A lawn sprinkler system is a permanently installed system of water pipes and pop-up sprinkler heads that supplements regular rainfall so that your lawn and other landscaping plants stay lush, green, and healthy. When not in use, the sprinkler heads retract so that the lawn can still be mowed and trimmed and to allow for unobstructed foot traffic.
The system works through a system of zones, usually with a timer that turns on each zone at a specific time and for a set duration. If installed and maintained correctly, these systems are trouble free and make maintaining the lawn easier by preventing water waste and problems with under or over watering.
There are a number of things that should be considered before installation however, and once it is in place, the system should be regularly maintained, inspected, and winterized.
Cost to Install a Lawn Sprinkler System
You should decide whether you are going to do the work yourself or have a professional install your system for you. The bigger the system that you are installing, the more likely you will need to hire a professional. In addition, the size of the property will play a role in determining the expense of installation.
The range of costs for DIY sprinkler installation is between $700 and $1,500. Having to rent equipment and tools can drive the costs higher. To have a professional installation, the cost can range from $1,700 to $4,500, with the national average around $2,400.
Cost of Lawn Sprinkler Repair
For isolated sprinkler issues that pop up over time, the cost to repair them could range anywhere from $100 to $600. Where the cost may fall depends significantly on the particular issue being addressed and how extensive the problem turns out to be. Typical sprinkler system problems include burst pipes, blockages, leaks, and delivery box failures.
The sprinkler system is comprised of connected pipes both above and below ground. If the sprinkler system has not been properly winterized when winter temperatures hit, then pipes can burst. This is where sprinkler repairs can get costly depending on where the damaged pipe is located.
Blockages and Leaks
Sometimes dirt and debris can get into specific sprinkler heads, preventing them from functioning properly. Cleaning out sprinkler heads is a repair that is on the cheaper end.
Another potential reason for a single sprinkler head not working is if there is a leak in the tube that feeds that specific sprinkler. In this case, that tubing will need to be completely replaced.
Broken Sprinkler Heads
If sprinkler heads do not retract into the ground properly, they can be vulnerable to damage and could pose a tripping hazard to passersby. Broken sprinkler heads should be replaced right away.
Delivery Box Failures
If an entire zone of sprinklers goes down, then the issue could lie in the delivery box. First, check that the automatic timer has not been deactivated in that zone. This can happen accidentally when fiddling inside of the box. If the issue is not with the timer, then it could be that the entire delivery box is in need of repairs.
Before Installation: Legal Requirements
During the initial process of getting a lawn sprinkler system, your first step should be to check with the local zoning board to be sure that you do not need building permits and to see if there are any restrictions on the type of system that you are allowed to install in your area. You should also be aware that some areas have water restrictions, which may mean that you will only be able to use the system at certain times or on certain days of the week, or you will face stiff penalties.
Homes that are in areas with a homeowner’s association may need to be sure that sprinkler systems are allowed per their contract with the association. There may be additional requirements for any work that is being done on your property, including days and hours when work is permitted.
Regular Care and Maintenance of the Sprinkler System
Once the system is installed, it should run trouble free for many years. That does not mean that you will not have to take care of it though. You should take the time to carefully inspect the system at the start of every season and then every month or so while it is being used. It might be worthwhile to check the sprinkler heads every time that you mow the lawn just to be on the safe side.
Here are some sprinkler system maintenance tips:
- Inspect the delivery box to ensure that it is plugged in, working properly, and that all wires are connected.
- Check the water pressure before you ever turn the system on for the season. Make sure that you know what the correct water pressure is for the system. This number will be listed as “psi,” which stands for pounds per square inch.
- Inspect all of the sprinkler heads to be sure that they are in good working order and pointing in the right direction. These can be damaged or tilted by the lawnmower or by foot traffic.
- Every spring when you are restarting your system, have a certified specialist inspect your cross connection assembly and backflow.
- Test the system, zone by zone, and look for signs of leaks or irregular spray patterns. This will help you stay on top of issues rather than catching them after they have been left to build up and turn into larger, more costly issues.
- Make sure that you are carefully monitoring the needs of your lawn and adjusting your sprinkler schedule accordingly. Overwatering can lead to sunken areas in the lawn and may cause dead plants and other issues as well. Changes in temperature may also change the need for watering. Cooler weather may allow for less watering, while hot, dry temps may mean that you will need to increase the schedule. Keep in mind that in some areas, droughts and water shortages may lead to a ban or restriction on lawn watering, so be mindful of overall conditions.
- Consider intalling a rain sensor to avoid overwatering. Rain sensors can take into account any rainfall and shut off. When water levels subside, the sprinkler will then return to regular scheduled watering. These sensors will save you money, cut down on water usage, and get more mileage out of your sprinklers.
- Properly winterize the sprinkler system ahead of any freezes each year.
Winterizing the Lawn Sprinkler System
When the cold weather sets in, it will be time to prepare the sprinkler system. The most important step is to be sure that all water is removed or blown out of the pipes before the first hard freeze ever happens. You can do this yourself or you can hire a professional to do it. Hiring a professional to winterize your sprinkler system will cost between $50 and $150.
If you have the equipment, you can typically do the job in a few hours. If you do not, you can rent an air compressor for $30–$60 for an entire day. Several families can use the air compressor and share the cost to make it even less expensive. Another option is buying your own air compressor, but that can be a rather costly investment and it could take several years to recoup the costs.
How to Winterize a Lawn Sprinkler System
If you are handling the task on your own, make sure that you are working zone by zone and that you are carefully monitoring the progress as you go.
Step 1: Protect yourself. Before using any air compressor, wear proper safety gear including safety goggles as air compressors can spray debris and cause injury. Do not stand over any pipes, valves, or sprinklers during the blow out process.
Step 2: Getting the right air compressor. If you know the gallons per minute of each sprinkler head, then divide that number by 7.5 to get the cubic feet per minute (cfm) that you will need to blow out each zone. If you do not know the gallons per minute, then renting a 10-cfm air compressor should do the trick.
Step 3: Setting the compressor regulator. For PVC pipe systems, the air compressor regulator should be set to a maximum of 80 psi and for polyethylene pipe systems, set it to a 50 psi maximum.
Step 4: Cut off the irrigation water supply. Turn off the water completely so that water is no longer feeding into the irrigation system.
Step 5: Open the manual drain valve. Do this for only one zone at a time.
Step 6: Connect the air hose. With the compressor valve closed, attach the air hose to the blow out port on the water line and attach the other end to the air compressor. Be sure that the backflow isolation valves are closed.
Step 7: Slowly activate the air compressor and blow out the water. You will see water spraying out of the sprinkler heads. Your goal is to make sure that you are blowing out all of the water (the sprinkler heads will stop spitting out water) and then stopping before the connections get too hot. Plastic components can quickly overheat, melt, and fail. The pressure should always remain below the maximum operating pressure that you set earlier.
Step 8: Start over with the next zone. Repeat this process until you have blown out every zone, one at a time.
Step 9: Go through each zone one more time. Once you have done a single pass through on each zone, it is a good idea to go back and do a second to be sure that all the water is gone from the system. It is helpful to do this after you have already gone through each zone, so the plastic components have had time to cool instead of risking overdoing it the first time around.
Step 10: Release air pressure. Remove the air compressor from the port and release any air pressure that still remains. Open and close any isolation valves to make sure that any additional water is removed. Then close the isolation valves connected to the irrigation system so that water does not continue to enter it from the main water supply during the winter.
What NOT to do When Winterizing Sprinklers
There is a lot to keep track of to make sure that you are winterizing your sprinkler system properly and safely.
Here are some things to avoid during the sprinkler winterizing process:
- DON’T: Ignore safety requirements. DO: Wear proper safety gear and adhere to all safety requirements on the air compressor.
- DON’T: Stand over sprinkler parts during the blow out process. DO: Steer clear of these areas while blowing out water with the air compressor. This is important as this could cause injuries.
- DON’T: Ignore irrigation control valves. DO: Make sure that an irrigation control valve is open before running the air compressor.
- DON’T: Allow the psi of the air compressor to exceed recommended levels. DO: Make sure the air pressure does not go above the set max of 80 psi for PVC systems and above 50 psi for polyethylene systems.
- DON’T: Keep flow sensors installed during the winter. DO: Remove them before sealing the pipe.
- DON’T: Use the air compressor for long cycles. The sustained hot air can damage pipes and sprinkler parts. DO: Only run the air compressor for short periods at a time.
- DON’T: Leave the air compressor unattended or with someone not equipped to operate it safely. DO: Make sure you are closely monitoring the air compressor while it is on and in use.
In some parts of the country, the need for winterization is less necessary because the ground never freezes all the way through. In those areas, you will only need to remove a majority of the water so that it does not freeze inside of the pipes and cause damage.
Lawn sprinkler systems can be a huge asset to any homeowner looking to keep their lawn and garden lush without having to put in the time and energy each day into watering, especially during the hot summer months. When properly maintained, sprinkler systems can last between 40 and 60 years.