Maintenance and Common Problems
You can save money and water and still keep your landscape green by:
- Fixing leaks
- Solving common problems
- Taking care of sprinkler heads and valves
There are several components of an irrigation system that require regular maintenance. Consider hiring a certified professional irrigation contractor (pdf) to do a thorough inspection each year to identify hard-to-see issues. Also, watch your system while it's running to find and fix leaks and the problems listed below.
After checking the system for obvious leaks, use the water meter to identify underground leaks or breaks. Leaks can occur on the main line that feeds each of the zone lines, and can be difficult to locate. Not all leaks will shoot water out of the ground. Sometimes a leak will result in wet, muddy areas that just never seem to dry up. Grass that is greener than the rest may indicate a leak, too. Underground leaks can be difficult to identify, and you may need to hire an irrigation professional to locate and repair the leak.
- Pick a day and time when the system has not run for a day or two and is turned off. Walk around the yard looking for water running or leaking. Wet, boggy or muddy areas that cannot be explained by normal watering or rainfall are key indicators.
- Make sure no water is being used in the house. Shut off the water valve in the house to isolate the outdoor water.
- Turn off the irrigation at the controller and then check the meter to see if it moves or record the dial numbers and wait 10 minutes and record the numbers again to see if they’ve changed.
- The next step in looking for leaks is to turn on each of the irrigation zones in turn and walk around and see if water is coming out of the ground and leaking out of heads in places where it shouldn’t. This will identify leaks that are not mainline related. These leaks can be at the sprinkler head itself, in the non-mainline piping (lateral pipe) or at the valves.
Solve common problems
Watering in the rain
Install a rain sensor to automatically pause your irrigation system when it rains.
Watering the sidewalk, driveway or other non-landscaped areas
Realign sprinkler heads, turn down the flow control at the valve and move or change sprinkler heads. For a narrow planting bed, consider switching to drip irrigation.
Water running off landscaped areas
Runoff often occurs because the irrigation system applies water faster than the soil can absorb it. Runoff is most prevalent on sloped landscapes. This is a major source of water waste and is also easily fixed.
Let the water soak in. Break watering times into two or more “cycles” with 30 minutes in between. This technique is called Cycle and Soak or Wet and Wait. To learn how to do this, read Irrigation Scheduling Tools (pdf) and consult the controller’s manual.
Watering established trees or shrubs
Most trees and many shrubs do not need supplemental watering once they are established (3-4 years). Cap off sprinkler heads that are no longer needed.
Brown spots in the grass
Usually this is a sign that the water spray is not reaching an area. Move or add sprinkler heads to provide more even watering. We do not recommend simply increasing the length of time you water because this will result in overwatering other areas.
Very fine water droplets in the air indicates too much pressure. If all the zones are misting, install a pressure regulating master valve. If only a particular zone is misting, you may be able to turn down the flow control at the valve(s) or have an irrigation professional install a pressure-regulating valve.
Take care of sprinkler heads and valves
- Replace or clean leaking, cracked, or clogged heads.
- Adjust heads spraying inadvertent areas.
- Replace heads that seep water at the end of a watering cycle. Often referred to as "low head drainage" issues, sprinkler heads at the lowest elevation may drain the water that is in the pipe after an irrigation cycle ends. Have a professional install heads with "check valves" to stop the water from leaking out.
- Inspect sprinkler heads to make sure they are popping up correctly and not spraying the driveway, sidewalk, house or street. Remove plant material that’s grown over heads and twist spray head stems to direct sprays to avoid hardscape areas.
- Align heads to distribute water correctly. There are different kinds of sprinkler heads:
- Spray heads are smaller with a fan or mist of water (multiple streams of water) that blanket the ground. Simply rotate the head until it is watering the area correctly.
- Rotors are larger heads that shoot a single stream of water and move back and forth or around in a circle. Rotor heads need to be adjusted at the head itself, typically with a special tool.
- Rotary or high-distribution uniformity (DU), nozzles are a newer type of sprinkler nozzle for spray heads. This nozzle can be retrofitted onto most spray heads and improves irrigation efficiency by improving the evenness of coverage and putting out water more slowly. Heads with rotary nozzles can be adjusted to change the length of throw of water.
- Straighten crooked heads or reposition those too close to the ground or plant material.
- Remove any dirt built up around valves.