How to Build a Drip Irrigation System


By delivering water precisely to where it is needed, drip irrigation systems use a fraction of the water of traditional irrigation methods, even as they aid in controlling weeds and facilitate automation. Designing and building a drip watering assembly requires that you first familiarize yourself with the basic components, sketch your own landscape to identify needs, purchase the parts, assemble the system and place the emitters correctly. A well-planned and executed installation will save much water and labor in the long run.

Step 1

Familiarize yourself with the basics of how drip systems work and what's available for specialized needs. Several drip system vendors offer easy-to-understand tutorials online, IrrigationDirect and IrrigationTutorials (see Resources) are two such examples.

Step 2

Draw a basic rendering of your landscape. Make note of where the water sources are, such as faucets. Calculate the distance from the faucets to clusters of plants to determine where the main water lines should go. Highlight areas according to their relative water needs; thirsty plants need to be on subsidiary water lines separate from more drought-tolerant foliage. Keep in mind the maximum flow rate capacities for main lines, about 220 gallons per hour, and plan subsidiary lines accordingly.

Step 3

Install one (or more) main line(s). From a hose bib (faucet), connect a backflow preventer, which will keep water from the irrigation system from backing up into the household lines. Next, connect a pressure regulator, which ensures the optimal rate of water flow to the lines. Attach an in-line filter; this is important because even small particles can block thin subsidiary lines and emitter gaps. Finally, connect the main line drip tubing, using whatever adapter is needed to go from the previous thread size to the diameter of the main line tubing. Run the tube to lie alongside the cluster of plants that will be irrigated. Cut the tube to the desired length and cap the end.

Step 4

Install subsidiary lines. Use the punch tool to make the appropriate holes in the main line, and push in the smaller tubes. Run the lines along the base of plants to be watered. Remember to consult your drawing for placement ideas according to the varying degrees of water needs in the plants.

Step 5

Install emitters. In most cases, use drip emitters with suitable flow rates, measured in gallons per hour. Take care that the emitters in each subsidiary line have the same flow rate, or the more restrictive emitters may not allow any water through. Place the emitters near the base of the plants, so that the water will soak into the ground at the root zone. Drip systems are highly adaptable to various watering needs. You can purchase sprinkler attachments, height stands and other types of accessories to meet whatever conditions you encounter to ensure adequate water gets to every part of your landscape.

Things You'll Need

  • Hose bib
  • In-line filter
  • Pressure regulator
  • Backflow preventer
  • Mainline tubing connection adapter
  • Mainline hose
  • Subsidiary hose
  • Scissors
  • Punch tool
  • Emitters
  • End caps
  • Tubing crimps

Who Can Help

  • IrrigationDirect: Drip Irrigation Basics & Installation
  • IrrigationTutorials: Drip Irrigation Design Guidelines
Keywords: drip irrigation, drip water system, drip hoses

About this Author

Elise Cooke's first book, "Strategic Eating, The Econovore's Essential Guide" came out in 2008. The UC Davis international relations graduate's second book, winner of the 2009 Best Books USA Green Living Award, is "The Grocery Garden, How Busy People Can Grow Cheap Food." Her third book, "The Miserly Mind, 12 1/2 Secrets of the Freakishly Frugal," will be out early in 2010.