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How to repair your sprinkler system.

Updated

Give your lawn a fighting chance (and your water bill a break). Try these sprinkler system repair tips from pros on Thumbtack. 



The best sprinkler repair tips from the pros.  

Tip #1: Get what you need to fix most common sprinkler problems.  

Your sprinkler system involves more than just those circular black sprinkler heads that pop up and occasionally drench you when you’re finishing your early morning jog. In reality, the irrigation system sitting below your front lawn is something of a technical marvel — a network of wire connections, control valves, PVC pipes and more. 

It’s sophisticated, but things can go wrong down there. Fixing breaks or leaks without hiring a professional is tricky, but there are lots of basic things that you can do as a homeowner to fix a jammed sprinkler system (think broken sprinkler heads and clogged valves). 

Here’s what should be in your gardening shed when the time comes for a repair: a small shovel and spade for digging, easy-out pipe extractors, heavy-duty gardening gloves, a toothbrush (for unblocking valves), extra exterior parts (sprinkler heads and risers) and plumber’s tape. 

>>Hire a pro today. Here are the best sprinkler repair services near you.

Tip #2: Know when you need a repair vs. a new sprinkler system. 

You’ve had six run-ins with your lawn irrigation system this year. Does that mean it’s time to rip the thing up and put in a new one? Not necessarily.

According to top-rated pro Javier Cosyleon, owner of Cosyleon Landscape Concepts in Temecula, California, the lifespan of a sprinkler system can vary. “Most residential sprinkler systems last around six years," he says. "But it varies depending on the system you install and the conditions in your area. For example, hard irrigation water (water that’s mineral-heavy) is tough on sprinkler systems over time. I’ve seen people get 20 years out of a system, but that’s not the rule."

Here are a few signs that it’s probably time to replace your system:

  1. Your water bills are getting expensive. This will happen as your sprinkler system ages and loses efficiency.
  2. Your system was installed in the ‘80s. Technology in the irrigation industry just keeps getting better, said Javier. Even if your system works, you could be wasting a lot of your home’s water supply.
  3. Low water pressure. If you can’t get pressure no matter how many sprinkler heads your replace, you’re probably looking at a pipe system that’s riddled with cracks.   

Tip #3: Repair a leaking pop-up sprinkler head on your own. 

Few home improvement projects are as satisfying as fixing a problem sprinkler head. Two things can happen to your sprinkler head to make it stop working. If it’s clogged with soil and debris, a thorough cleaning should work. If it’s cracked or isn’t working because of electrical issues, it’s time to swap the whole thing out. 

Start by turning off the irrigation system so there’s no electricity flowing or water in the sprinkler lines. Next, dig a hole that’s four feet wide around the sprinkler head. Get down to where the riser (which lifts the sprinkler) connects the water line to the sprinkler head, being careful of the line as you dig. Use a wrench to turn the sprinkler head clockwise until it releases from the riser. Attach the new sprinkler head into the riser using your hands to tighten. Make sure it’s clear of dirt and debris. Before you recover the sprinkler head with soil, turn the slot at the top to get the sprinkler pattern you want (see the manual that came with your system for more on how). 

Tip #4: Avoid high water bills. Hire a technician.

There are lots of nuances to watering your lawn just right. As Javier explains, “Sure, you can change your nozzles to be more water efficient. Brands make nozzles that are more direct and lose less water as they mist — but you might have to leave them on for longer, or at different times in the day. It’s complicated and depends on where you live and what you have planted, not to mention that everything will change again based on the season.”

Beyond saving you a trip to the irrigation supply store, lawn care specialists can help you set your irrigation system to work the way you want and give you advice based on your plants, shade distribution and climate, so you can keep your lawn alive all year round.

Tip #5: When in doubt, dial 811.

Before you break ground, call 811. You’ll be put in touch with an operator who can answer all of your questions about what’s below your lawn and notify your utility company about your work. They’ll send someone to mark your soil to help you avoid any gas lines or buried water that might be in your irrigation path. You could create major power problems for your neighborhood if you don’t know what you’re doing. 

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lawn sprinkler system

Most common irrigation system problems to look for. 

Problem #1: See dead patches in your grass? Replace your sprinkler head.  

Sprinkler heads spend their days popping in and out of your lawn on risers — they’re bound to get a rock or two to the face along the way. When the inevitable happens, they’ll either overwater, shower indiscriminately or stop popping up altogether.

What does that look like?

If you see patches on your lawn that are either drowning or totally parched, you probably have a sprinkler head issue on your hands. If you’re running into this issue every month, it might be a lawn care issue of your own making — lawn mowers are known to cause chips and cracks in sprinkler heads. So for your own good, be a conscientious mower. 

Problem #2: Water pressure seems low? Check your PVC pipes.  

PVC pipes are the thick, plastic tubes carrying water from your main water line to your sprinkler heads. They’re generally buried 6 to 12 inches beneath your lawn — and because they’re hidden under the earth, it’s hard to know how they’re doing.

Javier says that on average, these pipes should last between 10 and 15 years, depending on the water and soil, how you use your sprinklers and who manufactured your system (Javier suggests the brands Hunter and Rain Bird).

If your water pressure seems low and you’ve already checked your system’s valves and sprinkler heads, it’s time to check your pipes. Odds are you’ve got a leak.     

Problem #3: Sprinklers not popping up? Check your backflow device.

Backflow devices protect potable water from contamination from other water lines — like the one keeping your azaleas from wilting. It’s probably obvious, but we’ll say it anyways: The water flowing beneath your lawn is not the water you want in your pipes when you brush your teeth or wash your dishes.

To keep the two water sources from getting friendly in your home’s water system, you have a backflow device with two valves — one on the pipe that goes into your home and one on the pipe that feeds into your sprinkler system. If your sprinklers aren’t popping up anymore but the system is on and your transformer is working, it could be that the valve on the pipe feeding into your yard is clogged or closed. Open it by pulling the valve handle parallel to the pipe. To clean it out you’ll need a toothbrush — and a whole lot of patience.  

How much does sprinkler system repair cost? 

If you see a problem in your front yard, it’s probably time to bring in professional help. A sprinkler and irrigation system repair professional can help you with ongoing maintenance and solve issues like sprinkler systems that won’t turn on, broken sprinkler/spray heads, water flow problems, running water and erratic water pressure, and broken timers. They can also help you move sprinkler heads and adjust the direction of your sprinklers if you decide to replant or adjust for a new season. 

The cost of getting your sprinkler system repaired depends mainly on whether you hire a handyman or an irrigation professional, the size of the lawn you need inspected or repaired, where you live, the terrain in your area and how urgently you need your sprinkler system fixed.

Also consider the cost of any parts you might need — getting a new transformer system will have very different final costs from swapping out a couple inches of PVC pipe because of the materials involved. 

For more on costs, see “How much does sprinkler system repair cost?

Who to hire to fix your sprinkler system.  

Pipes, transformers, gas lines, risers. This stuff gets complicated fast. Don’t put the entire block out of power just for the DIY cred. Hire a pro to fix your sprinkler system for you:

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