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Installing drippers

Tips Before You Start
Here are a few things to make your experience with drippers easier!

  1. Always use a Punch made for drip irrigation tubing (See Punches)
    The barbed end on a dripper, which goes into the 1/2" polytube, needs an exact size hole. This is so it will seal correctly and not leak. Good punches will take out a small round piece of the polytube so the dripper will seal well without leaks. Punches that have sharp points push through the tube and do not cut out this piece of the tube wall. Punches that are dull can tear the house causing drippers to leak around the stem. Sometimes dull punches leave a flap of plastic inside the tubing, which can obstruct the water inlet on the dripper.
  2. Drippers, Emitters??
    Same thing just different words, we will use both interchangeably.
    Many people will tell you we are wrong on this and it does not matter, we obviously disagree!
    Some drippers are *made* to have tubing placed on the outlet side, these are made for a specific purpose and the performance specifications reflect this. In-line drippers are one of these types and have a totally different design than your common dripper. We feel that on most of the common drippers it is better to place them on the end of 1/4" microtube. The only additional part this causes you to use is a $0.06 to $0.10 1/4" barb.
  3. Buy quality products!
    Please note that the difference in the cost for drippers is because of a good reason! You get what you pay for! If you are doing a small system then the lesser cost drippers will work fine for you. If you are doing a large system, have hard water, have elevation differences or need to use the longest possible single line lengths, invest in the more expensive pressure compensating (PC) models. They are worth every penny in extra cost!
    NOTE: Our pressure compensating (PC) drippers are some of the best you can buy! We have the agricultural quality drippers marked on the product lists. These drippers are field proven over years of actual use and are sold around the world. Testing results are one thing, but real world usage is another!
  4. Follow the guidelines.
    Some guidelines may not seem important, but there are reasons. Try to always follow the guidelines of maximum line length, operating pressures and dripper spacing. Smaller systems can get by ignoring some things but if you are maxing out your system follow them guidelines!
  5. Use Filtration!!! (See Filters)
    No matter what you think, a $7.00 or $10.00 filter will be worth its weight in gold! If you use one you will never really appreciate it, if you do not use one you will pay later!

    Different Types of Drippers
    There are two basic different *types* of drippers and many different *styles* of drippers.

    • Types of Drippers (See Drippers)
      The two types of drippers are "Pressure Compensating" (PC) and "Non-Compensating"
      1. Pressure Compensating (PC) Drippers will allow for a steady flow rate between a rated low pressure (PSI) and a rated high pressure (PSI). This flow may not be exactly the same throughout the rated pressure range, but it will be very close. The pressure range will normally be around 10 PSI to 50 PSI (give or take a little). Most of these types of drippers will also include a "self-flushing" mode upon startup and shutdown to keep sediment from collecting in the dripper. The drippers do this by using a silicone diaphragm to actively regulate the flow of water.
        What makes these drippers so different is that they will allow a much longer single line length because of the wide pressure range they deliver at such a close flow rate.
      2. Non-Compensating Drippers will allow a higher flow rate at higher pressures and a lower flow rate at a lower pressure. The flow range is about the same as the compensating, but the flow difference between the high end and low end is not as close as the compensating type. This is because they use what is called a "turbulent flow" method of regulating the water flow. The water has to pass through an intricate labyrinth passageway to exit the dripper, which helps to regulate the flow rate. There is nothing wrong with this style of dripper and if you have smaller systems they will work just fine. If you have a larger system, the unregulated flow can quickly tax the water source and max out the line.
    • Styles of Drippers
      There are as many styles of drippers as there are different applications! One of the most common and oldest is the button style dripper. Then you can get into some of the others which are Flag, In-line, adjustable, Pot, Multi Outlet along with many others. Some of these can be made in both compensating and non-compensating styles. Some are made to be taken apart and cleaned, while others are made to install flushing capabilities on the 1/2" polytube. There are many styles, and each manufacturer has a different name or model which they say is unique.........they are all drippers.

      Not to scale
      Shown left to right: Button Dripper, Flag Dripper, Pot Dripper and Multi-outlet Dripper.

      Installing in 1/2" polytube
      As we mentioned above, you should use a punch made specifically for this purpose. The proper punch will make the correct size hole so the stem on the barbed end of the dripper will fit tight and seal correctly. For this reason, please DO NOT use a nail, or other device, to make the holes in your tube. The punch is where it's at!
      Every dripper has a water inlet and a water outlet. The water inlet has a small stem coming from the dripper which ends with a barb. This barb helps to hold the dripper in the tubing while the stem is what the tubing wall seals against. This is why the hole needs to be an exact size. (Don't forget that punch!)
      The water outlet can be a hole flush with the body of the dripper or a small stem protruding out from the dripper body. On some models the outlet may even be barbed.

      To actually install the dripper, use a punch and make a hole in the 1/2" polytube. When using a hand punch, hold the tubing in one hand to place pressure on the opposite side from the hole. Push the tip of the punch against the tubing and twist it back and forth while pushing. This helps the tip of the punch to cut through the tubing and not just rip through it. Like we mentioned in the tips section, the better punches will actually cut out a hole in the tube. Now take the dripper and push the barbed end into the hole made by the punch while still supporting the opposite side of the tubing with your hand. Push the dripper in until you hear a "Pop" or "Snap" sound. This will mean the barbed end has gone past the tubing wall. If the tubing is very warm you may not hear anything but just "feel" the barb push past the tubing wall. After a few times, you will get the hang of it.

      Installing in 1/4" Polytube
      To install in 1/4" microtube you just push the barbed end into the end of the microtube. If you have a hard time with this you may always dip the barbed end of the dripper in some liquid dish soap. This will help it slide in easier. Even better than the soap is to fill a cup with hot tap water and let the microtube ends soak until they get soft. Then insert the barbed end and let the tube cool before moving it around much. We have found this to be the best way because when the tubing cools it shrinks around the barb very tightly.
      If you have to take a dripper out of microtube *never* cut the tubing off! If you nick the barb on the dripper it will leak when re installed. Work the dripper off the microtube by pulling and moving it back and forth. You can also pry the microtube back using your fingernail. Once the dripper is off the tubing, you will need to cut the tubing back about 1/2" so the end which had been over the barb is gone. The barb deforms the tube end and if you just install a dripper in this end again it will not hold us we have done both!

      Replacing Drippers
      Like we mentioned above about the ends of 1/4" microtube, when a dripper is removed the barb will have deformed the microtube and you should cut off about 1/2" before placing another dripper or the same one back in.

      For 1/2" polytube you can just pull out the dripper. Try to pull it straight out, otherwise it may "rip" or "tear" the tubing around the hole. You can just pop another dripper in the same hole but make sure to test the seal by looking for leaks after the water has been turned on. If there is leaking, it is best to take out the dripper and install a goofplug to seal the old hole. Then make a new hole within a couple of inches and install the dripper.
      When using a goof plug to seal a hole, note there are two ends on the goof plug. The smaller end is the correct size to try first, but if the hole has been ripped or enlarged this end may leak. In this case take it out and use the large end. When doing this the best way is to get a pair of pliers and grip the goof plug by the small end. Then while supporting the back side of the tubing, push the large end straight into the hole. In our experience this will seal all except the most badly damaged holes. If this is the case your only alternative is to cut the tubing on each side of the hole, then install a coupling.

      Multi-Outlet Drippers
      Most multi-outlet drippers are made as conversions from conventional irrigation systems. The models we carry all connect to 1/2" male pipe thread, which is your common sprinkler riser type. In simple terms, they screw right onto an existing sprinkler riser taking the place of the sprinkler. Because they are replacing the sprinkler they need to take the place of watering many plants in the area covered by the old sprinkler. This is why they have multiple outlets.
      Another difference of these multi-outlet drippers is that you connect 1/4" tubing to the dripper and run it to each plant without placing anything except a stake on the end of the microtube. Depending on the amount of outlets and the flow rates you can water just a few plants or many. You will need to install a model which has the right amount of outlets for each area.

      To install one of these multi-outlet drippers, first remove the old sprinkler. Then turn on your water to flush out any sediment in the lines. Next clean the threads on the riser. Then place a few wraps of Teflon tape on the threads and screw the dripper on the riser. Run microtubes from the outlets on the head to your plants and use a microtube holding stake on the end of the microtube at the plant. Turn on your water and check for leaks at the base of the head on the riser and the flow from each of the microtube ends.

      Note the directions about the model you have because some can be adjusted, some can have outlets turned off and others may need to have the barbed connecters purchased separately.

      Most of the troubleshooting tips have been mentioned above but here are a few more.

      1. If you are using pressure compensating (PC) drippers and the flow from them seems to be too much, or not enough, upon the first start up do the following. Place your finger over the water outlet to stop the flow of water and then let go. Do this several times quickly until the flow returns to normal. This happens because sometimes when first used the diaphragm may not seat correctly and it just needs to be "kicked" in a manner of speaking. You may also have this flow problem if dirt gets in the lines and this procedure may help.
      2. If on any type of dripper the flow is nonexistent or very little, try the above trick. If that does not work make sure the dripper is pushed in all the way and that you have made a "clean" hole in the 1/2" polytube. Some of the punches which just have a sharp point and just pierce the tubing will leave "flaps" of the polytube inside that can block the water inlet of the dripper. We have also had situations on our own systems where we thought the hole was punched and the dripper was installed correctly, but the dripper never actually went all the way through. Try to pull on the dripper; if it comes out really was not all the way in. Make sure to look at the hole in the polytube also.
      3. If everything from the above items is checked out OK and there is still very little or no flow then we would be inclined to think of dirt in the lines. Try to flush the lines again and/or blow back through the dripper. If you are using flag style drippers, take them apart and clean them.
      4. If drippers are popping off the1/2" polytube check that the barb has been pushed all the way into the tubing. Check to make sure the hole has not been ripped or enlarged. Check your system pressure!! Are you using a pressure regulator?? Is the pressure regulator working correctly??
      5. If you have large elevation differences and only drippers popping off the system are on the lower elevations then you will need to change your layout so the elevation differences are not so extreme.
      6. If drippers are popping off 1/4" microtube, check to make sure the dripper is pushed all the way into the end of the microtube. Try cutting off about 1/2" of the microtube end and reinstalling the dripper. Is the barbed end of the dripper pushed all the way into the microtube? Are you using a pressure regulator? See the other items in #4 above.
      7. If drippers are clogging frequently try flushing out your system again and check your are using a filter right??
      8. Drippers whistle upon start up. This is normal and is cause by air in the lines. Nothing to worry about.
      9. No water comes out of any drippers......turn on the water! (LOL! We had to say this we have all done it sometime!)