Irrigation Operation Basics


Here are a few basic components of an irrigation system, aside from design standards and techniques, this article will better help you understand the individual components of the system and function they each perform.

Sprinkler Types

The two main types of sprinkler heads are rotary sprinklers and spray nozzles, according to Irrigation Tutorials. The rotary sprinkler head rotates along a set arc to disperse the water.

The spray nozzle sprays an even distribution of water in a particular pattern. For example:

  • 90° nozzles are for corners
  • 180° nozzles go against the flat edges of hardscaping, such as a driveway
  • 360° nozzles are used in the middle of a lawn or other large scale planting

Both sprinkler types are available in a pop-up format, which means they are hidden below ground when inactive. When the system is active, the water pressure forces the sprinklers to rise up and begin sprinkling. While pop-ups are great for lawns, areas with taller vegetation are usually irrigated by a sprinkler mounted on a riser that elevates it just above the vegetation so the spray is not blocked.

The Controller/Timer

Sprinklers will usually either operate from a controller located on the interior or exterior wall of the garage, or they may operate from a central control system. Sometimes, where a single residential property has its own pump, the controller could be located near the pumping equipment.

If you have an individual controller for the property, you should familiarize yourself with how to switch the power off to the controller. This will usually eliminate an emergency situation in the event that the sprinklers will not shut off. A high voltage is required to operate irrigation controllers, so you should not have to remove any screws or take anything apart. If you suspect a malfunction of the controller, it should only be serviced by your irrigation professional. If you want a green lawn, it is essential to learn how to set your timer so your lawn is being watered at the optimal time and length.

The Valves

A wire leads from the controller to valves. The valves open and close the pipes that deliver water to the sprinklers. Typically, they are located in a plastic box just under the surface of the soil. Each valve controls a different irrigation zone, which can be programmed independently from the controller.

Many of the other components may be attached to the valves to make the sprinkler system function smoothly. These include:

  • A sediment filter to prevent the sprinklers from getting clogged
  • A back-flow prevention device to make sure water from the irrigation system is not siphoned back into the water supply that goes to the house
  • A device to reduce the water pressure for drip systems

Low Volume Irrigation

Also known as drip irrigation, low volume is commonly used in landscape and planting beds. Because they are highly efficient in providing water directly to the root system, drip is a cost and water saving tactic that most landscapers utilize. Water is also applied at a much lower rate by emitters on a drip system, which reduces run off.

Rain Sensing Devices

Devices that sense rain or “rain sensors” are devices that cease all watering in the event sufficient rainfall is detected. They are located near the controller, or sometimes on the eave of the roof or mounted on conduit pipe in the landscape bed. These sensors have been mandatory components of an irrigation system in many states for several years now and should be regularly checked for proper operation.


Installing a simple irrigation system for your backyard may sound like a feasible weekend project for the do-it-yourselfer, but often times installations are best left to the professionals. Contact Agscapes Landscaping today with the link below for more information or to hire us for your next irrigation project!

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