not use rotors along edges of lawn (curbs, drives, especially if the edge is curved) or the edges will be dry and extra watering will be required. Use check valves in sprinklers along curbs to keep water from dribbling over the curb after the heads retract.
- Better sprinkler systems will not put a substantial amount of water on walkways or drives, but some overspray is inevitable in order to water edges evenly. Don't let them install a system that throws water over a walkway in order to avoid tunneling under it.
- "SSwing joints" between pipe and sprinklers will reduce the chance of head breakage due to vehicle, mower or foot traffic, especially along edges of driveways.
- Ask for brand of controller and look for these features:
Look for a programmable rain delay, not a simple "rain off" setting. If you do not get a programmable rain off setting you may forget to re-enable watering later and your yard will suffer. Programmable rain off settings are "set and forget".
- Water budgeting or % seasonal adjustment
- three or four programs
- multiple start times- 3 or 4 per program
- watering intervals of 4 days to one week for St. Augustine grass
- a week to two weeks for Bermuda or Buffalo grass
- two weeks and longer for shrubs
- if intervals of longer than a week are not available, look at other controllers!
- Look for a unit with an optional evapotranspiration system weather station attachment capability for future upgrades.
- If you want a powerful controller, consider a Hunter ICC electronic controller.
- Shrubs should be watered on a separate circuit so that you are not forced to water them at the same frequency as the lawn.
- Your yard should be subdivided into stations based on the amount of sun or shade, and the quality of the soil (if it varies within your yard.) Don't let them simply station areas together just because the areas happen to be contiguous, especially if they have differing amounts of sun.
- The underside of the lid on the DCA box should be insulated with spray foam.
- Local codes often require 6" of cover (dirt) over all pipes. Don't settle for less than 4"! Freezing is not the main problem, but you need to be able to aerate the lawn without puncturing the pipes.
- Codess requires irrigator to provide an as-built drawing of all pipes, sprinklers and valves. Ask for a copy of the plan before the job starts, and observe any changes. Insist that the irrigator provide a corrected copy of the as-built job. Rarely does the final job look exactly like the original drawing. Changes are usually not a problem unless they are not documented. If you do not get an as-built drawing, repairs and modifications will be very expensive or impractical due to all of the detective work required!
- If you have any questions about whether or not you are getting a quality job, try to resolve the problem with your irrigator first. As a last resort ask your irrigator for the telephone number of the Board of Irrigators (!) This may cause enough concern to resolve your problem.
- Sign a contract before the job starts specifying the price and stating that the system will be designed in accordance with all applicable codes and local requirements.
- Find out what sort of warranty comes with the system, and whether or not labor for repairs is included.
- If you see any dry spots after you start using the system, call the irrigator back to adjust the heads or add additional heads. They should be willing to do this at no charge since the original work was not adequate.
OK. That should give you a few ideas of questions to ask. If you want a quality job, make sure you tell your bidders that is what you expect, and that you are willing to pay a reasonable price for all of these upgrades. Don't be surprised if it pushes the cost from $2500 to $3000- a jump of 20%. In the grand scheme of things that is not much, especially compared to the water you can save over the years, and the fact that your yard will look better if the system is done right.
Don't forget to click on one of those little buttons below if you feel you have learned anything useful here. If you're getting ready to pay a couple thousand bucks for a sprinkler system at this point, I hope you'll feel like this advice was worth a small donation.
The WaterTips Staff
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The staff at WaterTips.com