With all that you already need to know to properly care for your home; your sprinkler system repairs are not giving you any breaks. (Pun intended.) Lack of knowledge is like cutting through a ranch on foot and not knowing where the cow pies are along the way. We’re here to expose the truth about irrigation. With a little extra sprinkle of sprinkler knowledge and the right irrigation contractor around when you need them, your system can make your plants and lawn flourish becoming the perfect backdrop to your outdoor family enjoyment.
To help you avoid the pitfalls, we’ve identified the top five sprinkler system repairs that we see in our business.
Controlling Your Controller Before It Controls Your Wallet
With all the bells and whistles on these sprinkler system controllers these days, it’s no wonder many homeowners find them difficult to program correctly. The biggest mistake we see when we are called out to help with a controller that seems to have a “mind of its own” is that someone set the controller for multiple start times. That will cause your system to run during two or more programed schedules. So when you are working with your controller to properly set watering run times, take an extra few minutes to check and make sure you have only one start time.
Most homeowners only need one start time to run each of the zones in their yard. But many times controllers can be confusing and an unsuspecting homeowner could program multiple start times into the controller thinking that each zone needs its own start time. Indeed there are a few controllers out there that do need that much programming to function properly, but the vast majority of controllers can be set to run every zone with just one start time. And when 4 start times get incorrectly programmed for a 4 zone system, the system will actually water all 4 zones 4 times! Overwatering your turf and landscape by a factor of 4 and making the irrigation portion of your water bill 4 times as high! Ouch!
Sneaky Tiny Water Leaks All Over Your Yard
Sprinkler Heads Leaking Small Amounts of Water Have a Large Impact
Sprinkler heads are what you see popping up out of the ground and watering your yard whenever your system is running. Although common sprinkler system repairs include replacing heads that were hit by lawn mowers, run over by teenagers along a curved driveway or chewed by an energetic dog, often the bigger issue goes undetected. Left unrepaired, this water thief will waste more water each year. These sprinkler system repairs often require a closer observation walking to each head in your yard while your system is running. Specifically, a broken seal on an irrigation head will leak money, oh I’m sorry, I meant water, over the lifetime of the sprinkler head.
Once the seal on a sprinkler head is broken the leak will continue to get worse each year, wasting more water and reducing the effectiveness of the zone. Over time, the reduction in production of the head sending less water out to the plant material will force you to run those zones longer to get enough water onto your lawn to keep it green throughout the growing season. Replacing older heads on your sprinkler system that have developed leaks can make a dramatic improvement in your sprinkler system’s performance as well as saving countless gallons of water and money on your water and/or sewer bill.
When is a leaky head not a leaky head at all?
Let me explain.
When your sprinkler system completes the final watering time in the last zone and the system shuts off, there is often water leaking out of a head for several minutes. That is what we call, low head draining. Clever technical term I came up with and you may use it. (I’m typing with my tongue planted firmly into my cheek.) The lowest head leaks out onto the curb, driveway or sidewalk, especially on properties with more dramatic slopes, but this normally stops after the excess water has drained from the zone. Common sprinkler system repairs start with a call to the local irrigation expert to explain that there’s a head that leaks 24 hours 7 days per week.
That’s when a leaking head is not a leaking head at all but rather a leaking valve.
How can you to tell if water is slowly leaking through one of your valves?
A normally functioning valve is either open or shut. When open, water flows through it and the sprinklers pop up and deliver water and when the valve is closed – the water stops. However, if you notice a head or heads continue to leak 24/7, then you have a valve that is not fully closing and needs to be repaired. These types of leaks can add up very quickly in lost water.
If the water is seeping out slowly from the low head drainage, it may not look like any water is coming out of the sprinkler head at all, but there may be a really wet area around one or more of the sprinkler heads that could be leaking nonstop indicating that one of your valves is not closing properly. Another sign of a leaky valve is an unexpected spike in your water bill. These types of leaks can add up very quickly in lost water and the sooner these sprinkler system repairs are taken care of the more money you save.
The Unlucky Breaks – Pipes
Do you have a break in the piping to your sprinkler system? This is the single biggest cause of wasted water in a sprinkler system. Makes sense since the water is running through the pipes out to the heads and if the pipe is fractured or a glue joint has come apart, the water is not properly delivered to the sprinkler heads.
Depending on the size of the break and whether it is in the main line piping or in a zone pipe will determine how much water you are wasting and also determine if it is leaking 24/7 or if it is leaking only when the system is running. A broken main line pipe could leak nonstop until the water is cut off to the sprinkler system and sprinkler system repairs completed. A zone line break will only leak when that particular zone runs from your controller.
Some breaks are more obvious than others. Leaks are easier to spot when they are large and when the water comes to the surface close to the point of the break. However some smaller leaks are much harder to detect and track. In some leaks the water may even disappear from view, surfacing at the bottom of a hill or the water may go straight into a French drain underground and only surface at the end of the drain, which could be hundreds of feet away from the actual break. In the case of yards in Birmingham, AL where I live, there are extremely steep slopes and a leak can literally disappear off the side of a mountain.
Some sprinkler system repairs go unnoticed until there is an ugly section of brown dry grass in the middle of a beautiful lawn.
That’s why it’s important to take a good long assessment of the system two or three times each year to make sure you are not wasting water due to broken piping.
This Sprinkler System Repair Often Goes Undetected for Months
If you live in a climate with an actual dormant season like I do in Birmingham, AL, then you are not running your sprinkler system 12 months of the year. Often we have lightning damage to our home and small appliances through a direct strike or even just a few power surges. It zaps air conditioners, computers and TV’s, but if it’s the winter and the irrigation system is not in use, there could be sprinkler system repairs going undetected for weeks, even months.
Does your sprinkler system have lightning damage and you don’t even know it?
It is possible.
There’s a broad range of damage that lightning can do to an irrigation system from a tremendous amount of damage to a smaller sprinkler system repair. The most easily detected is the controller, because it’s normally mounted on the wall of the garage where you can see it. Homeowners might notice that the light went out on it or they see an error message, or worse yet a black mark on the wall or the darn thing shot off the wall across the garage.
Something like that is hard to miss.
Less noticeable unless you run your sprinkler system, is that a zone is not working due to the lightning hitting a zone valve wire or the valve itself.
Controllers, valves and wiring are all at risk, but in severe cases it can even instantly boil the water in piping causing it to burst through the grass. That’s quite a scene!
Sometimes controllers are black from the strike and other times it just causes the circuit board in the controller to malfunction. Depending on how it’s malfunctioning and the time of year for this lightning event, it could go undetected until it is assessed thoroughly.
For some strange reason, chipmunks love irrigation wire.
Chipmunks are cute, but many like to chew through irrigation wiring. They seem to like to take up residence inside valve boxes for the sprinkler system and there are plenty of wires in these boxes going to the valves for your sprinkler system. Not sure if they get bored in there and just start chewing wires, but whatever the reason, they are bad news if they camp out in your valve boxes. A great way to reduce the number in your yard if you have a lot of them is to catch and release them in the woods using live traps that do not harm them.
Sprinkler System Repairs
Easier to Take Care of When You Take Care of Them
It seems like everything in life requires maintenance. Your air conditioner, your health, your dog and even your sprinkler system repairs require some attention. Left unattended and the sprinkler system will under-perform the job you bought it to do. Sprinkler system repairs are a maintenance item that when attended to on a regular basis at least twice or three times per year will keep problems nipped in the bud and are much less costly when repaired sooner. People who spend time in nature are happier, so keep your stacation spot looking and feeling great with a little walk through the sprinklers.