Finding the lawn sprinkler valves can be challenging without the correct tool. Most irrigators have a tool called a cable hound or cable locator. Think of this exercise as an Easter Egg Hunt and the valve is the candy.
Within all Lawn Sprinkler systems they are broken into zones. Each zone has its own electrically controlled valve. TIP: The valves are powered by 24V AC with a very low current flow and is not normally considered hazardous. This valve is activated by the sprinkler timer or controller. Depending on the installer and the application, some installers place them in a cluster where others place them throughout the yard, or a combination of both. In most cases, (not always) the installer will place the valves in an access can or valve boxes. Unfortunately over time, these cans (or boxes) can easily disappear under the turf. So if you know where they are, its good to keep the grass cut back from them or have them marked is some way.
Besides providing an isolation point, sprinkler valves can get dirty or become inoperable. For the most part, the valve can be serviced with replacement parts assuming you know the exact brand and model of the valve. Read this link on sprinkler valve repair. If the valve is still leaking after a thorough cleaning and inspection, acquire a repair kit and replace all the parts. Rarely would you need to actually remove the valve body from the system unless it became frozen during the winter and the body was cracked. If it was cracked, you should have noticed the valve leaking before you started the dis-assembly process. TIP: Avoiding the cracked valve body is one of the reasons it is recommend to turn off and drain the sprinkler system in the off season.
Finding the valves can be challenging without the correct tool. Most irrigators have a tool called a cable hound or cable locator. These test sets are about $400-500, so purchasing one is probably out of the question. It may be possible to find a rental, but most people that require them usually own them.
Finding zone valves:
- Cable locator: Professionals use a cable locator to find the valves by tracing the path of the electrical wires that feed each valve. If you have one of these tools or have access to one, this is the simplest and quickest method. The tone typically get loud when you reach the valve. As an alternative to a Cable Hound, I have tried a low cost test set from Harbor Freight but cannot recommend it as it did not work as I had hoped. It was not really intended for this type of use, but it was worth a shot for the price. As an alternative, you can hire an irrigator to make the repair and ask him to locate all the other valves as well. They may not even charge you to find the other valves since they are charging you for the visit and repair.
So if you are going to try to locate them on your own without a locator, try the following methods:
- Design drawing. Hopefully you were left with a drawing from the installer or the previous owner of the property. If you have any record of who installed the system, they may still have one on file. Find the valves identified on the drawing and use a long screw driver or probe and a shovel to poke around in the dirt. When you hit a valve box it will have a hollow sound to it. They will probably not be in the exact location but hopefully within about 5 feet from where the drawing indicates it.
- Origin of Water: The system should have a back flow preventer in a large rectangle box, usually near the water meter. The sprinkler valve(s) will be located somewhere between the back flow preventer first sprinkler head. Look near the first head of each zone.
- Valve Chatter: Assuming you can still turn the system on and off, you can have a friend turn the system on/off multiple time. The valve will make a slapping or hammering noise that may be loud enough to pin point the valve location.
- If you have gone through this without sucess, you may have to call the Irrigator anyway, hopefully using some or all of these methods, you were able to find the valves.