An underground automatic sprinkler system is a wonderful, time-saving device, as long as it is working properly. How much more convenient is it to just program a timer to come on when you want, water where you want, and go off at just the right time, than to do things the manual way. Dragging unwieldy hoses across the yard, straightening the kinks out of the hose, having to dash between revolutions to get from the faucet to the back porch, all those things are such a nuisance. Then you also have to remember to turn it off again, or have a swimming hole instead of a front lawn. However, things can go wrong with even the best sprinkler systems. Take a look at some common problems and what you can do to fix them.
No Water Coming From Your Sprinkler Heads
The sprinklers were supposed to come on five minutes ago, but nothing is happening. You’ve checked the timer and it appears to be OK. You even went out and poked at one of the sprinkler heads, but nothing happened. What could be the problem?
Well, it could be the programmer. Something could be amiss with the programming or the wiring. Or it could be as simple as forgetting to change the clock to, or back from, Daylight Savings Time.
It could be that roots have worked their way inside the water pipes and have blocked them so completely that no water can get through. You may have to call a professional to fix this issue.
There could be a broken pipe somewhere along the line. Look for a puddle somewhere in the lawn. That’s where the break is most likely to be.
Another thing to consider is, is there sufficient water pressure to handle all the sprinklers, the dishwasher, the washing machine, and the shower all at the same time? You may need to stagger the water usage if water pressure is a problem.
Depending on your handyman skill level, you can fix some or all of these issues yourself. For others, you may need the help of a professional.
Leaks were touched on briefly above. A couple of things can cause leaky pipes. One is old, worn-out pipes that just wear through. Another is pipes freezing in the winter. If there is a spot where the lawn may have been driven over, that may have broken a pipe. A leak is usually obvious by the wet spot in the grass when you haven’t watered for a few days.
One Sprinkler Head Doesn’t Work
If it’s just one head that isn’t working, the fault probably isn’t with your system. Sprinkler heads can be damaged in a variety of ways. They can be damaged by cold weather, by being run over by a lawn mower, or just by being stepped on. Usually they will either not work at all, or spray water erratically. This is remedied by just replacing the sprinkler head.
The Sprinkler Head Doesn’t Retract
Most systems use sprinkler heads that pop up when the water comes on, and then retract when the water shuts off. This allows the heads to lay flat so a person doesn’t trip over them or damage them with the lawn mower, or damage the mower blades. If a sprinkler head doesn’t retract properly, check underneath it to see if something is holding it up. Usually it will be lawn debris, grass clippings, wood chips, or maybe even an acorn or pinecone, depending on the type of trees in your yard. Just clean out the debris, and usually the sprinkler head with go right down.
Clogged Sprinkler Head
Probably the most common problem with sprinkler heads is clogging. They can get clogged with grass clippings, leaves, or whatever your kids may have poked in there. They are easy to spot because there will either be no water coming out, or it will be just a trickle, or with an erratic spray pattern. To clean a clogged head, be sure the water is turned off. Use a piece of stiff wire, such as a straightened paper clip, to poke into the hole. If that doesn’t do it, remove the sprinkler head, soak it in water, then clean, and replace. Be sure to clean out the sleeve that it fits into before you put it back on.
Stuck Sprinkler Valves
If the water doesn’t shut off when it’s supposed to, the shutoff valve may be blocked with a pebble or other debris. Home sprinkler systems often have a shutoff valve at each end. You will need to check both of them. Unscrew the solenoid, a cap-like thing on the side, let water flow out for a little bit, and then screw it back on.
Obstructed Sprinkler Head
Sometimes a sprinkler head can become overgrown with grass or covered with leaves. You may forget where each one is and set something on top of one. Occasionally it’s a good idea to count sprinkler heads to see if they are all working. If one is missing, locate it and clear away the obstruction. When you are placing items in the yard, such as planters, garden statues, or even a trash can, be sure you aren’t putting it on top of a sprinkler head.
Overspray From Your Sprinkler System
You should watch your sprinklers now and then to be sure they are adjusted to the right spray pattern. Dirt won’t grow, and neither will asphalt. Watering the side of your house or garage won’t do it any good, either. If the water is overshooting the area you want watered, just adjust the spray reach, if possible. Many sprinkler heads have a small screw at the top of the nozzle that controls the spray pattern. Just turn it to suit your needs. If the sprinkler head can’t be adjusted, you may need to replace it with one that has a more suitable spray pattern.
If you encounter sprinkler system issues that you are unable to diagnose or repair yourself, call us and we’ll be happy to send one of our professionals out to help you.
That new automatic irrigation system you just had installed cost you more than a nickel or two. The last thing you want is to have problems with it, or to have it give out before it should. How do you keep your new system in top operating condition? Let’s take a look at some tips that will help prolong the system’s life.
Regular Sprinkler System Maintenance
Regular maintenance is the key to ensuring a good long life for your irrigation system. Sprinkler heads can be damaged by being run over by the lawn mower, or by being hit by the weed eater. Irrigation systems also degrade over time. So if you have dry spots, or too much water in spots, or if the water is running down the gutter, it’s time for a tune-up.
After your next lawn mowing, turn on your watering system one station at a time, and visually check to see that all the sprinkler heads are working and working properly. After you see that everything is working well, or fix what isn’t, it’s a good idea to outline a basic maintenance plan to follow. The plan can be divided into two sections: maintenance done frequently throughout the watering season, and that which only needs to be done once or twice during the season. Your climate will determine how long the watering season is.
Twice a Season Maintenance Checks
Begin your inspection at the water faucets that control the irrigation system. Check for leaks or drips. Some leaks can be easily fixed with some white plumber’s tape wound around the threads of the faucet or hose connection. If there are pressure regulators or filters attached to the faucets, check these for blockage and clean them out. Leaking control valves may have debris buildup inside. They will need to be taken apart and cleaned out.
Does your system put out the correct water pressure? If the pressure is too low, the lawn and other vegetation won’t get sufficient water. If it is too high, it can wear out the parts too soon. Too high of pressure will also waste water and may put it where you don’t want it. Water pressure test kits are available at your local irrigation supply store. Check your owner’s manual, or call the manufacturer, to see what the optimal water pressure should be for your system. Then set it accordingly.
Most fixed-spray, pop-up type of sprinkler heads work best around 30-psi. Rotor type sprinklers work well at nearly 50-psi. Micro-spray and drip systems should have a pressure regulator with a filter installed that operates at 8 to10-psi. This pressure test should only have to be done once when the system is installed. The only other time would be if changes are made to the system, such as adding or removing sprinkler heads.
Matched Application Rate Sprinklers
If there is a variety of sprinklers, drip lines, and misters all on one system, you may not be getting the appropriate coverage you desire. All these different types of sprinklers require different water pressure. Also, if you have some heads that sprinkle 360º, some that spray 180º, and others that only spray at 90º, you will have some places that will get way too much water. The 90º heads will spray four times the amount of water that the 360º does. You need to make sure that all the sprinkler have heads that have a matched application rate, meaning that all the heads will put out the same amount of water.
Angle and Coverage Of Sprinkler Heads
Make certain that all the sprinkler heads pop up properly and are parallel to the ground, not slanted or tilted. This ensures proper application of the water to the ground around it. Check to be sure that all of the area is getting covered. The sprinkler spray should overlap just a bit in order to not create dry spots in between.
Visual Irrigation Maintenance Checks
Look around to make sure there are no geysers. Anyplace you see water shooting up into the air is a sure sign of a malfunctioning sprinkler head, or possibly a broken pipe. If you elect to fix it yourself, be sure you know what type of system you have, what particular part(s) you need, and how to go about completing the repair. Putting in the wrong part can really mess things up.
Check for other sprinkler heads that are not outputting water properly. This needs to be done close up. Look for heads that are spraying erratically, spraying only from one side, or just dripping rather than spraying. Sometimes the head is cracked, chipped, or broken and needs to be replaced. Sometimes it is just clogged with debris that can be easily cleaned out.
Broken pipes underground will create a puddle above the break. Sometimes you will be able to see the water bubbling out of the ground. A broken pipe will also cause a drop in water pressure. If you notice a significant drop in water pressure, check it out immediately. You don’t want a big water bill that accrued due to a broken or leaking pipe. If you don’t feel capable of fixing it yourself, call a professional to help.
Make sure the spray pattern falls within the correct area that you want watered. If the spray is reaching a hard surface such as a driveway, sidewalk, or other similar place, adjust the sprinkler head to shrink the spray pattern. Likewise, if some area is being missed, adjust to make the spray go all the places you want it to. If the wrong sprinkler head has been installed for that particular area, you may want to replace it with a correct one.
If an area within the spray pattern is dry, but the ground is wet on either side of it, perhaps the sprinkler head is clogged. A straightened paper clip makes a handy tool to poke into the hole and clean it out.
Providing regular maintenance for your irrigation system will give you many years of hassle-free use.