# Step #1 Measure Your Water Pressure Country Bumpkin Water (No insult intended!)

STOP! If you're using one of those design-it-yourself brochures you picked up at the hardware store stop right here! Either forget you ever read it and throw it away or do not continue.

Most of those brochures are terrible for use with pumps! They are not written for people with pumps. The methods they use to determine water supply are little better than taking a wild guess. You'll understand after reading this section. If you are going to use this tutorial (and you should!) you need to use ONLY this tutorial. If not, you are going to be in big trouble. Over 90% of the questions I get from people who are confused are caused because they are trying to mix together this tutorial with some stupid pamphlet. Use this tutorial exclusively and save yourself a lot of grief and get a professional quality sprinkler system. Please, please, please! Thank you. You are helping save my sanity. Now on with the tutorial.

Sorry this is such a long page, but pumps are tricky. There is a lot you need to know. You can really mess up big time with a pump and an irrigation system if you do it wrong. So please be patient, read carefully, then reread it all again. Try working the examples, it helps the old brain to kick in!

If you have a printer, there is a Design Data Form that will make things easier for you. Click here to open a new window with the form. If you would prefer a pdf version of the form click here. Print it out then close the window.

Planning to buy a pump or install a well, but don't have it yet? First, if you have a well, you will need to know the GPM of the well itself. That's not how much you will pump out of it, that's the maximum the well will provide. Your well driller should have measured this when the well was drilled, if not you will need to have the well tested by a well drilling company. They will install a temporary pump in the well to test the output. Then you need to select a random Design Flow and Design Pressure. I suggest 20 GPM per acre and 50 PSI, as those are good starting values. So if you have a 2.5 acre mini-ranch you would want to use 50 GPM at 50 PSI. Now proceed with a trial irrigation design using those values. Once you have finished the trial design, you will have discovered whether those are good values for your sprinkler system. If not, what would be? Redesign it if you have to. I know, that's a lot of work, I agree! But, it is far easier to redesign it on paper than to try to fix it after it is installed! Once you have established a good Design Flow and Design Pressure it's time to shop for a pump. Remember the Design Pressure is at the irrigation connection point, the pump will also need additional pressure to lift the water from the well or pond (see the pump tutorial.) After you have your pump installed and running, test it using the Wet Method below. Then create your final sprinkler design based on those results. I know this sounds like a lot of extra effort, but the result will be an almost perfectly matched pump and sprinkler system. It will be worth the effort! You should absolutely read the Pump Tutorial.

"Sprinkler Pumps" and packaged pumps. Several retail hardware store chains sell what they call "sprinkler pumps". They are also sold on a number of web sites and, of course, Ebay. At least one of them even calls their pump a "High Pressure Sprinkler Pump." Sorry, but not by any stretch of the imagination! Typically these pumps do not provide enough water pressure for a standard sprinkler system, especially if you are on a hilly site or pumping from a water source that is more than 10 feet below the pump. (See the paragraph above for suggested pressures.) These pumps will operate small sprinkler heads on a level lot, using water from a shallow well. But few people outside of Florida have this situation. These pumps are really best suited for use as booster pumps. In general, they do not produce enough water pressure for automatic sprinkler systems. Also watch out for packaged pumps that say they are rated X GPM and X PSI on the box (insert any values for "X".) Often these two performance figures are both the maximums possible for the pump, which may be acurate, but is also misleading. When a pump is operating at it's maximum GPM, it will also be at the minimum PSI. There is an inverse relationship between the two values. With pumps (and this applies only to pumps) as the output pressure (PSI) goes up, the output flow (GPM) goes down. Often the figure they give you on the box is the maximum possible for each value. (Read the Pump Tutorial.) I guess what I am saying is "be very careful." Design your sprinkler system FIRST, then buy your pump! If your calculations say you will likely need a 1.5 HP pump, and you find a 1/2 HP pump at the store that says it will do the job, be very suspicious. But most of all do not put the cart before the horse! Way too many people are contacting me and saying "Jess, I'm so thrilled, I just got a great deal on a pump on Ebay! How do I design an irrigation system for it?" They are so excited! I hate having to pour cold water on their happiness. I keep wondering how many guys (it always seems to be guys) just bought that pump on Ebay-- from the last guy I heard from! Maybe this is the same pump passing from one person to the next!

## Measuring Pump Output:

By the way, this looks complicated but it's really pretty simple if you take it step-by-step! There are two ways to do this; The Dry Method and The Wet Method. I suggest you read through both of the methods, and try both of them if possible. The Wet Method is more accurate (but only when done correctly.) The advantage to the Dry Method is that it gives you a chance to check the condition of your pump. If the Dry Method results in a much higher GPM and flow than the Wet Method, then it probably means your pump is worn out. Consider replacing your pump.

If you think you may be getting a new pump in the next 5 years, wait until you have the new pump installed before designing your sprinkler system! A new pump will likely have much better performance than the old one. If you designed your sprinkler system for the old pump then it will not work well with the new one, and may even damage the new pump!

## Dry Method

First you need the horsepower of your pump. This may be stamped on the well, on the pump, on the pump panel, or your pump company should have a record of it. You may notice a GPM and PSI stamped on the pump plate also. I'll say it again because it's important, don't rely on these numbers!

(A) Enter your pump horsepower on the Design Data Form.

Submersible Pumps. Many people have submersible pumps. In those cases the pump is located down inside the well, rather than on top of the well as in the diagram above. All the calculations work the same regardless of where the pump is.

What if you don't have a well? If you don't pump out of a well, substitute river, lake, pond, spring, mud-puddle, or whatever for "well" in the following procedures. In this case "water level when pump is running" is the lowest expected water level in your pond, stream, etc. (i.e.; the level the water would be in a really dry year.) You obviously also don't have a "top of well". So for a submersible pump when the tutorial mentions the "top of well" you would use the highest possible water level of your water source. If the pump is mounted above the water level (non-submersible), then you will need to substitute the actual pump location for "top of well" in this tutorial.

When using a non-submersible pump (any pump not below the water level) it is very important that the pump be installed as close to the water surface level as possible. Pumps are made to push water, not to pull it. The farther and higher the pump has to pull the water, the less efficient the pump will be. Some pumps work better than others in this situation, but in general expect trouble if the pump is more than 10 feet higher than the water surface. The higher your elevation is above sea level, the closer the pump needs to be to the water level. So in Denver, Colorado, the "Mile High City", you need to have your pump very close to the water surface (or better yet, use a submersible pump.) Also, avoid long intake pipes between the water and the pump. Long intake pipes/manifolds can also hurt the pump performance. Plus a long intake pipe is more likely to have a leak in it, and a leak in the intake pipe can cuase your pump to lose prime. Losing the pump prime is a real pain in the rear and if you automate your system it can cause serious damage to the pump. The bottom line here is to keep the pump as close to the water as possible.

Now you need to find out the "Dynamic Water Depth" of the water in your well. Your pump company may have a record of this, however you really should have the well "sounded" to get a new reading, especially if the well is more than 5 years old. Water levels often drop over time. As a last resort you can use the pump depth or well depth, but if you do, you may experience expensive pump problems later. Better to sound the well now, this is something your pump company can do for you and in mos cases is relatively easy and inexpensive. If you don't have a well (you have a pond, creek, etc.,) use the lowest "dry year" water level of your water supply.

As you can see from the diagram above, the Dynamic Water Depth is the distance in feet between the top of the well and the water level in the well when the pump is running (dynamic means moving, as in the water is moving when the depth is measured.) It is important that the pump be running when this is measured. This is because when the pump runs, the water level in the well drops. The distance it drops is known as "draw-down". The further the pump must lift the water, the more energy it takes. So as the water level gets deeper, the pump will produce less water pressure (water energy) at the outlet. That energy (water pressure) is what runs the sprinklers, so we must have an accurate measurement of it. So we need to measure the Dynamic Water Depth, not just the depth of the water table.

As you know, water flows downhill. When the pump runs it pulls water out of the well. This causes the water level to drop, and then water flows into the well from the surrounding soil. How far the water level drops depends on how hard it is for the water to move into the well from the soil. Some wells have very little draw-down, others may have 50 feet or more of draw-down. Don't worry if you don't understand, it will all come together later!

Now you need to enter the elevation difference between the top of your well and the highest point in the area to be irrigated. That is, how much higher (or lower) is the highest point in the irrigated area than the top of the well. The best way to do this is to use a laser level and a tape measure. Place the laser level at the high point of the irrigation system and shoot a level beam toward the well. Then use the tape measure to measure the distance from the laser beam to the top of the well. That is the elevation diference. You may need to make several stepped measurements, or you may prefer to just make an educated guess at the elevation differrence rather than try to measure it. Also, if the well is higher than the irrigated area the distance will be a negative number.

Add the elevation difference to the Dynamic Water Depth of the well (or subtract if it's negative). This number (in feet) is called "elevation head" and is a measure of the height the pump must push the water to get it to your irrigation system.

(D) Enter your elevation head on your Design Data Form. B + C = D (Dynamic Water Depth + elevation difference)

One more thing needs to be factored in at this point, which is your Design Pressure. The Design Pressure is the amount of water pressure that is needed at the inlet of the irrigation system in order for the system to operate. Design Pressure is measured in PSI (pounds per square inch), but for this formula we need the pressure as measured in feet of head. To convert PSI to feet of head we simply multiply PSI times 2.31.

PSI x 2.31 = Feet Head (ft.hd.)

Well that's all fine and dandy, but what IS our Design Pressure you ask? Good question! Guess what? "Guess" is the operative word here. Your going to need to take an educated guess at this number. For most situations I recommend that you use a Design Pressure of 50 PSI. This is a good number that works with most small to mid-size irrigation systems. For sprinkler systems with large radius sprinklers (over 35' between sprinkler heads) you will need a higher Design Pressure. A good rule of thumb for large systems is to take the distance you would like to have between sprinkler heads in feet, and add 15 to it to get a reasonable Design Pressure. For example, if you want to put the heads 50 feet apart, you will need a design pressure of 65 PSI (50 + 15 = 65). Don't be surprised if your system won't pump 65 PSI, most residential pump systems aren't designed to supply more than 50 PSI. As a side note keep in mind that higher Design Pressures result in lower flows, so the higher the pressure, the more valves you will need. I do not recommend spacing sprinkler heads farther apart than 50 feet without having a professional design the system! It gets very tricky. Even most City parks now keep the spacing between sprinklers at 55 feet or less.

(E) Enter your desired "Design Pressure (PSI)" on your Design Data form. For most of you this will be 50 PSI as discussed above. Remember this number is not written in stone! You may want to try adjusting it up and down.

Now we need the "Design Head" so multiply Design Pressure (PSI) times 2.31 to convert it to feet head. This is just a conversion from one type of pressure measurement (PSI) to another (Feet Head). Pump calculations always measure pressure in Feet Head. Example: 50 PSI x 2.31 = 115 ft.hd. (rounded down from 115.5)

(F) Multiply your Design Pressure by 2.31 and enter it as "Design Head" on your Design Data Form.

Now we put all these numbers together to get our "total pressure head". Total pressure head is the "elevation head" plus the "design pressure head", all in feet of head.

Example:
30 ft. Dynamic Water Depth is measured in well with the pump running. The high point of yard is 10 ft. higher than top of well. 50 PSI Design Pressure, which equals 115 feet of design pressure head.
Total Pressure Head = 30 + 10 + 115 = 155 ft. hd.
Another Example:
Pumping from a lake. The low water level is 20 ft. below the high water level. The lowest point of the irrigation system is 10 ft. higher than the high water level. 45 PSI Design Pressure (104 feet head).
Total Pressure Head = 20 + 10 + 104 = 134 ft. hd.
Yet another Example:
For a small park, pumping from a canal. We use the canal bank as our "top of well" level. The low water level in the canal is 8 ft below the top of bank. The irrigation system is downhill from the canal, 25' below the top of bank. 65 PSI Design Pressure needed for large turf sprinklers, which equals 150 feet of design pressure head (65 * 2.31 = 150 ft hd).
Total Pressure Head = 8 - 25 + 150 = 133 ft. hd.

Now for the flow formula:
Multiply the pump Horsepower times 2178 (a constant value, see note at bottom of this page) and then divide by the Total Pressure Head in feet.

Horsepower x 2178 / Total Pressure Head (feet) = GPM (the "Design Flow")

So for the first example above with a 2 h.p. electric pump:
2 h.p. x 2178 / 155 ft. hd. = 28 GPM Design Flow
That's it! The GPM resulting from the above formula is your "Initial Design Flow". You will need the Initial Design Flow and Design Pressure values later in the tutorial.

(H) Calculate your "Initial Design Flow" and enter it on your Design Data Form.

Caution: When designing a sprinkler system with a pump you want to keep the actual flow of each valve zone as close to the "Design Flow" as possible without exceeding the Design Flow. This is to keep the pump from cycling on and off as it tries to match the demand of your irrigation system. Don't worry about valve zones now, we'll have more on that later. Just remember this: "Valve Zone GPM must be between 80% and 100% of Design Flow". You may want to write that down someplace.. Technical note: In order to simplify the pump formula I have factored a pump efficiency of 55% into the value of the formula constant (2178).

## Wet Method (Also called the "Bucket Method")

Before we start into this I need to warn you that you must follow the instructions below exactly. Do not skip any steps, do not shortcut. If you do not follow these steps exactly you will get a false reading, your sprinkler design will not work, and you will destroy your pump! Understand? For years I did not include this method in my tutorial because it is so critical that it be done perfectly.

Sprinkler systems need pressurized water to operate. Without the pressure, the water doesn't shoot out of the sprinklers! Think of water pressure as the "energy" that moves the water. Just measuring the water flow with a bucket is not good enough, we must also measure the water pressure at the same time, as we need that pressure to make the sprinklers spray water. If you had a city water supply we would measure the "Static Water Pressure". This is the pressure when the water isn't moving. The amount of water available on a city water system is determined by the size of the pipe supplying the water. But for a pumped system the amount of water available is determined by the size of the pump. So for a pump we must measure the "Dynamic Water Pressure". Dynamic water pressure is the pressure of moving water. Dynamic pressure will always be lower than static pressure. This is because when the water is moving friction is created with the edges of the pipe. This friction consumes energy (remember, pressure is energy) so the pressure drops. The faster the water moves, the more friction, so the pressure is reduced even more. When pumping water there is an inverse relationship between flow and pressure. So if you want to get more pressure, you will also get less water flow. If you just turn on a faucet and measure the flow into a bucket the pressure falls to zero (the water just falls into the bucket, therefore no water pressure). That results in a higher than normal flow (lower pressure = higher flow). To make matters worse, most people measure the flow from a standard faucet. The small size of the faucet restricts the flow, adding more error to the measurement. If you're lucky the errors balance each other out. But who knows? Add in a little sloppy measuring, and the results can be off by 20% or more. That can be enough to cause your pump to cycle, which will result in pump failure. Replacing pumps is a major expense, so let's do this thing right. It takes more time and effort, but it will be worth it. Need to know what size your pipe is? Click Here

Pump and Pressure Tank Example #1:
The light green colors are the new pipes added for the test. Later you will use these for the supply pipe (mainline) for your sprinkler system. When the pipe from the pump goes into the tank and then another pipe comes out and goes to the house you should make your tap after the tank as shown. Note that the pressure tank may not be near the pump, especially in cold winter areas where the tank is often installed in the house basement. The new piping can be vertical if you wish, and you can add ells to the last section to get the pipe over the top of the bucket. The 8" straight lengths of pipe before and after the pressure gauge are important, they must be 8" long and there can't be any ells in these sections. The purpose is to avoid creating turbulence in the water that could affect the pressure gauge accuracy.

Pump and Pressure Tank Example #2:

When the pressure tank only has a single pipe going into it you can tap the pipe anywhere. You can tap it between the pump and pressure tank as shown, or after the pressure tank. Most pressure tanks are set up this way. Note that the pressure tank may not be near the pump, especially in cold winter areas where the tank is often installed in the house basement. The new piping can be vertical if you wish, and you can add ells to the last section to get the pipe over the top of the bucket. The 8" straight lengths of pipe before and after the pressure gauge are important, they must be 8" long and there can't be any ells in these sections. The purpose is to avoid creating turbulence in the water that could affect the pressure gauge accuracy.

1. Select the location where you will connect the sprinkler system into your water system (your "tap location"). See the pump and pressure tank example diagrams above. In some (very few) pump systems you must tap the pipe after the pressure tank as in Example #1. However, most systems are like Example #2, so you can tap into the water supply line anywhere you want. In this case it is often best to tap as close as possible to the pump. This will usually give you a higher pressure, which means a better sprinkler system (and often less expensive, too!) In some cases you may want to connect your new irrigation system into an existing pipe somewhere a considerable distance away from the pump, such as a faucet near a garden. This is fine, go ahead and try it. The problem is that often the existing pipe is not large enough. You may find that you don't get a very high water pressure due to the small pipe. If this happens you can confirm the problem by making another tap near the pump and testing there also. If you get a much higher pressure and flow when you test near the pump, then the existing pipe is too small.
2. If there is already an outlet on the pipe at your desired tap location you may use it for the test, provided the outlet is the same size as the pipe coming from the pump. If there is not already an outlet you will need to cut the pipe and install one as follows. Measure the size of the pipe. Go to the hardware store and purchase a compression tee that will fit the pipe. Have the sales person show you how it works. I suggest using a metal compression tee rather than plastic. The side outlet of the compression tee should be the same size as the pipe you are tapping into. At your tap location, cut a short section out of the pipe out and install the compression tee.

3. Compression Tee Installation
4. Install an 8" long pipe section on the tee outlet, then another tee with a 0-100 PSI pressure gauge on it, then another 8" long pipe section, then a ball valve, then add a temporary PVC pipe (maximum of 4 feet of pipe with 3 ells) so that you can fill a 5 gallon bucket to measure the water flow. All the pipes and the valve should be the same size as the pipe you cut to make the tap. I strongly suggest using metal pipe and fittings between the tap and the ball valve. I also suggest using a brass (or bronze) ball valve. This ball valve will become the shut-off valve for your future sprinkler system. The last pipe section going to the bucket after the ball valve is temporary and can be plastic. See the example drawings above. The rest of this test process is going to dump a lot of water on the ground, so now is a good time to figure out where that water will go, before you're up to your knees in mud!
5.

6. Get a "5 gallon bucket". Since most 5 gallon buckets actually hold more than 5 gallons of water you will need to check it. Fill it with 5 gallons of water using a accurate measuring container to measure the water, then mark the water level with a marking pen so you can easily see it.
7. Open the ball valve and allow the water to flow freely from it for at least 5 minutes. ( If your pump is manually controlled you will have to manually start it.) Assuming you have a pressure controlled pump like most are, the pump should start by itself and run continuously during this time. If it does not you have a unusual problem, probably too much restriction in the piping between the pump and the ball valve. First check to see if there is any kind of restriction in the pipe (I've found rocks, toy cars, rags, rats, fish, roots, etc. in pipes). If not, the pipe from your well may be too small. Best to call a pump company for help at this point.
8. While watching the PSI reading on the pressure gauge, slowly start closing the ball valve until the pump shuts off. The water pressure shown on the gauge will increase as you close the valve. (Less flow= more pressure) Make a mental note of the pressure when the pump shut off.
Write down the pressure gauge reading on the line "Design Pressure (PSI)" on your Design Data form.
10. Now measure the flow coming out of the pipe without adjusting the ball valve. The pressure gauge must continue to show the "Design Pressure" and the pump must continue running while you measure the flow. Put your 5 gallon bucket under the flow and time how many seconds it takes to fill the bucket to the 5 gallon mark. Repeat this 3 times to make sure the the results are accurate (all three measurements should be about the same). Divide 300 by the number of seconds it takes to fill 5 gallons into the bucket to get the GPM. (300 / seconds to fill 5 gallon bucket = GPM) Example: 10 seconds to fill the 5 gallon bucket, therefore 300 divided by 10 seconds equals 30 GPM.

Write down the flow (GPM) you measure on the line "Initial Design Flow" on your Design Data Form.

You're done measuring. You can close the valve now. Leave the ball valve in place, you will connect your new sprinkler system to it.

Caution: When designing a sprinkler system with a pump you want to keep the actual flow of each valve zone as close to the "Design Flow" as possible without exceeding the Design Flow. This is to keep the pump from cycling on and off as it tries to match the demand of your irrigation system. Don't worry about valve zones now, we'll have more on that later. Just remember this: "Valve Zone GPM must be between 80% and 100% of Design Flow". You may want to write that down someplace.

### Do you have enough water available?

You are going to need about 20 GPM of water to irrigate 1 acre of grass with sprinklers. One acre is equal to 43,560 square feet (or 4047 square meters). So if you have a 2 acre grass yard you will need to have 40 GPM of water available in order to water it. If you have shrubs, they typically only use 1/2 as much water as grass, so 20 GPM would water 2 acres of shrubs. If you don't have enough water you will either need to find a larger water supply, or reduce the amount of area watered. Another option is to plant shrubs and use drip irrigation on them. With drip irrigation you only water the area the plant foliage actually covers. Therefore, if the plants only cover half the actual ground area, you only need half the water.

There are only so many hours in the day to water. The amount of water needed varies with the climate, these values are typical for hot summer areas where most sprinkler systems are installed (daily high temperatures over 90 degrees F., 32 degrees C.) These values assume you would water as much as 10 hours per day. Water more time and you can have more area irrigated.

## One last thing:

If the pipe between the pump and the tap point for the irrigation system is longer than 10 feet (for submersible pumps measure from where the pipe exits the well) then the pipe must be as large or larger than the following:

 Initial Design Flow Minimum Pipe Size 0 - 5 GPM 3/4" 5 - 15 GPM 1" 15 - 30 GPM 1 1/4" 30 - 40 GPM 1 1/2" 40 - 70 GPM 2" 70 - 100 GPM 2 1/2" 100 - 160 GPM 3"

If the pipe is smaller than the above minimum sizes you will need to replace it to avoid the possibility of water hammer which can damage your pump, pressure tank, and household plumbing, not to mention the sprinkler system. If your design pressure is over 50 PSI use one size larger pipe than what is show. Example- 55 PSI design pressure and 35 GPM Design Flow require a 2" pipe (one size larger than chart says because design pressure is over 50 PSI).

### Lots more on pumps...

I strongly suggest you take a look at my Irrigation Pumping Systems Tutorial. There's a lot more information on pumps, pump controls, and pumping from wells, lakes, rivers, etc. in the Irrigation Pumping Systems Tutorial.

By using this tutorial you agree to be bound by the conditions and limitations listed on the disclaimer page.

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