How to Save Money Installing Your Own Sprinklers

How to save money installing your own sprinklers

My backyard was, until June 9, half dirt and half weeds. A contractor wanted $6,000 to install sprinklers and topsoil. But, with a father and uncle who had installed sprinklers before, I figured I could save money by doing it myself. Here's how we did it, and how much money we saved …

How to Save Money Installing Your Own Sprinklers …

Step 1: Planning

I helped my dad, a retired urban planner, draft a plan. There are two sprinkler zones for the yard, color-coded orange and yellow, and two drip zones – not shown – for the gardens and planters on the yard’s perimeter. The colored circles denote sprinkler head coverage, with good overlap being key.

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Look closely at the plan and you can see the orange and yellow lines — the two sprinkler zones, dubbed zones 7 and 8 respectively — as there are 6 zones in the front yard. Zones 9 and 10 will be drip zones.

My wife wants to paint a fence mural in the kids’ area (where the shed is on the original plan). We had to extend the line at the corner of the house and put in a 360-degree head. So the fence undoubtedly will be hit with water on a daily basis. Planning ahead, I have to think about types of finish, so the mural isn’t destroyed a week after it’s been painted.

With the changes to that area, I also had to factor in the foundation of the house itself. Specifically, I had to account for standing water from the sprinklers and how the area around the foundation was graded. That same sprinkler hitting the mural will hit the house and foundation. I’ll fix it by grading the area with topsoil.

Step  2: Getting Parts

I started the whole process by calling in a favor. My cousin, a contractor, can get parts at a discount from an irrigation supply company. That was $200 saved on a normally $600 bill.

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Step 3: Weeding the backyard

The backyard was overgrown, as you will see below. I sprayed weed killer ($12) and took a trimmer to what was left. My wife’s uncle came out for a weekend and he volunteered to use a hula hoe to help clear what was left of the weeds where the sprinklers needed to go.


Step 4: Trenching

My wife and dad rented a trencher while I was at work on June 2. Trenching took most of the day. With the plan changed, we had to do hand-trenching the next day.


Step 5: Handtrenching

For the hand-trenching, I highly recommend a cutter mattock. That’s $50 at an emergency services surplus store. The ax head part of the mattock was surprisingly perfect for digging into the ground and cleaving small rocks, while the adze part allowed me to make the trenches deeper.

Step 6: Laying the pipe

Connect the pipes and lay them into the trenches. To connect a sprinkler head to the pipe, use a T-joint, gluing each new end of the cut PVC pipe to the T. A ratchet cutter ($10) is best for cutting the pipe. If possible, get colored glue to save time checking where you already have glued. From the T-joint, which should be pointed down, use funny pipe to connect to the sprinkler head, with an elbow on each end.

It took two more trips to Home Depot and a trip to the irrigation supply shop for parts, but by Saturday afternoon, 290 feet of PVC pipe was laid, T-joints cut in, and sprinkler heads attached via funny pipe. There was one 10-foot piece of pipe left over.

Step 7: Connecting the wires

The timer 

Connecting the wires from the valves is simple. Run sprinkler wire from the water main to your timer to get the right length. My front yard timer is pretty complicated, so my second timer ($50) is much simpler.


Valve wires

Each valve will have two wires: One for a common connection, one for a single connection. Take one wire from each valve, twist them all together with one cable wire (I used red) to connect them, and use a water-resistant wire cap, usually pre-filled with a silicon-based sealant to prevent corrosion. Next will be each individual wire. Be sure to write down which cable wire went to which valve. For example, my Zone 7 is the green wire. Cap each one.


Connect wires to timer

The timer should have a color-coded system to push the other end of the sprinkler cable wire into. There might also be places to put in a wireless rain sensor or upgrade to more zones.

Step 8: Adjust the heads

The last major step is adjusting the heads for coverage. Be sure you’ve put both the filter and nozzle in the heads. The heads I used had notches to indicate the start and end of the arc of water. Simply by twisting the head, we could change the arc. A small screw on top of the head changed the distance the water could reach. After a test run, you may need to clean the filters of dirt and debris.

Step 9: The garden drip zones

My drip valves each point a different way.  It’s handy to know at a glance which valve covers which half of the yard. As they don’t have to be buried, the drip lines will be significantly easier to install.

Step 10: Finishing touches

One last piece of advice: Before burying the pipe, take a picture of where the pipes are, for future reference. If possible, use a drone for a bird’s-eye view photograph of your yard. I lack access to a drone, so I popped out a window screen on our second floor and climbed out on the roof — a bit more dangerous than having a robot do the work. I plan on building a pergola with swinging chairs around the fire pit, so I need to know where I can dig to anchor the pergola posts.


I’ve saved the best for last: How much we’ve saved so far. The contractor wanted $6,000 for parts and labor. While I still need to get topsoil and sod, I’ve only spent about $600 in parts and I’ll get about $100 for returning unused parts. 


Cole is a former professional journalist covering crime, court and fire stories.  He spends his free time freelance writing, playing video games, and slowly writing a crime novel.

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