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Irrigation 101: A Guide to the Basics of a Residential Irrigation System


From the hosts: For today’s post, welcome back Matt Knowlton. He has helped with an article on creating a beautiful lawn. One half of the outstanding blog the DIY Village, Matt is a fireman by day. But through working somewhat regularly with his wife’s family-owned landscaping and irrigation business, he has gleaned some insights about, well, irrigation – some of which he shares below.

Of irrigation, he adds – “Irrigation mathematics is similar to fire pump math. It all deals in pressure, friction loss, and volume of water, so it all has come very easy for me.”

You might see also – How to Prepare to Install an Irrigation System for needed pre-steps and more info on planning. But after this little primer, you’ll be a pro too … almost. :~) Enjoy! ~jb


Benefits, Components, Installation of an Irrigation System … aka Yard Plumbing

With the summer heat closing in on us, your lawn and landscape may need some extra TLC to stay both healthy and thrive throughout the season.  Having an irrigation system can give you that extra bit of help that you’ll need to keep your outdoor investments looking good all summer long.

Not everyone is familiar with how irrigation systems work and what the actual benefits of having one are.  If I just described you, you’ve come to the right place, welcome to Irrigation 101!



Benefits of Having an Irrigation System

 Different Types of Irrigation Systems

* Pump System

– Water is pumped into the irrigation system from a static water source, i.e. lake or pond.

– No additional water usage costs.

* Metered Water System

– Water is supplied through an established water system, i.e. utility department.

– Can be tied into a house’s existing water lines.

– As the water being used is metered, monthly usage costs will increase.

 Breakdown of a Standard Irrigation System Components


Different Types of Irrigation Heads

There are a number of different types of heads, each designed for a different type of water application.  Since we’re talking the “basics” of irrigation, I’ll break down the two most common and save the rest for Irrigation 102!

* Rotating Heads

– Operate by rotating streams of water over its set zone.
–  Most rotating heads come with interchangeable nozzles that allow for extended stream reach.
–  Rotary heads are adjustable and rotate in a full or set-partial circle eliminating unneeded watering.

Rotor head

* Fixed Spray Heads

– Operate by spraying a fixed water pattern.
– Typically used for smaller areas.
– Most fixed spray nozzles have a radius adjustment where you can reduce the spray distance.

Fixed head

Basics of Installing an Irrigation System

Now that we’ve gone over the basics, here’s a look at what the installation of an irrigation system might look like.

Laying pipe for an irrigation system doesn’t require digging out trenches in your yard.  This machine is called a vibratory plow.

Vibratory Plow

It makes easy work of laying full runs of pipe without having to dig a trench.  The vibrating blade easily cuts through the ground, making way for the attached bore and pipe.

As the machine moves forward, it pulls the glued-together pipe into place without having to worry about backfilling.

Here’s the main supply line shut off valve during installation.  Note how close it is to the water meter.

Shutoff and meter

And here’s the backflow preventer, shutoff valve, and water meter, after installation. (The mock rock on the far left covers up the backflow preventer once the installation is complete.)

When valves are installed, valve boxes will be placed on top of them before the area is backfilled so that the valves are accessible for maintenance.  (The vertical pipe seen here is plumbing for drip irrigation.)

Here’s that same area after backfilling and with the valve boxes put into place.

When heads are ready to be installed, funny pipe (flexible poly tubing) is used to run between the supply lines and the heads.

Funny pipe

Each head gets a fitting that allows for a glue- and cement-free connection to the funny pipe.

Here’s a look at what it looks like within an actual system.

When you combine all of these individual parts, you’ve created a system that can keep your lawn and landscape looking good all summer long!

So, when you invest your time and money into upgrading your curb appeal, consider protecting that investment by utilizing an irrigation system!

A big thanks JB for letting me invade Building Moxie to share Irrigation 101!  Until next time, Cheers!


A big thanks back to you Matt… and you know I fall squarely into this category – “Not everyone is familiar with how irrigation systems work.” A big help.

If you find Matt’s article useful, make sure to share it along and send your thanks too by leaving a comment below.

For more information on DIYing an irrigation system, check this article from Family HandymanHow to Install a Simple Drip Irrigation System in Your Yard. For more on getting your Lawn or Landscape looking its best, stay right here. Cheers. ~jb

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