A DIY underground sprinkler system may sound like the perfect solution for your lawn watering needs – and it can be, sometimes. After helping install two different underground sprinkler systems in semi-arid Wyoming, I can say that it is a great way to make sure that your lawn or garden gets enough water. However, installing a sprinkler system is a lot of work, and it’s not as simple as it might seem at first. The water conservation results may be different than you expect, too. This can be a problem in areas where water is expensive, or if you have types of grass that are easy to over water. Here are the most important lessons I learned from installing DIY home sprinkler systems, and that might help your own installation go a little smoother.
Map out your sprinkler system ahead of time
There’s nothing quite as wasteful or potentially hazardous to your lawn as double-watering. If your sprinklers are arranged in such a way that their range overlaps, you’re wasting water and giving some areas too much moisture. Unless you carefully plan the range of each sprinkler head, it’s easy to overlap or have water hitting your house or the trunks of nearby trees. Plan to keep the pressure low in each sprinkler head and use low-trajectory sprinklers – especially in low-humidity areas, you lose a lot of water through evaporation if the sprinklers throw the water high in the air.
Know the measurements of your lawn, including the exact measurements around trees, bushes and buildings. Determine the range of each sprinkler head, and then place them on the map with marks to show how far the water from each will reach. The ideal map shows no overlap, no areas of appreciable size left dry, and directional heads close to obstacles. Whatever you do, do not guess. Guessing leads to expensive mistakes in lawn health, water usage, and even rot on tree trunks.
Check, recheck materials and measurements for your sprinkler system
Unless you live right around the corner from your nearest hardware store, you’re going to waste a lot of time getting more supplies if you don’t plan right ahead of time. For the first underground sprinkler system I helped install, the closest hardware store was a 45-minute drive away. By the fifth trip back for a little more pipe, some fittings we forgot, or that one extra sprinkler head, it was clear that a little extra planning would have been well worth the effort.
Weigh the pros and cons of underground sprinkler digging methods
In Wyoming’s clay-heavy soil, we opted for good old-fashioned hand-dug trenches for our DIY underground sprinkler system. Even in a postage-stamp sized yard, that was a mistake in this type of soil. Weigh the amount of time and effort it’ll take to dig your trenches by hand for your yard size and soil type. Research the cost of renting a trencher for a day or two, and decide if it’s worth saving all that time and effort. Using a machine isn’t right for every yard and every situation, but a shovel isn’t always a money saver either.
Decide if you really need a timer on your sprinkler system
Timers are a convenient way to ensure that your lawn or garden gets watered on a regular schedule. Most are set to turn on at a specific time every evening, and to run for a certain length of time. The problem with this basic timer is that it will still run when it’s raining, or when the ground is wet from the kids’ massive water fight the day before. One way around this is to get a moisture timer, which is set to go off when the moisture level in the ground drops below a certain level. However, this can be a problem if it goes off on hot, sunny days when added water can hurt the grass. A combination timed and moisture timer is the obvious solution, but different types of timers can be expensive and complicated to set on a DIY project. Someone who spends days or weeks away from home will definitely get use out of a timer. If you’re around every night and can turn the sprinklers on manually, then you may want to consider just setting yourself a reminder.
Overall, the home DIY underground sprinkler systems I helped install were well worth it once they were done. Because of a lack of planning, and being unable to foresee some of the issues we’d face with this unfamiliar project, it ended up being a lot more hassle and taking a lot more time than anticipated. With these lessons learned from installing a sprinkler system, though, it would be well worth doing ourselves in the future. Do a little prior research and planning, and your DIY sprinkler system is sure to be a success.