Lawn Irrigation Basics

Lawn Irrigation BasicsAn automated irrigation system keeps your lawn green and healthy through summer heat – it can also save water, time and money. With the savings it provides, investing in an irrigation system makes sense.

With a little knowledge and simple do-it-yourself skills, you can install an irrigation system yourself, or you can work with an irrigation specialist who can draft a plan that you install. A third option is to hire a professional to tackle the project from start to finish.

No matter the approach you choose, it helps to learn the ins and outs of automated lawn irrigation before you take the plunge and add an irrigation system to your yard.


  • Regulations – Check with local officials to determine if regulations exist that govern irrigation systems. Find out if you need a building permit. Delve into local watering ordinances to make sure you address those as you craft your system.
  • Underground Utilities – Call 811 to get buried utilities on your property marked.
  • Incentives – Many local water departments offer incentives for steps you take to conserve water. Check with your local agency to see what resources they might have available.


Cost varies by region and size of system. On average, a professionally installed irrigation system for a 2,500-square-foot lawn requires 20-26 hours of labor and costs $1,500-$2,000. New equipment trenches and lays pipe, so it doesn’t make a mess of existing lawn. Always get several estimates, and make sure whoever you hire is licensed and insured.

You can purchase do-it-yourself irrigation kits at home improvement stores and garden centers. If you do the job entirely yourself, expect to spend 36-45 hours tackling installation for a 2,500-square-foot area. The cost could come in as low as $625.

You can also use a kit and work with an irrigation specialist to help you develop an overall plan, which you then install yourself. Many irrigation companies also offer great online resources that really help with installation. Follow this technique, and expect labor hours and costs to fall between the figures listed above.


Simple components comprise an irrigation system:

  • a timer or controller
  • underground pipes
  • fittings
  • irrigation valves
  • manifolds
  • sprinkler heads
  • backflow device (to prevent irrigation water from backing up into your home’s drinking water supply)

Other equipment to consider:

  • Water-saving devices – Choose smart controllers that include weather-based sensors that base irrigation cycles on local weather and/or soil moisture content. These controllers require expert or trained installation.

A rain sensor, which prevents sprinklers from running during or after rainfall, can reduce water use by 35 percent. These devices are sometimes called rain shut-off valves and can be adapted to fit existing systems.

  • Drain valves – In regions where the ground freezes in winter, install an automatic drain valve on each irrigation zone. This prevents pipes from freezing and bursting. In some systems, drain valves are incorporated into a special sprinkler intentionally placed at the lowest point of the irrigation circuit.

Learn more about summer lawn watering.

Check out tips for conserving water in the landscape.