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Determining Sprinkler Pipe Size Using a Pipe Sizing Chart

 

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(Sometimes called a Pipe Sizing Table.)

This method is based on the assumption that you are using Cl 200 PVC pipe for the lateral pipes.  With minor adjustments this method will also work reasonably well for SCH 40 PVC pipe or polyethylene irrigation tube.  For other types of pipe or tube you will need to use the Trial & Error method to determine the pipe sizes.

While the Pipe Sizing Chart method described here seems rather complex when you read it the first time, it is actually extremely fast and easy once you figure it out.  You will start with a simple calculation to obtain a “PSI/100″ value.  Then you will use that value in the Pipe Sizing Chart to figure out the maximum flow for various sizes of pipe.  You will only do this once for each sprinkler system.  Once you have that schedule you will fly through inserting pipe sizes into your plan.  Most designers who “design in their heads” are using this method or a close variation of it.   It is the method I use when designing my systems.

Definitions:

Lateral pipe:  The pipes between the control valve and the sprinkler heads are called “laterals”.

Mainline:  The pipes that go from the water source to the control valves are called “mainlines”.

Control Valve:  The control valve is the valve used to turn on and off a group of sprinklers.  Often it is an electric solenoid valve operated by a timer.

Valve circuit:  A valve circuit consists of  a single control valve, and all the fittings, pipes, and sprinkler heads that it turns on.

GPM:  Gallons per minute, a measure of water flow rate.  Use primarily in the United States.

PSI:  Pounds per square inch, a measure of water pressure.  Use primarily in the United States.

 

BASIC RULES TO KEEP IN MIND

When in doubt, always use a larger diameter pipe!

You may always use a larger size pipe.  No, I don’t own stock in a irrigation pipe manufacturer.  But using a larger size of pipe will not cause any harm to how well your sprinkler system works.  Using a larger pipe will NOT noticeably reduce the water pressure.  (Yes, I did condition that statement with a “noticeably”.)  The only damage done by using a larger size of pipe is to your pocketbook.  Larger pipe generally costs more.  But from a irrigation system performance perspective you will NEVER hurt anything by using a larger size pipe.  Now I realize that somewhere out there, somewhere will tell you this is not true.  They are going to tell you that you need a smaller pipe to squeeze the water and create more pressure.  They are totally wrong of course, but as you read this you are probably uncertain who is right, since they will claim I am wrong!  Ask them to provide you with a scientific, documented explanation of why they are right.  I will also provide both a basic and a very scientific explanation with references for you.  Here’s mine: Using A Smaller Pipe to Increase Water Pressure.  OK, sorry, I’ll climb down off my soapbox now.

Is it Pipe or Tube?  I tend to call everything pipe.  Habit, since here in La La Land (Los Angeles, California) we use mostly PVC pipe for irrigation.  However some types of “pipe” are technically defined as “tube”.    The difference is the material they are constructed of.  Steel and PVC plastic are generally called pipe.  Polyethylene, PEX, and copper are usually called tube or tubing.  If I say pipe where I should say tube, please accept my apologies.

 

CALCULATING THE PSI/100 VALUE:

The PSI/100 value is a value used in the Pipe Sizing Chart (we’ll get to the chart in a moment.)  The PSI/100 value determines which column of the chart you will use when finding the pipe sizes.   A simple calculation will give you the PSI/100 value.

The PSI/100 formula:

( ____ PSI x 100) / ____ Feet Total Length = PSI/100

For those who prefer variables, this is the same formula written using variables:    (LPSI * 100) / FTL = PSI/100

Here are the values to insert in the blank spots (“____” ), or variables, in the formula:

____ PSI.  (LPSI)  Insert the maximum PSI loss for all laterals on the valve circuit into the formula where it says “____PSI.”  .

If you are working through the Sprinkler Design Tutorial look on your Design Data Form for the Pressure Loss Table. There you will see a figure you entered called “_____ PSI – Laterals”.   That is the maximum PSI loss for the laterals, use that number here.  If in doubt, 3 PSI is a reasonably safe value for most sprinkler systems.  If you don’t understand pressure losses in irrigation, see the Pressure Loss & Selecting Your Sprinkler Equipment and Lateral Pressure Loss pages.  Remember that the maximum total pressure loss between the valve and the last sprinkler may NOT exceed 20% of the sprinkler head operating pressure.  Example:  20 PSI sprinkler operating pressure.  20 x 0.20 = 4 PSI maximum pressure loss in circuit laterals.

 ____ Feet Total Length.  (FTL)   Insert the distance from the control valve to the farthest sprinkler  in the space labeled “____ Feet Total Length” in the formula.

For this value you need to figure out the total length of pipe (in feet) that the water needs to travel through in order to get from the valve to the farthest sprinkler.   Measure only the pipe sections that the water would pass through on the way from the control valve to that farthest sprinkler.  Don’t add in the length of any side spurs going off to other heads that aren’t on the longest route.  In the example below, the route from the control valve to the farthest sprinkler that you would measure the distance of is shown in red.  Totaling each of the pipe sections along that route results in 118′.  So 118 feet would be the ___ feet value you would use in the PSI/100 formula.

Example of A Typical Valve Circuit


Now use the PSI/100 formula above to calculate the PSI/100 value.  ( ____ PSI x 100) / ____ Feet Total Length = PSI/100

Write down the PSI/100 value.  ____________ 

Example: Let’s say the value “____ PSI – Laterals” is 4 PSI. Let’s also assume that the total length of the lateral as measured above is 118 feet. Those values inserted in the formula would look like this:  (4 PSI x 100) / 118 feet     Now do the math.  4 times 100 = 400.  Then 400 divided by 118 = 3.389    Round that number to 3.4.    Therefore when using this example your PSI/100 value to use in the Pipe Sizing Chart would be 3.4 PSI/100 .

You can repeat this procedure for each valve circuit. But the usual method is–

It is possible to use the same PSI/100 value for all the valve circuits. That’s how most professionals (myself included) do it. The only catch is that you must use the “worst case” PSI/100 value. In other words you need to figure out which of the valve circuits on your entire sprinkler system has the longest “Feet Total Length” between the valve and last sprinkler.   Then use that valve circuit to calculate your worst case PSI/100 for the entire sprinkler system.  The advantage of using the same PSI/100 value for everything is uniformity of design and, obviously, doing only one PSI/100 calculation for the entire sprinkler system saves time.  For example, a pipe with five half circle spray heads downstream would always be the same size pipe. This is much less confusing for the installer, which is the main reason we do it this way.

 

Pipe Sections and GPM:

Each section of lateral pipe may be a different size. For example, the first section of pipe leading away from the valve might be 1 1/4″. The next two sections might be 1″, and the rest of the sections might be 3/4″. The pipe size to each section is based on the actual GPM flow passing through that section of pipe, so you will need to know what the GPM flow is for each section.  If you have been working through the Sprinkler Design Tutorial you have already figured this out and written these GPM values down on your plan in an earlier step.  If not, you will need to take a few minutes to do this now.  See the page on Sprinkler Pipe Layout for instructions on figuring out the GPM for each pipe section.

 

THE PIPE SIZING TABLE or CHART:

before you use the chart…

Warning:  The sprinkler pipe sizing table /chart is based on using Cl 200 PVC pipe.  For other pipe types you will need to make an adjustment if you want to use the chart.

Schedule 40 PVC: If you plan to use Schedule 40 PVC pipe (“SCH 40″) for the laterals you need to make an adjustment before using the chart below, because SCH 40 PVC pipe has a much less water capacity than other PVC pipes. Reduce the PSI/100 value you just calculated for the valve circuits to 1/2 the original values.

Example for SCH 40 PVC pipe: In the example above you calculated a value of 3.4 PSI/100. But you have decided to use SCH 40 PVC pipe for the laterals, rather than Cl 200 PVC pipe. So you will need to reduce the PSI/100 value by half. 3.4 x 0.5 = 1.7 PSI/100. So your new value is 1.7 PSI/100. As you will see, this will result in much larger lateral pipes! This is why most people do not use SCH 40 PVC for laterals, and why I recommend you use Class 200 PVC. It makes a big difference in cost!

Class 125, Class 160, or Class 200 PVC pipe: The chart below is based on the use of Class 200 PVC pipe. It also works for Class 125 (not recommended) and Class 160 (hard to find).

Class 100 and 315 PVC pipe: As a general rule, these types of PVC pipe are not used for laterals.

Polyethylene, Polybutylene: Use the chart below. Then, after you obtain your pipe size from the chart you need to increase it by one size to get the proper size for poly pipe. In other words, if the chart says ¾” PVC pipe, then you should use 1″ poly pipe. 1″ would become 1¼”, 1¼” becomes 1½”, 1½” becomes 2″, etc.  Note: PEX pipe is not the same thing as polyethylene irrigation pipe.

PEX: Do not use the chart for PEX pipe.  PEX has extremely limited flow.  Use the Trial & Error Sizing Method for PEX!

To use the chart you will use the PSI/100 value you calculated along with the GPM flow in the pipe section.

 

Sprinkler Pipe Sizing Chart for Laterals

PSI/100  (round down)

0.2

0.5

0.8

1.0

1.5

2.0

3.0

4.0

5.0

6.0

SIZE

2.2

3.3

4.4

5.0

6.2

7.1

8.5

10

11

13

¾”

3.8

6.3

8.1

9.2

11

13

17

20

22

24

1″

7.1

12

15

18

22

25

31

36

37

37

1¼”

11

16

22

24

31

35

44

48

49

49

18

30

40

44

57

65

76

76

76

76

2″

28

46

60

67

83

96

114

114

114

114

2½”

46

75

100

112

140

162

165

170

170

170

3″

87

140

185

208

250

280

280

280

280

280

4″

255

410

540

600

600

600

600

600

600

600

6″

Flows shown in red are over 5 feet/second.
Sprinkler Pipe Sizing Chart, Copyright 1979, Jess Stryker, All rights reserved.
Permission is granted for reuse for any purpose and in any media, provided the copyright notice is maintained.

Sprinkler Pipe Sizing Table /Chart Instructions:

  1. Start with the pipe section farthest from the valve (connecting to the last sprinkler head.)
  2. Find the PSI/100 value in the top row (blue text, directly under the heading PSI/100.)
  3. Read down that column and find a value equal to, or higher than, the GPM in the pipe section.
  4. Now read across to the right column to find the pipe size to use for the pipe section.
  5. Repeat steps 3-5 for the other pipe sections in the lateral valve circuit.

Notes:

  • Flows over 5 ft/second are considered marginal (shown in red on chart.)  Most experts believe that flows up to 7 ft/sec are acceptable for laterals.  However flows over 7 ft/sec velocity are not considered safe, so they are not shown on the chart.
  • This table uses an averaging formula based on the assumption that all flows for any given size of pipe will not be at the maximum GPM for that size of pipe. In rare cases the PSI loss for the entire lateral may exceed the desired loss by up to 10%.
  • This table assumes the use of Cl 200 PVC pipe, adjustments to the pipe sizes are required for other pipe types, such as poly or SCH 40 PVC.
  • No 1/2″ pipe?  See my explanation of why I don’t use half-inch size pipe.

 

Example Using the Pipe Sizing Chart:

 Example Sketch of a Sprinkler System

In the example above the flows for each pipe section are noted in gray text with an arrow pointing at the pipe section.  The red pipe circuit has the longest distance between the control valve and the farthest sprinkler head.  So for our example let’s use the red pipe circuit.

First we need to calculate the PSI/100 value.

We start with the maximum pressure loss we want in our lateral pipes.  For this example we will use 4 PSI.
Now we measure the total pipe distance from the valve to the farthest head.  I showed this route using a bold red line.  It is 96 feet from the control valve to the farthest head when following this bold red route.
Now the PSI/100 formula with the values from this example inserted:  ( _4_ PSI x 100) / _96_ Feet Total Length = _4.2_ PSI/100

Now we start using the chart to find the pipe sizes.

Our PSI/100 value is 4.2, so we look on the chart.  Rounding down we see that 4.0 is the closest PSI/100 value on the chart, so we use the 4.0 column.
Now read down the 4.0 column.  The numbers will tell us the maximum flow for each pipe size.
So the first number we see is 10.  That would mean 10 GPM.  Reading across to the right we see that 10 GPM is the maximum flow for 3/4″ size pipe.
Continuing in the 4.0 column, the next number is 20.  Again we read across and see that 20 GPM will be the maximum flow for 1″ pipe.
Reading down one more line we see that 36 GPM is the maximum flow for 1 1/4″ pipe.  And we can continue this on down the chart.
So now we can create a simple pipe size schedule to use for our plan, based on the values we took from the pipe sizing chart:

Up to 10 GPM = 3/4″ size pipe
Up to 20 GPM = 1″ size pipe
Up to 36 GPM = 1 1/4″ size pipe
Up to 48 GPM = 1 1/2″ size pipe
Up to 76 GPM = 2″ size pipe

Now  go back and look at the flow for each section of pipe on your plan.  Then based on the GPM flow, insert the pipe size from the schedule you made.

So the section with a flow of 2.5 GPM will be 3/4″ pipe.
The section with 1.3 GPM will also be 3/4″ pipe.
The section with 3.8 GPM will be 3/4″ pipe.
The section with 6.4 GPM will be 3/4″ pipe.
The section with 1.3 GPM will be 3/4″ pipe.
The section with 2.6 GPM will be 3/4″ pipe.
The section with 9.0 GPM will be 3/4″ pipe.
The section with 11.5 GPM will be 1″ pipe.

I’ve inserted these pipe sizes on the example sketch above.

See how fast and easy that is?  Once you have the initial PSI/100 calculations done you can use the pipe sizing chart to create a custom pipe schedule for your plan.  Then it is really fast to simply look at the flow in a pipe section, look it up on the schedule, and write in the pipe size!  You can see why pros use this method, it allows them to fly through a large design with hundreds of sprinklers.

 

 COMMON PROBLEMS AND QUESTIONS REGARDING USING THE PIPE SIZING CHART

Is your PSI/100 value off the chart? If your PSI/100 value is 6.0 or higher you should use the 6.0 column. At 6.0 you have reached the maximum safe capacity of the pipe sizes used on the chart.

Is the pipe size larger than the valve size? It is fairly normal for the first pipe after the valve to be one size larger than the valve. So you may have a 1″ mainline going into a 3/4″ valve and then have a 1″ lateral pipe coming out of the 3/4″ valve.  This is very common, and is not a problem at all.  So don’t worry if the pipe size you get from the chart is larger – or smaller – than the valve size.

Write the pipe size down next to the pipe on your plan. Repeat for each pipe section.  Repeat for each valve circuit.

 

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