Common Approach to Landscape Watering
Along the coastal Gulf South, we typically receive adequate rainfall to mitigate watering needs for lawns and landscaping.
However, at certain times of the year – and certainly lately during historic high temperatures and the absence of regular summer showers – we are seeing our landscapes suffer from lack of water. When faced with such conditions the immediate solution is to drag out the hoses and sprinklers and start watering the lawn and planting beds.
This is an effective and inexpensive approach, but one that demands attentiveness and requires periodic movement of the sprinklers to other parts of the landscape. It can be very time-consuming.
In addition, this process can result in inefficient application of water since you must rely on the available spray patterns and coverage provided by the sprinklers.
Automated Sprinkler System Planning
A much more efficient approach is to install an automated sprinkler system, which is designed specifically for your landscape. Spray patterns can be customized to minimize water waste and maximize coverage. Such systems can be programmed to activate while you are asleep or away.
In this article, we will discuss the basic options for various systems. On the HOUSETIPS website, we have additional articles which look closer at several types of irrigation systems, including the design, advantages, and costs associated with each.
Each landscape is different and may require a different approach to the design of the sprinkler system; there are no “one size fits all” installations.
Here, we briefly introduce some basic systems, starting with the most inexpensive and progressing to the more complex, expensive installations. All systems include three primary components – the controller, distribution piping, and some versions of spray heads.
Water System Safety
Did you know the water supply in your lawn sprinkler system is the same water you drink from your kitchen faucet? That is why every sprinkler system must be safely protected with a backflow preventer. The backflow preventer isolates the lawn sprinkler system from the primary water supply to your house and prevents contamination of the water should an accident occur.
Refer to our HOUSETIPS article on Backflow Preventer Purpose for more information on the importance of protecting your drinking water.
General Design Considerations – Lawn Sprinkler System Parts
The heart of each system is the controller. Analog controllers are less expensive but provide limited options. More extensive systems usually rely on digital controllers, many of which include Bluetooth or wireless interfaces. Many controllers utilize batteries for primary power or to maintain their programming during power failures.
These controllers provide the ability to program multiple zones with varying days, times, and duration of watering for each.
The most basic system controller is the type that connects directly to an outside faucet and includes an outlet for a garden hose. The hose connection can be easily converted to connect to irrigation piping, which is typically white PVC plastic. The piping then connects to multiple spray heads to deliver water to areas of the lawn or planting beds.
This type of system provides coverage for a single zone and is limited by available water pressure. Many landscapes are too large for a single zone and therefore would require a more extensive design.
A step up is the multi-zone controller which includes multiple outlets to provide watering for several zones – typically two to four zones. This allows for much greater customization of design and coverage for larger landscapes.
Lawns, planting beds, and potted plants may have significantly different watering requirements and this type of controller can accommodate such demands. Everything can be programmed and the “set it and forget it” approach means all your plants get watered even when you are away on vacation!
A more advanced system would incorporate a fully digital, wireless controller with multiple zones. Such controllers do not include actual valves to control water flow to the various zones. Instead, they have multiple electrical leads running to external valves, which are buried in the landscape, many times in remote locations.
This may mean that a single main water supply line runs through the landscape with several lines branching off, each controlled by its own valve. It is often much easier to run electrical distribution lines than numerous water lines. Many controllers of this type can accommodate four, eight, or even twelve zones with each one dedicated to different areas or plant types throughout the landscape.
The most advanced controllers will link to a smartphone, can be programmed, or controlled from anywhere, or even interface with online weather and automatically delay watering when rain is forecast.
Most systems use white PVC piping to deliver the water to spray heads. The spray heads can provide many different coverage patterns. Large lawns may require broadcast heads that can spray 40 to 50 feet. These require a lot of water pressure so, a zone may only include a limited number of such heads, depending on available water pressure.
Other spray heads – designed for smaller lawn areas or planting beds – may deliver quarter, half, or full-circle spray coverage over a 5 to 10-foot range. Some systems may be of the drip irrigation style designed for specific spot coverage or potted plants.
In addition to PVC piping, these irrigation systems utilize flexible plastic or vinyl tubing. This type of system is very efficient with minimal water loss.
Please refer to our supporting articles for more in-depth discussions on each of these types of systems.