Irrigation Systems Application Options (automatic vs. manual)

Written by Lawn Care

Almost every homeowner in the U.S. spends some amount of time and money delivering water to outdoor plants. There are two basic ways to accomplish this task:

  1. Manual irrigation with hoses, nozzles, and sprinklers
  2. Clock driven in-ground automatic irrigation

There are hybrids of these two such as an in-ground sprinkler system that is manual operated or an above ground hose system that is clock driven, but these systems are quite uncommon.

Most new homes come equipped with some form of clock driven automatic irrigation because this is a popular amenity that many people have come to expect. Manual irrigation is time and labor intensive and requires regular attention and vigilance. An automatic irrigation system can be simply programmed turned on and left to run. We don’t recommend this “hands off” approach as it almost always results in over-watering and water waste, but there is no denying the convenience of an automatic irrigation system.

Convenience aside, there are a number of issues that should be considered when choosing an irrigation method:

  • Budget – can I afford the system, maintenance costs, and the increased cost of water associated with an automatic system?
  • Landscape – does my landscape justify an automatic system? Can I effectively irrigate my landscape manually?
  • Physical condition – am I physically capable of manually irrigating my landscape?


An automatic irrigation system costs more to purchase, operate, and maintain than just about any manual system you can dream up. Hiring an irrigation contractor to design and install an automatic system will cost a minimum of $1,000 for a very small system and will likely cost between $2,500 and $6,000 for a moderate to larger sized system. Annual maintenance of the system will cost several hundred dollars. The cost of the additional water you will consume will vary from place to place, but as a rule of thumb you can figure your outdoor water use is likely to double after installing an automatic system.


Not all landscapes will benefit from an automatic system. If you have a small yard and automatic system may simply be overkill. If you have a low water use landscape (or you just don’t water much) there is probably little point in paying for an automatic sprinkler system. On the other hand, if you have a moderate or large sized landscape and you spend a lot of time watering with your hose and sprinklers, an automatic system may be an excellent addition.

Physical Condition

If you are unable to drag hoses and sprinklers or you are just plain tired of manually irrigating and automatic system could be just the ticket. Many senior citizens have systems installed as a way of maintaining a high quality of landscape with reduced effort.

Irrigation Systems Irrigation Audits

Some water providers, cities, and utility companies offer irrigation audit services to their customers. A representative from the local water provider will come to your home evaluate your current landscape and irrigation system, identify areas for improvement, and provide a new watering schedule all of which will help you save water.

For information about irrigation audits in your area, contact your local water provider.

William Lowe

William Lowe

William Lowe graduated from the University of Southern Maine in 1994 with a Bachelor of Arts in English. Lowe has been active in the landscaping and home design trades since 1990.
William Lowe

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Last modified: September 12, 2017

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