Understand Your Irrigation System: Everything a Homeowner Needs to Know

Understand Your Irrigation System: Everything a Homeowner Needs to Know - My Store

Navigating the world of irrigation can be as complex as a maze of underground pipes, but fear not! This guide cuts through the complexity, offering a clear and comprehensive look at the diverse irrigation systems available. From the simplicity of manual watering to the high-tech world of smart irrigation, we cover it all. Get ready to become an irrigation aficionado, armed with the knowledge to perfectly hydrate your garden or landscape.

What are the 4 Types of irrigation?

Surface Irrigation

Surface irrigation, including methods like furrow, basin, and border, is a widely adopted approach suitable for various landscapes and crops. It effectively utilizes gravity to spread water over the field, making it particularly efficient for flat terrains. However, managing water distribution and avoiding over-irrigation pose common challenges in this system.

Subsurface Irrigation

Subsurface irrigation, where water is delivered directly to the root zone via buried pipes or tubes, offers a discreet yet efficient watering solution. This method significantly reduces evaporation and runoff, proving valuable in water-scarce regions. It requires careful installation and maintenance to prevent clogging and achieve uniform water distribution.

Sprinkler Irrigation

Sprinkler systems, consisting of various types of sprinkler heads and pipes, provide a comprehensive solution for lawns and gardens. From stationary to oscillating and rotary systems, they offer adaptability to different garden layouts.

Drip Irrigation

Plants in a garden with drip irrigation tubing and emitter drippers watering the base of each plant. Drip irrigation stands out for its precision, delivering water directly to plant roots through a system of tubing, emitters, and filters. This method minimizes water waste, making it ideal for water conservation efforts. It's particularly beneficial for targeted watering of specific plants or rows.

According to Global Engineering and Research Lab at Harvard University: "Drip can reduce water consumption by 20-60% compared to conventional flood irrigation. Because irrigation accounts for over 70% of freshwater use, large-scale adoption of drip irrigation would reduce the consumption of freshwater and be an asset for regions experiencing water shortages and groundwater depletion. "

Irrigation Terms You Should Know


The nozzle plays a crucial role in any irrigation system, controlling water flow and defining spray patterns. Different types of nozzles, such as fixed, adjustable, and rotary, cater to varying irrigation needs. When selecting a nozzle, consider factors like the area size, water pressure, and the type of vegetation being irrigated to achieve the desired watering efficiency.

Nozzle Stem

The nozzle stem serves as the connecting link between the nozzle and the rest of the irrigation system. It's essential to choose nozzle stems made from durable materials to withstand constant water flow and environmental factors. Material options like PVC, brass, and stainless steel offer varying degrees of durability and compatibility with different system types.


Risers are integral components that elevate sprinkler heads above the ground, ensuring effective water coverage. They come in various heights and materials, allowing customization based on the specific requirements of your lawn or garden. Whether you need a short riser for a low-growing flower bed or a taller one for a lush lawn, the right choice guarantees the best sprinkler performance.


An irrigation cycle refers to the frequency and duration of watering sessions, which should be adjusted based on factors like soil type, weather conditions, and plant species. Proper scheduling helps prevent both under and overwatering, promoting a healthy and vibrant landscape.


Evapotranspiration is the sum of evaporation from the soil and transpiration from plants. It significantly influences irrigation scheduling as it indicates how much water your plants lose. Tools like weather-based controllers and soil moisture sensors can measure and calculate evapotranspiration, helping you adjust irrigation schedules for optimal plant growth and water conservation

Precipitation Rate

The precipitation rate, calculated from the sprinkler system's flow rate and coverage area, determines how evenly water is distributed across your landscape. Properly setting the precipitation rate is crucial to avoid overwatering or under-watering, which helps maintain a balanced and healthy landscape. By accurately calculating and adjusting this rate, you can ensure that each area of your garden receives just the right amount of water.

Distribution Uniformity

Distribution uniformity measures how evenly water is distributed by an irrigation system. High uniformity means less water waste and more consistent plant growth. Assessing and optimizing distribution uniformity involves adjusting sprinklers and other components to eliminate uneven coverage, enhancing the system's overall efficiency.

Head-to-Head Coverage

Head to head coverage in an irrigation system happens when the spray patterns from adjacent sprinkler heads overlap. This overlapping is crucial for complete watering coverage, helping to avoid dry spots in your landscape. The key to achieving this coverage lies in the careful planning of sprinkler head design and layout, with attention to their spray radius and pressure. With this arrangement, each area of your lawn or garden receives adequate water, promoting a uniformly green and healthy environment.

What are the Features of Irrigation Systems?


In automated irrigation systems, stations act as individual control points, each managing a specific zone in your landscape. These zones could be lawns, flower beds, or vegetable gardens, and each station can be tailored to meet their unique watering needs. Customizing each station allows for precise control over water distribution across different areas. This approach helps in delivering the right amount of water to each zone, leading to a well-watered and thriving landscape without over or under-watering any specific area.


Zoning in irrigation involves dividing your landscape into distinct areas, each with its own specific watering requirements. This division is based on various factors such as the types of plants in each area, the soil conditions, and the amount of sun exposure they receive. With well-planned zoning, you can tailor your watering approach: areas with plants that need more water can receive increased hydration, while zones with drought-tolerant plants get less. This strategy allows for a more efficient irrigation system, where water is applied effectively according to the unique needs of each zone, promoting a healthier landscape.


Valves are critical components in an irrigation system, responsible for controlling water flow to different zones. There are various types of valves, including gate, ball, and solenoid valves, each with its specific use and application. The right choice and placement of valves are crucial for efficiently managing water distribution and maintaining the health of your landscape.

Start Time

Setting the start time for each irrigation zone is a key feature of system programming. This involves determining the most effective time of day for watering, which can vary based on factors like climate and plant type. Early morning is generally the best time to water, as it reduces evaporation and wind interference, contributing to water conservation and healthier plant growth.

Run Time/Duration

Determining the optimal run time or duration for each zone is essential for efficient water usage. Run times should be adjusted based on local weather conditions, soil type, and the specific watering needs of plants in each zone. Regular adjustments to run times can significantly improve the efficiency of the irrigation system and the health of the landscape.


Programming in automated irrigation systems offers the flexibility to customize watering schedules to fit specific needs. You can program these systems to modify watering based on a range of factors, such as seasonal shifts, current weather conditions, and different stages of plant growth. Many advanced systems are equipped with smart technology, which facilitates remote control and allows the system to make automatic adjustments in response to changes in the environment. This capability leads to a more effective and efficient irrigation process, optimizing water usage and catering to the precise needs of your landscape.

What are the Parts of an Irrigation System?

Sprinkler System

Water Sources

Choosing the right water source is essential. Options include municipal supply, well water, or collected rainwater. Municipal water is convenient but may have usage restrictions. Well water and rainwater harvesting can offer more control but require additional equipment like pumps and filters.

Water Pipes

Pipes are a fundamental component of irrigation systems, often made from materials like PVC or polyethylene due to their durability and flexibility. The choice of pipe material also takes into account resistance to various environmental factors. It's important to select pipes of the right size to maintain a consistent water flow to each zone of the irrigation system.

Water Pump

The pump's capacity should match the system's size and the head height (the distance water needs to travel vertically). Pumps are chosen based on factors like power source (electric or solar), flow rate, and energy efficiency.


Valves, including gate, ball, and solenoid types, control water flow to the system's different zones. Solenoid valves are commonly used for their compatibility with automatic control systems.

Sprinkler Heads

Sprinkler head selection depends on the area's size, water pressure, and type of vegetation. Pop-up sprinklers are suitable for lawns, while rotary heads are better for larger areas. Adjustable heads offer flexibility for various landscape needs.

Backflow Preventer

This safety device prevents irrigation water from flowing back into the clean water supply. Types include pressure vacuum breakers, double check assemblies, and reduced pressure zone assemblies, chosen based on local codes and water pressure.

Control Panel or Timer

Manual timers are straightforward but lack flexibility. Digital timers offer more programming options, while smart controllers can adjust watering based on weather forecasts and soil moisture data.


Rain sensors automatically pause the system during rainfall, conserving water. Soil moisture sensors provide data to adjust watering based on actual soil conditions, optimizing water use.

Main and Lateral Lines

The main line carries water from the source to the system, while lateral lines distribute it to individual zones. Proper layout and diameter selection are crucial for efficient operation.

Flow Meter

A flow meter monitors water usage, helping to identify leaks and manage water consumption for cost savings and sustainability.

Drip System


Essential for controlling water entry. It regulates the flow and maintains consistent pressure, which is crucial for the effectiveness of the drip irrigation process. This regulation allows for accurate and uniform water delivery to plants, contributing to the overall efficiency of the drip system.

Pressure Regulator

Maintains a consistent, lower pressure suitable for drip systems, essential for uniform water distribution and preventing emitter blowouts.


Key in maintaining clear waterways, filters vary based on water source and emitter type. Screen filters are common for clean water sources, while disc and sand filters are used for dirtier water.

Plastic Tubing and Emitter Heads

Tubing material (polyethylene or vinyl) and diameter are chosen based on layout and flow rate requirements. Emitters regulate water delivery rate to plants, selected based on plant water needs and soil type.

Inline Drip Tubing with Built-in Emitters

Ideal for rows or dense plantings, offering consistent emitter spacing and water delivery, reducing the need for additional emitters and fittings

Flush End Cap

Allows for easy flushing of the system to clear debris, vital for maintaining emitter functionality and overall system health.

How does an Irrigation System Work?

An irrigation system begins at the water source, which can be a municipal supply, a well, or a rainwater collection tank. The choice of source influences the system's design, especially regarding the need for additional components like pumps or filters. For systems not connected to a pressurized source, a pump is often required to ensure adequate water pressure.

Once the water is pressurized and filtered, it travels through the main pipe to the control valves. These valves are crucial as they regulate the flow of water into different zones of the garden or field. The water is then distributed to the plants through lateral lines that lead to the final delivery mechanisms: sprinklers or drippers.

Sprinklers are used for broader coverage, suitable for lawns and large garden beds, while drippers provide precise watering at the base of the plants, ideal for targeted hydration of specific areas or plants.

Irrigation systems can be controlled either manually or through automation. Automated systems come with timers and sensors that calculate the ideal watering schedule by considering factors like soil moisture and weather conditions. They adapt the watering routine using real-time data, which promotes healthy plant growth and conserves water.

On the other hand, manual systems depend on the user to operate the valves and set the timers. This approach provides straightforward and direct control over the watering schedule, though it lacks the data-driven adaptability of automated systems.

What Exactly is Smart Irrigation?

Smart irrigation is a sophisticated watering method that uses technology to tailor the amount and timing of water delivery to plants. This approach relies on real-time environmental data to optimize irrigation, resulting in more efficient water use and healthier plants.

Sensors: In smart irrigation systems, sensors play a crucial role. They include soil moisture sensors, weather sensors, and even plant health sensors, continuously monitoring conditions such as soil dryness, rainfall, and temperature. This information enables accurate and tailored watering schedules.

Controllers: The central component of smart irrigation, controllers use data from sensors to automate the watering process. They can modify schedules based on weather predictions and soil conditions, facilitating optimal watering tailored to the garden's specific needs.

Internet Connectivity: This allows the system to connect to the internet, enabling remote control and monitoring through smartphones or computers. Users can adjust settings, view the system's activity, and receive notifications about system status or environmental changes, enhancing convenience and control.

Smart Irrigation Controller Vs. Traditional Irrigation Controller

The difference between smart irrigation controllers and traditional ones lies in their approach to managing watering schedules and adaptability to changing conditions.

Smart irrigation controllers stand out for their advanced features. They connect to the internet, allowing you to control and adjust your irrigation system remotely using a smartphone or computer. This means you can change your watering schedule or respond to unexpected weather changes from anywhere. These controllers are designed to work with various environmental sensors, which help them automatically adjust watering based on real-time soil moisture and weather data. For example, if it rains, a smart controller can skip watering that day, which a traditional controller on a fixed schedule wouldn't do.

On the other hand, traditional irrigation controllers are more basic. They follow preset schedules that you set up manually. They work well for areas where watering needs are consistent and don't change much with weather variations. However, they don't have the capability to adjust to sudden weather changes or different soil conditions, as they lack connectivity to sensors and the internet. The user interfaces of these controllers also differ significantly. Smart controllers usually have easy-to-use digital interfaces, making them more user-friendly compared to the dials and buttons of traditional controllers.

How Much Does an Irrigation System Cost?

A man adjusting a sprinkler on a lawn.

Sprinkler System

The cost of a sprinkler system can vary greatly based on several factors. The total cost is influenced by factors like the type of components (e.g., rotor heads vs. spray heads), the complexity of the system, labor costs, and any additional features like smart controllers or rain sensors.

Small Yards (up to 1/4 acre): For basic systems, the cost can range from $1,500 to $2,500. This typically includes basic sprinkler heads and a straightforward layout.

Medium to Large Yards (1/4 to 1/2 acre): For these sizes, the price can range from $2,500 to $3,500, depending on the number of zones and type of sprinkler heads needed.

Large or Complex Installations (over 1/2 acre): Costs can easily exceed $3,500 to $5,000 or more for high-end systems with multiple zones, advanced controllers, and specialized sprinkler types.

Drip System

Drip irrigation systems are often more affordable, especially for smaller areas. Generally, drip systems are less expensive than sprinkler systems, particularly for smaller areas or when a DIY approach is taken. However, for larger landscapes, the cost difference might narrow, especially when considering advanced features.

Basic Kits for Small Gardens: Starting as low as $50 to $100, basic drip system kits are suitable for small garden areas or individual plant beds.

Moderate-Sized Gardens: For larger gardens or more elaborate setups, costs can range from $100 to $300, which typically includes a decent length of drip tubing, emitters, and basic control equipment.

Larger or Custom Systems: For extensive or customized drip irrigation systems, especially those integrated with automated controls or sensors, the price can range from $300 to $1,000 or more.

FAQs about Irrigation Systems

A sprinkler watering a lawn.

How do I know if my lawn irrigation system is working properly?

To check if your lawn irrigation system is working well, look for even water distribution across your lawn and inspect the sprinkler heads for any clogs or damage. Also, monitor your water bill for any unusual spikes, which could indicate leaks or inefficiencies in the system. Regular maintenance is key to keeping the system in good condition.

What is the most efficient irrigation system?

Drip irrigation systems are generally the most efficient, especially for targeted watering. They minimize water waste by delivering water directly to plant roots and are excellent for conserving water.

What is the best watering system for raised garden beds?

Drip irrigation or soaker hoses are ideal for raised garden beds, providing slow, steady, and deep water penetration directly to the plant roots. This method reduces water waste and is easy to customize for different bed layouts.

Are lawn irrigation systems worth the money?

Yes, for larger lawns or for those seeking convenience and efficient water use. Automated systems save time and effort, can reduce water waste, and help maintain a consistently healthy lawn.

Can I install an irrigation system myself?

Yes, particularly if you're considering a simple drip irrigation system. Many home improvement stores sell DIY kits with instructions. However, for more complex systems like in-ground sprinklers, professional installation is recommended.

How can I make my irrigation system more water-efficient?

Consider installing a smart controller that adjusts watering based on weather conditions and soil moisture levels. Regularly check for leaks and misaligned sprinkler heads. Also, adjusting the watering schedule seasonally can significantly improve efficiency.