Making the switch to high-efficiency sprinkler heads

The evolution of irrigation technology reduces water waste and helps improve lawns and landscapes.

April 29, 2019 | By: Jay Adams

Spring is here, the time when flowers start to bloom, leaves pop out of the trees and grass starts to grow.

It’s also the season when homeowners fire up their sprinklers systems after the dormant winter months, providing a prime opportunity to evaluate sprinkler systems and landscape designs.

“Irrigation systems have come a long way over the past 20 years,” said Jeff Tejral, water efficiency manager at Denver Water. “We’re encouraging homeowners, businesses and local governments to replace their old, fixed-spray-head sprinkler nozzles with high-efficiency rotary heads.”

Fixed-spray-head nozzles are the most common types of sprinkler heads out there, but they throw large amounts of water up in the air as a mist.

This picture shows a sprinkler on the grass with wind blowing the spray.
Fixed-spray sprinkler heads put out a mist of water that can be blown off grass in windy conditions. Photo credit: Denver Water.


“The biggest problem with fixed-spray heads is that they put out water faster than our hard clay soil can absorb it,” Tejral said. “The other issue is if there’s wind, the smaller droplets from the spray can blow away and not fall where you want it.”

These problems can lead to brown spots in your landscape due to uneven coverage. But modern, rotary nozzle sprinkler heads can help.

“Rotary nozzles spray larger water droplets that are heavier and fall to the ground rather than blowing away if there’s wind,” Tejral said. “They also send out water at a much slower rate, so the ground has more time to absorb it.”

High-efficiency sprinkler heads deliver multiple rotating streams of water. Proper use requires them to run longer, but because they don’t put out as much water, they use the same or less water than fixed-spray heads.

“The big benefit is that you’re getting water where it needs to go at a better flow rate. That’s going to make the sprinklers more efficient and reduce waste,” Tejral said.

This picture shows a high-efficiency rotary sprinkler with several streams of water coming out of the sprinkler.
Rotary sprinkler heads deliver streams of water at a slower rate than fixed-head nozzles. Photo credit: Denver Water.


The price of high-efficiency rotary sprinkler heads has come down over the years, according to Tejral, and they are also more available to the public. Prices range from roughly $5 to $7 per nozzle. By comparison, typical fixed spray heads range from $1.50 to $3 per nozzle.

Denver Water offers rebates on select models of high-efficiency rotary sprinkler heads, which can be found at home improvement and irrigation supply stores. They can be used to water grass or other parts of a landscape. Denver Water customers can receive a one-time, $3-per-head rebate on purchases of 10 to 100 heads.

“Half of Denver Water’s overall water use is for outdoor irrigation, so it’s important that our customers water their landscapes as efficiently as possible,” Tejral said. “Water is scarce in the West, so by switching sprinkler nozzles, you can have a great-looking yard and help protect our water supply.”

This picture shows a homeowner taking the old sprinkler head off and replacing it with a new one.
High-efficiency rotary heads install easily on traditional pop-up sprinklers. Photo credit: Denver Water.


When installed correctly, the benefits of high-efficiency rotary sprinkler heads include:

• Easy-to-install retrofits for pop-up irrigation heads.
• Increased radius range.
• Considerably less water flow per minute than conventional spray nozzles allows water to soak into the soil easier.
• Fewer missed spots produces better coverage.
• Work better in wind.
• Reduced runoff on slopes and clay soils.
• Less chance for water waste.

Lawn Watering Times Month and Zone chart.

13 thoughts on “Making the switch to high-efficiency sprinkler heads”

  1. The watering times chart confuses me. It appears to me that the minutes increase with the more efficient sprinkler heads. That can’t be right, can it?

    1. Hey Wallace, thanks for reading and great question. Because the water is applied more slowly with these heads, they require longer watering times. Rotary/high-efficiency nozzles still use less water than fixed spray heads and more water is able to soak into the soil providing you with a healthier landscape.

  2. It’s not the price but just try to get a sprinkler guy our gal to come retro fit a residential job. My experience has been if it’s not a high cost job then they don’t have the time. I’ve tried numerous times with numerous companies or independents and it’s always the same…Well we are so busy, maybe call back later in the year.

    1. The simple answer is yes. You can purchase the new heads at any hardware store, unscrew the old ones and screw on the new ones. No digging required. Of course, a landscape professional can also assist. We recommend going through ALCC if you are looking to hire a professional:

  3. Given the watering times, I would be watering my lawn 7 hours a day, which might also mean I have to water during prohibited times during midday. This does not seem practical

    1. This chart is to be used as a starting point to determine the number of minutes to water each zone on the days you water. These times are averages. Adjust your watering minutes based on rainfall, type of grass or plants, sunny or shady locations and other characteristics.

      Rotary/high-efficiency nozzles fit on most popup spray heads. Instead of a fixed stream of water, rotary/high-efficiency nozzles slowly deliver multiple rotating streams of water, reducing water waste. Because the water is applied more slowly, more water is able to soak into the soil.

    2. I thought I would have this issue too, but I stagger my zones. I.e. on even day’s I water zones 1-6, and odd day’s I water zones 7-12. I understand that some areas you have certain days you’re allowed to water so it may not work for you. I’ve been pleased with the results of these nozzles by and large, my watering bill has decreased slightly about 10-15% and I still have greenish grass. I have noticed that I have had maybe one or two more per year I’m replacing as they either stop spinning or they start spinning super fast so not quite as reliable but nothing too bad. I think to keep a super green lawn you either needs lots of afternoon shade on that grass or you need to water almost daily.

  4. A Rachio sprinkler controller will run a zone, pause that zone and go to other zone(s), to allow absorption, and then return to the zone it paused to complete the watering. It seems to me this is as effective with the older nozzles than to switch out to the high efficiency nozzles. Your thoughts, please?

    1. Yes, a system that provides cycle and soak is the ideal way to apply water.

      As to our thoughts on the type of nozzles, there are some additional features efficient/rotary nozzels have that spray nozzles do not, including:

      1. Matched precipitation meaning that a quarter spray head, a half spray head and a full spray head all put down the same amount to the landscape. This can be done with spray heads but you really need to be aware of what is being installed.
      2. Larger droplets or a stream leads to less waste or no misting. Misting water can blow away and not make into the soil where the plants need it.
      3. Pressure compensation, which leads to less misting but also helps regulate when the pressure is higher or lower than optimum for regular spray heads. Optimum for most irrigation systems is 30 to 50 PSI.

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