Rather than stand there in your Bermuda shorts with a hose in your hand, sprinkler systems are designed to evenly distribute water onto your lawn and planters to keep your grass nice and green. As sprinkler systems evolved and expanded, so did sprinkler problems due to the additional components.
Here is a list of the basic sprinkler system components:
Mainline – This is the main water source or pipe that leads from the street into your house. This pipe is used to feed water into the sprinkler system when needed. If the water to the house is turned off, then the sprinklers will not work either.
Sprinkler Valves – Valves are like the ones on your kitchen or bathroom sink, they basically open and close to allow water to feed into the sprinkler pipes. Sprinkler valves can be either manual and turned on by hand, or be connected to an automatic clock.
Sprinkler Pipes – These are the tubes that act like highways to bring the water to the sprinkler heads. Sprinkler pipes can be routed in various paths that can help or hurt your sprinkler system if not planned properly.
Sprinkler Heads – Normally, these are the only parts people see popping up and spraying water (hopefully!). There are several types of sprinkler designs and styles depending on your yard. Also, that means there can be several sprinkler problems too.
Timers and Clocks – One of the advantages of using an automatic sprinkler timer or clock is that you can set your sprinkler times and duration of watering. Now you can be at work, in bed, or simply watching tv and not worry about forgetting to water the lawn!
Sprinkler Valve Problems
The sprinkler valves can be the most costly sprinkler problems to deal with. They are the heartbeat and gatekeeper of your sprinkler system because they control the water flowing through your pipes. They can also be the most complicated components because they have internal valves and external connections.
The valve within a sprinkler clock can be either opened manually with a handle or more common there will be a solenoid on top. When a low voltage is applied to the solenoid it magnetically opens and allows the water to flow. There should be two wires from the sprinkler clock connected to each solenoid, a common and a hot wire. These are fairly small wires and they can be ripped off by pets or people during weeding.
One positive aspect of sprinkler problems related to the sprinkler valves is that most valves and solenoid parts can easily be unscrewed and replaced without having to buy a completely new unit.
Also, the parts are interchangeable so if you want to swap one solenoid that you know works onto a questionable valve, all it takes is to screw it on hand tight. Sometimes the rubber valve inside of the valve body gets drily rotted or ripped. This can also be replaced with a screwdriver and an inexpensive replacement valve.
Sprinkler Head Issues
Sprinkler problems may first be seen by bad spray patterns or completely broken sprinkler heads. If they are snapped of you will even get your own “Old Faithful” geyser every morning. The most common sprinkler problems related to the heads are being clogged or broken off.
There are many sizes and brands, but they usually consist of a body and a spray head. If the entire head is run over of kicked off, you may be able to simply screw the body back onto the pipe elbow in the grass. Sometimes the actual spray head is hit by a lawnmower or other tool and water shoot out of the crack.
If the spray pattern is really low or looks odd, sometimes debris or rocks can be lodged in the spray nozzle itself. You can unscrew the spray nozzle and use water or a screwdriver to remove any small items.
Once in a while, you may need to adjust the small screw found on the top of the sprinkler in order to increase the spray amount, pattern, or flow. This can be performed by using a very small screwdriver or even a butter knife to turn the screw. If you have a new sod lawn, you do not want your hard work to do down the drain with a few sprinkler head issues.
Broken sprinkler help can be the mysterious and annoying type of sprinkler problem because for the most part, the pipes are underground. The good news is that if the break is after the valves, the old term “It only leaks when it is on” is a funny mantra.
A dead giveaway that the sprinkler problem is pipe related is if the sprinklers have a very small spray pattern or suddenly have very low water pressure. This is because a majority of the water is running out of the crack or break in the pipe and does not have enough pressure to blast out of the sprinkler head itself. Look for areas that may be a clue as to where the pipe is broke. Many times pipes break near the driveway where cars may have run them over by accident while pulling out.
Once you locate the break, do yourself a favor and dig back along the pipe at least a foot or two on both sides. Broken pipes are actually easy to fix, but the cramped area makes it harder than it needs to be. Here are some steps to fixing a broken sprinkler pipe:
- Dig the area with plenty of elbow room, about one foot all around the pipe.
- Turn off the water at the valve.
- Cut the pipe on both sides of the break with pipe cutters or a rope style string saw.
- Measure and test the slip-fix.
- Glue in the slip-fix and let it dry for 30 minutes before turning on the water.
One last tip! Do not cover the pipe until you have turned the water on to make sure you are good to go.
Sprinkler Pipe Glue
One way to avoid sprinkler problems is to make sure your pipes are properly glued. Although the main sprinkler problem related to the pipe is an actual broker pipe, loose or poorly glues pipes can be a huge sprinkler problem. Some people think that it is acceptable to simply push the pieces together and let the dirt hold them together! Please do not take this route…
Sprinkler pipe glue is very affordable just be aware that it is a chemical and you should follow the direction listed on the bottle. One tip is to make sure you have a rag with you and work over the dirt to avoid staining your sidewalk or driveway with blue sprinkler pipe glue.
Be generous and don’t be afraid to be messy, remember the pipe will be buried in the dirt so no one will ever see your messy glue. Using glue and making sure your pipes are secure is one major way to prevent sprinkler problems, and save you time troubleshooting issues.
Sprinkler Solenoid Basics
At some point, sprinkler problems will involve replacing or checking your sprinkler solenoid. Although that sounds technical, think of a sprinkler solenoid as an electric door that pokes the valve to let the water run. It consists of a body with a spring-loaded pin. The body will have two wires attached.
Either wire can be connected to the sprinkler clock hot and common wire, and when the low voltage from the clock is applied, the plunger retracts allowing the valve flap to open on your sprinkler valve. When the sprinkler clock time end, the low voltage current stops, and the solenoid pin pushed the valve closed because it is spring-loaded.
If you think you have a sprinkler problem related to the solenoid, first check that the wires are still connected tightly. You can even use wire strippers and re-twist them using a wire nut to ensure a good connection. Sometimes pets running through the bushed can rip the wires out and render it useless until you fix it.
If that does not fix the sprinkler problem, there is an easy test to determine if the solenoid needs to be replaced. Simply unscrew a working solenoid form the valve next to it and attach it to the first valve. If the original valve starts to work after you connect the wires, you need to replace the solenoid. They are very inexpensive and this is something you can fix yourself with a quick trip to the parts store. Remember to bring your original solenoid to make sure you purchase an exact match.
Because of water pressure and layout, most sprinkler systems are broken down into stations. Not only does this help with efficiency, but it can help narrow down what part of your system is causing sprinkler problems. Since each valve, pipes, and sprinkler heads are section off to each other it can save you time knowing what pieces are related to the station that is causing you problems.
If you have a station dedicated to the parkway near the street, likely there are only about 5-10 sprinkler heads and one valve. If you need to troubleshoot an issue, don’t waste your time looking around the entire yard, just focus on the last sprinkler in that station and work your way toward the valves. Now you only have to worry about a small part of your system rather than wasting hours
If you do not have time to fix the issue, you can turn off that specific station on the sprinkler clock and allow the others to run. This will give you time to work on the sprinkler problem while the other sections of your yard still receive their normal watering schedule.
If you have sprinkler problems that you feel could be related to the sprinkler wires, there are a few things to check before you rule this component out of your troubleshooting. In a nutshell, the sprinkler wires carry a low voltage current from the sprinkler clock to the valves when it is time to turn on the sprinklers.
Each valve has a “hot” wire connected to one side, as well as a common wire. typically in a bundle of sprinkler wires, you will want to make the white wire the common to keeps things consistent. Sprinkler wires can cause sprinkler problems when the wires are loose or maybe not corrected in the right manner.
Dogs and kids could be running through the bushes and rip them out or simply wiggle them loose. They should be connected with a wire-nut, so take the wire-nut off and make sure it is nice and tight. Also check the connections to the sprinkler clock, which is terminated with a screw or connection that should be tight. If you have been digging in the yard recently, make sure that the wires were not cut by a shovel. This should help you decide if your sprinkler problems are related to the wires.
Timers and Clocks
Sometimes it may seem like your grass is dying due to sprinkler problems, when in reality it could be that they are not turning on at all! If your clock is not set properly or the wires are connected wrong you will certainly have problems. Sprinkler clocks basically send a low voltage current to the sprinkler valves in order to open them.
A sprinkler timer has controls on the face that can be either manual switches, but recently most manufacturers use an LCD display. Timers are sold with a predetermined number of stations, so extra slots can be used for future use.
There is a power cord that plugs into a regular outlet and a bank of connections for your sprinkler valve wires to connect to. The bank will consist of a row if either screws or clamp style connections.
When troubleshooting sprinkler problems related to the clock or timer, there are a few tests you can do to rule this component as the cause of your sprinkler problems…or an innocent bystander.
- Make sure the timer is plugged in and on.
- Check both the hot wires and common wires to ensure they are connected.
- Test the timer can send a current by using a “manual” feature to run the sprinklers while you watch
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