Installing An Underground Sprinkler System

About four years ago I had an underground sprinkler system installed in our yard.  We have a small 2 bedroom home, but it sits on a pie-shaped lot and the backyard alone is well over 8,000 square feet.  When we first moved into the house I watered the lawn with a regular sprinkler but found that I had to move it 5-6 times to give full coverage to the backyard.

The process was incredibly time consuming, often taking 3-4 hours to completely water the backyard.  Picking a day and time to do this was not easy either.  We have high winds here in Lethbridge which makes it difficult to water specific areas of the lawn.  And it’s best to water early in the morning or late at night when it’s cool, but having to manually move the sprinkler every 30 minutes or so made that nearly impossible.

Finally, after accidentally leaving the sprinkler on all night and waking up to a nearly flooded backyard I decided to investigate the underground sprinkler system cost in order to save me from this hassle.

Typical Underground Sprinkler System Cost

Installing an underground sprinkler system varies from region to region, but the cost depends on two main factors: the size of the lawn (the amount of pipe and number of sprinkler heads needed) and the quality of the parts used.  For an average sized 2,500 square foot lawn the price ranges from $2,000 to $3,000.

With a bigger lawn, one way to estimate the underground sprinkler system cost is to price it by zone.  A zone is an area in which multiple sprinkler heads are concentrated and run at one time, and costs in the neighbourhood of $400-$600 apiece. (Note: only one zone operates at a time because it requires a lot of water, somewhere around 75 litres per minute)

Keep in mind that a larger lawn isn’t proportionally more expensive, because once the plumbing, which is the most complicated step, is installed and connected, it is easy to add more zones.  So, while a 2,500 square foot lawn may average $2,500, a 5,000 square foot lawn may only cost $3,000 to $3,500.

What’s included with your Underground Sprinkler System?

An underground lawn sprinkler system consists of several main components.  The controller is a small computer that is installed in an out of the way place such as the garage.  It controls all the timing of the underground sprinkler system, including which zone turns on when and for how long.  The controller is linked to a valve system that controls the water flow into the sprinkler system zones.

The valves are buried underground in boxes that make them easy to access if needed.  The water then runs through PVC piping buried a foot or two underground.  This pipe is connected to the sprinkler heads.  Sprinkler heads pop-up when activated on a lawn.  Permanently raised heads are often used in gardens.

Professional installation of sprinkler systems can take anywhere from a couple of days to a week.

Additional Underground Sprinkler System Costs

Routine maintenance on underground sprinkler systems includes replacing the timer ($100), valves ($25 apiece), valve boxes ($20), rotor heads ($25) and spray heads ($10).  To replace most of these components, with labour, could cost $750-$1000.  New pipes cost more.  Doing it yourself would lower the cost.

Do-it-yourselfers installing an underground lawn sprinkler system should be aware of hazards such as utility lines.  Remember to call before you dig.  It is generally advised to leave this step to a professional.

DoItYourself.Com offers a tutorial on installing an underground sprinkler system.

Was It Worth The Money?

We had our underground sprinkler system professionally installed and managed to get by with a few less zones than typically recommended just because of the size of our yard.  The underground sprinkler system cost us in excess of $3,000 when it was finally completed.

I’ll admit that having an underground sprinkler system is very convenient.  You can set the timer to water the lawn once or twice a week early in the morning, or set it to come on while you’re on vacation so you don’t come back to a brown lawn.  It’s a worry free way to keep your lawn looking beautiful.

If I could go back in time though, I would have made a few different choices:

  1. I would have bought the house down the street with the smaller backyard
  2. I wouldn’t have cared so much about how my lawn looked
  3. I would have saved over $3,000 by not installing an underground sprinkler system

Do you have underground sprinklers, or would you consider having a system installed?


19 Responses to Installing An Underground Sprinkler System

  1. I don’t have a big enough lawn for that kind of thing.

    $3,000+ is a bit much for convenience, but like you say – it does make it easier.

    It’s funny how things change – we often make purchases based on our lifestyle at the time. A few years later, you might have a kid or two, a business and maybe that purchase isn’t so relevant to your life anymore.

    • Yeah, looking back I’m not happy with the decision, but in my defence the lawn is freaking huge and I was frustrated with the amount of time I was spending to look after it.

      Our new house has a tiny backyard, which is perfect :)

      • I appreciate you putting this information out. I have 4 dogs and am tired of resodding. I think a sprinkler system may help me keep the grass going better. Your site gave me a quick idea on the cost, and I didn’t realize before that I may have to do the zoning thing. Thanks

  2. This summer will be the third in my house, and I haven’t watered my lawn once. If I watered it, I’d have to cut it more. I don’t mind cutting my grass, but I’m not about to take steps to ensure I have to do it more often.

    Laziness is awesome.

    • I agree with you now, in fact I only watered 3-4 times last year because we had so much rain here last summer. It takes me over an hour to mow the backyard!

  3. Yes, I do have a watering system, and no, I wouldn’t think of doing without one. However, I have xeriscapic landscaping (you might think about making the conversion — it saves a ton of money on water, lawn chemicals, and mowing!). My system waters the fruit trees, ornamentals, and potted plants.

    If you live in an area where the neighbors will throttle you if you replace the grass with rock, there are ground covers (even varieties of grass) that require a lot less water than the usual yard turf. There are a lot of possibilities that look nice but are gentle on the water consumption.

    • @Funny about Money
      Well, we are moving so we don’t have to worry about this massive lawn any more, but I will definitely check into xeriscaping for our next house. We live in a pretty dry climate (other than last year) so this might be a good substitute for grass. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Us too, we have a watering system – came with the new place.

    We’re looking forward to trying this thing out in 2011.

    We’re not going to go crazy with our lawn watering, never have. The sprinkler system won’t trigger us to do that. :)

  5. Hahaha! I like how if you could go back in time you would have just saved yourself the money! And you are not alone my friend! Undergroudn sprinkler systems are, like you said, extremely convenient. But I tell people all the time, “If you don’t have the money, move the hose.” Such a convenience should be an investment. Every car i’ve ever bought I paid for it with cash. That’s just how I decided to live my life. If you think you’ll regret spending a fortune to have automatic sprinklers than don’t do it.

  6. I agree with Echo, I am installing a system, it takes too long to water the lawn and I never am able to water the lawn at the proper times.

  7. i install a systerm of three zones one zone has 5 head second has 7 heads the thrid has 6 head and that’s the one i have problems seen it has no presure but all the other zone work fine can u help thanks

    • I’ve been part of installing crews for roughly 4 and 1/2 years now, working my way up from a shovel grunt to a lead installer in one of the crews. I’ve been with a couple companies and they all have their different design methods, some were more money hungry than others.

      @ Echo,
      I’m curious to know if they used the Rainbird 5000 model (gear heads) for your property, because by the sounds of it, they could have done 5 zones with 5 gear heads on at a cost for $500 a zone. 5 gears a zone is best supported by a 3/4 inch copper line coming from the house but can also be run easily by a 1/2 inch line depending on the PSI.

      @ Joe

      I hate to be blunt but if you had a professional installer come in then that person ripped you off.

      There are two types of irrigation system designs, residential and commercial. As a general rule of thumb, residential zones should never have more than 5 heads on a zone line, even sometimes only 4 heads should be tapped to be safe depending on the water pressure. This differs from commercial which can sometimes support up to even 12 heads on a line because the zone lines are 2 inch in diameter and running off massive double check valves and PSI in the 4 digits.

      If your zone that isn’t getting any pressure is the furthest away from the house then that could be a huge factor. Every foot away from the house loses pressure in the line, thus the farthest lines should have the least amount of heads, especially if your pressure isn’t the greatest to begin with.

      There are a million other little problems though that could be affecting your pressure though, a kink in the line, rock/dirt in the line, faulty heads (anything besides Rainbird and Hunter is crap), or a leaky valve (anything besides Rainbird and Irritrol is crap) could be affecting you.

      I honestly think its the first possibility though I spoke about in the beginning and you should have a renowned repair tech in your area come out and give a look. If its not the pressure, though little repairs are cheap and within $150 in most areas of North America (about 100 to 150 where I’m based in Ontario), but if its the water pressure due to too many heads on the line, look forward to paying 400 to 800 dollars because if you want it fixed then you’ll need another line added and heads taken off the others.

      In any case, I hope it all works out and good luck!

  8. I just saw this post on your most popular section. Installing an underground sprinkler system doesn’t sound cost- and energy-efficient. I guess having a huge lawn or backyard is not advisable if you want to be frugal these days.

  9. Enjoyed the posts, very informative. After dragging around hoses and sprinklers last year, and still losing several bushes and two small trees to the dry hot summer, I’m looking at a sprinkler/irrigation system this spring. The first bid was for ten zones, sixteen rotors, and what looks like 45 Rain Bird 12″ bed sprays (sounds like a lot) for $3600. The lot is about 8000 sq feet, mostly in flower beds….I bought it last year from a guy who owned funeral homes so you can imagine the landscape help he had.

  10. Have a one-acre property and a small house. I have been frustrating with the chore of watering the lawn. I had an automatic in-ground sprinkler installed for $4200 – 6 zones. This is the best decision I have made for my property. My grass is beautiful and my house looks nice.

  11. I used to have the same problem myself, but my yard isn’t nearly as large as yours. I also have a very handy do-it-yourself type in my family so I was able to save a lot on my underground system. My yard is a much more modest 2100 acres so combining that fact with connection I have in the family, I was out of pocket little over $1,000 ( I did have to help construct it though).

  12. Alternatively…

    For about $200, I set up a system for my 2000+ sf L-shaped (bastard!) front yard using a 2-port timer and 5 gear-driven sprinklers, plus a strip-sprinkler hose for the sidewalk strip, and a static pattern sprinkler for an awkward inside corner. It took a lot of sketches to get coverage right, but I have a system that does not need to be moved for mowing (corner locations) and is almost invisible, and can be set to turn on anywhere from 4 times per day (germinating grass) to once per week.

    The one corner exception is a gear sprinkler that is on an edge, with a short hose trip through the grass, embedded to about .5″ and secured with U-stakes. Again, does not interfere with mowing.

    The big discovery for me was gear drive sprinklers. Impacts will not work with my water pressure, if more than 1 or 2 is in a zone. They just stall. I don’t know the mechanics of gear drives, but the particular one’s I used (Lowes) work great with low pressure.

    Yes, I’m very proud of it. I’m a very ADD person in general, and have never kept up with manual watering. So my lawn has looked like crap for years. But now, it’s so beautiful that I’m tempted to roll around in it every morning on my way to the car.

  13. I wish the company who installed my sprinkler system would have seen this, they did a really poor job. This is some really good advice.

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