Finding Leaks in Sprinkler Zones and Common Problems

June 13, 2009

bad sprinklerRecognizing a water leaks within a sprinkler zone can be  difficult as they may not reveal their location until  under pressure.

How do  you recognize a minor leak  in the sprinkler zone if it’s not obvious?

  1. The first noticeable trait would be the zone does not appear to cover the ground as well as it used to. You may also recognize plant material or turf that appears dry or starving for water.
  2. Moist mucky dirt, soggy spongy area(s) in the yard. Someplace that never seems to be dry.
  3. New or additional brown patches  in the turf indicating low water coverage.

If you have read any of my sprinkler articles you know that most sprinkler problems are with heads and valves. Both provide obvious indicators of water loss. Here is a recap of the most common problems: 

  1. Weeping heads: A slight amount of water is passing through the valve when it should be closed. The sprinkler heads remain wet well after the sprinklers have run. Typically, disassembling the valve and cleaning will correct it.
  2. Dirty heads: Dirt, pebbles and grunge can lodge itself in the sprinkler nozzle as well as the body and shaft of the sprinkler head. These problems will modifiy the pattern, providing excessive water in the wrong places. Start by replacing or disassembling the head and cleaning it.  TIP: Like for like heads and nozzles will reduce complications in future repairs. When a sprinkler zone is turned off,  typically the lowest head in the zone becomes the relief valve causing water left in the lines to drain out. This is very normal. However, in doing so, a suction is created that can pull in surface water, and dirt from around the other heads. This dirt can migrate throughout the zone clogging the other heads. TIP: If the location of the low head is in a bad place, an in-line drain can be installed in the pipe, but you will have to dig up the pipe to do it.
  3. Broken head: Obvious water spray outside the defined pattern. This can be corrected by replacing the head or the broken parts.  TIP: Keep extra sprinkler heads to replace bad ones. Rebuild the old ones if you can. Remember to reuse or replace the nozzle like for like. Many times you can replace the entire head without disturbing the surrounding dirt. This reduces the opportunity of allowing new dirt into the system and keep you from having to to dig the head up. 
  4. Lawn butchers: Weed Eaters and edgers are the death of lawn sprinklers. They can easily destroy several heads over a season of mowing.
  5. Allowing dirt in the system: No different than the water system in your house, allowing dirt in the pipes creates opportunities to clog valves and heads, creating more work for you. When working on sprinkler heads and valves avoid this by taking the appropriate steps  to stop surface water back into the system. When you run a zone and identify a head that needs attention, removing the head may create a suction that will pull water and dirt into the pipes. Admittedly more work, by digging up the dirt from around the head and getting the hole deeper than the head connection can reduce the opportunitiy of allowing dirty water into the sprinkler system. TIP: If there is no standing water at the head, attempt to change it without digging it up as described in number #3, this will save you some time.

If you have corrected the problems associated with the above list and you still have problems, its time to look deeper into the system. Most likely, if you have gone this far you are recognizing that a specific zone does not present the same pressure, or cover its area as well as the others.  This trait is an indication of a pipe, joint or fitting leak, and the leak is large enough to reduce the zone pressure but not enough to create a pool or hole in the lawn. 

water poolTry this method to further isolate the leak:

  1. Assuming you have pop-up type heads, adjust the screw on the top of the nozzle  (on every head in the active zone)  to shut off the water on that head(s) TOTALLY. This increased pressure may be enough to cause the small leak to burst. Continue to walk the sprinkler zone looking for mushy ground and water pools.  Also, go look at your water meter for measured water usage.  Look for the meter to be moving at a medium to  rapid pace (make sure everything in the house is turned off). TIP: Since lawn sprinkler heads are not rated to hold full pressure like a faucet, some small degree of water oozing is acceptable.
  2. If you have other styles of heads or #1 didn’t find it, this step #2 will be dirty wet work.  Conceptually, it’s the same as #1 but requires you to expose each and every head on the zone and install a threaded cap to replace each sprinkler. In this method, you have  to remove all the heads from the equation and the zone should hold pressure just like any pressurized plumbing line. Check the water meter; if you still see a water loss, leave the zone on for 2 or 3 hours, or even the whole day. Again, look for water pools or mushy ground and check your meter.

You may also find benefit in reading the other articles I have written on the subject: Lawn Sprinkler Efficiency Part II, Lawn Sprinkler Efficiency Part I ,  Searching for Lawn Sprinkler Valves, Chasing Lawn Sprinkler Leaks

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Residential Surge Protection Using TVSS’s SPD’s Part II

June 7, 2009

damaged modemAn  analysis commissioned by State Farm Insurance found of 5500 detailed claims, more than half of the loss was related to telephone and electronic appliances.

As we become more connected through smart technology, AC power and low voltage or non-voltage carrying conductors become intertwined through the technology. When you think about it, more and more devices have an AC power cord  and a communications port for the transmission/reception of an external signal (video, DSL, etc.). Known as  “multi-port” equipment (AV Receivers, TV’s Modems, Computers, etc.) these devices add complexity to the transient voltage issue by creating additional doorways into the equipment. As we saw  in the AC Ground and Bonding article, external surges can enter the house as easily through the Telephone line, CATV or Satellite Dish as the AC utility. Studies show, even with a TVSS in the AC circuit, micro-electronics embedded in the equipment have failed due to transient voltages passing through the communications link. According to the same insurance study mentioned above, equipment including micro-electronics such as computers, TV’s, VCR’s and Satellite receivers recorded more significant losses than single-port equipment. This is not news to most of us. However, the point to recognize here is that any incoming services that arrive inside the house on a current carrying conductor (copper wire) has the potential to allow a voltage surge into the house and into our electronic equipment.

To make matters worse, having proper surge protection on the AC service and not on non-power related services may actually enhance the opportunity for a fault to occur in the multi-port equipment through surge current.  This  surge current  can create a  voltage shift  at the secondary-port on the equipment producing damage in the equipment. This voltage shift condition can also be rooted to a difference in voltage potential or ground reference at (you guessed it) the service entrance ground. This is the reason why we have seen more emphasis from the standards bodies (National Electric Code and National Institute of Standards Institute)  on the common grounding and bonding of all the incoming services (Telephone, CATV and Satellite TV) found in a typical residence. For this reason, in 1992 the IEEE  recognized this potential fault condition and coined the term Surge Reference Equalizer. Even though the industry has not really picked up on the term nor have they created a specific standard, the  UL1449 listing for this Class B surge protectors is acceptable for the time being.

 Proper Bonding and Grounding  Remain the Key Contributor to Both the Problem and the Solution

If you have read the four articles up to this point, you may think I am beating this subject to death, but grounding/bonding  remains the key contributor to both the problem and the solution. Complete the 8 point check list found in the AC Service Bond and Ground Part II.  If your house is less than 10 years old, it would be a fair assumption that all the incoming services enter near or at the AC service meter. Assuming all the services are bonded correctly as mentioned, you should be in good shape with the Telephone and CATV. For the rest of us, these services could attach any where around the house this also includes Satellite TV Antennas.  If possible, bringing all of these services within 20 feet of the AC Service entrance and attaching them as mentioned will assist in improving the ground system. (TIP: Satellite installations are typically located where they provide the best signal, bringing the ground termination from AC service entrance is important here as well).

Surge Reference Equalizer

surge protector class b 2At this point, we will assume that you have a good common ground with an equal ground reference. With that said you have successfully reduced the risk to multi-port equipment, BUT, both the IEEE and the NIST support the use of the Surge Reference Equalizer. As pictured, it looks like a typical Class B surge protector, but also has ports for communications ( RJ45 terminal, and threaded CATV terminal. With this type of TVSS there will be a PORT-IN and PORT-OUT set of connections.  Consider a Class B surge protector that includes both communication ports and CATV connections collectively in the same product for home theater equipment, set top boxes, satellite equipment, computers and any other mutli-port electrical equipment.  

Additionally Square D has release a whole house model that includes a Class C surge protector and the connections for Telco and CATV services. Tiered protection is still recommended if you decide to follow the whole house approach. (Square D Model SDSB1175C). NOTE: This method of reference equalizer is fairly new as previous practices supported keeping the services segregated until the point of termination, (CATV, Phone) independently until they reach the point of  use or the device that is common (i.e. TV, PC). As you will note, that is how I built my system. This is still an acceptable solution. 

Additional Choices – Surge Protection for Communication, CATV and Satellite:

Telephone Service: Most wire-line telephone service companies provide surge protection. If your telephone service was installed less NIDthan 10 years ago or has been worked on in that time frame you will probably have a NID (Network Interface Device) at the telephone entrance.  Telephone companies typically use “Gas filled arrestors”. Even though you may not have a NID, you probably have gas arrestors  if your phone  has been serviced in the last 20 years. Gas arrestors replace Carbon arrestors as the gas style will defeat the surge without a long term loss in service as they will self restore automatically. Since I built my grounding system before the Surge Reference Equalizer was readily available,  I placed an additional surge suppresor on my telephone line (Channel Vision C-0410). Much like the Telco provided unit it will disconnect the line in the event of a surge then restore it momentarily. Based on the performance characteristics of a Surge Reference Equalizer (SRE), in theory, I may still have a fault occur if my ground reference is not equalized and my Category A, B and C surge protectors are unable to defeat the surge prior to entering any of the protected equipment.  Since the current UL1449 is the only published document and it seems to favor an AC type failure,  for now, I am staying with my current system architecture using the C-0410  surge protection. TIP: You may have communications and/or video services provided by fiber optics. They will not have surge protection as optical services are unable to carry voltage or surge current.  If you are unsure if you have fiber optic services, the NID will have a consumer replaceable battery pack that you were informed about during the installation of the services.

4EDHICCAOT4EQ5CAS0S8SJCAJTJ6C8CATZJ50ECAZ5INCICAHEAI1MCAUYSD7KCAH7U0MDCAW5L3WSCA19XS37CAG3S3RACAVHVBMWCAXWUAI6CAED0UDWCAI9J2UFCAR71UZ8CA65BE4DCAQB2POKCATV and Satillite Services:In practice, the gas style arrestor  is used in these services as well. Because they use coax as a cable medium the arrestor looks a little different but perform in a similar fashion as the communications arrestor.

Theory vs. Science

One of the difficulties with this subject is it is very difficult to test your solution. To replicate a surge equivalent to a lightning strike is not feasible nor recommended. For this reason, surge protection, TVSS’s, SPD’s and bonding and grounding is not as black and white as we would like it to be and neither are the solutions. As you have seen in this article , there may be multiple solutions to the methods I have described. But overall, the method should still retain the same theme.   I have engineered large systems in multi story buildings and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars (not mine) to create the right grounding network  and still had recordable faults, so don’t think you will ever be 100% protected.  

One of the best articles written to date for residential bonding/grounding and surge protection is “Surges Happen”   produced by the Institute of Standards and Technology. This article covers the topic in very simple language and easy to understand instructions.

If you haven’t already, you may also want to read my 4 previous articles; AC Ground and Bonding, Electrical Switches and Outlets, AC Service Bond and Ground Part II, Residential AC Surge Protectors,

Key Inspection Points and Action Items:

  1. Annually check all your TVSS devices to insure the they remain in the protected mode (LED indicator).
  2. Follow the inspection routines as defined in AC Service Ground and Bonding Network by inspecting the mechanical connections and terminations.

In writing this series, it became apparent that I could not cover the subject in 1 or 2 postings. I hope I kept your attention and it made sense. Feel free to comment or send specific questions to Homeownerbob@gmail.com