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Landscape Design

Troubleshooting a Sprinkler System

Tips for fixing residential sprinkler systems

By Scott Cohen, garden artisan and columnist
  • Common mistake: Low spray nozzle pattern leaves dry areas on rectangular parkway lawn areas. The Green Scene in Northridge, CA

The heads overspray and fog up. What is wrong? If water pressure is too high, the sprinkler system actually becomes a mist system and fogs the plantings. The slightest breeze will blow the water away from its intended area. All sprinkler heads are designed to work best when operating under an optimal water pressure. Check the sprinkler head instructions and install a "pressure regulator" (a plumbing device that reduces water pressure to a lower consistent pressure) if one is required to meet the optimal numbers.

Planter Coverage Tip:

Use an alternated pattern for watering planter areas as growing plants often block sprinkler coverage. Called "front to back coverage" this triangular sprinkler pattern helps saturate the entire flower bed during irrigation sessions.

Is the sprinkler system leaking or is the sprinkler valve not shutting off properly?When a sprinkler line is broken you can often see a "blow hole" like a whale's spout in the general area of the break. Inspecting the line will show a spot where soil is being blown out as water bubbles up from below.

If an automatic sprinkler valve is not seating properly, the actuator can't seal because of some grit or sediment on the membranes, then water can slowly leak down the lines. Typically this water will secrete from the lowest sprinkler head on the line. If you find a constant wet spot at the lowest head on the line it is most likely a valve that needs repair and not a broken sprinkler line.

Irrigation controller location dilemma: Should I place my irrigation controller inside or out?Here's the scenario - You are a couple that travels a lot and you would like the maintenance gardener or a neighbor to be able to change the timer without access into the house, so the best place to put the timer is outdoors, right? Not so fast. If it's raining you need to go outside in the rainstorm to shut down the timer so you don't waste water. It sure would have been easier to turn off the timer if it had been installed in the garage.

Choose timer location based on easiest access for the person that will need to set it most, and don't forget about rainy weather.

Don't do this: To get adequate lawn coverage, this sprinkler pattern over-sprays adjacent cars and wastes water down the street.
The Green Scene in Northridge, CA

Are you providing a free car wash when you water the parkway lawn? I hate it when I have just had my truck washed and I park next to parkway lawn strip and the sprinklers are installed wrong. The sprinkler installer placed one row of heads along the sidewalk side of the street using half pattern heads. In order to get adequate water on the lawn the heads all overspray the street. My timing is always perfect and when the lawn sprinklers turn on I get a free car wash I didn't want.

This is one the most common mistakes I see in residential sprinkler design. It's also a terrible waste of precious water and it is easy to avoid.

Place sprinkler heads in an alternated pattern for proper head-to-head coverage and reduced water waste. Best of all, no free car washes!

Scott Cohen is a nationally acclaimed garden artisan, author, speaker, and HGTV television personality.

Related Reading:

Learn how to save water and have a thriving lawn

Get an overview of the sprinkler installation process

Get seasonal sprinkler care tips from the pros

Return to Sprinkler Systems

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