How to Plan and Install a Home Lawn Sprinkler System

Sprinkler System

I bet you do a mean Sprinkler dance move when nobody’s watching. But to really get down with your bad self, why not plan and install a home lawn sprinkler system? 

You can do it in a few weekends, depending on your yard’s size and the system. Get the right parts, prepare well, and your sprinkler system will be up and poppin’ like your best Running Man dance move.

DIY or Professional Installation?

Deciding whether to do it yourself or have a professional install your lawn irrigation system is a process of weighing many essential factors. Nancy Price Foreman, Owner and Director of Operations with Drilling and Irrigation Services in Melbourne, Florida, notes that when you hire a professional to do the job, the system is covered by a warranty. 

A professional installation is carefree, and it might be best because of strict state and local regulations. But a DIY lawn sprinkler system is something to take pride in, and both installation and upkeep are definitely doable for a homeowner.

Here are some pros and cons of professional lawn sprinkler installation:


  • A warranty covers the system
  • They’ll come out and fix it at no cost to you


  • Up-front costs: Professionally installed sprinkler systems cost $2,400 to $4,200, depending on the yard size, materials, and the company you use.

Here are some pros and cons of DIY lawn sprinkler installation:


  • You’ll save money
  • Purchase parts for $1,500 or less on average
  • No labor charges


  • Labor intensive
  • You have to find and fix malfunctions on your own
  • You have to pay for repairs
  • You may need to rent equipment

Plan Your Sprinkler System

Sprinkler system
Photo Credit: Aqua Mechanical / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Before you start digging holes and laying pipes to install your sprinkler system, you’ll need an irrigation system plan.

When it comes down to how to design a sprinkler system, don’t forget to plan for these essential steps:

  • Research your local ordinances on lawn water usage; they vary from location to location.
  • Check with your local county offices to see if you need a permit to install a sprinkler system. You should also find out if you can install the sprinkler system yourself or if you need to hire a professional, per state and local regulations. 
  • Contact 811 or your local utility companies to mark your underground lines a few days before starting. It’s a free service, and you don’t want to hit utility lines and lose power, telephone service, cable, and internet.
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Draw Your Irrigation Plan

The next step is to plan your lawn sprinkler system using a sketch of the area where you will install the system. Designate zones according to the water requirements for specific vegetation growing there. 

When configuring zones for your sprinkler system installation, consider that turf has different water requirements from trees and shrubs. You can use standard sprinkler heads for turfgrass, but it’s better to use lower spray heads for zones containing trees and shrubbery. Drip irrigation works better in areas such as a vegetable garden.

Quick tips for drawing your sprinkler system plan:

  1. Keep it to scale as much as possible.
    • Draw your lawn’s layout, noting the location of trees, flower beds, or other vegetation.
    • Note turfgrass areas for different watering patterns.
    • Mark hardscapes, such as retaining walls, walkways, or a driveway.
  2. Mark on your plan where you are placing the PVC pipe and control box.
  3. Consider slopes, and note the proposed placements of your sprinkler heads.
    • For proper irrigation, you will want the spray pattern of each head to overlap its neighbor by 50 percent.
    • The spray should overlap all areas of the yard for proper irrigation.

Determine Water Pressure and Flow Rate

Before you rush out to purchase all your DIY lawn sprinkler system supplies, you need to determine several important aspects of water flow through your system. Once you figure these out, you can purchase the correct parts.

Water pressure gauge
Photo Credit: Thomas Quine / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Water Pressure: To determine the working measurement of your water pressure, which is the pressure while the water is turned on, follow these steps:

  1. Attach a pressure gauge to an outside faucet.
  2. Turn on the water.
  3. Ensure all other water valves inside and outside your home are turned off.
  4. The gauge will show you your water pressure in pounds per square inch (psi).

Water Meter Size/Well Size: 

Your water source can have an impact on the sprinkler system in terms of water availability and flow rate. It is essential to consider these factors when laying out a sprinkler system to ensure a sufficient water supply.

  • Municipal water system: If you receive water from a city water system, you can typically locate the size of the water meter on the outdoor box. If you cannot find it there, contact your water company for the information.
  • Well water system: The size of your well pump is indicated on the pump’s exterior or in its owner’s manual.

Size of Service Line: Before running to the hardware store for PVC pipe for your lawn sprinkler system, measure the size of your existing water service line. This will ensure that you purchase the correct size pipe.

Flow Rate: To determine your flow rate, you’ll measure how many gallons of water per minute (GPM). The steps for determining your flow rate are basic:

  1. Take a five-gallon container to your outside spigot.
  2. Turn the water fully on and use your phone to record the time it takes to fill the container.
  3. Divide the container’s size by how many seconds it took to fill.
  4. Multiply that result by 60, and you end up with the flow rate (gallons per minute).
  5. To determine the gallons per hour (GPH), multiply the flow rate by 60.

Here’s a simple example

5 (gallon container) / 30 (seconds to fill) = 0.166 (gallons per second)

0.166 X 60 (seconds in a minute) = 10 gallons per minute

10 (flow rate, or gallons per minute) X 60 (minutes per hour) = 600 (gallons per hour)

Try it Out: Assuming you’re using a 5-gallon bucket, use this calculator to determine your GPH:

Pro Tip:   Nancy Forman suggests determining the water flow rate (in gallons) before installing a sprinkler system. Additionally, you should find out the water usage of each sprinkler head to ensure the proper number of heads are installed. Overloading a zone with an insufficient flow rate may lead to inadequate watering.

Choose a Sprinkler System Kit or Build Your Own System

Photo Credit: Thangaraj Kumaravel / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Sprinkler System Kit

Rainbird and other irrigation companies offer sprinkler system kits. Overall, using a sprinkler system kit can be a convenient and cost-effective option for small to medium-sized lawns. However, there might be limitations in terms of coverage and customization. 

Pros of Sprinkler System Kit:

  • Easy to Use: Sprinkler system kits are designed to be convenient and can be quickly connected to an outdoor faucet. They include all the necessary parts and installation instructions.
  • Ideal for small to medium lawns: These kits are ideal for lawns between 1,000 and 3,000 square feet. If you have a larger yard, you might need multiple kits to ensure adequate watering.
  • Affordable: Kits are generally more budget-friendly compared to hiring professionals for installation.

Cons of Sprinkler System Kit:

  • Limited coverage: Larger areas may require multiple kits to provide adequate coverage.
  • Difficult to expand: Expanding the system may impact water pressure, affecting performance. This may lead to decreased spray distance and rotors that do not pop up or spin.
  • Slopes or Hills: When watering on hills, the area should not be more than 6 feet from the water source.

Here’s how an irrigation system works:

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Build Your Own System

Listed below are the essential parts you’ll need for installing your DIY lawn sprinkler system:

  • PVC pipe: It’s common for underground sprinkler systems to be made of PVC pipe. It’s probably a good idea to have a little extra on hand if you make a bad cut.
  • PVC fittings: You’ll need elbows and tees to allow direction changes when laying the PVC piping.
  • Controllers and timers: An irrigation system installation requires a controller and timer you set so the unit knows when and how long to water. You can purchase “smart” or manual controllers. 

    Smart controllers save water by automatically adjusting to the present weather conditions. Some come WIFI-enabled and can be controlled with an app.

    Manual controllers water according to your program. 
  • Sprinkler heads: Sprinkler heads are the working parts that spray water onto the landscape. The style of sprinkler heads you need depends on the direction of the spray, the amount of space you want to water, and the style of the spray pattern.
  • Tubing or risers: Tubing or risers are required to connect sprinkler heads or drip lines to the PVC pipe to make the system work.
  • Valves: Valves control the flow of water through the system. They open and close to allow water to enter the sprinkler system.
  • Valve box: Provides easy access and protection for the valves.
  • Wiring: You need wiring to connect to the control center. The control center opens and closes the valves as needed.
  • Drains: Drains keep water out of the pipes when they are no longer pressurized. Manual and automatic drains are installed at the end of sprinkler lines and low points.
  • Backflow preventer: Many municipalities require the installation of a backflow preventer for yard sprinkler systems, which keeps the water from going back into the home’s water supply.

Note: This essential parts list doesn’t include basic tools like shovels, PVC glue, a pipe cutter, landscape flags and stakes, or string. You may also want to rent a power trencher or pipe-puller for around $200 at your local machine rental or home improvement store.

Select Sprinkler Heads

Photo Credit: Daniel R. Blume / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Now that you have mapped out your area for your home sprinkler system, you will need to select the best sprinkler head types for designated zones based on the plants growing there.

Variations of turf, trees, and vegetation call for different head styles. For example, you don’t want a sprinkler head that will directly spray against a tree’s bark. The constant saturation could cause problems with the tree and possibly lead to having a zombie tree in your yard.

Here’s a quick guide for the sprinkler head types you’ll need:

  • Fixed spray: Fixed spray sprinkler heads work best on smaller lawns or beds with ground covers or shrubbery. They produce a tight, constant fan of water spanning 5-15 feet.
  • Bubbler/flood: Bubbler or flood heads work well around trees, in planter boxes, or at the base of hedges. They work by flooding water on the ground and around the vegetation’s root zone instead of spraying foliage. They water small areas of 5 feet or less.
  • Gear-driven: Gear-driven sprinkler heads work well in large to medium-sized lawns. The heads have a smooth operating style, and their spray patterns can be adjusted.
  • Multiple stream: Multiple stream heads work well on uneven yards, sloped areas, medium-sized yards, or beds with ground covers. They slowly rotate in an 18-27 foot span, producing a thin stream of water.
  • Pop-up: Pop-up sprinkler heads work well in all yards, as well as garden areas. The head pops up from the ground level, evenly distributing water at a low angle when you turn the system on. The units disappear back into the ground when turned off.
  • Rotary: Rotary heads work well in large, medium, and side yards. The heads rotate in a circle and deliver a slower, single stream of water.
  • Shrub: Shrub sprinkler heads serve flower beds with shrubs or in planters. They have unique, adjustable pattern nozzles. They create a more flexible watering pattern. Risers or extensions let them rise above the vegetation.

How to Install a Home Lawn Sprinkler System

Sprinkler watering the garden
Photo Credit: Peggychoucair / Pixabay

Now that you have mapped your system, purchased supplies, and located underground wires and pipes, you’ll need to learn how to install a sprinkler system.

Step 1: Mark Sprinkler Heads & Pipe

Using your sprinkler system layout diagram, place a landscape flag or stake in every location where you plan to install a sprinkler head. Use string to mark where the pipes will go.

Step 2: Dig Trenches

Following the string, dig your trenches for your pipes, 6-12 inches deep

Nancy Foreman notes that two of the biggest mistakes people make are:

  1. Not placing the heads correctly for 100% coverage. 
  2. Not digging the trenches deep enough. If your trench is too shallow, damage can occur to the pipe and expose it.

Lay your trench’s soil to one side and place the sod on the other side. You can rent a power trencher that makes digging the trenches easier than by hand. To keep from digging up the entire lawn, you can use a pipe-puller to install the PVC piping.

Step 3: Hook Up Water Supply

To hook up your water supply for your sprinkler system, you have two options:

  1. Attach your system to a spigot with sufficient water pressure. This method is the easiest, but it is only suitable for climates without extreme winters.
  2. Hook up your system to your main water line. This option is more complex, so if you’re uncomfortable with this part, it’s recommended to call a plumber.

Regardless of your chosen method, winterize your system yearly to keep it functioning correctly.

Hooking Up to a Spigot

  1. Turn off the water supply going into the house and allow the spigot to drain.
  2. Remove the original spigot and replace it with a galvanized or brass tee.
  3. Match the size of the outlets with the faucet and irrigation pipe you are using.
  4. Reattach the faucet.
  5. Install a nipple (a short piece of pipe with threads on each end) into the tee fitting’s stem.
  6. Connect the shut-off valve to the nipple.

Hooking Up to the Main Water Line

  1. Shut off the water before the point in the line where you will be cutting.
  2. For an above-ground connection, cut away a short section of pipe in the supply line just big enough to slide a slip tee into place.
  3. Install a nipple into the stem of the tee fitting.
  4. Connect the shut-off valve to the nipple.

Step 4: Valve Manifold Assembly

Next, install the valve manifold by digging a hole slightly bigger than the valve manifold box. Attach the main water supply line to one end of the valve manifold assembly and tighten the clamps.

Step 5: Running Pipe

Lay your PVC pipe in the trenches and lay the appropriate sprinkler heads and couplings at each landscape flag or stake.

Step 6: Assemble Parts

Starting at one sprinkler location, assemble all the parts except the sprinkler heads and then move on to the next location and repeat the process. You need to flush dirt and debris that made its way into the pipes before you install the sprinkler heads, as they can clog up.

Step 7: Flush System

You’ll need to flush the system by turning the water back on. Manually open each valve and allow the water to clear the pipe and then close it, moving on to the next valve and repeating the process.

Step 8: Install Sprinkler Heads

After you have flushed the debris from the system, you can now attach the sprinkler heads to your yard irrigation system. Make sure any pop-ups are flush with the soil line.

Step 9: Wiring Control Box

You’ll want to give your home sprinkler system a brain by wiring the controller box according to the manufacturer’s instructions. If you don’t feel comfortable working around electricity, call an electrician or someone who knows how to install a sprinkler system control box.

Step 10: Test and Adjust

Now that you have finally accomplished all the hard work and finished installing your DIY lawn irrigation system, it’s time to test things out and program the control box per the manufacturer’s instructions.

Conduct a water audit to be sure sufficient water reaches all parts of the grass. Turn on the system, moving from one zone to the next, and check the sprinkler heads and their spray patterns. Adjust the spray patterns and program the control box to the days and hours you desire the system to operate.

Step 11: Fill Trench

Once you have tested your newly installed outdoor sprinkler system and everything works properly, it’s time to backfill the trenches with dirt and replant the sod you removed. Now that you’ve gone through all the work of installing your system, keep it running smoothly with tips on sprinkler head repair and adjustments.

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How Many Sprinkler Heads Are Too Many?

If your home’s water flow rate is 10 gallons per minute, you should be able to place at least three heads per zone. The number of sprinkler heads you can install depends on a few variables:

● Water pressure
● Your backflow device
● Zone valves
● Sprinkler head brand you purchase
● Improperly sealed pipes
● Other factors

Be sure to check the performance chart or design manual that comes with your sprinkler system.

What Pipe is Best for My Sprinkler System?

It’s best to choose from the following types of irrigation pipes: PVC Schedule 40, black roll pipe, or pressure-rated PVC pipes. They are easy to work with, readily available, and less expensive than other irrigation pipe styles. 

In southern climates, PVC Schedule 40 is used most frequently. In the colder northern areas, black roll pipe is used because it handles the expansion of the pipe when it freezes.

What Would you Consider a Small to Medium Lawn?

Depending on where you live, a small lawn can be up to one-quarter of an acre. A medium lawn could be up to a half acre. 

Freedom From Your Watering Schedule

Once you’ve installed your lawn sprinkler system, it’s time to break out that Sprinkler dance move! If it’s more than you care to tackle, why not call a local sprinkler system professional to install your system? The benefits are a well-watered, healthy landscape and the freedom to wander far from a watering schedule.

Main Image Credit: Ildar Sagdejev / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Joyce Starr

Joyce Starr

Joyce Starr has been writing on horticultural and landscaping topics for over 15 years. In addition, for the past 20 years she’s owned and operated a landscaping and design business. She shares her experience and passion for all things green through her writing.