If you are a follower of this blog, lawn sprinklers seems to be a regular topic. I get more hits on this one subject than all the rest. After reviewing the current articles I found that I lacked a straight up, “seasonal tune up” article. So, for this weeks post I am going to walk through a methodical process of checking your sprinkler system. Generally speaking this is about a system that is designed correctly and working properly. I typically do this at the beginning of the watering season then again in mid-summer.
- Spare sprinkler bodies: You should normally keep some extra sprinkler bodies that resemble the product that was installed with your system. Having identical sprinkler bodies will keep replacement and repairs simple.
- A handful of various sprinkler nozzles: Even though there may be several types of sprinkler heads (pop up, rotary or impact), it is important to have extra copies of the same nozzle that are being used in the various zones. Even though many home centers prefer to sell you the sprinkler body with the nozzle, having them as separate items will save you time and money.
- Sharpshooter Shovel: This particular shovel works well when working on sprinklers as you can dig around a sprinkler without disturbing too much dirt. Dirt and dirty water is the enemy when it comes to working on sprinkler systems.
- Sprinkler flags: You will probably have to buy these in a pack of 100, but it will be less than $10. You will use these to mark sprinkler heads that require attention.
- Screwdrivers: 1 small screw driver, 1 medium screw driver (flat and Phillips head style). These will be used to disassemble nozzles and some heads.
- Dental tool: Something like this link will work; these can also be found at the Orange Box store. It is very common for sprinkler nozzles to capture small pebbles that will lodge in the nozzle disrupting the sprinkler spray pattern. You will want to pick out the debris without damaging the plastic.
- 1 pair of medium-sized Channel Lock pliers: These can be used to adjust, tighten and loosen the body of the sprinkler head especially if your hands are wet.
- 1 pair of medium-sized vise grips: Used as a way to extract nozzles from pop-up heads by lightly holding the nozzle riser exposed. Never use a lot of pressure as you can easily damage the sprinkler head.
- WD 40 Lubricant Spray: Used to lubricate various parts that are supposed to move or react to the water pressure. WD40 is a fish oil based product and should not damage the grass.
SPRINKLER TESTING PROCEDURE:
- Activate the test sequence in the Sprinkler Controller: Most controllers have a test function that allows you to run the system in short intervals. If you can choose the time limit, set it to two minutes. If your controller does not have this function, you can have a friend turn the sections on one by one. TIP: If you have to do this manually, find some walkie-talkies to communicate with your partner. Its also worth noting that many new controller that connect to your phone via an app, is a great upgrade as you can start and stop without having to run back to the controller.
- Find the first zone that is running: Carrying your sprinkler flags, walk around and through the zone that is running, looking for the six items mentioned below. Use the flag to identify problems. However, try to realign the heads in this first sequence while the zone is running. Use the Channel Lock to grab the body to make adjustments.
- Repeat #2 for all the zones: I find the sprinkler flags really help, cause you can go directly back to each problem once you have made it through the entire system.
- Repair, replace or adjust the heads as required: One of the most important elements of sprinkler repair is to avoid introducing dirty water into the system. The dirt will make its way to all the downstream head and clog them up. If you find a broken head or pipe within your inspection, you may have to clean all the nozzles (see #2 below) in that zone.
- Run the test sequence again: As a final step, run the system one last time to ensure that everything is operating to your expectations.
Common Problems and Solutions:
- Misaligned Heads: Heads that are used around the perimeter of a property typically use patterns less than “full circle”. These heads will require occasional realignment to keep them from spraying on a sidewalk, fence or house. You can adjust either the nozzle, neck or sprinkler body. Try adjusting to the right (righty tighty, lefty loosie). If you have to turn it to the left, try not to turn it more than a 1/4 or 1/2 turn. Turning the head too much to the left may cause the nozzle or head to disconnect itself (while under pressure), this may cause a guiser of water and will get you real wet.
- Dirty Nozzles: If the pattern seems uneven or broken up. The nozzle is dirty. With the water off, grab the sprinkler stem and raise it as if it were spraying water. Use your vise grips to LIGHTLY hold the stem up. Remove the nozzle and pull the filter (with the dental tool or your finger tip). Blow through the filter and nozzle. If this doesn’t remove all the debris, use the dental tools or water to clean further. You may have to disassemble the nozzle completely to get the dirt out. If the filter was completely stopped up, turn the sprinkler zone on/off very quickly to flush the line at this point (with the vice grips in place). Reassemble the nozzle to the head and release the vise grips to let the stem return to the body. NOTE: The purpose of keeping the stem extended through this process is to avoid the opportunity for dirty water to enter the system.
- Broken/Damaged head: Besides the nozzle mentioned above, the sprinkler body can leak as well. This could be out the bottom, side or top. Sometime the heads can be rebuilt, but at this stage its best to just swap out the head with an identical body and nozzle. If it’s not muddy around the head, attempt to unscrew the complete body out of the ground. Without disturbing the dirt, re-insert the replacement head. If you have to dig it up, use the sharp shooter shovel to expose the head down to where it connects to the next pipe. It’s best to dig the hole a bit deeper than the head. If water comes out, you do not want the dirty water to reenter the system as mentioned above. Replace the head and the surrounding dirt. This sprinkler repair link has a video included that might be of help.
- Sprinkler heads do not recess into the ground after spraying: This is a very common occurrence caused by small dirt particles surrounding the elevated riser at the wiper seal of the sprinkler head after the water is turned off. Grab the head by the tip and spray WD-40 on the riser. Work the shaft until it moves freely. If that doesn’t clear it, replace the head and rebuild the old one in the sink to get all the dirt out of it.
- Heavy Running or Pooling Water: This could be associated with #3 or it could be a damaged pipe. With your shovel, LIGHTLY remove the wet dirt, you do not want to cause anymore damage. Dig below the pipe or area to be repaired. Use a coffee can to remove as much of the water and dirt as possible. Make the repair as necessary.
- Weeping heads: Occurs when system is off. Typically you will notice this on days the sprinklers are not running, or you find constant moist spots. Typically, you must disassemble the sprinkler valve and clean it. Rebuilding the valve may be required as well.
- Draining sprinkler head: similar to #6, but usually happens with a head that is located lower that other heads in the zone. This is fairly normal and can be left alone. If it happens in a bad spot and you really don’t like it, you can add a lateral line drain to disperse the water.
For more detailed information, take a look at these 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; Finding Sprinkler Valves and Common Problems,Lawn Sprinkler Efficiency Upgrades Part II, .