An automatic lawn sprinkler system is the best way to keep your lawn looking lush and green. When correctly designed and programmed your irrigation system will deliver the right amount of water to your lawn without the need to move the sprinkler around!
But like any other system in your home, it can occasionally break down or require maintenance. The good news is you can handle most of the repairs yourself even without in-depth knowledge of the system.
Daley’s Turf will show you how to identify and fix the most common problems in our two part series.
Don’t be intimidated by the prospect of working on a system that involves both plumbing and electricity. The pipes are plastic and much simpler to repair than the plumbing in your house. The electrical lines are low voltage, so they’re not hazardous. You don’t need special skills to make the repairs but we do recommend calling in an electrician to handle any electrical related issues – better to be safe than sorry.
Sprinkler heads not working
Solution 1 – Replace broken sprinkler heads
Broken sprinkler heads are easy to identify by simply look for:
- Cracked or broken plastic casings on the heads
- Heads that don’t pop up
- 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 lawn mowers, bikes and vehicles. Replacing the head is one of the simplest fixes. Replacement heads are available at hardware stores and online. Just make sure to buy the same type of head that you’re replacing – take one along with you to make sure.
To change a broken head:
- Turn off the system
- Dig a 60cm (2-ft.) diameter hole around the head
- Using a square shovel slice the turf into easy-to-remove pieces
- Set the turf on a tarp so you can set it back into place at the end of the job
- Dig down to the ‘riser’ or 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 underground
- Turn the head counter-clockwise 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
- 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
- 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.
- Before filling in the hole and replacing the turf, set the desired sprinkler pattern
Solution 2 – Clean and reset heads
Dirt sometimes gets inside sprinkler heads, causing them to clog up. While the 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 counter-clockwise
- 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 a 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
Reset the spray pattern
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 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 and then fine-tune them once they’re in place with the sprinkler running. First, turn the top clockwise until it stops. That nozzle location is the starting point (the head will turn counter-clockwise from there). Adjust the head to set the watering rotation anywhere from 40 degrees to 360 degrees counter-clockwise from the starting point. 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.
Check for leaks then carefully backfill the hole and replace the turf. Turn on the sprinklers at the controller. Allow the head to make a few rotations and then make additional adjustments while the system is running.