The Components of an Irrigation System and the Function of Each
Learn about your sprinkler system and how it works.
Sprinkler systems may seem very complicated with so many different pieces and so much to learn to irrigate your lawn seamlessly without worries. Learning about your in ground system can help you to troubleshoot problems that may arise.
It is important to know how your sprinkler system works in the case that something malfunctions, so you will know how to turn it off before you call for service. It also helps to tell a service person where the problem lies so it takes much less time to fix and gets you back up and running.
The Basic Components Explained
The basic flow of the water starts from your water supply, which can be at your water meter if you live where you have city water, or it can be at your own water well near the pump. Then the water travels to a backflow device and out to multiple valve boxes, then down the sprinkler lines to a series of sprinkler heads. You will also have a controller for your system to set up each zone for a specific amount of time and on specific days for the right amount of water in your landscape.
The Backflow Device
The backflow device or backflow preventer is an important component of your irrigation system. Its purpose is to prevent any contaminated water from your irrigation lines from flowing back into the public water supply.
The Valve Box
The valve box is a protective box that lies under ground level. It houses all of the valves that open or close to let the water flow down the lines and to the sprinkler heads. If one of your sprinkler lines is malfunctioning, you can open the valve box and manually turn off the water supply for that zone only.
The Lateral Lines
The water travels from the valve boxes underground through the lateral lines that have sprinkler heads on them to emit the water onto your lawn or landscape. The lines are made from PVC pipe, which if not drained correctly in the winter can burst and leak.
The Watering Zones
Each watering zone is the area of water coverage from a lateral line. It is important to know the zone number, which is controlled by a valve box so when you use the controller, you can set the timer for the correct amount of time to water your lawn thoroughly, but not over water it.
The Sprinkler Heads
There are several types of sprinkler heads to use for watering plants, turf grass and flower beds. Each works a bit differently and is made for a specific purpose.
This is the most common type of sprinkler head for turf in areas that are 20 feet by 20 feet or more. The sprinkler heads shoot out a large stream of water as is oscillates back and forth slowly. The newer types are gear driven, which makes them much quieter.
Stationary sprinklers are also called spray heads. They are used for turf in smaller areas than rotary sprinkler heads. Sometimes these are also used in landscape beds of plants, shrubs or flowers. The spray heads pop up out of the ground when the water is on and they emit more of a mist than a rotary type. Spray heads are most commonly in 4- 6- and 12-inch tall sizes. You may also have a riser on a spray head to make it tall enough to reach over the lower plants and cover a larger area in a flowerbed.
Drip or Low Volume Irrigation
This type of sprinkler is often used in landscape and planting beds of all types. Drip irrigation heads are usually at the root zone of individual plants to make your watering very efficient; as none of the spray will be carried away on the wind and you are getting all of the water at the actual root zone. Because of the way these work, you would have many of these in a landscape or planting bed. The water is applied at a much slower rate to reduce run off.
Most all drip irrigation zones need a pressure regulator and a filter. This keeps the spraying heads from clogging due to foreign particles in the water supply, as the orifice is very tiny.
Flood bubblers are available in a fixed rate or an adjustable bubbler. They are most often used when large trees are located on the top of a hill that would otherwise allow the water to run off before it soaks into the ground. They are also common in very small planting areas.
A rain sensor truly makes your irrigation system a complete water saving device. If sufficient rainfall occurs naturally, the rain sensor will suspend your watering schedule. A rain sensor is generally located near the controller so it can override the watering schedule you have programmed into it.
The controller is generally placed in or near your garage if you have one. You need to read all of the instructions on how to set yours for proper water application in all of your watering zones. Your controller will have a manual "Off" button on it to turn off all the water in the event of an emergency.
Common Irrigation System Problems
The most common irrigation system problems include water leaks of all types in any section of the entire system. If you see water bubbling up out of the ground, observe areas in your lawn that stay full of standing water or moldy spots somewhere, you have a water leak in your system. Knowing the parts of the systems helps for making repairs so you can pinpoint the area if you are doing repairs yourself, or point it out to a repairperson.
If a pop up head doesn't lower down into the ground as far as they should, you can accidentally run over it with lawn equipments and break it. In this event, it needs to be replaced with the same type of head.
Any type of sprinkler head can be stopped up and barely emit water. Sometimes, you only need to take them apart and clean them to solve this problem.
Knowledge of the components of your irrigation system will help you understand how it works and which areas are malfunctioning if you are having problems. If you aren't comfortable with making your own repairs, call a contractor to do them for you.