The difference between saddle tees and insert fittings

There are several ways to connect irrigation pipes when making junctions or installing sprinkler heads when using polyethylene as the predominant pipe for lateral lines and feed lines. The two most common are types of fittings for making these splices are called insert fittings or saddle tees.

Insert fittings come in many forms and are very common in irrigation system installations. Some common configurations are couplings, tees, elbows and threaded tees. When making connections or installing sprinkler heads, these insert fittings are installed inside the pipe and are usually secured with a stainless steel pinch clamp or ring clamp. The pinching tool that is used for the clamps is inexpensive and can be found at a local supply house or hardware store.

Saddle tees are usually used when installing a sprinkler head. These types of tees clamp over the pipe and have two screws or nuts and bolts that hold the fitting securely onto the pipe. Once the fitting is clamped onto the pipe, a piercing tool, or sometimes a cordless drill with a ½” or smaller drill bit, is used to pierce a hole into the pipe where the sprinkler head is connected.


Both types of fittings have pros and cons when it comes to installation and long-term service. An insert fitting is definitely the best choice when considering longevity and reliability as they very rarely will fail or create service problems.

However, the installation process is slightly more difficult when comparing to saddle tees. Many contractors will use the help of a torch to soften the pipe or a rubber mallet to force the fitting into the pipe when installing them. Saddle tees are a little easier to install because the usually require less digging or force during installation which is attractive when considering labor cost and effort.

​The long-term reliability is sometimes the main concern with saddles though. Over time the bolts that hold the saddle in place can loosen or break. When this happens, it creates leaks and pressure issues within the irrigation system. The issues can be difficult to find or trouble shoot when servicing the system.

Be sure to choose the type of fitting that suites you best and follow the manufactures recommendations when installing them. Contact Irrigation Incorporated for any issues or questions for any irrigation issues!

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