Bio Green Outdoor Services, LLC Lawn Care & Sprinkler Learning Center (703) 450-0034

Sprinkler heads, sometimes referred to as irrigation heads, are designed to disperse water throughout your lawn and landscape features. Deciding on the right type of sprinkler head from the countless sizes, shapes, brands and styles can be somewhat intimidating. In this article, we focus on three basic types of sprinkler heads: pop-up spray and rotor heads, impact rotors, and gear-driven rotors.

Pop-up Spray and Rotor Heads

This type of sprinkler head is the most commonly used for residential and small commercial applications. Designed to supply a continuous stream of water, pop-up spray sprinkler heads use  a variety of nozzle patterns to distribute the stream of water to suit the contours of your landscape. The lack of moving parts (other than the “pop-up” stem) makes these types of sprinkler heads popular, inexpensive and straightforward to use and maintain.

The size of the sprinkler head is largely determined by soil type, soil condition, and other watering requirements. The size of a pop-up sprinkler head ranges from 2 to 20 inches in height and 2-inch models are usually used in hard soil areas where digging is difficult. Four-inch models are most commonly used, and they provide sufficient clearance of grass and compensate for the tendency for sprinkler heads to sink slightly in the ground. The mid-range (6-12”) sized pop-up heads can be used for groundcover, gardens, and shrub borders. 12-20” heads are used where more clearance is required to distribute the water effectively.

Pop-ups continue to improve with matched precipitation rates, adjustable and low trajectory nozzles, and nozzles with square spacing and strips, all of which contribute to increased efficiency. Some newer nozzles convert standard pop-ups to rotor type heads, which are capable of covering a distance of 8 to 30 feet. This type of nozzle reduces precipitation rates, which improves soil infiltration and reduces runoff.

Impact Rotor Heads

An impact rotor sprinkler head can be recognized by its signature sound—made by the arm striking the body of the rotor. These heads are able to produce single or multiple streams of water in an arc pattern ranging from 40° to 360°. Typically, a rotor sprinkler head is used to cover larger areas than pop-up heads.

This sprinkler head design has remained largely unchanged for many years due to its uncomplicated design, which makes it useful for well water applications or where other types of heads may become clogged due to hard water. These sprinkler heads are built to last for many years with brass or bronze components. The impact rotor head does require regular maintenance and may be noisy due to the spring mechanism.

Gear-Driven Rotors

Medium- and large-scale irrigation projects frequently employ gear-driven sprinkler heads over impact rotor heads. The lower cost, quieter operation, and versatility are a few advantages gear-driven heads provide over impact rotor heads. Gear driven rotor sprinkler heads typically require less maintenance because the enclosed body prevents clogging from dirt and debris.

Small commercial and larger residential areas are best suited for the gear-driven sprinkler head, which works better than the typical pop-up spray head in areas with slopes and clay soil. This is because the lower precipitation rate increases infiltration into the soil.

The radius of a gear-driven rotor ranges from 18 to 55 feet with an arc rotation of 40° to 360° and a precipitation rate of 0.2 to 0.8 inches per hour depending on pressure, nozzle size and zone layout.

If you would like more assistance or guidance on which sprinkler head will be right for you, please call our office located in Sterling, VA at (703) 450-0034 or visit our website at

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