Landscape Sprinkler System Design Tutorial

Whether you’re a professional landscaper or want to irrigate your own yard, this free Landscape Sprinkler System Design Tutorial is designed to take you step-by-step through the process of creating a professional-quality sprinkler irrigation plan, layout, or drawing.

There are lots of Sprinkler Design Guides, Why This one?

  • This tutorial works with ALL sprinkler products and does not base your design on the use of a single manufacturer or store’s products.   Most tutorials will force you into using specific products on your plan.  Sometimes they are good products, sometimes not.   Bonus: This tutorial will teach you how to spot the really bad irrigation products.
  • This tutorial assumes you know nothing about irrigation and breaks it all down for you (but the beginner stuff is easily skimmed over for those more experienced.)
  • This tutorial is multi-level.  Many of the topics start with a outline of the topic, then expand on that outline in detail for those who need more explanation.  Finally some subjects then move on to cover special situations or layout that are not “typical” for those who need that additional insight.  So while some tutorial pages are long, you may not need to actually read a lot of it.  Unless you are a future irrigation professional and interested in learning all about irrigation, which leads us to the next point…
  • This guide is complete.  It is used by colleges to teach irrigation design courses, and we encourage that use.   However, it is written using 6th grade level English, so don’t panic.  If you were ever a broke college student you can probably appreciate the idea of a free online textbook!  Speaking of free…
  • This tutorial is free.   Yes there are some ads, along with a few “tips” they pay the cost of keeping it online.  The ads on this site are low key.  No flashing ads, no pop-ups (except the “we use cookies” pop-up notice that is required by law.)
  • If you have a well and/or pump this is one of the only sprinkler system design guides available anywhere (including those $$$ books for sale at stores) that will show you how to correctly design your system so that it will not destroy your pump by making it cycle or run dry.
  • Thousands of people have used this tutorial to create their irrigation systems drawings.  This tutorial has been online a while, the first version was written back in 1995.  You may find an error or two in it (especially in the grammar, it was written by an irrigation expert, not an English major) but most of the technical errors have been found and corrected long ago.  Tons of feedback have resulted in rewrites of the parts that were not clear.   The advantage of being online is that the tutorial does get constantly updated to incorporate new products, ideas, and methods.
  • This tutorial was written by a professional irrigation designer and licensed landscape architect who has over 35 years experience designing irrigation for everything from small tract yards to golf courses.  More on the author at the bottom of this page.

Warning:  There are lots of online tutorials and this one may not be your choice and that’s fine.   However there are a number of design guides around, both online and in stores, that use outdated design methods.  Please watch out for these major design errors that may lead to very expensive repairs:

  • Beware of measuring flow with a bucket or gauge.  The “GPM” value for your new sprinkler system should be based on the size of the existing water supply pipe running to your house.  Some do-it-yourself sprinkler system guides have you measure water flow by turning on an existing faucet and timing how long it takes to fill a bucket.  Some also suggest using a special gauge that measures the flow.  Regardless of how you measure the flow, we now know that just measuring the flow from a faucet results in major errors that can result in your using a irrigation system flow that is way too high for your house’s plumbing to handle.  When you turn on a faucet the water from it will often flow out at a rate that is way higher than what is safe for the pipe’s in your house.  While running water for a few minutes at this flow to fill a bucket is relatively harmless, running a sprinkler system at that flow on a regular basis is not.  This unsafe high flow results in  “water hammer” and “scrubbing” damage to the pipes, two very expensive problems that can destroy the pipes in your house.  We are talking thousands of dollars to re-pipe your house!  The key here is that when determining the water supply volume the pipe size must be a factor considered.
  • Sprinklers should have almost 100% overlap.  If a sprinkler layout guide shows you coverage arcs that are not going almost all the way from one sprinkler to the next it is based on the old way of doing things back before we had low-flow sprinklers to conserve water.  Almost all experts now agree that there should be near 100% overlap of sprinklers.   Back in the old days we just told people with dry spots to run the sprinklers longer.  That over-watered 90% of the lawn but it greened up the dry spots.   We now know it wastes water and even worse, over-watering causes lots of landscape diseases!

All the information you need to create a sprinkler system design for your lawn, shrubs or garden is in this landscape sprinkler design manual. Illustrations, charts and spreadsheets will help explain and simplify the sprinkler irrigation design process. You will learn about lawn sprinklers, shrub sprinklers, and how to select a quality sprinkler head. Automatic and manual valves, controllers/timers, and the basic hydraulics that apply to watering systems are also covered.

Most of the pages of the tutorial are written as stand-alone articles, so that they will be useful to those who do a search for specific information.  For this reason there is a small amount of repetitive material throughout the tutorial.


Landscape Sprinkler Irrigation Design Tutorial
Table of Contents

Don’t panic!   It looks like a lot to cover, but much of it you will skim over because it applies only to very specific situations that don’t matter for most sprinkler systems. (But if it turns out one of those specific situations applies to YOU won’t you be glad that we included it?) You will find that the tutorial goes quickly once you get started.  Just take it step-by-step and it is easy.

  • Start Here!   Introduction to Irrigation Design: How to use this tutorial, information on software programs to design your sprinkler system, and a few suggestions on those “free designs” offered by the sprinkler manufacturing companies.
  • Step #1  Collect Information:
    • Measure Your Yard: How to measure your yard easily and accurately for your sprinkler irrigation system.
    • Measuring your water supply (critical that it be done right!  One size does NOT fit all.):
      • City-Slicker Water: How to find the PSI and GPM if you get your water through a pipe from a water-company.
      • Country-Bumpkin Water: How to find the PSI and GPM if you pump water from a well, creek, lake, etc..
      • Backwoods Water: How to measure the GPM and PSI for other types of water supplies (Moses would use this section).
  • Step #2  Select Your Equipment:
    • Selecting Your Sprinkler Equipment: Pressure loss is the key to selecting sizes!
      • Water Meter: Water meters.
      • Backflow Preventer: How to select a backflow preventer.  Do you savor the flavor of dog pee?  Nope?  You want to get this right!
      • Mainlines: What type of pipe to use and how to calculate pressure loss in an irrigation system mainline.
      • Valves: Types of irrigation valves.
      • Elevation Pressure Loss: How to calculate pressure variations in your irrigation system that are caused by elevation changes.
      • Sprinkler Heads: How to select the best sprinkler heads for your needs.  How to avoid the ones that aren’t so hot.
      • Laterals: Type of pipe to use between the valves and sprinkler heads which are called “lateral” pipes.
      • Types of Sprinkler Risers: How to connect your sprinklers to the lateral pipes.  Get this wrong and your yard will look like Yellowstone with all the geysers shooting water in the air!
    • Adjustments: Making pressure loss adjustments to balance the system.  Boring but very important if you want the sprinklers to actually spray correctly.
  • Step #3  Figure Out Sprinkler Head Locations: How to determine the correct sprinkler spacing, and which nozzles to use.  Where to place the sprinkler heads.  The rules on this have changed since the 70’s when a lot of the guidelines online were written.  New low water sprinklers make sprinkler layout much more critical.  You get this wrong, you get dry spots!
  • Step #4  Create Valve Zones and Draw in Pipes: Identify hydro-zones, create valve zones, draw in the sprinkler pipe routes.
  • Step #5  Lateral Pipe Sizes: How to calculate the size for each lateral pipe in the irrigation system.  There’s no easy way for this one and lots of bad advice on pipe sizes in Internet help forums and the aisles of your local big box hardware store.
  • Finished! Some Tips.  Automation, Freeze Protection, Costs, Contractors, and of course a whole tutorial on Do-It-Yourself Installation without winding up in the hospital.

The pages of the sprinkler system design tutorial follow in logical order. To work your way through the entire irrigation design tutorial, simply select “Next Page” when you finish each page. Please take a moment to review the terms and conditions of this website and tutorial- click here for Terms and Conditions.

About the Author:

So I guess if you’re still with me I’ll switch to first person and introduce myself.  My name is Jess Stryker.  Unless noted, I am the author of what you are reading on this website.  I am a California registered Landscape Architect and opened my own irrigation design firm in 1980.   I’ve designed thousands of irrigation systems for everything from little squares of grass in a tiny yard to huge shopping centers, regional parks, and golf courses.  Much of my work has been for other Landscape Architects who hired me for tricky projects that required a high level of expertise.  In my early years I also did a lot of design for agricultural irrigation systems,  like pastures, orchards, vineyards, even dust control and cooling sprinklers for poultry.  I’m retired now, which means I’m not interested in designing your irrigation system.   I’ve designed enough sprinkler systems for a lifetime!  This website is a means of passing along what I’ve learned over the years, and keeping a toe in the irrigation water (pun intended.)

The Sprinkler Design Tutorial began in 1995 during a business slow down.  I started writing it not really knowing what I would do with it once it was finished.  Shortly thereafter the Internet started to catch on.  Back then the Internet was mostly educational works (and porn I suppose) and I figured the tutorial would be a good (education not porn!!!) match, so I put it online.  It rapidly grew as I added more and more tutorials and articles on other irrigation topics.  (I’ve kept porn off it with one notable exception in the early 2000’s when a link was hijacked and I didn’t catch it for a few days.)

I apologize in advance for my warped sense of humor, which you have already encountered and are about to get a lot more of if you continue.  Hopefully it breaks the boredom even if it is just to let out a groan.  I hope you enjoy this free tutorial and that you learn a lot from it!

This tutorial is only the tip of the iceberg! Use the links on the website home page to find tutorials and articles on just about everything irrigation related.  Water filters, pump systems, irrigation scheduling, winterizing, repairs, and much more.  Plus there are a few product reviews of some of the most common sprinkler system components.

Go to 1st Page of the Tutorial!

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