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How Do I Replace A Broken Sprinkler Head?


It’s easy to spot broken or malfunctioning sprinkler heads. Just look for puddles or spurts of water around the heads, water geysers, water spraying unevenly or not at all, and sprinklers that don’t pop up, don’t pop up fully, don’t retract all the way, or don’t rotate.

Upon further inspection, you might find a sprinkler head that’s cracked, partially missing, or completely broken off. This can happen if the heads are set too high and are run over by vehicles or lawn mowers. You’ll have to replace the broken head, but it’s a fairly simple fix. You can find sprinkler heads at your local home center. Be sure to buy one made by the same manufacturer, with the same model number (information should be on the top of the head). Never mix different types of sprinkler heads in the same zone.

Steps to Replace a Sprinkler Head

To replace the broken head, turn off the system, and dig a hole 2 feet in diameter around the sprinkler. You’ll want to preserve your lawn, so use a square shovel to slice the sod into easy-to-remove pieces you can replace when the job is finished.

Dig down to the vertical pipe that branches off the main irrigation line (the riser) and is connected to the sprinkler head. Make sure to dig carefully to avoid damaging the plastic water line, which is 8 to 12 inches underground.

Remove the sprinkler head from the riser by turning it counterclockwise. A sprinkler head is originally installed only hand-tight, but you might find it difficult to unscrew after being in the ground for several years. Use wrenches to unscrew it if you’re having difficulty. If the head still doesn’t turn easily, hold the riser with slip joint pliers to keep it from twisting loose from the fittings below on the irrigation pipe. Take care not to get any dirt into the riser once the sprinkler head is off.

Place the new sprinkler head on the riser and turn it hand-tight. Don’t use any thread seal tape or joint compound on the riser threads. Sprinkler heads are factory tested to make sure they work, and they’re often packaged still wet (so don’t be surprised to see water in your new sprinkler head). To finish, fill in the hole, and replace the sod. You’ll have to reset the desired sprinkler pattern for the new head.

Some sprinkler heads can be fixed by cleaning them. Dirt, sand, lawn mower cuttings, and debris from rain storms can get inside, clogging them and causing malfunctions.

For cleaning, make sure the system is off, then pull up the stem of the sprinkler head, and either hold it or clamp it to prevent it from dropping back into the body. Unscrew the nozzle from the sprinkler and lift out the filter. Soak the nozzle and filter in water and swish them about to remove dirt and debris. You may have to use a toothbrush or small thin wire to unclog the holes in the filter and nozzle.

Turn on the system for a minute to flush out the sprinkler of any additional debris, turn it off again, and replace the filter and screw the nozzle back on. Turn on the system to ensure the sprinkler head is working properly again and adjust the spray pattern.

You also have the option of digging down around the sprinkler head and removing it from the riser. Then take the head apart by holding the bottom of the body and turning the top of the head counterclockwise. Once you’ve done that, lift the top of the sprinkler head out. Give everything a thorough cleaning in a bucket of water. Put the sprinkler head back together, reattach it to the riser, replace the sod, and adjust the spray pattern.

Some fixes are fairly easy, and some are not.  When you need the sprinkler maintenance and repair experts, call Smart Earth Sprinklers at (512)694-1147 or contact us online.

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