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Why Your Sprinkler System Needs a Spring Inspection and Tune-Up

Winter Sprinkler Upgrade

A thorough spring inspection and tune-up should be done to ensure your system is running efficiently for a healthy spring lawn. It can also prevent future system problems leading to costly repairs.

Below are various parts of your system you can inspect yourself.  However, it’s recommended that you also hire a licensed irrigator to locate potential hidden damage, and make any repairs requiring professional expertise. 


Clean any dirt or cobwebs off the controller if it hasn’t been used all winter. Change the back-up battery. This should be done about every six months, in the spring and fall. Make sure the right date and time are showing, then enter the programming for a spring irrigation schedule. The battery will maintain the programming, time, and date during a power outage.

The newer smart controllers contain non-volatile memory that keeps the watering schedule when the power fails. Some of them also include a backup battery to maintain the date and time during an outage. These batteries are like the ones in your computer and can last 10 years. The controllers that don’t have backup batteries provide this protection within their non-volatile memory.

Rain Sensor

Make sure the rain sensor or rain/freeze sensor is working and correctly positioned. Clean out any dead bugs, leaves, etc. inside the housing. If the discs are misshapen or moldy, they won’t be able to expand and contract, and they need to be replaced. Change the batteries as recommended by the manufacturer.

Backflow Prevention Assembly (BPA)

Check an above-ground BPA for obvious damage such as cracks, broken ball valves, leaks, or a warped body. A warped body will prevent the internal parts from working correctly. If you spot a leak, turn off the water supply to the device at the shutoff valve.

For below-ground BPAs, check for water in the box, as well as for visible damage to the assembly. You’ll need to determine the cause of any water in the box (e.g. leak, rain).

A BPA may have internal damage that isn’t visible and prevents it from actually providing any backflow protection. If you suspect damage from winter freezing, don’t wait for the BPA annual testing — have it checked out by a licensed irrigator. If any repairs are done, the device will have to be tested.

In order to start up your system, slowly open the isolation valve to prevent water hammer (a shock wave created by a surge of water that can damage valves and burst pipes). Make sure the test cocks are closed and the ball valves are fully open. For RPZs (reduced pressure zone BPAs) tighten the bolts on the relief covers.

Valve Boxes

Find your valve boxes and check for standing water, cracks in valves, and broken or loose wires. If the boxes are hard to find, clear away debris and overgrown grass so you can easily locate them in the future. Replace any missing lids or damaged boxes.

Also check the valve box containing your isolation valve, usually located near the meter. Make sure the valve hasn’t seized up.

Sprinkler Heads

Visually inspect all sprinkler heads for any obstructions, such as overgrown grass, rocks, dirt, or mulch. Trim any bushes or shrubs that have grown and will block sprinkler water flow.

Check for any broken or cracked sprinkler heads. When replacing, use the same model and brand within each zone. Straighten leaning sprinklers, adjust any that are too high or too low, and make sure the tops are at the correct angle for lawn slopes.

Manual Zone Operation

Manually run the zones one at a time to check for any problems, and look for the following:

  1. Pop-up sprinklers not fully extending. To find the cause, clean out any debris in the sprinkler head and filters or replace the head if it’s too damaged. The water pressure could also be too low. Check that the valves on the BPA are fully open. Leaks in the pipes can also affect the water pressure.
  2. Pop-up sprinklers not completely retracting. Clean out debris or dirt between the risers and sprinkler heads.
  3. Pop-up sprinkler heads leaking. Clean out any dirt and tighten the caps. Worn-out or damaged parts, such as seals, need to be replaced. If the riser is broken, replace the sprinkler.
  4. Gaps in pop-up sprinkler spray pattern. Clean filters and remove nozzles for careful cleaning. Nozzles scratch easily, and they’re inexpensive to replace, so that may be a better, faster option than cleaning.
  5. Pop-up rotors not rotating or throwing water the right distance. The filters need cleaning. After cleaning, replace any rotor that still isn’t performing properly.
  6. No head-to-head coverage (water from each sprinkler should spray all the way to the next one in each direction). Increase or decrease the radius on spray and rotary nozzles by turning the radius adjustment screw. Rotors can also be adjusted the same way. To achieve 100 percent overlap you might have to change the nozzles or sprinkler layout. 
  7. Sprinkler water flow is small or looks misty. The system water pressure is too low or too high. 
  8. Water in Valve Box. Standing water can be caused by a valve problem, settling of groundwater, or a broken sprinkler pipe or fitting. Empty out the water and look for a ruptured valve or leaking fittings. Clean any debris in the valve, diaphragm, or solenoid. Replace a damaged diaphragm, as well as the solenoid if its plunger won’t move easily and smoothly. The whole valve will also have to be replaced if it’s ruptured, or if the seat is scratched or pitted.
  9. Broken and leaking pipes. Watch for water bubbling up from the ground when the zone is turned on. Once you start a regular irrigation schedule, look for wet, very soft, or sunken ground areas.
  10. Sprinkler head drainage at lower elevations when system not running. Either install check valves into the sprinklers at lower elevations or replace them entirely with sprinkler heads that have built-in check valves.
  11. Zone not shutting down when turned off. There could be a problem with the controller, or the zone valve might not be shutting off.

Important note:  Due to many people having sustained freeze damage to their sprinkler systems, the volume of service calls has been extraordinarily high. 

Despite having hired additional technicians and equipment, we are booked 4-5 weeks out.  Please be sure to inspect your system and book now for any needed repairs and adjustments.

Thank you for your patience and understanding.

Call the licensed irrigators at Smart Earth Sprinklers at 512-694-1147 for your sprinkler system inspection, repair, and maintenance needs.

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