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Get Rid of Your Sprinklers Once and For All

May 21, 2014

Nearly 50% of all water used to water landscapes is wasted. Amazing, right? Most of this waste can be attributed to pop-up sprinklers. The EPA makes this suggestion regarding pop-up sprinkler systems: “Drip irrigations systems, for example, use between 20 to 50 percent less water than conventional pop-up sprinkler systems. Installing a drip irrigation system can save 30,000 gallons per year when compared to a traditional pop-up irrigation system.”

How can drip irrigation deliver healthy plants with less water? It has to do with the efficiency of drip irrigation vs. sprinkler systems. Colorado State University found that drip irrigation exceeds 90% efficiency, whereas a sprinkler system is between 50–70% efficient at best. In a drip irrigation system, water is delivered directly to the roots of the plant, which is exactly where plants best use water. In comparison, sprinklers do deliver water to a plant’s roots, but they also deliver water to the plant’s leaves, neighboring plants, weeds, unoccupied dirt, etc.

Besides saving water, a drip irrigation system also greatly lessens the number of weeds growing in your landscape (no excess water given to weeds) and keeps plants healthier (no water on leaves that can promote mold/bacteria growth).

So how can you convert a pop-up sprinkler to drip irrigation? It is actually pretty easy to do; the term is known as retrofitting (see video below for how-to). To retrofit a pop-up sprinkler head, you will need to detach the sprinkler head. At this point, the current riser may not be tall enough. If this is the case, you will need to either extend the current riser or replace it with a taller one. The length will depend on how high above the ground you are wanting your manifold. We recommend at least six inches above ground level, as this height is much easier to work with. From there, we would recommend a pressure compensating drip manifold. Pressure compensation is important because sprinkler systems have high pressure. Drip irrigation is designed to work at low pressure (25 PSI being optimal). Having a pressure regulator in your conversion is important, and some manifolds have them built in. This manifold allows you to run ¼” microtubing and/or ¼” dripline in nine different directions. This is great for flower beds with lots of plants close by. A couple of limiting factors to keep in mind when using retrofit drip manifolds: first, each outlet has a predetermined flow rate. This varies depending on the unit, but let’s look at item #1477 that we just mentioned. For this unit, each outlet can deliver up to 20 GPH, so in this case, you would need to make sure that you never put more than 20 1-GPH drippers on any one zone. Secondly, no one run of ¼” tubing can run longer than 30 feet in length.

If you have a larger area that you would like to convert to drip irrigation but only have one riser, you can convert that ½” pipe thread riser to a ¾” hose thread by using part #1164—a Conversion Elbow. From there, you can attach a pressure regulator, filter, and tubing adapter. This will allow you to then run your mainline, ½”, ¾”, or 1” to the area or areas needing drip irrigation. Once the mainline is down, you can begin to attach your emitters and/or dripline. We created a short video that shows how to set up this conversion.

If you want to save water and money, we really recommend converting those water-wasting sprinkler heads over to more efficient drip irrigation. If you have any questions or need more information on retrofitting, don’t hesitate to contact us, as we are always happy to assist with your water-saving projects!

    Drip Irrigation Expert Mike

    Written by Mike Ricker | Mike Ricker is always looking for ways to make drip irrigation easier for everyone.  If you found this article useful or have a great tip please pass it on to Mike at: