Pop up sprinklers or sub surface drippers?

Date Posted: 9 October 2017 

If your thinking about putting in a watering system for your lawn, you’ll no doubt ask the question, “should I use underground drippers or sprinklers?” It’s a good question and almost everyone asks it when planning their irrigation project.

Let me start by saying that both will do the job of delivering water to your lawn and both can be installed as a DIY project – even if you don’t have much irrigation experience. Both work, both have been proven and successfully used for decades. It isn’t so much a question of which one is better but rather which one suits you and your circumstances the best. There are naturally pro’s and con’s for each so let’s talk some more about each.  

Sub Surface Drippers: 

This is a system where you install a network of dripper pipe underneath your lawn. The drippers are built into a special type of poly pipe. There us usually a dripper every 300mm along the pipe and they each emit around 2 or 3 litres per hour of water (depending on the brand you use).


  • Drippers are more water efficient. This type of system uses less water than sprinklers to do the same job – up to 50% less! Because the water is delivered straight to the root zone, there is no run off, no evaporation, no wind blowing the water off target


  • Dripper systems are more expensive to buy upfront than sprinkler systems – up to 3 times more. This can be a deterrent to choosing this type of system but if you consider the savings you’ll make in the amount of water you use, a dripper system will eventually claw back that extra upfront cost. We recon the return on investment is around 4 years.
  • The drippers can get clogged with lawn roots over time. This is called root intrusion and happens because the lawn roots will always want to hunt down the water source. The traditional way to prevent this is by injecting chemicals down the pipes to kill off the roots.  Because we don’t like the idea of this, we sell a brand of dripper pipe called Rainbird Coppershield. Through its innovative design, they guarantee it against root intrusion without the use of chemicals.

Have a look at our video on How to install Underground drippers

Sprinklers; Photo, link to DIY sprinkler buying guide

Using pop up sprinklers is the traditional method to water your lawn. There are a few different types of sprinklers that are available to day including:

  • Regular spray sprinklers   
  • Rotator type sprinklers
  • Gear drive sprinklers

Pop ups are typically installed around the outside of your lawn and spray water from overhead to water your lawn.


  • Are cheaper to install than drippers (about 1/3 of the cost)
  • Because they spray water from the top, its easier to water in fertiliser and chemicals when you have pop ups.


  • Use more water than drippers. Because water is sprayed from overhead, the water can be blown around, it can evaporate and it can run off.
  • Can over spray into areas where you don’t want water (decks, paths , pools, driveways etc)

Have a look at our video on How to install sprinklers

Comments (1)

Difference in water saving

By: on 20 July 2019
Hi I am just about to get a quote from you for an irrigation system for a new lawn i am planning. I was assuming i would go sub-surface as that seems to make sense. As a scientist the first thing i do is always go and have a quick look at the science on these things to make sure it is a good decision. Are you able to point me to any data that shows the water savings to be achieved with sub-surface rather than overhead sprinklers? The study below showed no difference in water savings in a dry, arid location https://www.researchgate.net/publication/285525103_Comparison_of_subsurface_drip_irrigation_and_sprinkler_irrigation_for_Bermuda_grass_turf_in_Arizona Many thanks Maria

Paul Munns Instant Lawn Response
Hi Maria. You have some good questions regarding drip versus sprinklers. Both will water your lawn and are effective however in most circumstances, sub surface will do the job with less water. Most of the trial data I have to substantiate this is generated by the organisations who sell the products and in that way can be considered as biased however the logic behind the case makes sense, that being: * Water is delivered straight to the rootzone of the lawn (100mm below the surface) therefore you don't need to waste water getting it to the ideal profile depth. * Because water is not sprayed overhead, it is not blown off target by wind, nor will it run away down sloping surfaces * Because water is not sprayed overhead it will not have to battle with non-wetting surface soils in order to penetrate into the profile * Because water is delivered at a much slower rate, it has time to penetrate more effectively. These advantages and others were mentioned in the article you suggested. I agree with the article in that it is hard to find quantitative data to test the water saving potential of SDI. I also agree that SDI will cost you more to install - at least twice the cost of sprinklers. On the other side, I can say that drip technology has come a long way in the last 20 years and manufacturers are much more successful in ensuring chemical free root intrusion prevention. I can also say that the article did not allow for circumstances where wind was a factor nor did it allow for day time applications, sloping ground or non-wetting soils, all of which effect water applied by sprinklers. In that way, the circumstances which effect your property may help you make a decision. IE if you have a sloping, windy, non wetting conditions, sub surface would be for you. If you are still leaning on sprinklers, check out a product called MP rotators by Hunter Industries. These new generation type sprinklers deliver water much slower than conventional sprinklers and with much heavier droplets which will improve penetration and reduce wind drift. If you'd like to talk about this any further, give me a call on 8298 0555, Regards, Stefan

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