Inspect sprinkler system to be sure it is doing its job

It seems the hot, dry weather is never going to end. Which brings me to the subject of today's column -- sprinkler systems.


I am amazed by the number of people who never check their system to make sure it is running properly. Many people have it come on early in the morning before they get up, so they never see it running. If that is the case, how do they know it is functioning properly?

As many of you know, I am an early morning runner (jogging is more like it). I leave my house about 6 a.m. and run for 50 to 55 minutes.

There is a neighboring subdivision that I visit once a week and there is a yard that has had a broken sprinkler head for two summers. I almost feel like knocking on the door that early in the morning to tell them.

The other problem I see is watering at the wrong time of day. Last Sunday afternoon there were two houses just up the street from me that were watering during the late afternoon, when it was still very hot, in the mid-90s. One residence had an excuse as they have new sod, but the other one didn't. When it is this hot, you will lose about 50 percent of the water to evaporation.

When I come home from work most evenings, I pass a yard where the sprinklers are throwing water almost completely across the street -- a huge waste of water.

Let's address these issues.

Far too many people think that irrigation systems don't require occasional maintenance. But just like our cars, washing machines and other things around the house -- things will occasionally go wrong.

If your system comes on during the early morning hours before you get up, you should at least run your system through each zone and watch to make sure everything is working correctly. You don't have to run it for a long time, just enough time on each zone to check it out. You should do this at least every month or so.

While watching it, make sure the sprinkler heads are properly adjusted and not spraying too far out or too close in. Look for signs of broken risers beneath the sprinklers. Sometimes this is obvious. -- you'll have a traffic-stopping geyser. A cracked riser will allow water to boil up around a sprinkler. If you have to make this repair, this is a perfect time to install a flex riser that is not rigid and won't break.

Inspect the sprinkler riser wiper seal for flow-by. A small amount of water coming out past the wiper seal is acceptable while the system is running. Excess flow-by while a system is operating indicates a damaged seal.

Many times people will replace a sprinkler because it leaks between the wiper seal and pop-up stem after the system has turned off. This leakage does not indicate a problem. If water drains out after the system has turned off and eventually stops, the valve is fine.

For spray heads with filters under the nozzle, hold the pop-up stem (there is a tool to keep it held up) and unscrew the nozzle carefully. A damaged nozzle may result in an uneven spray pattern. A damaged pop-up stem will result in a poorly performing wiper seal. Remove the filter and clean it.

To clean clogged nozzles, flush with water or lightly tap on a firm surface. While the filter is out, turn on the zone and flush out the sprinkler body. Reinstall the filter and nozzle, turn on the zone and recheck for effective coverage. Make all the necessary adjustments to cover the area properly. While the water is on, inspect other heads in the zone for proper operation.

To clean filters installed under the pop-up stem, unscrew the cap from the body. Don't allow dirt to fall into the sprinkler body while the riser assembly and cap are removed. The filter is at the bottom of the riser assembly. Remove it and flush with water. before reinstalling the assembly, run a small amount of water through the system to flush any debris caught in the sprinkler body.

It is important that broken or poorly performing sprinkler heads be replaced. When a specific sprinkler is broken or if water is flowing freely because of a worn wiper seal, the performance of all the other heads in the zone are affected. Water flowing unchecked will cause a loss in pressure and affect the other sprinklers' performance.

Valve problems can be hard to fix, so this is usually best left to professionals.

As far as the time of day to water, as I mentioned earlier, when you water during the heat of the day, you lose so much to evaporation. Plus, you are violating the state water restrictions, which say no watering between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Wasting water is exactly why those restrictions are in place.

The best time to water the lawn is from sundown to sun-up, with a couple of hours before sunup and a couple hours after being the most efficient. Remember that sunup is always the coolest time of the day.

As far as watering the street, adjust your sprinkler heads so that they don't do that. You may even need to move some heads to stop this from happening. Last time I checked, the grass doesn't grow in the road -- except for weeds that come up in the cracks.