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Explanation of Basic Irrigation System Components

Explanation of Basic Irrigation System Components


March 29, 2020


Whether you’re a seasoned irrigation pro or you’re just getting started in the business, it’s important to understand what goes into an irrigation system. You may know all of the pieces, but take some time to refresh your memory as to what’s what, where things go and how it all works together to make your job easier.


Why are irrigation systems valuable?

First things first: your customer is going to want to know why they should purchase an irrigation system from you. It’s simple! “You’re giving them their weekend back,” said Jeffrey Knight, Ewing’s Director of Learning and Development.

By installing an irrigation system for them, you’re saving them from having to go out to hand-water each plant. You can also help to ensure their plants get the water they need by programming the system for them.

What’s in an irrigation system?


Mainline: The pipe from the city is how an irrigation system accesses water. It’s normally under constant pressure.

Controller: Controllers are programmed to send commands to each valve to signal when it’s time to open or close. There are different types of controllers, with many new controllers allowing you to control systems without a site visit via your smartphone and a Wi-Fi connection at the site. Learn more about Wi-Fi-enabled controllers here.

Sensors: Sensors are available to turn an irrigation system into a smart irrigation system. Rain or soil moisture sensors can be added to many systems to prevent overwatering or watering when it’s unnecessary.

Master valve: In the event of a water line break or a valve that won’t close, the master valve will shut off the water supply to prevent wasted water. Master valves are placed before any zone valves.

Backflow prevention device: An anti-siphon device or check valve assembly that keeps water from your sprinkler system from being put back into the main water supply protecting potable water from contaminants.

Valve: A valve allows you to keep control on certain areas and a valve manifold allows you to control a series of valves from a single water source. Generally, valves are electric, but manual valves are also available.

Pipe and fittings:

  • Lateral lines: The lateral lines are the pipes that carry water into each specific zone of the system. If there is a break or issue with a lateral line, it most likely will only affect that particular zone. If one of them breaks, you can simply isolate the zone that has the issue without having to shut down the entire system.
  • Drip lines: Drip irrigation can help get water where it needs to go when watering shrubs, flowers or other smaller plants. It slowly distributes water closer to the root zone.
  • Fittings: Many sizes, configurations and specialty fittings are available to finish installation. Most slip joint fittings require primer and cement to hold.

Emitters: There are many emitters on any given system, but the emitter type should be consistent. Depending on the design and landscape needs, there are different emitters to choose from.

  • Fixed spray heads: These heads spray a fan-shaped pattern of water. Nozzles can make this spray pattern a full circle, half circle, quarter circle, etc.
  • Rotary heads: Rotary heads, or multistream sprinklers, deliver water more uniformly and at a lower precipitation rate, reducing runoff. They apply larger water drops, which helps reduce misting.
  • Drip emitters: Make sure the plant gets the correct amount of water with the right drip emitter, which applies water closer to the root zone.

How much water should be applied?

There are some guidelines you should follow so your customers’ plants are not over- or underwatered. The amount of water needed varies depending on the type of plant your customer has in their backyard, as well as some other factors. This is called plant-water requirement