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The 4 common problems with sprinkler heads and what you can do about them

Even in the most complex irrigation systems, issues with sprinkler heads are one of the easiest things to diagnose and fix. Though there are some times when you can pin down the problem yourself, it still may be best to call the pros, such as the team at Quench Irrigation in northern New Jersey.

Here we will explain the 4 most common problems with sprinkler heads and what you can do to solve them.

Common problems with sprinkler heads

If you suspect something is wrong with your irrigation, it is likely because you are noticing some troubling signs in your landscape. This includes signs such as:

  • Brown patches of grass
  • Ponds of water after the system is on
  • Soaked tree trunks
  • Soaked driveways or walkways

While there can be other issues in the system, one of the most common causes of these issues is problems with sprinkler heads. There are 4 common problems with sprinkler heads to look out for.

  1. 1.Blockages

A blocked or clogged sprinkler is the most common cause of sprinkler failure by far. Luckily, they are also typically pretty easy problems to diagnose, and in many cases are simple to solve.

Signs to look out for that indicate a blocked sprinkler are sprinklers that do not emit any water or let out some water, but at a very slow pace. In some cases, the nozzle may fail to come up all the way or may not come up at all.

There are a few different type of blockages, which may vary depending on where the sprinkler is and what is around it.

Debris on the surface/trapped in the nozzle – plant matter or debris that piles on top of the sprinkler may find its way into the nozzle or into the spray head. This may be due to issues like frequent lawn mowing which leaves behind small blades of grass, or mulch that moves or gets piled over the sprinkler. If this is the issue, simply wiping away the debris from the nozzle may be enough to stop the blockage.

Dirt buildup – Sometimes dirt can build up in the sleeve of the sprinkler head itself. If enough dirt builds up in these areas, the nozzle may not slide up properly. This can lead eventually lead to a completely stuck nozzle which may not come up or spray as it should. This is partly a simple wear and tear issue, as it is more common the more you use a system. However, it may be more common in a very dirty area or areas where there is more foot traffic to kick up dust.

Debris in the screens – The debris may work its way into the sprinkler over time. If too much debris gets caught in the screen beneath the nozzle, it may partially or completely cut off the flow of water. If you know how to remove the nozzle and clean the screens, go for it! This may solve the problem completely. They can be delicate, however, so if you are uncertain, call an irrigation specialist such as Quench Irrigation in northern New Jersey.

Fixing blockages can vary. Sometimes wiping the nozzle clean or plucking out a single piece of debris may do the trick. In other cases you may need to remove the nozzle or sprinkler head to clean the individual parts. And still other cases may require a new sprinkler head altogether.

  1. 2.Incorrect patterning

While each sprinkler will theoretically be set perfectly during installation, this may not last forever. The sprinkler heads will likely settle with time. As the soil compacts, the sprinkler heads may tilt a bit. Additionally, movement from lawn mowers, diggers, or other machinery may bump the sprinkler out of alignment.

Incorrect patterning causes uneven coverage. You will likely notice signs of water runoff or pooling water where two or more sprinklers water the same area. Yet while a sprinkler that has turned will water one area too much, it will also not water the other side at all. This can be confusing, as you will likely notice both dry spots and areas that are completely soaked from the same sprinkler.

The other issue here may be plant matter or debris that cuts off the flow of the sprinkler. For instance, if a bush has grown up in front of the sprinkler head, it may block that sprinkler from covering the area it was intended to.

In most cases, this is a simple fix. If you notice a sprinkler head that is coming out at an odd angle or has tilted, you may be able to adjust it without much digging. If it is moveable, pick up the sprinkler head and hold it in the correct position. Now gently pack the soil around the sprinkler to hold it in the correct position. Be careful around that sprinkler head until it settles back in.

If the direction of the stem’s spray itself is the issue, first check for any blockages, such as a piece of soil or grass that is sending the spray in another direction. Next check that the spray pattern displayed on the nozzle is aligned with where it needs to go. If not, it may need to be adjusted. If you know how to adjust the nozzle, great! If not, call an irrigation specialist.

  1. 3.Stem Leaks

A stem leak may occur in a situation where the sprinkler head has been installed improperly, or has been knocked loose at the stem. It may also occur due to a faulty part, damage from frost, or normal wear and tear in older systems.

The most common reasons for this are simple installation errors or running over the sprinkler with a lawn mower or other piece of machinery. Even if the sprinkler itself seems intact, the force may have split the stem beneath where it is visible in the sprinkler head.

Stem leaks will often cause dry spots in areas where the sprinkler should be reaching. They will also likely cause water to pool around the broken sprinkler.

To fix the issue, you will want to check that it is not a blocked sprinkler first. When the system is running, press gently down on the stem. This helps flush water through the stem, and should dislodge any debris if it is there.

If this does not fix the issue, the broken stem will need to be repaired, which may mean digging out the head to properly repair it. This would be the job of a specialist.

  1. 4.Misting

Misting is a more common issue with systems that have very high water pressure or water pressure that fluctuates. The pressure forces the water out of the sprinklers too fast, which creates a very fine mist or fog instead of the steady spray the sprinkler should create.

These tiny water particles move through the air in a much different pattern than they should. If you have a problem with misting sprinklers, you will likely notice issues after the system has run, such as dry spots, wet tree trunks and branches, and water on walkways.

If the misting is occurring in one area, you may be able to decrease the flow to that specific area. Otherwise, call a specialist. They may suggest adding a valve pressure regulator to help keep the pressure balanced and even throughout the entire system. This should solve the issue.

For the average DIY project, some of the issues here have simple enough solutions. However, don’t get in over your head. In more difficult cases, it is best to call an irrigation specialist like Quench Irrigation to take care of problems with sprinkler heads.