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A Heads-Up on Ways to Ensure Sprinklers Work Properly


With spring's warmer weather, it's important to make sure your lawn and garden sprinklers are in top shape. Heads often clog with debris or are sometimes damaged by lawn-care equipment.

Sprinkler care is something most homeowners can do in less than an hour with a flat-blade screwdriver and a pair of channel-lock pliers.

To get started, activate each sprinkler valve individually to observe its watering characteristics (follow instructions for manual operation if you have an automatic system). Here are a few fix-it tips:

* Clogged heads. If you see little or no water coming from a particular head, odds are debris is blocking the head orifice or built-in filter screen.

To clear the clog, remove the head insert from the center of the head with channel-lock pliers by turning it counterclockwise. Just inside the head insert you might see a plastic filter that looks like an inverted cone. Pry it out with a small screwdriver and clean it with an old toothbrush. Turn on the sprinkler valve and let it run until a "geyser" appears and water flows steady and clear.

Before reinstalling the filter, inspect the openings in the head insert for blockages. Poke a thin wire into any holes and rinse under running water. Now reinstall the filter screen and head insert and test the line. Adjust the spray for proper aim and volume.

* Improper aim or over-spray. Sprinklers that are aimed incorrectly or over-spray the target not only waste water but can cause serious damage to paint, stucco and wood surfaces on a home.

To correct aim, use the channel-lock pliers to turn the head so the spray is directed away from the building or walkways. To correct over-spray, use the screwdriver to turn the adjustment screw at the center of the insert clockwise until the spray volume is reduced to the proper size. Conversely, if you notice dry areas try turning the screw counterclockwise to increase water flow.

* Puddling. Puddling of water around the sprinkler head is a waste of water. It's normally caused by nothing more than deflection of the spray by grass or plants that have grown around the head. This will result in dry spots that will leave dead areas in your lawn and garden. Always keep at least a 12-inch-diameter circle of low-cut grass around each head and make sure plants are trimmed away so the spray is unobstructed.

* Impulse sprinklers. Impulse sprinklers, commonly known as "rain birds," distribute water over a large area by a series of bursts of water that cause the head to turn slightly with each spray to cover a pattern. The spray pattern will sometimes need adjusting for optimal coverage by turning a small screw on the side of the nozzle or by moving the "reversing" tabs at the base of the sprinkler to change the size of the spray arc.

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

* Wiring problems. Automatic sprinklers operate by sending an electrical charge from the timer to the sprinkler valves through a series of thin wires. Periodically check the wires for signs of wear or weathering. Also check the valves themselves for rust, corrosion or other telltale signs of trouble. Replace parts that appear questionable to avoid a problem.

Gary Abrams is a general contractor who has written about home improvement for The Times for 10 years. Comments and questions can be sent to him at

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