Drip irrigation is the most water-efficient way to keep your lawn green or your garden productive, but you can't simply connect the equipment to your outdoor spigot and just expect it to work. Pressure regulators are widely recommended as absolutely necessary for home irrigation, yet that may not be true. Find out why pressure regulators are recommended and how to actually figure out if you need one or can save a little money by skipping the part.
Home Water Pressure
You want strong water pressure when it comes to taking a relaxing shower or quickly filling up a water bottle, but excessive pressure is very damaging to irrigation equipment. Drip irrigation is particularly dependent on low pressure since it allows water to only slowly escape the tiny emitters so that it is not wasted. Pressure that rises over 30 pounds per square inch (PSI) is likely to damage to the equipment, or at least make it operate poorly. Home water pressure is usually higher than this, often up to twice as high, so it's common for irrigation installers to use regulation valves on all projects regardless of the actual pressure coming out of your spigot.
A very inexpensive screw-in water pressure tester can immediately tell you what you're dealing with at the spigot. These testers are available at most hardware stores and from every irrigation supplier for less than the price of a decent pressure regulator. If you're having your irrigation system installed professionally, simply request that the installer test your pressure first. A reading of 30 PSI or below indicates that you can install your drip irrigation equipment directly to the spigot rather than installing a regulator first.
Why does it matter if you have a pressure regulator installed? First, pressure regulators are often one of the most expensive single components of an irrigation system. Eliminating it without damaging your equipment saves money during irrigation installation. The difficulty of controlling and reducing water pressure also causes this part to wear out faster than the rest of the system, leading to long-term costs as you replace that regulator every few years or so. Simplifying an irrigation system is always a good idea because finding the cause of a leak or lack of flow can take hours of billable time. Regulators can cause surprising problems that aren't always obvious, so there's no real reason to use one if it's unnecessary.