Is Your Sprinkler System Malfunctioning? 5 Repair and Maintenance Tips to Try

Gemma Johnstone
Written by Gemma Johnstone
Updated April 21, 2022
Kids playing in sprinkler water
Photo: Blend Images - Mark Edward Atkinson / Getty Images

It would be a shame to let your lawn suffer from a broken down sprinkler after working so hard to make it immaculate

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After investing in a high-quality sprinkler system, you finally got what you wanted: the top lawn in the neighborhood. It only took one summer to make all the other grass gurus green with envy. But to keep your top spot, your sprinkler system must withstand temperature fluctuations, tree roots, and nosey, burrowing animals—things that can cause the electronics to fail.  

If you keep on top of maintenance, your sprinkler system could help keep your lawn lush and green for as much as 20 years. Check out these simple sprinkler repair tips and maintenance checks to understand more about how to diagnose or fix a problem, and when it’s time to call in the pros or replace your sprinkler system altogether.

1. Clean Your Sprinkler Heads

Sprinkler watering grass
Photo: MariuszBlach / Getty Images

If you notice water flow is low or patchy, it could be something as simple as debris clogging a sprinkler head. Start by turning off the irrigation system and removing the head. Then wipe it clean with a damp cloth. 

If the clog is especially stubborn, soak the sprinkler head in warm water and vinegar to soften the dirt. For debris lodged inside the spigot, a thin piece of wire should do the trick.

Replace Your Sprinkler Head

When you can't dislodge debris from a sprinkler head, or it had a rough run in with your mower, it needs replacing. Changing a sprinkler head isn’t a complex or expensive job, so it’s usually one you can do without pro assistance. Purchase the correct type of sprinkler head for your system and follow the instruction manual to replace it.

Check for Leaky Pipes

Sometimes, the PVC pipes carrying water from the mains line to the sprinkler heads can develop leaks, especially as they age. If the water pressure is dropping but the sprinkler heads are in good condition, water may be escaping from somewhere along the pipeline.

Replacement piping is available at most hardware stores. But, you have to identify the leak’s location first. Here are some common signs of leaks:

  • The meter registers water use when the water is turned off

  • Some sprinkler heads are working better than others

  • Water is pooling in random spots on your lawn

Consult your owner’s manual for specifics on how to repair a leak in your system. If you’re unsure, consider Working with a sprinkler installation professional to help you optimize water use.

2. Check for Faulty Valves

Some leaks relate to a faulty sprinkler system valve rather than a leaky pipe. This can also result in a drop in water pressure, excess moisture in one patch of your lawn, and sprinkler heads may even stop popping up.

As with pipe repairs, it can be tricky to track down and repair a faulty valve—even when referring to manufacturer’s instructions. Your valve will be located in either a box or underground, depending on the system you have. While a pro is recommended to fix the leak (this usually requires cutting and sealing PVC pipes), you can watch for these signs of faulty valves:

  • Wet valve boxes (more on this below)

  • Damaged wires, fittings, or worn parts

  • Your valve is sticking open, due to debris or worn diaphragm

Replace the Solenoid

If your sprinkler system isn’t turning on, this can sometimes be a fault with the system's electrics. A broken solenoid—the wire coil that signals the valves to stop or allow water to flow through the system—is a common problem, and replacing it yourself is a quick, inexpensive fix. 

To replace the solenoid in your sprinkler system you will need to:

  • Shut off the water supply and disconnect the power.

  • Take apart the sprinkler valve.

  • Clean debris stuck in and around the solenoid housing (sometimes this alone is enough to get the solenoid working again).

  • Consult the manufacturer’s guide for instructions if you need to replace the solenoid.

  • Remove and replace the solenoid with an exact match using a screwdriver.

3. Inspect the Backflow Preventer 

A backflow preventer stops the water flowing through the pipes to your lawn from contaminating your potable water system. The device fits onto the main home water line and has two valves separating the drinking water supply from the irrigation system supply. 

If the valve leading to the sprinkler system has been accidentally closed or there’s a clog in the pipe leading from it, it could cause pressure issues or prevent the sprinkler system from working. 

You can install a sewer backflow preventer by yourself for as little as $35 if you have the tools and experience necessary to get the job done. The cost to install a replacement backflow preventer averages at around $300.

4. Perform a Voltage Test

A voltage test will tell you a lot about the health of your sprinkler system’s electrical components, including the wiring, solenoid, controller, and transformer. This will help you pinpoint the cause of any issues you’re having.

However, to perform a voltage test, you’ll need a multimeter. While fairly simple, you’ll want to let a pro handle performing this test if you don’t have any electrical experience.

5. Inspect the Transformer 

A well-working sprinkler system will keep your yard looking great year-round. However, without a properly working transformer, your sprinkler system’s timer won’t be able to function as it should. 

  • Test the transformer with a multimeter to see if it needs repair or replacement.

  • Look for frayed or damaged wires.

  • Test the timer: If the system is not going off as scheduled, there could be an issue with the controller getting power. 

Costs to Install or Replace Your Sprinkler System

Locating leaks, replacing pipes, and diagnosing electrical faults can be tricky. If you aren't confident with navigating your way around your sprinkler system or the problem isn’t obvious, calling a local sprinkler service company is your best bet.  

You don’t want to create a mess digging up your lawn only to find you can’t fix the problem. The average sprinkler system repair costs $250, but if you attempt a repair and make the situation worse, you could end up with more leaks and a bigger repair bill.

If your sprinkler system is old, you’re having frequent leaks, loss of water pressure, or a steady increase in your water bills, it may be time to consider replacing the system. The average cost to install a new lawn sprinkler system is $2,500, but this is money well spent if it’s going to decrease your water bills and transform your patchy lawn to its former lush glory.

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