Having installed three sprinkler systems over the course of the last dozen years, while I can’t claim to be an expert, I learned a few valuable lessons that might benefit a homeowner who is considering undertaking the same job. As with any task, rule #1 is the old adage that “proper prior planning prevents poor performance “(AKA “the six P” rule). Before purchasing any components or doing any trench digging, promulgate a set installation plan; consult utility companies for underground utility locations, and research local municipal building codes to see if there are any applicable permitting and subsequent inspection requirements.
Plan your work
Back when I installed my first lawn sprinkler system, I wasn’t aware that the major manufacturers of sprinkler systems offer a free planning service. You submit your measurements to them, and at no cost, they will generate a coverage map and installation plan (including complete parts list) and send it to you in pdf format. Using their installation plan and the 6 “P” rule, walk through the entire layout, check for any obstacles (tree roots, underground utility lines, etc.) to installing the underground sprinkler lines, and to confirm that you understand exactly what has to go where and the order in which it has to be installed.
Work your plan
Once you have done your due diligence with respect to developing a set plan, checking with the utility companies for possible underground lines, and researched any applicable codes, order the system from the manufacturer. When it arrives, unpack all of the components and lay them in the approximate place where they are going to be installed. Review the installation instructions, ensuring that you have everything you will need to complete the job.
While installing a lawn sprinkler system is a relatively simple technical task, having some help can substantially reduce the amount of time, individual labor, and aggravation. Because I have bad knees and hips, I enlisted the help of a couple of friends to help out. While you can certainly use a trenching tool (AKA a “ditch witch”) to help with the trenching, the trenches are relatively shallow (6-10″) and only a few inches wide so we did the trenching using spades.
All 3 of the systems that I’ve installed attached to the outside water faucet. We installed an output splitter on the faucet and then attached a jumper hose from one side of the splitter to the control head/manifold, leaving the other side of the splitter for washing cars, bathing dogs, etc. Some lawn sprinkler systems are “hard-piped” to the water main leading into the house, but this will necessitate hiring a plumber and following local and utility permitting and inspection regulations.
If you are away from home for extended periods of time (such as truck drivers, railroad workers, etc.) you may want to consider using an automated timer on the sprinkler system. As I am home every night from work, I opted for manual start. Additionally, because the two states that I lived in during this period both have adequate rainfall to sustain a healthy lawn, the automated timer would have been an unnecessary added expense. The more often you water, the more often you have to mow the lawn.