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How to make a cheap, simple lawn sprinkler system

You don't have to spend thousands just to water your lawn. Here's how to build an irrigation system on the cheap.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET
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Owning a suburban home has its perks. Having to water your lawn constantly isn't one of them. You must dedicate multiple hours every week standing behind a garden hose or running a sprinkler. If you don't, your grass will suffer and weeds will surely invade. Sure, one way to avoid this chore is to drop thousands on an underground irrigation system, but there is another way.

Here's my quick-and-dirty DIY method that's actually quite effective, yet costs less than $100. All you'll need for this lawn-watering setup are an outdoor faucet, a garden hose, a few off-the-shelf parts, and one remarkable sprinkler gadget.

The problem with lawns

Actually there's not one but many. The biggest obstacle to good lawn health is a lack of regular watering. I noticed this issue with my own lawn during the long, dog days of summer (late July and August) when the weather here in Louisville, Kentucky, is at its hottest, with high humidity, but not enough rain.

It was within these stretches when small sections of my green lawn began to turn brown. While not a sign of true grass death, it did indicate my lawn was under stress and reacting by going dormant. This paves the way for aggressive invaders such as weeds, insects and other parasites.

Since I'm not lucky enough to own a house with a fancy irrigation system, I combated the problem by watering with a cheap oscillating sprinkler. Unfortunately, the limited range forced me to reposition the sprinkler at least twice, sometimes three times a week, in order to effectively cover my entire yard.

Another pain was that unless I rose at the crack of dawn to water, I'd lose much of my efforts to evaporation under the hot daytime sun. Either that or I'd encourage the growth of unpleasant molds and fungus if I ran the sprinkler too close to nightfall.

MacGyver'd lawn irrigation

At the heart of my improvised setup is the $45 Quick-Snap Sprinkler Kit. This unique device is a water-powered, gear-driven rotating sprinkler designed to throw water approximately 40 feet (depending on water pressure). Its aim and swivel are also adjustable to cover lawns of all different dimensions.

The Quick-Snap sprinkler is water-powered and rotates.

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To automate watering and eliminate reporting for early-morning sprinkler duty, I chose the $29 Orbit Single Dial Hose Faucet Timer. The gizmo is essentially a water valve linked to a battery-powered electronic timer. While not a smart appliance in today's modern parlance (no internet connection or links to networked objects), the timer has enough brains to control my sprinkler on a schedule. 

Orbit also makes a truly smart hose-connected timer, the B-Hyve, but it costs a little more. The basic Bluetooth model will set you back $47, while a B-Hyve kit linked to both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi runs $61. Additionally, Orbit sells its own gear-driven hose sprinkler called the H20-6. It is rated to cover more ground, up to 80 feet. At $19, this gadget cost less than the Quick-Snap. That said, it sits conspicuously above ground, not below it.

This Orbit timer waters on a schedule.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

The remaining parts of my system consisted of things I already owned, such as standard 25-foot garden hose (with a 5/8-inch diameter) plus a few extra items I found at my local Home Depot, like hose connectors and shut-off valves ($3 to $5 each).

The hookup

Connecting all the pieces of my new home-watering system was straightforward. Despite having an exterior water faucet that's far too low, the result of a repair to a sinking front porch, I had everything up and running in a few hours. I strongly recommend investing in a set of channel-lock pliers and some teflon tape to squash leaks should they appear.

With my hose adapters screwed onto the end of my outdoor faucet, I then tightened the Orbit timer into place. Next in the chain was my garden hose, which I connected to the timer. After that I screwed the Quick-Snap hose connector onto the other end of my garden hose and snapped it into its adapter on the Quick-Snap connector.

You may have to use a few hose adapters.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Next I chose a spot for the sprinkler, within the soil of a flower bed facing my front lawn, and dug a hole (about 7.5 inches deep by 4 inches across). Then I used the bundled metal key (a screwdriver works, too) to adjust the direction of the water stream and how many degrees of rotation I need. A hollow arrow on the top edge of the sprinkler indicates its direction while a solid arrow tells you how much the sprinkler head will turn (between 90 and 360 degrees). For my purposes I selected a watering arc just under 180 degrees, since my lawn is much wider than it is long.

Place the sprinkler in the ground.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Finally I set the Orbit Timer on a watering schedule: 6 a.m. for 1 hour, every four days. Then I turned the faucet wide open for a quick test. Once satisfied with my watering zone, I refilled the hole I made with soil, which hides much of the sprinkler from view.

Set the watering schedule with the timer.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Lawn watering made easier

I have to say I'm impressed with the budget lawn-irrigation system I've created. It can't match the reach and control options a serious high-end solution would offer, since they are professionally installed and tailored to your specific needs. That said, for around one-twentieth the price, I now can water 90 percent of my home's front yard -- not a bad deal. I can also push the timer's watering schedule back a few days if it rains sufficiently just by tapping a button.

One sprinkler does the job pretty well.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

And while my setup doesn't reach the edges of my yard, I do have the option of installing up to three additional Quick-Snap sprinklers down the road. These can either be daisy-chained together to function as one unit or used independently when needed. Now if only I could get rid of those stubborn weeds just as easily, but that's another project.

Get the tips you need to grow a beautiful, healthy garden with CNET's gardening guide.