Tag: do-it-yourself sprinkler setup

How to Diagram and Install Pipes, Trenches & Timers

Last week we covered how to select and place heads, as well as how to create zones and place manifolds. This week we’ll be moving further along in the design process and even get into some installation.

Picking up where we left off, we are now going to diagram our pipe layout. First, you will choose where to cut your mainline to add a tee fitting. This tee fitting will make it possible for you to maintain water flow to your home, while still having water flowing to your sprinkler lines. The line connecting your sprinkler line and main water line will need a shut-off valve. Including the tee fitting and shut-off valve, draw a line from your mainline to your sprinkler valve box. From the valve box, draw header lines out to each zone. Look for opportunities for piping to share trench space. Once you get your header lines out to the zones, draw lateral lines. From these lateral lines you will attach a riser that a sprinkler head will connect to. Please continue reading for more detailed explanations and diagrams.

What Type of Sprinkler Pipe Should I Use?

There are two types of piping used in residential sprinkler systems: PVC and Poly pipe. Though there are other types of pipe, these the are the two that you’re likely to encounter. We’ll discuss both briefly here, plus Orbit’s contribution, Eco-Lock Sprinkler Pipe.


PVC is generally considered the stronger material used in residential irrigation, but recent developments have made us re-evaluate that view. PVC is a hard, white plastic pipe. It has very little give to it, and is thicker than poly. PVC pipe does not bend too much (or at least shouldn’t), and if it does it will snap. While PVC can withstand higher pressures, both

PVC and poly ratings far exceed that which will ever occ

ur in a residential system.

There are some drawbacks to PVC. The way PVC is made includes the use of significant amounts of chemicals that are damaging to the environment and has led to talk from environmental and green building groups about abandoning PVC. Also, the fittings used to connect PVC pipe require the use of special PVC primer and cement.


Poly Pipe

Poly pipe is more flexible and not as thick as PVC, and its malleable properties give it added protection in freezing areas. Because it can be bent to match the contours of trenches, it is easier to work with, requiring fewer fittings, thus reducing necessary parts and installation time.  It is also more affordable than PVC. Fittings used to connect poly pipe require the use of steel clamps.

The type of pipe you choose for your system will really be a personal preference as both have their pros and cons. PVC is a bit stronger and this should be a consideration if you’ll be doing minor digging, as it will be able to withstand a certain amount of impact more than Poly Pipe (though, neither of them will withstand very much impact).  However, when it comes to repairs, the poly is certainly easier to work with.


You may have noticed that Orbit offers its own poly pipe, known as Eco-Lock Sprinkler Pipe. This green-colored poly pipe can be used with traditional fittings and our exclusive Eco-Lock fittings. PVC, as we mentioned before, is tougher to work with because it requires primer and cement in addition to its stiffness. Take it from a lot of professional experience, this is a hassle to work with. The primer and cement are messy and can’t be removed from clothes. Fittings need anywhere from 1-2 hours of dry time before you can run a system test. But Orbit’s locking fittings (both Eco-Lock and PVC-Lock) make installation faster and easier. They both operate by sealing fitting connections with rubber O-rings and stainless steel gripping teeth that are able to withstand over 1200 PSI. PVC-Lock and Eco-Lock fittings can swivel on the pipe to provide 360-degree directional adjustment.

 How do I Diagram Pipe Layout?

 Once your pipe has been chosen, you’re ready to diagram the layout. The water from the mainline enters your manifold contained in the valve box. Water is then released by individual valves to header lines. Header lines are usually no smaller than 1 inch and no sprinklers are attached. Rather, lateral lines branch off header lines within a single zone. Risers are attached to these lateral lines and sprinkler heads are attached to the risers. Lateral sprinkler  lines are generally ¾ inch and risers are generally ½ inch pipe. The reason we don’t attach any sprinklers to the header line is because it will decrease pressure along the way, resulting in lower pressure at the end of the line. Thus, header lines are used to keep consistent water pressure. In the example below we have header line in black and lateral lines in red.

Remember, the shortest distance is a straight line, so try to make the lateral lines branch out perpendicular to the header lines.

If you’d like some graph paper to start drawing your diagram to scale, click here to download our sprinkler system preparation guide and use the graph paper for free.

Diagram the runs for future reference.

One of the unique advantages to Orbit’s Online Sprinkler System Design tool is that it maps out everything, even your pipe runs. This is useful when you put in the system, but also for future reference whenever digging is required to make repairs or add more heads. It’s nice to know where everything is years later. If you don’t use the tool, we still recommend doing this. Yards change and irrigation needs should change with it.

How do I Dig Trenches for My Sprinkler System?

Congrats! You’ve made it this far and now you’re ready to start the actual installation of your new irrigation system. First step: dig the trenches. You can dig these by hand or use a trenching machine. If you’re putting in an entire system, the trenching machine is really the way to go. If you are brave, you can rent the machine and do it yourself, otherwise, you can pay a contractor to dig the trenches for you. Although it does cost money, using the trenching machine is easier than digging by hand and you can usually dig all your trenches in a matter of hours.

[stextbox id=”warning” caption=”WARNING!”]WARNING!  Whenever digging trenches in your yard it is imperative you take proper safety precautions, starting with having your local utility lines marked. If digging by hand, make sure to maintain correct posture, and take breaks as necessary. If you do it the wrong way you’ll hurt your back. Trust us on this one. If using a trencher, follow the instructions exactly. These are very powerful machines and even experienced operators have trouble with them sometimes. We also recommend wearing safety glasses and gloves.[/stextbox]

Okay, now that we’ve covered trenches, next, mark the lines. You’ve already drawn them on the diagram of your yard, so get some sprinkler flags and mark where each head will go. Next, get some spray paint used for ground marking and paint the lines on the ground. Once this is done, you’re ready to dig. If you already have grass in, you may consider putting a tarp down to throw loose dirt on as you dig your trenches. Cleanup will be much faster this way.

The trickiest part when trenching can be getting under the driveways, sidewalks, walkways, and other rocky or concrete features. The Orbit Walkway Tunnel Kit simplifies this process. This tool attaches to a hose end and uses water pressure to tunnel under these obstacles. To use the Orbit tunneling kit, dig a trench on both sides of the walkway or driveway. Attach a garden hose to the tunneling pipe. Next, turn on the faucet and work the pipe back and forth, allowing the water to spray and form a tunnel.

Now, besides digging a trench for each sprinkler line, you’ll need to dig for the main line (which municipal code may require to be a certain depth, depending on frost line conditions in your area), for the manifold boxes and a trench for the sprinkler wire leading from the manifold boxes to where your timer will be placed.

Speaking of timers…

What Control Timer Should I Select?  Where Should I Install It?

 Timer Selection

Your timer is the brain of your underground sprinkler system. It controls when and how long you irrigate your yard. Orbit timers are known for their reliability, ease of installation, programming simplicity, and their 6 year warranty.

To help you narrow down your options, select a timer that will accommodate the number of zones your sprinkler system will need. Timers can usually control 4, 6, 9, or 12 zones. If you have more zones than this it will be necessary to purchase additional timers. Orbit offers a large selection of timers to fit your needs. They are all simple to use and easy to install. Pick the timer that suits your system’s needs and personal preference.

Timer Placement

Where you put your timer is largely a matter of preference. Timers can be placed indoors or outdoors (with the use of weather resistant housings). Indoors tends to be more convenient (if an indoor space is close) and protects the timer from the elements. If your manifolds are some distance away from the manifold boxes we recommend some of our timers with remote controls that allow you to activate the different zones from a distance, which is extremely helpful when performing maintenance.

Remember to place your timer near a power source where you can access it easily. Also, consider running sprinkler wire through underground conduit to make any future expansions or repairs easier.

Next week join us again as we continue the installation. We’ll connect the system to the mainline, install necessary back-flow prevention devices, and lay the pipe.

Orbit Sprinkler System Designer

underground sprinkler head

The Orbit Sprinkler System Designer™ is a unique combination of technology and Orbit’s high-quality irrigation products and service.  It is the world’s first and only online, real-time, free sprinkler system design tool.

What does it do?

In a few easy steps the Orbit Sprinkler System Designer™ allows you to design a personalized sprinkler system based on your own property.  When your design is complete you will have a visual plan to follow in addition to a parts list, price estimate, and instillation instructions.  The parts list is compatible with all hardware/home improvement stores, so you’ll be able to find just what you need wherever you are.

What does it cost?

The Orbit Sprinkler System Designer™ is absolutely free.  This same service can cost between $20-50 if contracted to a local irrigation store.

How do I get started?

Visit the Orbit Sprinkler System Designer™ website.

Once you are on the website, you can begin planning your sprinkler system by establishing the dimensions of your property.  One of the most popular features is the ability to import a Google Maps image of your property and trace directly over it.

From there all you need to do is follow the simple steps laid out on the screen.  You will be prompted to indicate the areas you don’t want watered as well as areas with special watering needs.  The designer will help you lay out system features, determine flow rate, and let you know the number of manifolds you will need.

At this point you can immediately view your arcs, head placement, and piping layout.

When you are satisfied with your design, you can view the estimated price for your new system and print the necessary parts list.

What if I have questions?

If you have design or installation questions, you can call one of our sprinkler design experts at: 1 (866) 694-7913.  Questions concerning products or the running and maintenance of your system can be answered by our technical support associates at: 1 (800) 488-6156.

Or, you can check out some of our frequently asked questions here.

Join us!

No matter where you are in the process, Orbit is dedicated to delivering quality products and our continued support.  So join us and start designing today!

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 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7EFeLb2FaUM.

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 orbitonline.com 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.

Drip Irrigation Filters—why they are necessary

In drip irrigation, tiny particles of dirt are your worst adversary.


Because they clog up your drip tubes and emitters, making them ineffective. To avoid this clogging problem, a water filter of some type is recommended.

From a broad stance, filters come in two configurations: mesh and sediment filters.

Mesh filters are made from small layers of . . . well . . . mesh. The size of the mesh openings determines what size particles will be stopped and what size will pass through.

Most drip irrigation kits generally include a mesh-type filter.

The other type of filter, the sediment filter, is most often used in whole house water filtration.

Sediment filters consist of a cartridge and housing, and the cartridge does all the filtering. Some cartridges filter out particles down to 0.5 micron and even reduce certain chemicals (e.g., chlorine, lead, etc.).

IMPORTANT TIP: You will need to change your cartridge (or clean your mesh filter) periodically.

For mesh filters, check and clean them weekly (or more often if you find your water is not clean).

How Much do Automatic Sprinkler Systems Cost?

Sprinkler on edge of patio

The best answer to this question is that it depends on where you live, what type of equipment you plan to install, and whether you will do some of the work yourself.  But the following will help you at least ballpark what you ought to be paying for an automatic sprinkler system.

Do you plan on having a professional contractor install part or all of the system?

A basic rule of thumb is that a sprinkler contractor will price things out so that he has 1/3 of the total bid price in materials, 1/3 in labor and overhead, and 1/3 in profit. That leaves enough room so that he can still make money on the job even if some of the site-specific variables like a hard to find mainline, lower-than-expected pressure, or hardpan soil throw him some surprises. You should be able to buy equivalent materials at a home improvement store for about 15-20% more than the contractor installing pipe in groundwill pay at a contractor supply store, but you will need to factor in rental of trenchers and whether you can install the backflow prevention yourself, so you should figure your total cost of installing the system yourself will be around half the average of three competitive bids. A really simple way to estimate the cost of installing the system yourself is to use the Orbit Sprinkler System Designer.

If you need a quick and very rough range of where you might expect bids from professional sprinkler contractors to come in, you could use a range of $0.50 to $1.25 per square foot of area to be watered and probably not be too surprised. Just keep in mind that small properties will tend to be at the higher end of the range.

This is the first of a four part series that will ask the questions to help give you a good idea of things that will drive the cost of an automatic sprinkler system up or down. Some are things that you can choose and some are things that your specific region, climate or building codes will drive.