How To Troubleshoot and Fix Sprinklers

One of the key ingredients to a lush, green lawn and healthy garden is water. Since Mother Nature is unpredictable, using a sprinkler system can help ensure that your grass and your plantings are properly hydrated. But they must be in working order to do so. If your sprinklers are in need of repair, you can identify and solve many of the issues on your own.

garden sprinkler on the green lawn
credit: bozhdb/iStock/GettyImages
How To Troubleshoot and Fix Sprinklers

No Spray or Unusual Spray Pattern

Issues with a sprinkler system's spray are often caused by dirt or broken pieces. Dirt can clog sprinkler heads, which may result in an unusual spray pattern or no spray at all. A broken sprinkler head may not pop up or may also have an unusual spray pattern. In both instances, you must remove the sprinkler head to determine the cause.

To remove the head, dig a small hole around the head for easy access and removal. Take care in removing the dirt and grass as you dig, leaving turf as intact as possible as you'll need to replace it when done. When digging go all the way down to the riser, the vertical pipe that branches off of the main line. Remove the head by turning it clockwise with your hands. If the sprinkler has been underground for several years, you may need a wrench to loosen the head.

Once exposed, cleaning the head is a simple process. Locate the filter, which is usually a plastic screen basket, and rinse thoroughly in a bucket of clean water. Once the filter is clean and all debris has been removed, clean the rest of the sprinkler head before reassembling. Refill your hole and test your sprinklers.

It's easy to determine if your sprinkler head is broken; simply check for cracks or breaks. Often, this can be the result of the sprinkler head being too high and hit or run over by a lawn mower or vehicle. If the head is damaged, it will need to be replaced. Purchase your new head at either a home store or online and attach it to the riser, tightening with your hands. Make sure to set your sprinkler pattern before refilling the hole.

Minimal Water Sprayed

Low water pressure will cause the sprinkler to shoot minimal water. There are several reasons for low water pressure: partially closed valves, leaks in the water line or a crushed or obstructed water line.

To determine the cause, begin by checking the valves to make sure each one is fully open. These valves are located on the backflow device, which is above ground at the horizontal and vertical pipes. Valves are fully open when the handle is parallel with the pipe. Turn the valve on the horizontal pipe before the vertical.

Leaks are located by identifying a series of sprinkler heads that aren't working. To check for leaks in the water line, find the last working head and the first nonworking head—the problem will be between the two. You can also look for signs of leaking water, which includes water coming up through the soil when the sprinklers are on, a very wet area or even a depression. Follow the running water to the highest point to determine the leak location. To repair the leak, dig to the water line and then continue along the line until you locate the crack or break. Before fixing the leak, turn off your system. Next, cut a four-inch section of the line, clamp one of the lines, insert the coupling and then tighten the clamp. Place a clamp on the other end of the pipe, expand the coupling, insert the nipple and tighten the clamp. When complete, fill the hole and replace the grass.

If finding the leak isn't possible, then your water line may be crushed or obstructed. Crushed water lines occur when the soil is compacted, usually by vehicles driving over the area. Obstructed lines are the result of tree roots wrapping around and squeezing the line over several years. Locating this damage can be more challenging, resulting in more digging. Lines can be repaired by following the same directions for leaking lines. However, if a line is obstructed, reroute the repaired line away from the tree.

Winterize to Help Prevent Future Problems

Prevent water from freezing and potentially breaking parts of your sprinkler system by winterizing your system at the end of each season. This is done by fully draining the system before temperatures drop below freezing and snow begins to fall. First, turn off the main water valve as well as any other valves, then allow the water to drain out of the system. Once complete, drain all manifolds; these are used to switch underground watering to above-ground drip irrigation. After drainage is complete, hire a contractor to blow out the system with compressed air. These steps will guarantee a fully dry system, reducing potential damage during winter months.