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6 Different Types of Sprinkler Heads and Sprinklers (Buying Guide)

This is an epic sprinkler head buying guide where we set out the 6 different types of sprinkler heads and sprinklers as well as discuss sprinkler needs for area that needs watering, types of sprays, costs and additional features.

A collage of different types of sprinkler heads.

When you’re a kid, sprinklers are about water fun in the backyard. When you grow, they’re all about irrigating your lawn and gardens to create a beautiful oasis of a property. However, there are many different types of sprinkler heads you can buy.

Choosing the right sprinkler head for your irrigation needs takes time and effort. To pick the best option, you have to know some basics of irrigation and landscaping. These topics are so complex that there are whole industries dedicated to specializing in them.

Though you won’t be able to learn all of the details of each discipline in one sitting, this article will help you to grasp the basics, and apply the knowledge to buying your sprinkler heads. We’ll go over everything you need to know about sprinkler heads as well, from the basic anatomy to the different types on the market today.

Related: Types of Garden Hose Storage | Types of Gardening Tools

I. Sprinkler Head Buying Guide

 

A. Irrigation Basics

Each in-ground sprinkler system is comprised of the main line which leads to different branches. At the end of each branch is a sprinkler head, which is a specialized piece of machinery designed to spray water over a designated area.

Source: Lowes

If you want to irrigate your lawn and garden, you have two options that involve sprinkler heads. You can use a simple, above ground set up, and buy a head that fits onto a hose. You could even buy a hose splitter so that you can water two different parts of the yard at once.

Your second option is to put in (or have someone install for you), an in-ground system.

The in-ground method of watering a yard is automated. Homeowners use this type of system if they want a landscape to be cared for, but they prefer not to stand out in the yard and spray water with a hose for hours each week.

Each in-ground sprinkler system is comprised of the main line which leads to different branches. At the end of each branch is a sprinkler head, which is a specialized piece of machinery designed to spray water over a designated area.

B. Parts of a Sprinkler Head

Every sprinkler head has two basic parts: the body and the nozzle. These two parts can either be very simple or very complex.

1. Simple: Anatomy Of An Above Ground Sprinkler Head

Spot sprinkler for small to medium lawn or garden.

 

Above ground systems, where you just screw a device onto your garden hose, tend to be very straightforward. You may have a body that provides a platform, and a nozzle comprised of little holes that distribute the water when the hose is on.

2. Complex: Anatomy of an In-Ground Sprinkler Head

Orbit 55200 Pulse Pop-Up Impact Sprinkler Head

In-ground heads tend to be more involved than above ground heads. The way the body is shaped will depend on what type of sprinkler head it is. Pop-up sprinklers, which we’ll be discussing soon, have a body that is wider at the base because an upper section retracts into it so that it sits underground when not in use.

The nozzle of a sprinkler will be shaped according to what kind of spray pattern it is designed to deliver, and how many streams of water it can pump out at once.

C. Different Spray Pattern Options

There are three basic types of spray patterns: fixed, rotating, and mist.

 

One of the most important differentiating factors between sprinkler heads is the spray pattern. Each heads are designed to create a flow of water that shoots out of the nozzle and onto the surrounding planted materials. There are three basic types of spray patterns: fixed, rotating, and mist.

1. Fixed

Plastic pop-up spray head sprinkler with heavy-duty stainless-steel spring and fully adjustable pattern.

A fixed spray pattern is designed to stay stationary. Most commonly, it consists of multiple thin streams of water that fan out from the center of a circular nozzle. Usually, the water that is pumped out can reach about 3 to 15 feet.

The fixed spray can be adjusted to fit the targeted area and might range from 40 degrees to a full 360 degrees, depending on the goal of that particular sprinkler head.

For example, if you place a sprinkler with a fixed spray pattern next to a walkway, you may only want the head to water in a 180-degree pattern so that you could avoid watering the pavement, but water the adjacent grass.

If thinking about this in degrees is confusing, you could also think about fixed spray patterns in full arc, half circle or full circle arrangements. Often the head can adjust to fit different degrees of coverage, but sometimes, a head will be sold that is not adjustable. For example, it may only be capable of spraying in a full circle.

Usually, fixed spray nozzles come in circular spray patterns, but recently there are some rectangular patterns on the market as well.

2. Rotating: Impact

Rain Bird 35ADJTNTB Brass Impact Sprinkler, Adjustable 0° - 360° Pattern, 23' - 50' Spray Distance

While a fixed spray pattern will stay the same while the sprinkler is in use, a rotating head has the capability of turning over time. Because they can turn over time while in use, they are great for covering large open areas.

It’s common for a rotating head to water up to 20 to 150 feet of surrounding plant material. There are three different kinds of rotating heads that you’ll likely see as you shop.

An impact rotating sprinkler is usually made out of primarily bronze or brass (as opposed to the plastic that is used in some gear-driven rotor heads). Because of these sturdy materials, the impact rotor mechanism is very sturdy and durable and can throw water a great distance — usually 20 to 150 feet.

The machinery within the head can be loud, making these more suited to commercial sites than private residences. This is because the best time to water is in the early dawn, when members of the household may still be sleeping. Impact rotor heads usually require regular maintenance, because of all of the finely tuned moving parts that can wear down and malfunction over time.

3. Rotating: Gear-Driven

Companies that make gear-driven rotating heads often use plastic parts, encase the moving parts inside the body of the sprinkler. They can be designed to turn anywhere from 40 to 360 degrees, and typically have a radius that is 18 to 55 feet. This makes them well suited to large yards or industrial and commercial areas.

The machinery of a gear-driven head is contained within the body of the device, so it is much quieter than the impact-rotor. They also typically cost less than impact rotors.

4. Rotating: Large Turf Rotor

The last type of rotating spray pattern is a large turf rotor. This kind of machinery is used for areas like golf courses, where a significant amount of mowed grass needs to watering. One head may have a flow radius of 100 feet.

5. Micro/Misting

Mister landscaper adjustable spray with drip irrigation and multi-stream emitter.

 

Some plants require a delicate spray pattern, which is what a micro-spray or misting spray head will deliver. Because the mist provides less water per hour (often measured in gallons per minute, or GPH), this type of head is very cost efficient. Micro or mist sprinklers might work well in a small garden such as a flowerbed, where water only needs to reach a small area.

They also work well for areas that have compact, slow-absorbing soil, like clay. If you place a high-flow sprinkler head, such as a rotating head, set to high pressure (PSI) and the ground can’t absorb it, you’ll have run-off and wasted water. Since the goal is to support plant health, it is essential to use a sprinkler that will provide water at a rate that the soil can absorb.

D. Elevation

Besides the spray pattern, it is also important to consider the elevation of each head.

Besides the spray pattern, it is also important to consider the elevation of each head. Some sprinkler heads will stick out above the surface area of the ground, and others are designed so that they can retract into the earth and disappear.

1. Pop Up: Two Inches

Rain Bird 1802HEVN15 High Efficiency Professional Pop-Up Sprinkler, Adjustable 0° - 360° Pattern, 8' - 15' Spray Distance, 2" Pop-up Height

Pop-up is the most common kind of sprinkler for in-ground irrigation systems. Professional teams usually put this sort of device in residential and commercial areas alike. They consist of a low, full part that you can place into the ground. When it is activated, it pops up.

This movement is good because when it is not in use, it is not going to cause a trip hazard. It also looks nice because the device is invisible when not in use. These devices tend to last longer because they won’t get damaged by the lawnmower or activity in the area. For these reasons, they are the most commonly used kind of sprinkler head.

The elevation of common pop-up devices ranges from 2 to 20 inches. Each body and nozzle is typically designed to deliver water anywhere from 3 to 15 feet. The two inch design is well suited to a yard with rocky soil that is hard to dig up.

2. Pop-Up: Four or Six Inches

Rain Bird 1804HEVN15 High Efficiency Professional Pop-Up Sprinkler, Adjustable 0° - 360° Pattern, 8' - 15' Spray Distance, 4" Pop-up Height

The heads that pop-up to a height of four inches are perfect for grassy lawn areas, where blades are usually cut to 3 inches, so the sprinkler rises above the grass and can spray.

Six inch is also a standard height for zones of turf. This allows for more clearance above the grass, and if the lawn cover gets a little bit longer, the sprinkler can still function.

3. Pop-Up: Eight to Twenty Inches

Plastic pop-up spray head sprinkler with fully adjustable pattern and heavy-duty stainless steel spring.

Source: Lowes

Taller sprinkler heads will be able to have clearance over considerable obstacles, and can also reach up into the foliage of plants and shrubs. These heights would be ideal for a zone with elevated planters, rock features, tall decorative grasses, organic gardens with reaching plants like peas, or tall hedges.

4. PVC Vertical Riser

PVC vertical riser with high quality PVC construction.

You may choose to use a PVC vertical riser with your head to give it some elevation. This is a good solution if you need to create clearance over a stone wall or other obstacle, but you’re choosing not to use pop-up sprinklers. However, in an open area, PVC vertical risers may cause an eyesore or trip-hazard.

5. Raised

The sprinkler heads that are not designed to retract into the earth when not in use can be thought of as having a “raised” elevation. The exact size depends on the type of sprinkler head that you buy.

For example, a head that you attach to your hose may protrude off of the ground anywhere from a few inches to a foot or more. Many sprinklers can be adjusted in height so that you can tailor them to your needs.

7. Settling

It is common for sprinkler heads to settle into the ground over time. Think about this when you choose the height of your sprinkler head. If you need a minimum of 4 inches of clearance to reach over a bed, consider getting a six-inch head or even longer, to account for some settling.

If the head settles too much, you can raise it up with a little bit of digging and repositioning.

II. Matching Product To Irrigation Needs

6500-sq ft impulse spike lawn sprinkler with deflector shield.

The sprinkler head that you buy will need to be suited for your unique irrigation needs, or else you will end up with a product that doesn’t do the job. As we’ve discussed, there are many different types of sprinkler heads. This section of the guide will help you get an idea of what kind coincides with the landscaping that you are working with.

Your watering needs may be different for various sections of your yard. These distinct areas can be thought of as zones. In general, it is best to use only one type of spray pattern per zone.

A. Size Of Lawn

The size of yard space you are working with may help you determine what kind of device to use.

1. Small to Medium Yards

Plastic pop-up spray head sprinkler with durable female threaded plastic nozzle and stainless steel retraction spring.

For a small to medium yard, pop-up sprinklers with fixed spray patterns would work well. The limited throwing distance is not going to be an issue because you have less space to cover.

If you use a pop-up head, the yard can still be a space for activities when the sprinkler system isn’t running. Another option may be an above-ground hose attachment. For zones of a small yard with planters, you may want a micro spray pattern that will focus on that immediate area.

2. Large Areas

Plastic pop-up spray head sprinkler with low gallonage impact rotor sprinkler.

Large yards or commercial sites. If you need to cover a large area, consider gear driven rotor heads because they are quiet and can include a maximal throw distance of up to 55 feet.

Irregular vs. regular

As we’ve discussed, most heads will spray in circular patterns. However, some newer models can cover rectangular areas. If you have an irregularly shaped yard, a circular head may work well. But for regular yards with many even, straight edges, the rectangular patterns cover the most area without overlapping.

B. Think In Terms Of Irrigation Zones

Think of your yard in terms of zones. These areas will have plants of like types. For example, one zone might be the grass-covered lawn, and a second zone may be a flower garden in front of the house.

1. Learn The Water Needs For Each Zone

3-inch pop-up sprinkler head with 15-foot adjustable pattern nozzle.

 

Once you divide your yard up into zones, it is helpful to know how much water each zone needs. Irrigation experts will often talk about the GPH that each head can deliver. This acronym refers to gallons per hour.

All plants don’t drink the same amount of water. For example, a food garden might need twenty gallons per week, and a lawn may need less. Do some research online or consult a landscaper to figure out what your plants require.

2. Measure The Area Of Each Zone

Next, you will need to discover the square footage of every zone. This information will help you decide what kind of heads to buy, as well as how many you will need.

Each nozzle will have a “maximum throwing distance” that is recommended by the manufacturer. This is useful information to know because it will tell you how far apart your heads will need to be position so that you create head-to-head coverage in the zone. If you space the heads too far apart, you’ll create dry patches in your yard where plant material can’t thrive.

3. Factor In Your Climate and Precipitation Needs

Consider the climate that you live in as you shop. The precipitation rate that the sprinkler is capable of delivering tells you if it is going to be sufficient for watering your plants. A plant with an extensive root system, like a tree, that is in a hot, dry climate may need more inches per hour (IPH) of precipitation than a small plant in a rainy or humid environment.

IV. More Details

Here are some more details to keep in mind.

A. Cost

The cost of a sprinkler head typically ranges from about thee dollars to almost twenty dollars per head. This price range has to do with the variations in how the body and nozzle designed. A simple hose attachment with few moving parts will be less expensive than a large turf rotor with many small, exposed moving parts.

If you find sprinklers for lower prices, such as one or two dollars per head, make sure that it includes both the body and the nozzle. Sometimes these items are sold separately, which accounts for the lower price.

B. The Maintenance Factor

When buying your sprinkler head, think about not only what kind of head will match your needs and be right for your budget, but also maintenance.

Pop-up sprinklers cost more than stationary heads up front, but you could find that you have to replace them less because they’re less likely to be damaged by the lawn mower. To keep an irrigation device working well over time, you’ll need to clip away the grass around the head, raise it up if it settles, and clean it if it gets clogged with debris.

Also, in many climates, you’ll need to “blow out” your sprinkler system once per year so that there isn’t water sitting in the head when freezing temperatures arrive.

C. Appearance

Is the appearance of your landscaping vital to you? If so, be sure to think about aesthetics as you choose your sprinkler system. Some options have sleek, refined profiles, while others are bulky, or rustic in appearance.

D. Key Features

Some manufacturers include key features that enhance the product. Here are some examples to features to look for.

1. Rain Shut-Off Device

Hunter Sprinkler MINICLIK Rain Sensor

If water conservation is important to you, look for devices that can work with a rain sensor. This kind of sensor will turn off the irrigation system on days when rainfall has delivered adequate water naturally, and the irrigation isn’t necessary. While some brands support this type of device, others do not.

2. Special Patterns

Pop-up sprinkler with side strip pattern and directional adjustment feature.

If your yard has sections that require specific patterns, such as a narrow spray pattern of fewer than 40 degrees than you should look for spot-specific spray patterns. One particular design that works well for tight areas is an end-strip pattern.

3. Irrigation Kits

Drip irrigation gardener's drip kit with installation tool.

Sellers also sometimes bundle sprinkler heads into packages along with a timer, tubing, connectors. This grouping can simplify the sprinkler buying process because you get everything that you need for watering the lawn in one place. A kit may not be ideal for a property with extensive landscaping and different needs in each zone.

E. FAQ

How Do Sprinkler Heads Work?

Lawn sprinkler heads like to keep it simple. They work through water pressure. If you have a very simple sprinkler that your children like to dance through on a summer’s day, you open the tap, and the water travels through the hosepipe and pushes up through the sprinkler head, making a delightful water fountain.

A slightly more complicated in-ground sprinkler system for people like me who don’t like to drag hosepipes around the garden regularly is switched on and off electronically with a controller. The controller sends a signal to open and close the valves and the water through pressure, forcing the sprinkler heads or spigots above the ground. Once the water pressure stops, the head retracts again. These can be set with a timer to control how your yard is watered and when

Why Do Sprinkler Heads Leak?

Sprinkler heads can leak for one of several reasons. They have valves that are prone to leaking if worn out or dirty. Blocked nozzles can cause leaks. There may be a broken pipe somewhere in the irrigation network.

Sometimes, you may find that the leaks might be from low head drainage, which is when any water remaining in the pipes after the valves have been shut off flow to the lowest sitting sprinkler head and leak out there until the pipe is empty. If it is causing puddles, the sprinkler system may need adjusting or check valves may need to be installed to prevent this.

How Long Do Sprinkler Heads Last?

A lawn irrigation system is an investment. How long sprinkler heads last is dependent on the quality of the product and your water, as well as how well you care for your sprinkler heads. Good quality spigots may last up to 10 years, but cheaper heads may not last as long.

Do Sprinkler Heads Leak?

Yes, sprinkler heads can leak. It might not be immediately noticeable if you have an in-ground lawn irrigation system, which is why regular maintenance is essential. I would also recommend flushing your irrigation system at the beginning of summer. This clears out any old water and helps to prevent blocked nozzles.

How Do You Know When to Replace Sprinkler Heads?

Knowing when to replace your sprinkler heads comes down to regular visual inspection, which will tell you whether any of your sprinkler heads are working erratically or not working. Inspect your irrigation system regularly when it is on and off so that you know when to replace your sprinkler heads. Sprinkler heads may need replacing for various reasons, including normal wear and tear. These include:

  • The sprinkler head is not extending or retracting correctly.
  • If too much or too little water comes out of the sprinkler head.
  • Sprinkler heads being installed too high or too low.
  • If they are rotor sprinklers and do not turn or rotate properly.
  • If the local wildlife has chewed the sprinkler head and it is not working correctly.

You may need to apply your DIY skills for some of these, which will resolve the issue, but if this doesn’t work, you know you need to replace your sprinkler head so you don’t compromise your sprinkler system and yard in the long run.

What Causes Sprinkler Heads to Stay Up?

The most common reason why sprinkler heads stay up is dirt and debris. Clean out your sprinkler head and if that doesn’t fix the problem, move on to the other alternative, which is that they may just be worn out.

What Is the Best Lubricant for Sprinkler Heads?

The best lubricant for sprinkler heads comes down to personal preference, and my personal preference is not to use a lubricant at all. Your sprinkler heads should not need lubrication. It is more likely they need to be cleaned, and lubricant will aggravate the problem, overriding the sprinkler head SOS to you. If you absolutely cannot live without a lubricant, try a water-resistant silicone spray.

How Do Sprinkler Heads Activate?

Sprinkler heads activate through water pressure. They extend if you have turned on the tap to the hosepipe. Or if the electrical controller has switched on and opened the valves allowing the water to travel through the pipes to the spigots.

For those of you thinking of well-timed sprinklers in the movies, those are activated by motion sensors. These work well to deter certain types of pests or unwanted guests.

Can You Mow Over Sprinkler Heads?

Yes, you can mow over retracted sprinkler heads with caution. I recommend first testing the height clearance of your lawnmower with the motor off to make sure it won’t hit and damage your sprinkler heads. Please make sure your sprinkler system is off while you are doing it.

If the mower is hitting the sprinkler head when you pass the mower overhead, you need to adjust the height of the cutting blade and test again until you are satisfied that you won’t harm your investment.

F. Where To Buy Online

Once you know what kind of sprinkler head you need, start shopping. Shopping online allows you to compare different designs and price points quickly. Here are the best places to look online for his item.

1. Lowes

Lowes has a great selection of sprinkler heads, including an extensive collection of above-ground options. If you plan on attaching your sprinkler head to the hose, check out the possibilities that Lowes offers.

2. Home Depot

Home depot carries sprinklers that can be used for above ground or in-ground irrigation systems. The prices range from a few dollars to about twenty dollars.

3. Amazon

Amazon contains items from sellers all over the world. Finding great deals on this platform is possible. Make sure to read the reviews so that you buy from a trusted seller and end up with a high quality product.

G. FAQs

How far apart should sprinkler heads be?

On average, sprinkler heads spray 15 feet. Therefore the ideal spacing should be 15 feet from each other. This ensures each sprinkler head can spray onto the next sprinkler head for an even layer of watering.

Spacing sprinkler heads isn’t complicated. Just ensure you lay a 15 feet head to head coverage. Most importantly, spray heads should pop out of the ground and spray uniformly.

You can also set them to various spray patterns, from full circles to half circles. This ensures each garden area has almost the same amount of water sprayed.

Are sprinkler heads universal?

Unfortunately, sprinkler heads aren’t universal. The top of a sprinkler head typically has the information on the appropriate replacement. The new head must match the gallons-per-minute delivery or inches-per-hour rates of the old head. A sprinkler head can be an impact or pop-up head. Pop-up heads are usually gear-driven, stationary, or rotor-driven.

How high should sprinkler heads be?

The proper height for a sprinkler head should be 12-inch above ground level. This guarantees the best water coverage, limits tripping hazards, and lets lawn mowers pass over without causing damage.

Incorrect sprinkler head heights lead to poor growth and brown spots, and damage to the sprinkler system. And installing the sprinkler heads too deeply underneath causes improper spraying of water.

Flooding the coverage gaps and sprinkler heads might accumulate debris and dirt, which causes mechanic failures and retraction problems.