You woke up this morning and your wife asked you,


“Did you hear that powerful storm last night?”


Oddly, you did not, but you look out the window to assess the fallen leaves and stuff in your yard only to notice that your neighbor’s tree was the sad victim of limb-shattering lightning strike damage.


Is your first thought “A” or “B”?

A.  I’m so sorry for my neighbor.

B.  I’m so glad that wasn’t our tree.


No need to confess your answer to me, but even if your neighbor’s tree was struck and not yours, you still may be in for some unforeseen hassle.

According to the NLSI (National Lightning Safety Institute) there is a 1 in 200 chance of any structure being hit by lightning.  That’s more common than a lot of people might have thought, including me, but I should not be surprised.  Because of my line of business, I see tons of lightning strike damage to homes and commercial property.

Oh sure, if you walked into your garage and there was a big black smudge on the wall where your irrigation controller used to hang and you found the thing had shot clear across the space where it hit the other wall and fell to the floor, you would notice that. Right?

Most lightning strike damage does not leave an obvious fingerprint.

Each year we service and repair many sprinkler systems with lightning strike damage, but more often than not, the homeowner or property owner was not aware that their sprinkler system had been hit by lightning.  They were simply calling us for lawn sprinkler repairs based on problems they are having with their sprinkler system.  Sometimes they were aware of damage to other small appliances and often they did not know they had a power surge or lightning strike at all.

Lightning strike damage to sprinkler systems often goes undetected for months. Click To Tweet

The damage can be done without you even knowing anything is wrong, at least not with your sprinkler system.  For instance, if your stereo, computer, TV or refrigerator went caput due to lightning strike damage you would notice it almost immediately.  But if your sprinkler system was the lightning strike damage site, you may not notice that until you use it, which in Birmingham, AL where I live, could be two or three months later if it occurred in the winter.


But that’s actually not the secret I want to tell you.


Here’s the gasp-worthy secret.  Are you ready?


Remember the top of my story where you are thinking about your neighbor’s tree that was struck by lightning the night before and you think you dodged that one?


Even if your home does not take a direct hit from a lightning bolt, strikes to nearby trees can be just as detrimental to your sprinkler system.


Did you gasp a little?


Your sprinkler system has wiring that travels underground to each valve in your yard from your irrigation controller and the copper in the wire can be a conduit for the powerful lightning that hits the ground anywhere near your home including the next door neighbor’s tree.  The lightning then travels down the copper wire to your valves and controller doing possible damage all along the way.

Top Five Colossal Symptoms of Lightning Strike Damage to Your Sprinkler System Click To Tweet


1. The controller will not turn on.

The internal circuitry of the controller could be damaged and the controller may not even come on.

2. The sprinkler system turns “On” when it’s not supposed to run.

You wake up in the middle of the night and think you hear your sprinkler system running, but that’s impossible, because it’s in the “Off position,” right?  As a result of lightning strike damage or a power surge the controller could send out power to multiple zones at the same time, even when the controller is in the “Off” position.  We see this quite often when someone calls us, because the sprinkler system came on and just won’t shut off.  In this case the first thing to do is to unplug the controller.  If that does not turn off the water then locate the main shut off valve for the sprinkler system and turn it off.

3. The lightning strike damage is in a valve.

In other cases the controller survives the lightning strike and solenoids or valve wires are damaged out in the yard.

4. There’s a leak in a pipe.

Are you thinking, “What? Since when is PVC an electrical conductor?”  It’s not, but the water traveling inside the pipe is.  You know the old adage, “Don’t swim or take a bath during a storm.”  In some of the most severe lightning strike damage cases that I have seen the pipe burst through the ground from the instantaneous steam generated from the water in the pipe.

And before you e-mail me to remind me that H2O is not a conductor of electricity and that the only reason water can sometimes conduct electricity is because of the minerals (metallic solids,) which are already present in the water, I’ll go ahead and mention it now.


5. Damage to Wiring in the Yard

A lightning strike to your property or a location nearby can melt together multi-strand wiring.  I’ve seen wires that were broken in multiple places down the same wire from lightning strike damage.



What Do You Do With Lightning Strike Damage to Your Lawn Sprinkler System?


Sprinkler systems are very susceptible to lightning strike damage.  Where I live in Birmingham, AL, we get thousands of lightning strikes each year.

But the sprinkler system does not have to take a direct hit to be damaged.  It’s not uncommon for even a voltage surge to damage an irrigation controller.  Damage from a voltage surge may be isolated to your irrigation controller, whereas lightning strikes could blow your controller off the wall, melt together multi-strand wiring and destroy a solenoid or the entire valve.

Each year, America has more than 20 million lightning strikes that actually hit the ground resulting in hundreds of millions of dollars claimed on insurance policies.  Surge protectors are good to protect valuable electronics in your home, including your sprinkler controller, but there is nothing you can do to stop a direct hit from lightning to your home.  If lightning hits your home or a nearby power line, it can potentially destroy your entire property.  More often than not it only destroys some of the electronics in your home such as your TV, stereo system, computer, garage door openers or your sprinkler system.  Even with a surge protector on your controller, the lightning strike damage can wreak havoc on your controller via the wires out in the yard.

Spring is here, I know this because robins are hopping along my lawn and I’m seeing forsythia and daffodils starting to bloom.  If you live where you’re seeing those things too, you have probably already run a test on your sprinkler system from the controller or called a professional to complete a full and thorough assessment.


You may have already discovered that nothing came on.


It’s frustrating when your sprinkler system won’t turn on especially when it’s spring and you’re so excited to see things growing again.


Frustrating yes, but very fixable.


If your lawn sprinkler system was running great when you turned it off last Thanks Giving (for Birmingham, AL that’s about the time of year we do it,) but you went to turn the system on for your spring start up and nothing happens, your property could have lightning strike damage or a voltage surge from some time over the winter that did some type of damage to the controller or valves and it simply went unnoticed until the next time the sprinkler system was turned on.

Lightning strike damage, electrical surges as well as other electrical issues in a sprinkler system, like a severed wire from a shovel, edger or chipmunk; or un-located valves all require careful troubleshooting and in some cases may require underground wire tracing equipment.  Each case is different and lightning seems to do something a little different every time.

Careful troubleshooting utilizing a digital multi-meter to test for proper voltage and resistance is the first step to determine how much damage the lightning has done not only to the controller, but also to the wiring, valves and solenoids.  Then a plan can be put together to repair the sprinkler system, so that it can be running like new again and keep your landscape green and healthy.


That’s important.


More time out enjoying your healthy landscape might make you more healthy too. Click To Tweet


Birmingham, Alabama only – more about lightning strikes and getting things repaired.