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How Do Lawn Sprinklers Work?

Watering is Important

Proper mowing, feeding and weeding are important parts of the overall maintenance of a lawn; and then there's watering. Nothing is more important to a lawn than having sufficient water. Sprinklers make the task infinitely easier. From their early start as simple spray heads attached to a hose, sprinklers have developed into elaborate, programmable systems that can water automatically. Understanding the types of lawn sprinklers available and how they work can help you to select a method of watering that will work best for your lawn.

Spray Heads

Spray heads are the simplest devices for watering. When water pressure is turned on, the spray head will atomize the water across a specific area. They are adjustable to accommodate any angle of spray. Some types of spray heads can pop up when watering and will drop back into the landscape once finished. The watering range is usually limited to a few feet. They are particularly useful in watering narrow strips of lawn or where walkways need to be kept dry.

Impact Spray Heads

Impact spray heads deliver a higher volume of water and can be adjusted to reach up to 20 feet. They can also be adjusted to spray at any angle. As water leaves the nozzle, it hits a spring-loaded swing arm that momentarily and repeatedly interrupts and disburses the water. This action also rotates the spray head a few degrees, watering another portion of the lawn. When the desired angle of watering has been completed, the impact spray head will rotate back to its original position and begin watering again.

Impact spray heads have few moving parts and are very durable. Some models will pop up from within protected housings and can be relatively inconspicuous. They tend to be noisier than other sprinklers and can become overgrown with grass that will need occasional trimming to keep it functioning properly.

Rotor Sprayers

Rotor sprinklers are fully enclosed, gear-driven sprayers that deliver a continuous stream of water at a high volume and can be adjusted to cover any angle. The nozzle of the rotor can be also adjusted to provide different spraying patterns including stream or fan patterns.

Rotor sprinklers are durable, due to the gear works being encased in a housing. Dirt and other debris are prevented from damaging it. These sprinklers typically pop up and are very easy to conceal underground. They are also very quiet.


Piping connects the sprinklers in a continuous series to provide water in each zone of the yard. PVC or plastic piping can be assembled and then buried to conceal it. Each zone of piping is connected to a valve that is then connected to an automated controller.

Valves and Controllers

A valve is placed between the water source and each zone to control water flow. It can either be a manual valve that is operated by hand, or an automatic electric valve. When the valve is activated, it opens and water flows to the zone. When it shuts off, so does the water.

Controllers are computerized timing devices that automate the watering of a lawn. Electric valves in a sprinkler system are turned on and off by the controller. The controller itself can be located indoors and remotely wired to the valves outside. The controller is programmed to water at specific times on specific days and can even have sensors that will shut the system off in the event of rain.

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