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It's Easy to Stay Ahead of Sprinkler Problems


One of the most easily forgotten home maintenance items is the care and adjustment of lawn and garden sprinklers. Many homeowners do not realize there is a problem until after costly damage occurs to areas of the garden, lawn or the house itself.

Sprinkler care is something most homeowners can do in less than an hour with basic tools, and with dry season here and summer vacations looming, now is a good time to check things out.

To get started, activate each sprinkler valve individually to observe the watering characteristics. If you have an automatic system, follow its instructions to activate each station manually.

Here is a list of common problems and solutions you are likely to notice:

Over-spray: When the sprinklers hit the house, it's not only a waste of water but also often leads to moisture damage to the paint, stucco and structural members of the home.

To reduce the flow of water from any sprinkler head, turn the small screw in the center of the head clockwise until the desired spray volume is reached. Conversely, if a portion of your garden or lawn appears dry or needs extra water, turn the screw counterclockwise.

Puddling: When water collects around the sprinkler head, it is almost always caused by nothing more than deflection of the spray by plants and tall grass around the head.

This problem results in dry spots that kill your lawn and garden. Always keep at least an 8-inch-diameter circle of very low cut grass around each head and make sure plants are trimmed away to avoid spray deflection.

Improper aim: Yet another waste of water, improper aim of the spray is very easy to correct. With a large pliers or sprinkler wrench (about $5 at any hardware store), gently turn the entire head so that the direction of the spray is as desired. If the head is frozen, try turning just the "insert," the brass or plastic fitting in the center of the head.

Clogged heads: A fouled sprinkler head will result in either little or no water pressure from the head. The clog is usually caused by debris in the water supply line or in the nozzle.

To clear the clog, remove the insert from the center of the head by turning it counterclockwise with either a sprinkler wrench or large pliers. If you see a plastic filter screen inside the head when you remove the insert, pry it out with a small screwdriver and clean it with an old toothbrush. Then turn the water on full force until the "geyser" appears clear and steady.

Before reinstalling the filter and the insert, inspect the openings in the insert for clogs. Poke a thin wire into any holes and rinse the insert under running water to flush away any particles. Reinstall the filter and insert, and adjust the spray for proper aim and volume.

Erratic spray: If a particular head sprays erratically, chances are that the head itself or the insert is damaged. Take a close look at it for cracks or abrasion. If you notice damage, simply unscrew the damaged part and replace it with a matching part available from most hardware stores. Aim and adjust the new head or insert as needed.

Impulse sprinklers, commonly known as "rainbirds," distribute water over a large area by way of a series of bursts or impulses of water that cause the head to turn slightly with each spray to cover a pattern.

The spray pattern is easily adjusted by either turning a screw on the side of the nozzle to lengthen or shorten the spray distance, or by moving the "reversing" tabs at the base of the sprinkler to modify the size of the spray arc.

Most homes with lawn and garden sprinkler systems are set up to operate automatically with a timer control. Periodically check the condition of your lawn and garden to assure that you are not over- or under-watering on any station and adjust the timer if necessary according to the instructions. If you are unsure about proper water time in your area, ask for advice at a local nursery.

Automatic sprinklers operate by sending an electrical charge through a series of wires from the timer to the solenoids and valves. These parts are subject to damage from corrosion and weathering. Periodically inspect all the components of your system for signs of deterioration. Replace any parts that look questionable to avoid a problem (which will usually occur when you are out of town).

As with any mechanical system, periodic repairs and maintenance will be needed to keep things working properly. Staying ahead of your sprinkler system's problems will save money and keep your home and garden looking their best.

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