How to Identify the Size of the Water Meter & Supply Line


A critical step in designing an efficient irrigation system is determining how much water you have available, its flow and pressure. Start at the meter. It is usually near the curb buried in a meter box.

To find the meter’s size first look at the dial. Many meters have their size located directly below the gallon count. Sometimes it is stamped on the metal below the dial face. It will be something like ¾” or 1”, in most residential cases. Sometimes it’s not there or so dirty you can’t find it. In that case you have two choices. The easiest might be to simply call your water company and ask. They’ll have it on record. The other option, which is far from accurate but is safe for design, is to determine the size of the pipe leaving the meter and assume the meter is one size smaller. It is fairly common for the meter to be one size smaller than the feed pipe to the house. Typical water meter sizes are: 5/8″, 3/4″, 1″, 1 1/2″.

If you can’t read the pipe size on the pipe leaving the meter, don’t worry. DON’T GUESS. Also, don’t lay a ruler across it and use that measurement. If you have PVC you might be lucky enough to see the size printed on the pipe. If not,  or if  it’s not PVC, we have to measure. First, find a piece of string. Now, wrap the string around the pipe and mark the point where the string crosses.  The length between the marks gives you the pipe size.

Measuring PVC pipe using string Measuring Pipe Using String
Pipe Size Conversion Chart- Nominal Pipe Size to Circumference
Nominal Pipe Size
Approximate String Length in Inches
Copper Pipe
Galvanized Pipe
PVC Pipe
½”
2″
258″
258
58″
238
N/A
N/A
¾”
2¾”
3516
3516
1″
3½”
418
418
1¼”
4516
5316
5316
1½”
518
6″
6″
2″
6¾”
7716
7716

It is important to know what your pipe is made of. PVC tends to be white or grey (usually white), sometimes with lettering on the side and is plastic.. Steel grey and is magnetic, so that’s a quick test if there is any doubt. Copper will turn to a dirty green color over time and is not magnetic. Its connections will be soldered, so if you see silver at the joints you have copper. You may have what is commonly known as “flex” tubing. It can be either PEX or PE Tube. Pex is the stronger of the two and would usually be the one used for supply lines. It is white, might have PEX on the side. If there is any doubt then take a section to your supply house to see what you have and what fittings fit.

Now that you know what size meter you have we need to determine flow. That’s coming soon. Stay tuned.

Want to Have an Impact? How about an impact rotor?


Which came first: the lawn sprinkler or rain? Well, rain. Then lawn sprinklers. Well, no, I guess flooding and then maybe ditch irrigation and then someone poured water from a pot onto plants and …never mind. I’ll just skip ahead.

Brass Impact RotorThe impact rotor sprinkler was the first successful, efficient area sprinkler developed. The original design came about in 1933 from a farmer looking for a more efficient way to irrigate his citrus crop. Pouring water out of a pot just wasn’t doing it. It would not be an exaggeration to say this sprinkler revolutionized agricultural irrigation and is still an integral part of irrigation today.

One of the indicators of a good design is to look at how much something has changed through the years. A 1925 pickup had a drop tail gate, stake pockets, leaf springs, and was available with an 8’ bed and 1 ton rating. Sounds a lot like current pickups. If you saw the first impact sprinkler you would see that the design has changed little through the years. Arm still swings, it still rotates and it is still dependable. It would work fine today.

Impact rotors work best on large, open areas. Typical operating distances are from a low of 20’ up to 65’ in the residential applications and over 100’ in commercial uses. They provide consistent, dependable coverage with little maintenance required. Most give you rotation settings of a partial circle from 20°-340° or full 360° coverage.

What are the main advantages? There are a couple and they are important. The first is that the water path is uninterrupted. On standard, non-popup, rotors it doesn’t go through any filters or screens; it flows through just like the water from the end of a hose. This means the impact sprinkler is far less susceptible to clogging from debris. It also means there is very little risk of damage from grit and sand in the system. It just blows out.

The second is the exposed operating mechanism. With more modern design popup rotors there is an internal gear drive mechanism. This is vulnerable to dirt or debris in the water and can cause the rotor to stop turning. At this point the rotor must be disassembled to clean. With the drive mechanism of the impact being 100% external and with no gears to worry about, the durability and long term performance of the unit is greatly enhanced.

Pop-Up Impact RotorOne objection to impact sprinklers was their high visibility even when not being used. The Rain Bird Maxi-Paw acts as a pop-up, disappearing when not in use. It gives you the benefits of an impact rotor with the visual appeal of disappearing pop-up. One big advantage of these is you can use them to efficiently water a park or public area yet avoid trip hazards.

Impact sprinklers are thought by some to be ‘old technology.’ After all, numerous new and different irrigation products have come along since. Well, hammers are pretty old technology and no one hesitates to use them. Old doesn’t mean useless. The technology might be old but the usefulness and efficiency has increased through the years. With different sizes, replaceable nozzles, pop-up designs and water saving features the impact rotor looks to be around for a long time. It just works.

Teflon Tape and How To Use It


Teflon Pipe TapeTeflon® tape (polytetrafluoroethylene, or PTFE), AKA plumber’s tape, is a thin film used to seal pipe threads. The tape is durable, flexible, and fills in the minor imperfections in the threads to seal leaks.

To use, hold one end of the tape against at the start of the pipe threads/end of pipe and start wrapping opposite of the direction of the threads, keeping the tape flat. Pull the tape Wrapping Pipe with Teflon Tapetightly into the threads but not so tightly that the threads cut through. Keep going in a flat uniform manner until you come to the ends of the threads/pipe. Now thread the pipe in carefully and you’ll have a good seal.

You want more than one layer but generally not more than three or four. If you are using drastically different materials, such as copper or brass to PVC, you may need extra but that is unlikely. Too much tape is as bad as too little. It will prevent a good seal. With the proper amount the pipe should thread together smoothly, sealing all gaps in the thread.

When do you not use plumber’s tape?

This tape is only effective on tapered threads as it uses compression to form the seal. Fortunately, the vast majority of the connections you make in irrigation will be with National Pipe Thread Tapered Thread, or NPT, and this tape will work well.

Many will tell you that brass to brass fittings are self sealing. In one manner they are but it takes an experienced professional to know which ones will work. You risk a leak if you are not sure you have the correct condition. Tape is cheap insurance. Brass fitting threads also tend to be extra sharp, especially on the smaller pieces, and may cut through the tape and ruin the seal. In this extra care is needed. In extreme cases you might need pipe dope but that is rare. The general connection involving brass in an irrigation system is with the backflow. Plumbers tape should work just fine there.

Pump Installation for Irrigation


Ok. The water is in the lake and you want it on your yard. This means you need a pump to move the water from the lake to your irrigation system. Choosing the pump is addressed in another article. We’ll talk about how you put it in and what you need to do it. Pumping from a well is the same basic procedure.

Basically we will have a pipe, probably PVC, going down into your water supply, up through a pump and into your system. So let’s start with the pipe and the water. If you are lucky you have lots of fish in your lake. Unfortunately, you also have sediment, plants, bugs and other things that will not go through your sprinkler heads. The first thing to install is some sort of filter/strainer. It fits on the end of the pipe and keeps the larger trash out.

Foot Valve

One type of filter is a foot valve. This is a combination of a filter and a check valve. A foot valve keeps the water in the pipe even when the pump is turned off. This means that the pump is kept wet (primed) and water is at the pump as soon as you turn it on. If water ran back down to the lake the pump would only have air to pull. This is an example of a foot valve and strainer combination. They can be PVC, aluminum, brass or steel.

Basket Strainer

Some other options are a basket strainer or a self-cleaning strainer. If you use either one of these, you will need a check valve, too, or the pump will not stay primed. The exception to this is if you have a self-priming pump. A basket strainer or self-cleaning strainer is all you need then.

Now we have PVC pipe running up hill to the pump. The end in the water must be secured to something: dock, pier, post, etc. It cannot float free or it will break. The size of the PVC will be determined by your pump. For both looks and freeze protection you might want to bury the pipe. If you leave it above ground you will need to stake it down and possibly insulate to protect from freezing.

The pump itself will need to be bolted to a concrete slab and connected to your pump switch and controller.

So what do we need and why?

At the pipe end/strainer:

To fasten to a post:

Galvanized strapping

  • Strapping. Usually galvanized, available at almost any hardware store. Available in rolls or pre-cut to length.
  • Nails, should be galvanize, 16p.
  • Claw hammer.
  • Tin snips to cut strap.
  • Leather gloves and eye protection

To fasten strainer/foot valve to pipe:

  • Drill, preferably cordless
  • Good, grounded extension cord if your drill is not cordless
  • Assorted drill bits
  • Phillips and/or slotted screwdriver
  • DO NOT PUT THE EXTENSION CORD IN THE WATER. Please don’t.

For the PVC:

  • Primer and cement
  • Hacksaw
  • Pipe tape (commonly called Teflon tape, even though it’s not)
  • Saw horses or cinderblock to lift pipe off ground while cutting.
  • Pipe and fittings, determined by pump and location
  • Tape measure. Measure everything twice. Trust me.
  • If placed above ground you will need some sort of stakes to hold the pipe in place

For the Pump:

The pump needs to be bolted down to a slab. If possible, buy one pre-made. If you need to make one follow factory recommendations and you will need:

  • Board 1”x4: to length for framing.
  • Saw, hand or power
  • Hammer for nails and stakes
  • 1”x2”x12” stakes
  • 8p or 10p nails. Duplex/double head are best
  • Wire mesh or #3 rebar re-inforcing for concrete. Some stores sell pre-cut.
  • 24” bolt cutters if you have to cut your own rebar
  • Tie wire (also known as baling wire) if you tie your own rebar
  • Pliers, preferably side cutters.
  • Bags of concrete for slab
  • Something to mix concrete in: bucket, wheelbarrow, etc.
  • Bolts to mound pump to concrete. See factory recommendations.

Miscellaneous:

  • A bucket or hose to put water in the pump to prime and to mix the concrete
  • Shovel for digging ditch and mixing concrete
  • Rags
  • Wire nuts
  • And if you are like me, a first aid kit.

Who do I ask? Not me. I just do irrigation repair. You need to talk to…


Well, not me, that’s for sure. I’ll tell you why. First, the questions being asked:

  • Why are my leaves yellow?
  • What fertilizers do I need?
  • What plants should go behind my house in the shade?
  • Is my soil absorbing enough water?
  • What is the best herbicide for my yard?
  • Are you married?

Actually, I don’t get the last one a lot. If ever. The rest come up frequently in every variation. Why? What makes me such an expert? Well, I’m a licensed irrigator and I’m doing work in the customer’s yard. That makes me an expert on plants, right?

Did you see where I said I was a horticulturalist, botanist, gardener, arborist or even farmer? No? Well, I am related to a number of farmers and one horticulturalist but the knowledge is not DNA based. It is training, experience and education based. My training tells me how to get the water to your yard efficiently and economically. It doesn’t tell me what you need for your particular soil and landscaping. The question now is: who knows? How do you find the information you need? I’m going to work backwards, from the big guns down to local experts.

The Big Guns

In every county of the country there is a county extension agent. Every county of every state and Puerto Rico, no matter how small the population. As of this writing, Loving County, Texas is listed as the smallest county population in the nation with less than 100 people. Actually, only 82 as of the 2010 census but someone may have broken down there since. Loving County has a county extension agent.

Get to know your county extension agent. They know their business, help is generally free and their resources are vast. They can help with plants, fertilizers, insecticides, herbicides and general advice. To find yours, go to the United States Department of Agriculture Cooperative Extension System.

The more information you give them, the better they can help. One very important piece of information is the makeup of your soil. It’s more than just dirt. It has all kinds of important chemicals that can help or kill your plant, such as lime, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, sodium, nitrogen, iron and more.

Finding out what is in your soil is very easy and amazingly cheap. Most states have at least one college that has an agricultural program that will test your soil. Some soil tests run as low as $10. Many I found were only $15. Send them a sample, give the results to your county agent, listen to the advice and get ready for a very healthy yard.

The universities listed here are purely random and provided as a country wide sample. The links will give you an idea of what tests are available. To find one in your area go to your web search engine and enter your state name and ‘soil analysis’. You will find one.

University Websites With Soil Analysis Services
University:
Website:
North Dakota State University http://www.ndsu.edu/soils/services/soil_testing_lab/
University of Idaho http://www.agls.uidaho.edu/asl/services.htm
University of Maine http://anlab.umesci.maine.edu/default.htm
Virginia Tech University http://www.soiltest.vt.edu/
Kansas State University http://www.agronomy.ksu.edu/soiltesting/p.aspx?tabid=34
University of Hawaii http://www.ctahr.hawaii.edu/Site/ADSC.aspx
Utah State University http://www.usual.usu.edu/
Texas A&M University http://soiltesting.tamu.edu/

Local Experts

Don’t want to go through all that? No problem. The key to finding good local advice is finding someone you can trust and who has experience in your area. These are both important. I’m pretty trustworthy, I think, but you don’t want my advice on anything outside of my garage.

Get to know your local nursery. Real nurseries, not bulk distributors. Ask for any accreditations or degrees the company or its employees might have, such as Certified Nursery Professionals, horticulturist or botany degrees, arborist, master gardener certification, etc. There are national and regional certifications. Don’t hesitate to ask. They’ll be glad to show them to you. Find out how long they have been in business in your area. When you are satisfied, start asking questions. I have never found a nursery that was not more than willing to help.

Talk to a professional landscaper. Again, feel free to ask them for their credentials. Being a member of a regional landscape association is nice and can be of benefit but it’s not the same as that degree or certification. Ask for those. They should be proud to share them.

One note about professional landscapers: don’t expect it to be free. County agents and colleges are government funded. Your local nursery hopes to get your repeat business. A professional landscaper’s income is based on his/her knowledge and experience. Most of it is hard earned. It would not be right to ask them to give it away free. While they might give general advice just for goodwill, expect to pay a fair price for a real consultation. Since they can come to your house and see the actual conditions and plants they may be well worth the expense.

Who do you not ask, besides me? Your neighbor, for one. Plant damage can take a while to show. A good yard today doesn’t mean they didn’t just put down way too much fertilizer and it will be burned tomorrow. Some people think the best weed killer is gasoline or diesel. Care to guess what diesel does to your soil? It’s effective. No weed will ever grow there again. Nor anything else.

Ask a professional. You and your yard will benefit for years to come.