Installing a sprinkler system yourself can save 50% to 60% over having one installed professionally.
And many homeowners do just that.
California represents 60% of the U.S. market for do-it-yourself sprinkler systems, according to Steve Snow. Snow is retail sales and marketing manager for the Toro Co. Irrigation Division, a Riverside-based manufacturer of sprinkler heads, valves and controls.
"I would say that the average homeowner that's fairly handy with doing home repairs and stuff could probably install a sprinkler system without too much trouble," says Dave Kull, a landscape architect with Regional Land Systems in Irvine.
However, Kull warns that designing and installing a sprinkler system is not as easy as some brochures make it sound.
Both design and installation require careful planning.
You also need:
The ability to locate utility lines and existing pipes so you can avoid disturbing them.
Knowledge of how to measure static water pressure, the diameter of your service line and your water capacity.
An understanding of the wide variety of sprinkler heads available so that you can select those that best suit the needs of your yard.
The ability to plan a sprinkler system--carefully charting pipes and the location of each head--so that you get the maximum water coverage with the least amount of sprinkler heads.
Ability to select the right size and material of pipe for your needs and to fit pipes and connections together.
Some basic electronic knowledge to facilitate installation of a controller for automatic systems and for connecting wiring for valves to the controller.
And you need to be in good physical condition to be able to dig trenches, though you may be able to rent a trenching machine. You also have to be able to tolerate kneeling and crouching for long periods to install pipe and sprinkler heads.
Design is perhaps the trickiest and most crucial part of the operation, according to landscape contractor Robin M. Tulleners of R.M. Tulleners Landscape Inc. in Laguna Hills.
"A lot of people think that they can tackle some of these systems themselves because they've seen their neighbors doing it, and usually it ends up being nothing but a myriad of problems and a bunch of other associated nightmares that long term don't end up irrigating things the way they should," he says.
He suggests at least having the system designed by a professional. Kull agrees and says designing an irrigation system for a typical tract home might cost $200 to $300.
But don't forget that if you are renovating a yard or planting a new one, you have to have a planting plan first. What plants go where affects the location and type of sprinkler heads needed.
It's also important to check with your water company and your city planning department to find out about building codes pertaining to underground sprinkler systems and if permits are required.
Kull says one of the best ways for homeowners to educate themselves about sprinkler systems is to take a class or series of classes in landscape design.
Such classes are offered by the North Orange County Community College District, Irvine Valley College Community Services, Saddleback College Community Education, Golden West Community Services and Rancho Santiago Community Services.
Detailed instructional guides are also available from Rain Bird Sprinkler Mfg. Corp. and the Toro Co.
The Rain Bird brochure includes a five-step plan:
Gathering information by measuring your yard, static water pressure, service line size and water meter size.
Choosing the type of sprinkler head needed.
Planning the system by designing zones or circuits to operate one at a time.
Installation, including examples of how to diagram a system.
The brochure is available free by writing: Rain Bird National Sales, 5-Step Sprinkler Guide, 155 N. Grand Ave., Glendora, Calif. 91740.
The Toro planning and installation guide is also free. It includes step-by-step instructions for installing a new system, as well as expanding or upgrading an existing system. To receive a copy, write: the Toro Co. Irrigation Division, 5825 Jasmine Street, Riverside, Calif. 92502.
Toro also assisted with an instructional video by Hometime, a Public Broadcasting System do-it-yourself show. "Underground Sprinklers" is available for $13.49 ($9.99, plus $3.50 for shipping) from: Hometime, 6213 Bury Drive, Eden Prairie, Minn. 55344. The video covers some things that don't apply to Southern California--such as how to keep sprinkler lines from freezing--but it is a good start for someone unfamiliar with sprinkler systems. A project guide is also included with the video.