How to Convert to Drip Irrigation


Drip irrigation systems are becoming more popular for home landscaping and gardens for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, drip irrigation can hydrate plants using a fraction of the water required in more traditional watering schemes. Competition among manufacturers has resulted in prices that most consumers can afford. It's also easy to convert to a drip system and they are also highly adaptable to changing needs. Finally, the components generally require little maintenance, and replacing parts is a straightforward process.

Design and Build Your Custom Drip System

Step 1

Take an online tutorial like those available from IrrigationDirect (see Resource 1) or IrrigationTutorials (see Resource 2). Take special note of the line capacities, such as the recommended mainline length and maximum total gallons per hour emission rate that can exist in each main line.

Step 2

Draw a rough sketch of your landscaping. Note where the hose bibs (faucets) are located. If you are converting from a sprinkler system to a drip system, attachments exist to replace sprinkler heads to hose connectors that can then allow you to run subsidiary lines to the bases of plants, which will water them whenever the sprinkler system is turned on. Rain Bird (see Resource 3) has a handy guide to show how to convert from a sprinkler to drip system. Hose bibs and sprinkler head emplacements are the sources from which the irrigation will bring the water to the plants. If the main source of water is coming from hose bibs, fill in the measurements for lines leading from the faucets to alongside groups of plants. These will be the main lines. Estimate how many subsidiary lines will need to run off each main line to reach the base of each plant. Consider the water needs of the plants; thirstier plants should be on lines dedicated to emitters with higher flow rates. Take care that the total flow rate does not exceed the mainline capacity, somewhere around 220 gallons per hour total.

Step 3

Install the main line. From the hose bib, screw on a backflow preventer, pressure regulator and filter. The backflow preventer keeps irrigation water from backing up into the household water supply. The pressure regulator ensures that the system's water pressure is optimal for the emitters. Since even small particles can plug the narrow subsidiary tubing and emitters, a filter is essential. Attach the main line drip tubing after all of these other pieces have been installed, and run it to the area specified in your drawing. Use an end cap to seal it once it's been cut to the desired length.

Step 4

Punch subsidiary lines into the main line and run them along the bases of the plants to be watered. Once they've been cut to the lengths desired, crimp the ends into the crimping tubes, or use cable ties to crimp them.

Step 5

Most drip irrigation design is fairly generic; it's at the point where emitters will be installed that the project takes on its customization. Emitters come in all sizes and shapes, depending on the need. For most plants, simple drip emitters with the flow rate sized to the plant's water use, do the trick. But for ground cover, seedling beds and other close-spaced plants, sprinklers, sprinkler hoses and other types of specialized emitters are available. Choose what's most appropriate and install. Once all the emitters are in place, test the system by turning on the water. Look carefully for leaks, emitters that won't flow, or plants that aren't getting adequate water, and adjust accordingly. Your new system should last, with little maintenance required, for years.

Tips and Warnings

  • Do not install emitters with different flow rates on the same subsidiary hose. The more restrictive emitters may not get any water through them at all.

Things You'll Need

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

Who Can Help

  • IrrigationDirect
  • IrrigationTutorials
  • Rain Bird
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.