Portland Homeowner's Guide To Irrigation Systems

by Ben Bowen

Sprinkler System Basics for Portlanders

In 1995 my parents decided to leave Phoenix, AZ for the greener grass in Portland. My dad, Joe, quickly took over as head of construction at a large high-end landscape firm. One thing about his skill set caught their eye- his experience with irrigation systems.

In Phoenix sprinklers are a necessity and so Joe had designed, installed, maintained, and repaired many of them. Here in Portland an irrigation system is a luxury. As a result, many Portland landscaping companies may only install only a handful a year- and are really not that good at it.

Yes, Portland is full of bad sprinkler systems. They are inefficient, leaky, maybe even (gasp) galvanized. Don't let your new sprinklers be installed like that. Here is what you need to know about irrigation systems and irrigation installers.

Sprinkler System Parts?

If you want to build or repair your own irrigation system you are going to need some parts. Visit our Amazon page (we may make a commission) for a list of parts we actually use.

Irrigation Automatic Timers

The timer for your sprinkler system will allow you to control what sprinklers come on and when they water. This is the element of your system that you will use most often- make sure you get a good one!

Timers can be placed indoors (in your garage) or outdoors. Just be sure that if your timer is mounted outdoors that it is a true outdoor timer. It will be clearly labeled either way.

Their are many reliable, easy to use models. Our preferred model is the Rainbird ESP-Me. This model is very easy to program, reliable, and gives you a lot of control over your system. With a simple upgrade you can even control this timer via an app.

If you want a timer that you can control with an app? The Rachio 3 is our recommendation.

Sprinkler Valves

Each "zone" (area of your yard or sprinkler heads that waters at the same time) is controlled by a valve. The valve receives a signal from the timer, opens, and you have water! When the timer tells it to stop- it does. A quality valve properly installed can last decades.

We install Rainbird DVF valves. The valves' wire connections are made with King Connectors. These silicon filled wire connectors will keep the connections sound for as long as the valve lives- don't settle for less!

How Much Does A Sprinkler System Cost?

This varies wildly, but as of 2017, a typical system is $1400-$1800 per zone. A typical 5000 square foot Portland city lot will have 3-5 zones. So the average irrigation system will be $4500-$7000.

Irrigation Heads

Sprinkler heads are available in several varieties, each is appropriate for different applications. We install Rainbird and Hunter heads- both high quality products.

Pop-up heads are for smaller areas. These are the most common head for a residential landscape. The head can support a variety of nozzles, which determine where that head waters.

Rotor heads are spray a stream of water that sweeps back and forth. Usually rotors are used for larger areas of lawn or plantings.

Backflow Prevention Device

Portland requires the installation, permitting, and testing of backflow prevention devices on all irrigation systems. These valves keep water that is in your irrigation system from flowing back into the main water line. You do not want to drink water that has been sitting in those pipes!


Low Water Use Irrigation Systems

Properly installed and well programmed irrigation systems do not have to use a ton of water. However, systems can be specifically designed to use very little water. Some of the tools that a low water use system can utilize:

  • Drip systems are very efficient since they put water directly on the root ball of each plant.

  • A traditional "spray" system can be made much more efficient by utilizing rotary nozzles (buy MP-rotators here).

  • "Smart timers" use real time weather and soil information to control your watering.

A low water use irrigation system may cost 20%-30% more than a traditional one, but should reduce water usage by at least 40%. That's a lot of water!

Get Your Irrigation Done RIGHT

Installing a sprinkler system is not a small investment. Remember, you will be using this system for years. A cheaply done system will waste water and need frequent repairs. Water is an extremely valuable resource for our communities. Use the basic information above to ensure that your irrigation contractor does it right.


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We may receive commissions when you click our links and make purchases. However, this does not impact our recommendations. This blog post was live without the links for several years.