Now that the rains have ended and the hot, dry days of summer have arrived, our sprinkler systems are vital for maintaining a green, healthy landscape. A summer maintenance inspection will ensure your irrigation system is operating at its full potential. Here are some of the things to check during a summer inspection:
Visually inspect the sprinkler heads in each zone. Remove any vegetation that’s grown up around them that could block the spray. Also clear away any gravel, dirt, and other debris on or nearby the sprinkler that could potentially clog the nozzles. Adjust any that are too high or too low. Vehicles and lawn mowers can run over and break sprinklers set too high, and they’re also a tripping hazard. Heads that are too low will not pop up over the top of the grass to spray properly, causing flooding around the head, and leaving a dry area where it should have been spraying.
Straighten any sprinkler heads that are leaning to the side. Generally, sprinklers need to be perpendicular to level ground to work correctly. If they lean to the side, they could create dry spots, as well as waste lots of water. On slopes, ensure the heads are at a right angle (perpendicular) to the slope. With steep slopes you might need to get a professional to help you with the placement to get the water to spray the correct area, and not just go straight up into the air or blow away. Full circle sprinklers at the bottom of a slope can spray directly into the ground on the downhill side if not placed at the right angle.
Look for cracked or broken plastic casings on sprinkler heads, and partially or completely missing heads. Replace broken sprinklers with the same brand and model as the other sprinklers in the same zone. If some of the sprinklers in a zone are already mis-matched, you need to replace them. Most brands and models are not compatible with any other brands and models. Mixing on the same valve circuit can waste huge amounts of water.
Make sure you haven’t mixed spray-type heads and rotor-type sprinklers on the same valve zone. Given the same size area, spray-type heads will put out twice as much water as rotors. The grass near the spray-type sprinklers will be overwatered, while the grass around the rotors will be underwatered.
Run each zone manually, one at a time, checking for the following:
- Pop-up sprinklers popping up and retracting fully.
- Spray-heads spraying an even fan spray with no uneven gaps.\
- Head-to-head spray coverage from one sprinkler head to the next.
- Rotor sprinklers rotating properly and water shooting the proper distance.
- No leaking between the riser and the cap when the sprinkler riser is fully extended.
- Zones shutting off properly after running.
For those sprinklers not popping up and lowering properly, look for and remove any dirt stuck in the gap between the riser stem and the cap, causing the head to jam. Clean the filters and nozzles for spray-heads you find with an uneven spray pattern. For rotors that have stopped rotating, or their water flow has decreased, clean the filters. If this doesn’t solve the problem, replace the rotors.
If your spray sprinklers are watering the sidewalk or driveway, or are creating a lot of mist, turn the small radius adjustment screw on top of each nozzle to correct the spray distance or misting. To change the size of the spraying pattern, either turn an adjustable nozzle, or switch to a nozzle with a different spray pattern (e.g. 1/4, 1/2 circle). You can also change the direction of spray-head sprinklers by rotating them (they’ll make a ratcheting sound).
Rotor sprinklers also have an adjustment screw for changing the distance of the water stream. If necessary, you can adjust as well the fixed side of the rotation arc, and the overall rotation radius.
Leakage between the riser and the cap when the riser is completely up indicates one of the following: the riser seal is bad, the riser is scratched, or the cap is scratched. In all cases replace the sprinkler.
Also check in each zone for:
- Water bubbling up from the ground or shooting into the air.
- Depression in the ground or a very wet or soft area.
- Pools or spurts of water around sprinkler heads.
- Sprinkler heads not popping up properly and barely spraying or shooting water.
These are signs of leaks in the water line. Sometimes the leak’s not easy to locate. One way to find it is to look at the area between the last working sprinkler head and the first nonworking one and start digging there. If your irrigation line runs near a tree, dig near the tree. Roots can grow around a pipe and over time squeeze the pipe and break it. Or, if you notice running water, follow it to the highest point to discover the source.
Turn on the zone for drip irrigation 20-30 minutes before you do your inspection to allow enough time for the emitter wetting patterns to become visible. Then check the area from the zone valve to the end of the irrigation line for leaks and clogged emitters. Make sure the emitters are properly placed. You may have to buy extra micro tubing and connectors to move the emitters out to the drip line for growing plants.
Review your controller programs and schedules to make sure they’re appropriate for the summer and local water restrictions. Visually inspect the sensors (e.g. soil, rain, freeze, wind) for damage, and test their operation.
You’ll also want to inspect valve boxes, lids, and the valves themselves for any leaks, corrosion, or damage. One way to spot a leaking zone valve is by the constant wet spot or puddle around the lowest sprinkler heads or head on that zone. Upon checking, if the valve is cracked, you’ll have to replace it. If the leak is due to a torn or damaged diaphragm inside the valve, you can buy a rebuild kit that includes a replacement diaphragm.
Leaving it to the Pros
It’s always a good idea to get a professional to do a summer maintenance inspection. He’ll be able to some things the average homeowner might find challenging, such as:
- inspect the irrigation lines for leaks
- make sure the valves are closing properly
- test the valve wiring from the controller
- check the sensors are working
- inspect the system for correct water pressure
- help with the watering schedule based on current restrictions
- program the controller if asked
- suggest any additional irrigation coverage possibly needed for new plants or trees.
A professional can also do any needed repairs to keep your system running problem-free during summer temperatures.
Call the trusted experts at Smart Earth Sprinklers at (512) 694-1147 or contact us online for all your sprinkler repair and maintenance needs.