When I was 13, my parents wanted to make a garden in the front yard filled with flowers. They moved before they could finish the project, but not before they succeeded in uprooting all the old shrubbery. Part of the task was to change out the 30-year-old sprinkler system. The pipes were cracking, the water pressure fluctuated constantly, and half the time it didn’t work because of loose wiring. Plus, the system didn’t have the appropriate coverage for the project in mind.
Needless to say, it had to be replaced, and since my parents were the type to sit back and let the kids do all the work and later take credit, I had to get a crash-course in sprinkler installation. To that end, there are a few lessons which I found monumentally helpful for someone attempting their first installation, as well as a few tips and tricks for making it easier and creating a longer-lasting system.
1) Plan first, do later
My father and I found this out the hard way, so I really recommend that you do the proper research before attempting to dig up your existing sprinkler system, install a new one, or replace the old one. I’ll spare you the grimy details, suffice it to say that plastic pipes and pickaxes don’t mix. Find out from your utility company the layout and depths of all piping, electrical, and telephone lines before you start digging around in your yard. And don’t be hasty in digging up the old system. Do it carefully with small hand tools so you don’t burst or cut any piping unnecessarily; removing a pipe intact is a lot easier than having to pick up pieces for half the afternoon.
2) Check the water-pressure first
Another thing my father and I discovered a little too late, and here is where I again stress the need for proper planning, is that water in the lines is under pressure. So if you don’t want your sprinkler heads busting off their mounts (and I emphatically deny any insinuation this happened to me) get yourself a pressure gauge and find out how much pressure is in those lines before you plan out your new system. Your local hardware store should have one, ask an attendant for details.
3) Use proper tools
Many a coping-saw blade have I broken in trying to build a sprinkler system. I’ve slashed my hands with knives, sprained my wrist using a screwdriver, and somehow managed to stub my big toe with a hammer, though I can’t for the life of me remember what I was using a hammer for in the first place. Trust me when I say a PVC cutter is your best friend in this situation. Get yourself a decent, but relatively small spade to dig with. Also, socket wrench with a 5/16″ head is less stressful on the wrist when tightening the clamps.
4) Test it first
Be sure to measure all piping first and test fit all pieces before gluing them together, otherwise you may end up with leaky pipes or worse put them together wrong and have to go through the long and sometimes painful process of cutting out the incorrect section and replacing it. And make sure the sprinkler heads you buy are appropriate to the intended use and make sure they provide adequate coverage before installing them, or else you may have to replace them.
A wise man once said “Use the right tool for the right job.” Consider this carefully before you start. Plan everything, test everything, and make sure you know what you’re doing before you make the first cut. And in case you’re wondering, it’s “measure twice, cut once,” not the other way around.