Month: April 2011

How Much do Automatic Sprinkler Systems Cost? Part V

Do you need drip irrigation or garden valves in certain areas?

Drip irrigation is a very cost effective to install a system and it also happens to be a very cost effective way to water, as well. The valve, filter, and pressure regulator combination that is required for a drip zone will cost more than a control valve for a spray head or rotor zone, but the overall cost of the zone is much lower, especially if you are using emitter tubing.  Drip zones require careful planning, but are well worth the effort.

Do you need a sprinkler timer that can automatically calculate the amount of water to apply?

The sprinkler timer or “controller” can be a fairly big driver of the cost of your sprinkler system, especially if a professional contractor is installing it. The latest trend is toward “smart controllers” which automatically calculate the amount of water to apply for a given geographic location at point of time in the season. Smart controllers help reduce the amount of overwatering while helping ensure survival of your landscape in the hottest months. The downside to these controllers is that they cost more, are harder to install (they require the mounting of sensors on a roof or other unobstructed location), and more difficult to program.  Surveys of homeowners show that, while they like the concept of smart controllers, the complexity of operating them leads many homeowners to turn off the smart features and use them as a regular controller. Perhaps over time these controllers will become easier to use.

Do you need a rain sensor to automatically delay or shut off the system if it is raining?

The addition of a rain sensor to your system is pretty much a no-brainer. You can set these sensors to delay or shut off watering once they detect a certain amount of rainfall. This saves you from wasting water on rainy days and the annoyance of fines (in some communities) and public embarrassment as neighbors become more aware of water conservation.

How Much do Automatic Sprinkler Systems Cost? Part IV

Do you need anti-siphon valves?

There are two basic types of valves: inline and anti-siphon. An inline valve is the most common type of valve and when it is used on a municipal water supply you must install some type of backflow prevention further up the line from it. Anti-siphon valves serve the function of a backflow prevention device and, although an anti-siphon valve typically costs more than an inline valve, it saves money on the installation by eliminating the need for a system backflow prevention device and a valve box (anti-siphon valves have to be above ground or they won’t work). Anti-siphon valves are most common in California.

Do you need a master valve?

Most of the valves in a sprinkler system are used to control the flow of water to a specific area of “zone” within the yard. The automatic sprinkler timer sends electric current to these valves to open them. In a typical residential sprinkler system only one control valve is on at any one time so that there is plenty of water pressure for the zone. Some cities recommend or require the installation of an automatic “master” valve in front of the control valves. At the start of each cycle the master valve opens and allows water to flow as the control valve for each zone opens. At the end of the cycle the master valve closes. This helps ensure that water will not be wasted in the unfortunate event that there is a leak on one of the control valves. A master valve will increase the price of your system by one valve and associated fittings and wire. It also requires that you select at least a mid-level sprinkler timer.

Do you need spray heads in medium or large-size areas?

Any area greater than 30 feet by 30 feet is typically regarded as a medium area. While spray heads can theoretically be used to water any size area, if the area is greater than 30 by 30 then spray heads are probably going to cost more than gear drive sprinklers or “rotors”. Even though rotors are cheaper to install for medium and large areas, some homeowners simply prefer having all areas in the front yard – whether small, medium or large – watered the same way. The latest technology on the market, called “spiral rotators” or “multi-stream rotators” have the advantage of providing uniform appearance and consistent water application across all areas large and small, but unfortunately installation cost for spiral rotators is still almost as much as medium area rotor, making them an expensive alternative for small areas.

Do you need pressure regulating spray heads?

Some cities require pressure regulating spray heads in order to reduce the amount of “misting” and water waste from spray nozzles and to compensate for poor irrigation designs by making sure that all nozzles in a zone operate at the same pressure regardless of design. The cost of a pressure regulating spray head is typically 3 times that of a standard spray head.  If you can afford them, it is a good idea to install them.  One of the latest trends in some markets is to use 6 inch high spray heads instead of 4 inch spray heads, which allows for today’s longer grass cutting lengths and still keeps the nozzle spray above the grass.  However, the cost of a 6 inch pressure regulating spray head, which is the “Cadillac” of spray heads, is more than 6 times a standard spray head. But it is probably outside the budget of the average homeowner

How Much do Automatic Sprinkler Systems Cost? Part III

smart flood sensor laying next to a leaf

Do you need certified backflow prevention to protect the municipal water supply?

Depending on your part of the company and the rules of your local water district, backflow prevention can a significant part of your system cost. Because protection of the municipal water supply from possible contamination through sprinkler systems is so important, the general trend is for communities to adopt codes that require a $300 or more in equipment, professional installation, and independent certification of the backflow device.  This can put backflow prevention out of the realm of the do-it-yourselfer and, for a small yard in a high cost part of the county, could mean that backflow prevention is as much as half of the cost of the entire sprinkler system. Of course, that is worse case. Many communities still allow less expensive types of backflow prevention that are well within a homeowner’s ability to install. Before you make any decisions on whether to install a sprinkler system yourself you should check with your water supplier to find out exactly what they require.

Do you need a pump or filter for the system?

If you are not taking your water from a municipal drinking water (“culinary”) source, then you will need to consider the costs and complications of pumps and filters. Since having the right amount of water available at the right pressure is the biggest key to a good sprinkler system, specifying and installing a pump and any associated filter is an area where you either need to be expert of make sure than you get expert advice. If not, you could end up needing a lot of extra time and expense to get your sprinkler system up and running right. The costs of the pump and filter will be very specific to your system.

Do you need PVC or poly pipe?

The costs of PVC pipe and polyethylene (“poly”) pipe systems are very different, so you need to be careful if you are comparing bids that don’t use the same type of pipe. The per foot cost of PVC pipe and fittings is less than half of poly pipe, so if a contractor were using the same design the material cost of poly would be significantly higher than PVC. However, many contractors use design and installation shortcuts with poly that significantly reduce materials and labor, so their total cost of poly may end up being lower than PVC. Orbit Sprinkler System Designer uses the exact same state-of-the-art design and installation for both PVC and Eco-Lock (a poly-based system), so the cost of the Eco-Lock system is higher when compared to PVC. But the small premium is well worth it when you consider Eco-Lock’s ease of use, performance and low impact on the environment compared with PVC.

How Much do Automatic Sprinkler Systems cost? Part II

Modern Home

Do you live in an area with high labor and overhead costs?

Different cost of living from region to region is the main reason why there is no hard “average” cost for installing a sprinkler system. If you live in the suburbs of Detroit where there are plenty of sprinkler contractors and business overhead is moderate, all else equal you will find a lower average bid than you will in Long Island where overhead is high. If you live in a high cost part of the country you could end up saving significantly more by installing yourself.

Do you live in a cold weather climate where you need deeper trenches for pipe?

In cold weather markets it is generally a good idea to bury pipes at least 12 inches deep to reduce the possibility of early or late season freeze (in any freezing market, prior to deep winter you should blow pipes out with compressed air or otherwise drain them to avoid freeze breaks in the pipe. For winterization instructions click here) Sprinkler System with Pop Up Spray Headsand the deeper the trenches the more time you need to allow for trenching and cleaning. In many northern markets contractors avoid trenching altogether by “pulling” poly pipe through the ground with something called a “vibratory plow.” While you could theoretically rent one and pull poly pipe yourself, this is not a project for the novice. Options would be to pay a contractor to pull pipe or dig trenches for you, or dig the trenches yourself. For less than $200 a day most equipment supply stores will rent a “trencher”, which makes shorter work of digging trenches.

Do you have rocky, clay or “hardpan” soil that is difficult to dig?

The type of soil that lies below the surface will be a major factor in how long it takes to pull pipe or dig trenches for a sprinkler system.  A trenching machine will have a tendency to hop or buck in rocky, clay or hardpan soil, and this could increase pretty dramatically the time and effort required to get the trenching done. Regardless of how you want to do it, you should grade the entire landscape to finished level before installing the sprinkler system. After the grading is complete one way that you can test how hard difficult trenching will be is to make sure the ground is moist (but not wet) and then use a shovel to dig the holes for your sprinkler manifolds. If it is impossible to dig even those holes, you can assume that even with a trencher digging trenches will be hard work, which may tip you in favor of hiring a contractor to do the trenching and then you do the rest.

Do you have several distinct small areas to water or do you have just a few large areas? 

The size of the different areas in your yard makes a surprisingly big difference in how much automatic sprinklers cost. Perhaps it’s not intuitive, but it is typically costs much less to install sprinklers in a few large areas than it does to install sprinklers in many small areas, even if the total square feet of the large area is significantly more than it is for the small areas. This is because of two main factors: first, large areas generally require a lot less pipe and heads than small areas; and, second, several small areas can significantly drive up the number of zones that are required and this increases the cost of valves, wire, and sprinkler timers. So, as a general rule, the more small areas that you design into your landscape – especially if they have different watering requirements – the higher will be the cost of your installation.

Visit to try one of our FREE sprinkler system design programs. This will allow you to draw your property and get an estimate in determining how much your sprinkler system will cost.