The process of installing a sprinkler system for a lawn, save thousands of dollars by installing them yourself.
Something that makes any lawn better is an automatic sprinkler system, also helps your homes valve! At our house, the front yard had sprinklers, but they were not automatic, plus the backyard had nothing. After years of turning on the valves manually or pulling a hose, we decided it was time to redo our sprinklers. I should
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How do you design a sprinkler system?
This is a crucial step in the process, you need to make sure that you do not overload the number of sprinklers your waterline can handle per valve. Plus make sure that each sprinkler is spaced so that it will spray both the head next to it and the head across from it.
Don’t worry, this is not as difficult as it sounds. But if you do what someone to design your sprinkler system, some sprinkler supply companies offer this service so check around.
To design my sprinkler system, I followed the Hunter “Design and installation guide for Residential sprinkler system.” The guide explained precisely how to design a sprinkler system, let me walk you through the process.
- Create a sketch of the property on a grid paper so that everything is to scale. Draw lawn, trees, flower bed, house, sidewalk, etc…
- SIDE NOTE: I broke my yard into sections and used one paper for the backyard, one for the side yard, etc…
- Then determine the capacity of one sprinkler valve. This is done by checking water pressure, water volume, and water meter size.
- SIDE NOTE: I could not check my water pressure because all of our outside faucets are actually connected to our houses pressure, not the main water line that my sprinkler would be connected to. So I actually guessed what our max GPM (gallons per minute) would be, I decided on 12.
- Select the sprinkler heads for the areas. Because I loved the Hunters guide, I decided to use their sprinklers.
- Draw the sprinkler head locations.
- Divide the sprinters into different zones based on GPM’s.
- Decide on the layout and size of pipes.
- Determine where the sprinkler timer will be placed.
This is a quick overview of how to design a sprinkler system, be sure to look over the Hunter Guide to get more detailed information.
Now let’s talk about your local code and 811.
Check with local agencies
Depending on your area, you could be required to get a permit before installing a sprinkler system.
Also, see if you are required to have a backflow preventer, I would say you do and if so, what type of backflow is allowed.
SIDE NOTE. A backflow preventer is an excellent thing. It prevents contaminated water (sprinkler water) from entering into the main water supply (drinking water).
You also need to determine where all utility lines are on your property. This can be done by calling 811, it could be different in your state. In my state, I can submit a form online then within three business days my property will be marked for free.
Now back to the process of a sprinkler system installation.
Sprinkler System Installation Supplies
I am going to share the materials we used, remember the size and amount of items will depend on your design.
- sprinkler timer, I am loving the WiFi one
- sprinkler valves
- backflow preventer
- PVC pipe
- valve box
- flexible swing pipe (also known as a funny pipe)
- king drains
- sprinkler wire
- galvanized pipe for backflow
- 1/2″ elbow spiral barb
- PVC 90-degree Elbows Slip x Slip (lots)
- PVC tees Slip x Slip (lots)
- PVC 45-degree elbow Slip x Slip (lots)
- size of PVC pipe”x 1/2″ PVC 90-degree reducing elbows Slip x FPT (end sprinklers)
- size of PVC pipe” x size of PVC pipe”x1/2″ PVC reducing Tee Slip x FPT (connect the sprinkler to pipe)
- action manifold parts
- PVC Primer and glue
- waterproof wire nuts
- pipe thread tape
- 1/2″ conduit pipe with fittings (optional for wire)
- trench shovel
- wood stakes with string
- PVC pipe cutters
- wrenches (tighten galvanized pipe)
- wire cutters
You can print the material list and instructions below.
Your sprinkler design should give you a great idea on the supplies you will need.
Things to Note: In this example, I am connecting to an existing sprinkler system. So I don’t have to install a shut-off valve after the main water supply because this was already installed.
Make sure you have a shut-off valve for your sprinkler line installed first, I would recommend hiring a plumber for this step.
Dig the sprinkler trenches
SIDE NOTE: A trencher will save you time, but you can dig the trenches by hand. Make sure to hand dig around utility markings.
Using wood stakes and string, lay the path where the trenches need to be placed. Remember, your design will show where a pipe will be placed.
Then using either a trenching shovel or trencher, dig your trenches on the path you just layed out.
SIDE NOTE: If we did not have grass, we would have used a trencher.
If you need to dig a trench under a sidewalk, a walkway tunnel kit helps.
Connect to mainline and install a backflow
Now that the trenches are ready, you can connect to the mainline. Like I stated earlier, make sure you have a sprinkler shut-off valve. So your line will tee off the mainline then have a shutoff valve.
SIDE NOTE: Use thread seal tape when connecting galvanized pipe together. And use PVC cement (glue) and primer with PVC pipes to join pieces together.
After the valve, the backflow preventer is then installed. In our area, a pressure vacuum breaker was allowed, which works like a backflow but its much cheaper.
It is also code in our area that the backflow preventer needs to be 12″ above the tallest sprinkler head, so be sure to follow code in your area.
I would recommend using galvanized pipe and fittings for this because PVC will bake in the sun over time, making it crack.
Also, its a great idea to use a union on both ends of the preventer, this way it can be easily removed if needed. I only had a union on one side but decided to change this so that I can easily winterize the backflow.
Installing sprinkler valves
Once the backflow preventer is installed, you can then run PVC pipe to where the sprinkler valves will be. Use SS (slip x slip) tees to break off from the line.
Remember to use PVC primer and cement (glue).
TIP: It’s a great idea to flush the line before installing the valves.
To make the process easier, I used manifolds. These manifolds had pieces like a union so that the sprinkler valve can be unscrewed if it needs to be replaced. The sprinkler company called it an action system.
SIDE NOTE. There will be a valve box at each of these manifolds.
From the sprinkler valves, you will then run the PVC pipe to the sprinkler heads.
Install the sprinklers
Place a stake or flag where every sprinkler head will be placed.
When the PVC pipe reaches a sprinkler placement use an SST (slip x slip x threaded) PVC tee to break off from the line. Cut the PVC pipe at the location.
Attach the 1/2″ barb elbow onto the threaded end of the tee. Then attach the 1/2″ funny pipe to the elbow. After glue the PVC tee into place.
TIP: Have the barbed elbow connected to the tee before glued into place will make it easier.
Connect another barb elbow to the bottom of the sprinkler head.
Determine where the funny pipe needs to be cut to connect to the sprinkler. Cut the funny pipe then connect it to the sprinkler head.
TIP: Depending on the type of sprinkler, you may have to flush the line before attaching the sprinkler head. The sprinkler housing that I am using can be flushed after install. But if yours needs to be flushed before, place the funny pipe to the desired location then extend it above ground at least 5″.
Place the sprinkler into the desired location so that the top of the sprinkler is slightly above the ground level.
Pack the soil around the sprinkler housing so that it does not move but do not cover the pipe. You need to check to make sure there are no leaks first.
Keep adding sprinklers this way until you only have one left on the line. This is where the king drain needs to be added.
SIDE NOTE: You can add more than one drain per line.
The drain will be added before the last sprinkler. It is added by attaching the drain to an SST tee. Then glue the tee onto the line with the drain facing down.
Then add the last sprinkler by using an ST 90-degree elbow fitting because the line will end here. Attach the barbed elbow onto the threaded end of the fitting. Then attach the funny pipe.
Glue the fitting in place and complete the steps to install the sprinkler to the funny pipe.
Continue this process for all sprinkler lines (values).
If you are using a drip control valve for drip irrigation, see my post on installing a DIY drip irrigation system.
Test the sprinkler lines
Once all the sprinkler lines are installed, its time to test the lines to make sure there are no leaks.
SIDE NOTE: You can test each line as you finish it.
Please read the instructions for your backflow and sprinkler valves before turning on the water to make sure you don’t need to do anything first.
Start by turning on the water at the shut-off valve. Check the lines going to each sprinkler valves, if there are no leaks move to test a sprinkler valve. But if you do have a leak turn off the water and fix the leak.
SIDE NOTE: You usually have leaks because the pipes are not glued.
Test each sprinkler valve by manually turning it on according to the instructions that came with the valve.
SIDE NOTE: We had issues with our valves not wanting to turn off because the valve had air in it. After letting it sit, it worked the next day, the air left the valve.
Check the lines of each sprinkler valve to make sure there are no leaks.
Make sure you check every sprinkler line!
Install the sprinkler wire
Now that you have tested each water line, it’s time to install the sprinkler wire to make the sprinklers automatic.
If you are wondering what type of sprinkler wire you need, let’s talk
For example, I have nine sprinkler valves so I will need a wire that is 18/10 to a lot for the common wire.
SIDE NOTE: You may need to use two wires to have the number of wires required but if you use two wires, you may need to plan on two common wires.
Also, this will help you know how many stations your timer needs, which is at least the amount of sprinkler valves you have.
Now that you now what sprinkler wire you need and timer. Let’s install the sprinkler wire.
First, you need to decide where your sprinkler timer will be located. This location can be inside your house, garage, or outside. Where you place the timer, you will need power.
SIDE NOTE: If you are using a WIFI timer, it needs to be able to receive a wireless signal, so keep that in mind too.
We decided the perfect place for our timer was on the exterior of our house. I added power to the area plus install an outlet box because we have none on the back of our home.
TIP: Make sure you turn off the power!
Install your timer according to its instructions, the model we used was straightforward.
To help protect the sprinkler wire, we decided to use 1/2″ conduit PVC pipe, but you can just place the wire in the ground. To do this, run the wire into the pipe and fittings before gluing the pieces together. Plus I would recommend only adding glue to the outside that way you do not glue the wire.
Run the wire from the timer to the closes sprinkler valve (box). Leave at least 12″ of extra wire at the box to allow an easier connection. Cut the wire.
Now you need to run the wire to the next sprinkler box but make sure you leave 12″ of extra wire in this box before.
Again leave 12″ extra at the next valve box location and continue this until you have wire running to each valve location.
At this time, I would recommend placing the valve box over the sprinkler valves. You may need to cut the box to fit around the pipes.
To cut the valve box, place it in the desired location then using a marker, marker where pipes will be so you know what needs to be cut.
Then using a saw, cut out the marked area. Test the fit and cut again if needed.
Now you can wire each sprinkler valve to a wire.
Remember how I mentioned the common wire before, this wire is the wire that connects all the valves together. And to be consistent with the standard, use the white wire for the common.
All the other colored wires are for the sprinkler valves, one color for one valve. So for the wire on the sprinkler valve, one will be attached to a color, and the other wire will be shared with the white common.
TIP: Write down the color of wire and what sprinkler zone you plan on using for that valve. Your timer will use zone numbers.
It’s easiest to start connecting the wires at the valve box where the sprinkler wire ends.
Take one wire from each of the sprinkler valves (it doesn’t matter which wire) and take the white wire from the sprinkler wire. Wire these wires all together using waterproof wire caps.
SIDE NOTE: You will need to remove some of the black jacket from the wire plus remove about an inch of the insulation from the wire you plan on using.
Then wire one sprinkler valve’s remaining wire to a colored wire using a waterproof cap. Wire each sprinkler valve’s remaining wire to a different colored wire the same way.
TIP: Remember to write down what colors you have used!
Now move to the next sprinkler box from the last box. You will want to go in the order you placed the sprinkler wire.
But this time you have two sprinkler wires in the box. Remove the black jacket from both wires, then the insulation about 1″ from the white wires and the other colors you wired in the last box.
Connect each of the same colored wires together using the waterproof caps (red to red, etc…). You are connecting only the colors you already used and not the white wire yet.
Then take one wire from each of the sprinkler valves (it doesn’t matter which wire) and take the two white wires from the sprinkler wires. Wire these wires all together using waterproof wire caps.
Wire each sprinkler valve’s remaining wire to a different colored wire the same way. You are only using the sprinkler wire going to the timer, NOT from the last valve box.
Now move to the next valve box and connect the wires the same way. Connect already used colors, all white wires plus one from each sprinkler valve, then the remaining sprinkler valve wire to a color.
Continue this process until you are at your timer. Then wire the timer, placing the white wire in the common and each color wire used in a zone. Remember, your paper will tell you all this!
Bury the pipe and wire
After you have finished wiring, you can bury the PVC pipe and wire with the dirt you removed earlier.
TIP: Make sure the dirt gets compacted around the pipe.
If you happened to have grass before relay the grass. If not, now would be a great time to plant some because you have sprinklers.
I hope this will help you with the process of doing your own sprinkler system installation to have an automatic sprinkler system finally!
Interested in more sprinkler installations? Here are some other posts you might enjoy: Install a sprinkler system by Simple Practical Beautiful | Installing your own sprinkler system by Making Manzanita
Or you will love these other landscaping projects of ours:
- Install Underground Gutter Drainage
- DIY Concrete Landscape Edging
- Build a simple hose sprinkler
- Install a rain barrel
And don’t forget you can see before and afters in our full house tour by clicking HERE.