How To Troubleshoot and Repair a Lawn Sprinkler System

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Sprinkler system repair is often as simple as checking the sprinkler heads, testing the water pressure, and identifying any electrical faults. 
An outdoor sprinkler system is a great way to make sure your lawn stays healthy and green. Even the best sprinklers will fail over time due to the normal wear and tear. Fortunately, sprinkler systems are surprisingly easy to maintain.
To help you keep your lawn sprinkler system in tip-top shape, Jerry, the home and car insurance super app, has put together this handy guide on how to troubleshoot and repair problems with your sprinkler.
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What you’ll need for a sprinkler system repair

Most common sprinkler-related problems are easily repaired with the following tools and materials:
  • Spade
  • Pliers
  • Wire cutters
  • Wire strippers
  • Hacksaw
  • Band clamps
  • Replacement heads/parts
  • Tubing repair parts
  • Electrical tape
  • Multimeter
If you’ve got these essentials, you can start troubleshooting by checking the components of the sprinkler system to identify and repair the problem. 

Check for and repair faulty sprinkler heads

Your first move should always be to check the sprinkler heads. Since they’re so active, it’s very easy for sprinkler heads to become clogged or damaged
The majority of sprinkler system problems occur in the heads. Fortunately, they’re also one of the easiest components to repair
Observe the sprinkler system in action. If you notice that only one or two of the heads aren’t functioning properly, especially if they’re not popping out of the ground, then the odds are pretty good the issue is with the sprinkler head(s). 

Clean and reset sprinkler heads

If you suspect that the sprinkler heads may be the problem, the first thing to try is to simply clean them. There’s a strong possibility that they’re just dirty. 
Here’s what you’ll need to do:
  • Unscrew and remove the top of the head from the canister.
  • Using a bucket of water or a hose, wash away dirt, grime, and debris from the sprinkler head and the canister.
  • On the bottom of the head, you’ll find the screen basket. Remove it and clean it.
  • Reassemble the head. 
Even if you’re not noticing any issues, you should make a habit of cleaning your sprinkler heads at least once a year

Replace damaged sprinkler heads

If you’re cleaning the heads and you notice that one of them is damaged, you may need to replace the head
To replace the damaged head, you’ll need your spade and a replacement head. Then, follow these steps:
  • Using the spade, carefully dig up the soil surrounding the head until the riser is exposed. 
  • Unscrew and remove the old sprinkler head from the riser.
  • Gently but firmly screw the new sprinkler head into the riser by hand until it is tight. 
Repeat the process for any other damaged sprinkler heads. After that, your problem should be fixed! If not, the problem likely lies elsewhere. 

Resolve issues with low water pressure

It’s pretty easy to tell if your sprinkler system has low water pressure: the sprinkler heads will still emit water but at a significantly reduced intensity
If you do have low water pressure, the cause is usually an issue with one of the system valves, leaking pipes, or crushed pipes

Check all valves

First, check that all the valves are open—one of them might be partially closed, which would cut off some of the water. 
Check the valves on the backflow device. There should be two. Make sure they are both in the open position. Test the system with both valves in either position to be sure. 

Find and repair leaks

Another possible cause of low water pressure is that you have a leak somewhere in your system. To determine whether this is the case, check the meter on your sprinkler system. 
You should see a red triangle, the low flow meter. If the triangle is moving while you’re not using water both inside and outside, then you have a leak
You can also visually inspect your lawn to look for water bubbling up or pooling, which would indicate a nearby leak. If the low water pressure is localized to a few sprinkler heads, that can help you narrow down the area where the leak is occurring. 
Once you have an idea where the leak is:
  • Shut off the water to the sprinkler system.
  • Carefully dig up the soil in the general area where the leak seems to be until you find it. 
  • When you find it, cut out the damaged section of pipe using your hacksaw.
  • Place a band clamp on one of the ends of the pipe.
  • Slide in a slip coupling.
  • Tighten the band clamp.
  • Place a band clamp on the other end of the pipe.
  • While inserting the nipple into the pipe, expand the slip coupling.
  • Tighten the second band clamp.

Check for crushed pipes

If you have a crushed pipe, you’ll need to do a bit more work to locate it. 
  • Using your spade, dig up the soil along the pipe. Follow it until you locate the crushed pipe. Trees are common culprits of crushed pipes, so check near roots first. 
  • When you find it, cut out the damaged portion of the pipe with your hacksaw.
  • Measure and cut a section of replacement pipe.
  • Using your couplings and band clamps, connect the new section of pipe to the lines. 

Test electrical components

After you’ve checked your sprinkler heads and water pressure, you’ll want to examine the electrical systems
Almost all sprinkler systems are divided into separate zones and managed by a central controller unit. If your sprinkler problem is caused by electrical components, it will usually be isolated to a single zone. 
If you notice that one of the zones isn’t turning on, you can bet there’s an electrical issue. If you suspect a fault in the electronics, here are some basic troubleshooting steps: 
  • Go to the main panel and double-check that all circuit breakers are on. 
  • Inside the controller unit, check that the wires for each zone are properly and securely attached to their corresponding terminals. 
  • Check that the controller isn’t set to the rain/off function. This could be the problem if none of the zones are working. 
  • Try pressing the reset button on the controller.
If the issue persists after those steps, it’s time to check the individual electronic components. 

Check for low voltage

You’ll want to perform a voltage check to see that the correct amount of power is running through the system. You’ll need a multimeter to detect electrical currents. Check the voltage at each zone—if only one zone isn’t working, start with that one. 
  • At the controller, make sure the zone you’re testing is on. 
  • Turn on the multimeter and set it to voltage.
  • Place one of the multimeter’s leads on the common terminal, which will be marked with C or COM.
  • Place the other lead on the terminal for the zone that you’re testing. 
  • You’ll get a voltage reading in volts. A reading between 24 volts and 28 volts is desired for most systems, but check your owner’s manual to be sure. 
If you get a voltage reading outside of the acceptable range for your system, you’ll need to replace the controller unit. 

Test the transformer

If the controller checks out fine, test the transformer next. First, double-check that the transformer is plugged in. 
Next, place one of the multimeter’s leads on the terminal inside the transformer labeled “24 vac.” Ideally, you should get a reading of exactly 24 volts. If you get a reading of anything below 22 volts, then the transformer is the issue and it will need to be replaced

Repair/replace damaged wires

If you come across any damaged wires, you’ll need to repair or replace them. 
If the wire needs to be replaced, you’ll need to buy a replacement and install it, but there’s a good chance you can just repair the wire. Here’s what you’ll need to do: 
  • Turn off the power.
  • Find the damaged section and cut it out.
  • On both of the undamaged wire ends, cut and strip off two inches of the sheathing around the wire’s copper center to expose it. Be careful not to cut the copper. 
  • Cut a fresh piece of replacement wire. Then, clip and strip two inches of sheathing on either end of it.
  • Take one end of the new wire and overlay one inch of its exposed copper with one inch of exposed copper from the intact portion of the original wire. Then intertwine them. Always make sure you’re splicing wires of the same color
  • Using electrical tape, cover all of the exposed copper wires where you spliced them together. You should use at least three layers of tape. Make sure that all of the copper is covered and that the tape is nice and tight. 
  • Do the same thing on the other end to make one continuous wire. 

Replace solenoid 

If nothing else has resolved the issue, you may need to replace the solenoid. The solenoid is a small electronically-controlled door within your system’s valve. If it is faulty, it could cause the entire system not to turn on. 
You can buy a solenoid replacement at most hardware stores. Once you have the new one, switching them out should take less than ten minutes. 
  • Shut off the water.
  • Disconnect the power
  • Disconnect the two wires that are attached to the solenoid
  • Grip the old solenoid in your hand and twist it counterclockwise, gently but firmly. It should easily lift free after that. 
  • Insert the new solenoid. Turn it clockwise until it’s in place. 
  • Connect the two wires to the new solenoid. 

Dos and don’ts of sprinkler system repair 

Whether you’re attempting a sprinkler system repair or just staying up-to-date on your system’s routine maintenance, here are some key points to keep in mind. 

What to do

  • Call 811 before doing any digging. That way you can have your underground utility lines located and clearly marked so that you don’t damage them. 
  • Take proper care of your sprinkler system’s electrical components and regularly check their voltage with a multimeter.
  • Check for and repair faulty wiring.
  • Ensure that all wiring and connectors are properly waterproofed
  • Clean sprinkler heads.

What not to do

  • Do not work on any wiring or electronics without shutting off power at the circuit breaker first. 
  • Don’t forget to periodically check on and repair eclectic components such as the solenoid and transformers
  • Never leave your sprinkler system hooked up over the winter. You’ll need to drain all the water out, remove the system timer from your hose bibb, and put it away for the winter.
Key Takeaway Make sure you check on your lawn sprinkler system’s heads, pipes, and electrical system for proper functioning. Never leave the system hooked up over the winter.  

Does homeowners insurance cover sprinkler system repairs? 

No. Homeowners insurance typically won’t cover the cost of repairing or replacing a faulty or aging sprinkler system. Most home warranties won’t, either.
If your home or surrounding structures (including fences, pools, sheds, etc.) are damaged directly by a peril named in the policy, you should be able to file a claim. 

Finding affordable home insurance

Sprinkler systems are pretty easy to repair. Unfortunately, not all damages to your home are so simple to patch up—especially things like fire and theft. For these and other hectic situations, you’ll need quality homeowners insurance to stay financially protected. 
Luckily, your pal Jerry is an expert at finding you the best available coverage for the lowest possible price
Jerry is a free app that saves you time and money by showing you competitive quotes from dozens of top name-brand providers and helping you make an easy in-app switch.
To save you even more money, Jerry will also help you bundle your home and auto insurance, which should earn you a discount on both! 
Jerry was wonderful! I used it for my auto and renters policies. I trusted it so much that I signed up my homeowners insurance under Jerry as well. All of the agents are amazingly nice and knowledgeable.” —Mary Y.
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FAQs

The cost of replacing a sprinkler system will vary wildly depending on where you live, what company you use, and how large your sprinkler system is.
As a rough estimate, you could expect to pay about $2,000-$4,000.
The best way to fix your broken sprinklers is to systematically test each of the different components involved: the electrical systems, sprinkler heads, and underground piping. 
Once you know the cause, you can proceed with one of several quick at-home repairs or purchase the correct replacement part.

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