Impact Vs Oscillating Sprinklers: Which is Best? What’s the Difference?

Impact Sprinkler VS Oscillating Sprinkler

There are two very popular styles of sprinklers that come in a variety of different models and styles so it can be difficult to decide between an Impact Sprinkler or an Oscillating sprinkler and which is best for your context.  Every homeowner needs to pick the right sprinkler that fits the requirements of their lawn, generally the range a sprinkler will cover is the biggest determining factor of which product they pick.  However, it is wise to consider the life of the product, the ease of maintenance, and the ability to properly irrigate the lawn for your grass.

What’s an Impact Sprinkler?

Impact sprinklers represents the sounds of summer.  We all are used to hearing that tik tik tik tik tik shhhhtik coming for the sprinklers around the neighborhood.  When most people imagine a sprinkler, they are visualizing an impact sprinkler. Impact sprinklers are the sprinkler of choice for most lawn and garden professionals.

An Impact Sprinkler is the most common form of irrigating sprinkler.  They are designed to rotate back and forth.  The sprinkler head is driven in a circular motion by the force of the outgoing water.  This force causes the sprinkler to pivot on a bearing at the top of the threaded attachment nut.

They can be controlled to with a couple of adjustments one is a diffuser pin that looks like a flat screw in the front to displace the water and another knob that controls the overall water pressure increasing or reducing the distance.

Benefits of an Impact Sprinkler

  • Can create various stream patterns to the landscape allowing you to dial in the sprinkler to cover the areas that are most important to you. By measuring the distance and installing multiple fixed impact sprinklers or knowing where to move your sprinkler to it is easy to saturate a lawn without missing spots or wasting water irrigating cement sidewalks, fences, or the neighbors house.
  • Distribute water in an arc pattern ranging between 40 and 360 degrees. Being able to precisely control the arc pattern makes dialing in your water zone a breeze.
  • Cover larger area than a pop-up spray head from typical in ground irrigation sprinklers. While the water pressure that you can push through a sprinkler whether it is an impact sprinkler or an oscillating sprinkler is dependent on the pressure form your municipalities water lines, a high-end impact sprinkler has significant range capabilities.
  • Spray radius for most rotors is 20 to 150 feet. Being able to cover 50 – 75 feet in all directions is a huge bonus for homeowners that have a large front or back yard lawn that they need to irrigate. This reduces the number of times that you have to move the sprinkler in order to water all the grass if you only have a single sprinkler.
  • A diffuser pin to adjust the stream from a gentle mist to a powerful jet. Control how much mist or stream that the sprinkler puts out.
  • Applies 0.1 to 1.5 inches of water per hour. During the hottest months of the year it is nice to be able to apply a larger amount of water and then to be able to dial that back in the spring or fall when you don’t need to irrigate the grass for long periods of time.
  • Great if using well water as others get capability reduced over time due to hard water. An impact sprinkler simply doesn’t have the small lines and holes that other types of in ground sprinkler or oscillating sprinklers have.  Those small holes are notorious for being clogged up if you have hard water.  If you have hard water, look no further, an impact sprinkler is the best choice for your irrigation needs.
  • Easy to adjust the radius and the arc. Simply adjust the diffuser or trip pin to adjust the spray, change the radius by adjusting the setting pins, and the flap to change the arc.
  • Come in long lasting metal versions. Brass and Zinc are the most common high-quality impact sprinklers.
  • Come in three base types: Circular base, Wheeled base, and the in-ground stake.

Impact Sprinkler Negatives

  • Require more maintenance to keep operating precisely
  • Spring mechanism can be noisy and annoy neighbors in residential settings

Impact Sprinkler Bases

  1. Spike, the most common is simply a spike at the bottom of the sprinkler that can be pushed into the ground
  2. Pedestal either a longer form of the spike or a tripod. A pedestal gets the sprinkler higher up off the ground allowing for a additional distance that the sprinkler is effective in irrigating.
  3. Round or Square base. These simply offer enough weight distributed underneath the sprinkler head to keep it in place and are best for use when moving the sprinkler around a yard regularly.

What’s an Oscillating Sprinkler?

An Oscillating sprinkler is the 2nd most common type of sprinkler and is used by many homeowners to successfully irrigate their lawns.  It has a base with a single pipe in the middle with many holes and with the pressure of the water the sprinkler oscillates back and forth creating a large rainbow style pattern from left to right.

An Oscillating is simple to get working right out of the package.  They do not require the same kind of dedication to configure as an impact sprinkler, but that ease of use also means they often are not as optimized or as efficient in covering exactly what needs to be watered and nothing else.  Many homeowners just want the grass to be adequately irrigated and don’t have the time to fiddle with their sprinklers to be perfect and an oscillating sprinkler gets the job done.

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How an Oscillating Sprinkler Works?

  • Contains a long pipe that contains many tiny nozzles arranged serially in a pattern to result in consistent disbursement of water.
  • Connects to a garden hose at one end and will be controlled with a knob at the other end to adjust the water pattern.
  • They rotate from left to right and back and forth and will completely saturate the area that they are covering in a relatively short timeframe. Making them easy to use if you only have a single patch of grass to cover or need to move a single sprinkler around the yard.
  • When the water is spraying the pipe will oscillate back and forth, A small arm is attached to the knob controlling the flow of water. This arm is constantly being pulled and pushed by a small cam, the arm and cam are what keeps the sprinkler oscillating

Benefits of an Oscillating Sprinkler

  • Can generally cover between 76 square feet and up to 2300 square feet or more depending on the setting and the model. Of course the total distance will also be dependent on the water pressure coming into the unit.
  • Multiple nozzles from a dozen to more than 20 depending on the size of the pipe in the sprinkler.
  • Solid base that will not move when exposed to high pressures. Even the lighter weight plastic bases tend to function fine unless the grass is very long or your hose has been twisted than you might have difficulty keeping it in place or from rolling over.
  • Provides a constant flow which means the same amount of irrigation is happening close to sprinkler as at the farthest distance.
  • You are looking for an affordable sprinkler but not one that is going to require maintenance or break in less than a single season. They are cost efficient for the results they deliver.
  • Expect to get between 20 and 30 feet of good solid coverage and then more limited coverage on the edges and further distances.
  • If you need more coverage get an oscillating sprinkler that has more holes. These models are designed to put out more water at a given time.
  • Conscious of how much water you are consuming get a sprinkler with less holes.
  • Find a model that offers easy disassemble and reassembly so it can be cleaned out and maintained for long term use. If you notice deposits forming on the spray pipe holes than it is wise to clean the pipe and remove them before they get completely plugged.  This is a common problem for people with hard water.

Which is best an Impact Sprinkler or an Oscillating Sprinkler?

The best sprinkler for irrigating a variety of different types of lawns and that will last the longest is easily an impact sprinkler.  There is a reason that the sound of an impact sprinkler reminds us of a warm summer day.  They have been used successfully by countless homeowners and businesses to keep their lawns and plants irrigated during the spring, summer, and fall watering seasons.

An oscillating sprinkler will get the job done and there are many very high-quality ones on the market.  If you have a small patch of grass on your property and you are not watering many hundreds or thousands of square feet than they are often the right choice for the job and they are not going to hit the wallet very hard either.

You ultimately have to decide what is best for you and your situation, an impact sprinkler or an oscillating sprinkler, but no matter what irrigate your lawn and keep that bright green grass all summer long.

Let’s Quickly Go Over The Main List of Differences Between Impact and Oscillating Sprinklers One More Time

  • Impact sprinklers work based on an impact mechanism turning up to 360 degrees with each pass while oscillating sprinklers throw water evenly from a fixed place in a fan or rainbow pattern.
  • Impact sprinklers make a lot of noise while oscillating sprinklers are mostly silent.
  • An oscillating sprinkler cannot go around certain types of tall obstacles like trees but impact sprinklers usually can go under them covering more ground.
  • The impact sprinkler is generally more durable than even the best oscillating sprinklers on the market.
  • Oscillating sprinklers can be more expensive than many impact sprinklers and may have to be fixed or replaced more often.
  • Oscillating sprinklers usually work right out of the box whereas impact sprinklers need to be adjusted in most cases before they can be used on your property.

What Does all This Mean for Your Yard?

You may very well be thinking something along the lines of, “I just want to water my lawn! Just tell me which sprinkler to buy!”

Well, sorry buddy, but it’s a bit more complicated than just telling you which to buy.

Here are your main considerations:

What Size and Shape of Lawn Do You Need to Cover?

The size of the lawn in question makes a huge difference towards which system you choose. If your neighborhood looks like the ones in American Beauty or Edward Scissorhands, you would probably be best suited with an oscillating sprinkler.

On the other hand, if your yard could contain an entire aircraft carrier then maybe you should try several rotary impact sprinklers.

How new is the grass?

If we’re talking a brand-new baby yard, one which has just been sprinkled with seeds, you must be very wary about how you sprinkle it with water.

Grass seed can be expensive, so you’d hate to wash a big portion of your seeds away by carelessly throwing any old sprinkler out there. Go with the oscillating sprinklers here. The pattern of switching between getting rained on and not getting rained on helps give the soil time to soak in the water, rather than letting it pool up and carry your seeds off.

Beyond trying to water grass seeds, the most important thing for watering mature grass is to get the timing right. You want to water the lawn enough but not too much. For this, there are lots of solutions in both the oscillating and rotating varieties.

Just shop around and pay attention to the timer settings. Of course, you get what you pay for. So, the more automated you want this whole sprinkling process to be, the more you’ll make it rain at the sprinkler store.

Are you putting up the “please stay off grass” signs?

Believe it or not, sprinklers can be quite a safety hazard. Some cases of Legionnaires’ disease, otherwise known as Pontiac fever, were found to be associated with breathing in of aerosols formed from sprinklers which were attached to water hoses containing bacteria.

Also, it really hurts to trip on a sprinkler. So, if you’re going to have people in your lawn you should invest in a pop-up sprinkler rather than a shrub sprinkler (basically the shrub one doesn’t pop up).

The downside to pop-up systems is that they are not oscillating, and they are pretty fixed in place. On the other hand, that all seems like a fair trade-off when you consider the alternative of having a big metal spike sticking up out of your yard.

It must be kept in mind that these two are structurally and functionally designed to serve two entirely different purposes. No generalization can truly be made here, and we cannot simply call one of them better than the other. The best one for you would depend on the specific conditions of your lawn.

These two have been designed from entirely different starting points. Sometimes, the best answer is to use a combination of both in your yard.

Some of the best sprinklers for sale anywhere include both oscillating and impact styles.

In the case of noiselessness, if you live in a quiet place where people like the serenity, you might have a preference for the noiseless oscillating sprinkler.

If you have a lot of trees in your garden or lawn, the impact sprinkler might be the better choice.

Again, if you are looking for economic value, the impact sprinkler seems to be the better choice because it is both less expensive at first as well as far more durable than the Oscillating Sprinkler.

Another Big Consideration: Water Usage and Efficiency

The key to not wasting your water on your lawn is simply caring about not wasting water on your lawn. For example, setting the timer on your sprinkler system does not need to be a one-and-done sort of thing.

You will have to change these setting periodically throughout the summer to prevent an enormous amount of water waste.

As another good example, pay attention to where you place your sprinklers. You can’t just stumble outside with coffee in one hand and a cancer stick in the other and drop your state-of-the-art oscillating sprinkler head attached to your hose without giving careful consideration to the effects of putting it in that particular spot.

To put it short – don’t water your sidewalk. Choose the placement and size of your sprinkler carefully.

Maintenance is so important. There are so many things that can go wrong with a lawn irrigation system that it boggles the mind.

The heads can be tilted, or dirty. Your water pressure might vary. The hose or piping can get damaged. The heads themselves can be damaged. Not to mention the fact that maintenance of any machine is essential for its continued efficient operation.

But there are professionals who are trained and licensed in irrigation technology who can help in keeping your whole system in tip-top shape.

To Wrap Things Up

Oscillating sprinklers and impact sprinklers are two of the oldest sprinkler designs. They have stood the test of time.

They both have extremely different designs and operate in very different ways.

They each have their advantages and disadvantages. The best thing to do is to tailor your lawn irrigation system to your individual lawn by using both types of sprinklers.