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Sprinkler Systems Maintenance

How to Find and Repair Leaks in Sprinkler Systems

You can troubleshoot low water pressure in sprinkler systems by checking for leaks in the water line. Look for a series of sprinkler heads that aren't watering properly. The water line problem is always located between the last working head and the first nonworking head. This article will explain exactly how to find the leak and how to repair it.

Look for signs of leaking water, such as water bubbling up from the soil when the sprinklers are running, a depression in the ground or a very wet area. If you find running water, follow the water to the highest point to find the source.

Once you locate the approximate leak site, dig straight down to the water line. Then enlarge the hole along the line, following the flow of the leaking water until you find the break or crack. Before making the repair, make sure the system is turned off at the controller.

Use a slip coupling to repair the leak. This special coupling contracts to make insertion easy.

To fix the leak, use a hacksaw to cut out a 4-inch section of line at the leak. Place a clamp on one of the line ends, insert the coupling then tighten the clamp.

Place a clamp on the second pipe end, expand the coupling while inserting the nipple into the pipe then tighten the clamp. Backfill the hole with dirt and replace the sod.

Cut out damaged section of line replaced with a slip coupling
The Reader’s Digest Association Inc./GID
Replacing the damaged section of the lawn sprinkler irrigation system with a slip coupling makes fixing leaks easy and cheap.

How to Clean Clogged Lawn Sprinkler Heads

Dirt sometimes gets inside sprinkler heads, causing them to clog up. Clogged heads may rise but fail to spray, not lower after watering or produce an erratic spray pattern.

To clean the head, dig it out and remove it from the riser. Take the head apart by holding the bottom of the canister and turning the top of the head counterclockwise. Once it's unscrewed, lift it out of the canister.

Remove the plastic screen basket, which serves as a filter, at the base of the head. If you can't pop the basket out with your fingers, pry it out with a flat-head screwdriver or pull it free with pliers. Rinse the basket in a bucket of clean water, washing out the debris. Clean the rest of the sprinkler head by rinsing it with water. Replace the head on the riser. If it still doesn't work, replace it with a new head.

Cleaning clogged sprinkler head
The Reader’s Digest Association Inc./GID
Cleaning a clogged sprinkler head can do wonders for its functionality.


How to Relocate a Sprinkler Head

To move a sprinkler head, first decide where you want it. You can move it up to 4 feet with flex pipe (available at plumbing and irrigation supply stores) without affecting performance.

  1. Dig an 8- to 12-inch-deep trench from the current head location to the new location.
  2. Turn off the irrigation system at the controller.
  3. Unscrew the sprinkler head from the riser and then unscrew the riser.
  4. Insert a flex pipe elbow into the existing combination elbow or riser tee. Tighten the elbow until it's hand-tight. Then attach a 3/8-inch flex pipe to the flex pipe elbow by sliding it over the nipple (the flex pipe has a smaller diameter than the water line pipe). The connection doesn't require clamps.
  5. Fasten a flex pipe elbow to the other end of the pipe. Place the sprinkler head on the elbow, then turn it until it's hand-tight.
  6. Hold the sprinkler head in the location you want it. The top of the head should be at ground level.
  7. Back-fill around the head with your free hand. Once the head is secure, fill in the trench and replace the sod.

Relocating sprinkler head
The Reader’s Digest Association Inc./GID
With the right method, sprinkler heads can be relocated quite cheaply.

How to Replace a Defective Sprinkler Valve

If something has gone wrong with your sprinkler system and the controller, fuse and transformer check out OK, test the resistance “ohms” between the common terminal and the nonworking zone. Turn off the system, turn the multimeter to test for ohms (the omega symbol) and place the leads on the common terminal and zone terminal, just as you would to test for voltage.

Compare the ohms reading with the range listed in your owner's manual (usually 20 to 60 ohms). If the ohms fall below the required amount, the switch (solenoid) that operates the control valve for that zone is defective and needs to be replaced. The defective solenoid will be connected to the same color wire as the zone wire at the controller.

Control valves are typically grouped with three to six valves in one box. The boxes are located in the ground with a cover that simply lifts off. They can be located anywhere in the yard but are usually close to the main water supply.

Although valves themselves rarely need to be replaced, solenoids do occasionally fail. Replacing them is quick and easy.

Be sure the controller is in the off position (you don't need to shut off the power) and the water valves on the backflow device are turned off. Inside the control valve box, remove the wire connectors and disconnect the two wires on the defective solenoid from the common and field wires. Turn the solenoid counterclockwise to unscrew it from the valve. Water will slowly seep out of the valve opening, even with the water turned off.

Place a new solenoid in the valve and turn it until it's finger-tight.

Twist the ends of the new solenoid wires onto the same common and field wires that the old solenoid was attached to. It doesn't matter which solenoid wire goes to the common and which one goes to the field wire. Twist a new waterproof wire connector over each connection. To make waterproof connections, use a silicone-filled “direct bury” connector, available at home centers.

Disconnecting and unscrewing the defective solenoid from the control valve
The Reader’s Digest Association Inc./GID
Replacing lawn sprinkler solenoids is fairly quick and easy.

How to Replace Broken Lawn Sprinkler System Heads

Broken sprinkler heads are easy to identify. Simply look for cracked or broken plastic casing on the heads, heads that don't pop up or water that sprays wildly or not at all. It's common to find the top of the head completely broken off. This typically happens to heads that are set too high and are run over by vehicles or hit by lawn mowers. Replacement heads are available at home centers and online. Be sure to buy the same type of head that you're replacing.

Replacing the head itself is a simple fix:

  1. To change a broken head, turn off the system and dig a 2-foot-diameter hole around the head. Using a square shovel, slice the sod into easy-to-remove pieces. Set the sod on a tarp so you can set it back into place at the end of the job.
  2. Dig down to the “riser” (the vertical pipe that branches off the main line) which is connected to the sprinkler head. Dig with a light touch to avoid damaging the plastic water line, which is 8 to 12 inches underground.
  3. Turn the head counterclockwise to remove it from the riser. While the head is off, take care not to spill dirt into the riser. Sprinkler heads are installed only hand-tight, but after being in the ground for several years, they may require the use of wrenches to unscrew. If the head doesn't turn easily, hold the riser with slip-joint pliers to keep it from twisting loose from the fittings below.
  4. Attach the new sprinkler head by placing it on the riser and turning it hand-tight. Don't use Teflon tape or joint compound on the riser threads.
  5. Sprinkler heads are factory tested to make sure they work. As a result, they're often packaged still wet, so don't be surprised to see water in a new head.
  6. Before filling in the hole and replacing the sod, make sure to set the desired sprinkler pattern.

Replacing a broken sprinkler head
The Reader’s Digest Association Inc./GID
A new sprinkler head should be placed on the riser and turned hand-tight.

How to Reset Lawn Sprinkler Spray Patterns

When putting on a new sprinkler head or using the same head after cleaning, you may need to adjust it to water a specific area. Adjustment methods vary. You can adjust the spray pattern on some head types by turning a slot at the top with a screwdriver. Others require a special key that you insert into the head and turn. Some heads also allow you to adjust the spray pattern by turning a tiny screw located next to the nozzle.

Adjust the heads before installing them, then fine-tune them once they're in place with the sprinkler running. Here's the steps you'll want to take:

  1. First, turn the top clockwise until it stops. That nozzle location is the starting point (the head will turn counterclockwise from there). Adjust the head to set the watering rotation anywhere from 40 degrees to 360 degrees counterclockwise from the starting point.
  2. Set the head in the canister. Standing behind the head, align the nozzle with the right edge of the area you want to water, such as along a driveway. Tighten the head in the canister. Carefully backfill the hole and replace the sod.
  3. Turn on the sprinklers at the controller. Allow the head to make a few rotations, then make additional adjustments while the system is running.

Reset the spray pattern
The Reader’s Digest Association Inc./GID
When resetting the spray patter, keep in mind that sprinklers will turn counterclockwise.


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