Getting Your Lawn Sprinklers Ready For Spring
Category: Irrigation | Tuesday, January 1, 2013
Every year at the beginning of the warm season, you should perform a “Spring Tune Up” on your lawn sprinklers in San Diego. During the late fall and winter seasons many systems lay dormant and now need to be fired back up for regular use. However, care should be taken before you just start blasting away, or you could be blasting a hole in your wallet.
Initial System Prep:
- Well & Pump Systems: If your irrigation system is tied to a well & pump, you will have to prime your pump back up if you drained it. Although many people prefer to fully drain their pumps, it is not required as long as you provide sufficient insulation for your pump to keep it from freezing. Of course if it gets colder than normal, you may find that you should have insulated it more than you thought. There is simply nothing like dry, water free equipment when it comes to subfreezing temperatures. Even if you did not drain your pump, it may still need to be re-primed because of a check valve or vacuum leak. To prime your pump, simply pour water into the pump housing. (volute) Most pumps usually take about one or two gallons to prime, but can vary. Your pump should have some sort of valve or cover where you are able to put prime water in the pump. If not, you will need to install one by cutting the PVC at the discharge (outlet) and insert a valve or faucet so you can fill the housing with water. (Might want to install it with the hose connector cocked slightly to one side for easier access.) Remember, even self-priming pumps sometimes need to be primed, especially if they are older. These are usually the ones where you will need to add your own priming valve.
- Municipal or Pressurized Water Systems: In some areas, municipal code requires an anti-suction or vacuum-breaker valve to be installed on the irrigation system. In my area, it also requires the valve to be 18 inches above ground. Some people use various methods to cover the valve both for Winter protection and aesthetics. They use a cover or fake rock or something, but when spring comes, they find themselves shelling out 250-300 dollars to replace it. I just cut mine off. Yep, I installed quick connect couplers like what the plumber uses on kitchen sink drains, and I just screw them off for Winter and back on for Spring. I store the valve on a little shelf in my garage until it’s time to go back to work.
System Pressurization and Inspection
- Static Leakage Inspection: Once you are ready turn your irrigation system on, it’s time to go through initial inspection and start up phase. You will need to pressurize your system by starting your pump(s), if you have them, or turning on the master valve to the municipal water supply, but not the timer. We don’t want to actually start squirting any water yet. At this point, go around looking at all exposed fittings for leakage. Remove any and all solenoid cover plates and anywhere you have access to any parts of the system. Keep in mind that late growth may have covered some access panels. If you find any leakage, mark down what and where you found it. If it’s too bad to go on, then you will have to stop here and do maintenance on your lawn sprinklers before continuing.
- Timer and Valve Energizing Inspection: Before we can inspect our sprinkler heads, we will need to apply pressure to the individual zones. To do this, we will need to energize the solenoid valve for each zone. This is easily done by going to your timer and doing a “manual” start. On my timer, if you start the first zone manually, it will run that zone for the set number of minutes and then progress to the next zone. For my inspection testing, I set each zone for 10 minutes. That’s usually enough time to check each head in the zone for proper operation. I usually don’t try to fix anything unless it’s major, I simply write any discrepancy down for later review.
- Zone Inspection: After the initial pressure test, it’s time to check your sprinkler heads for proper operation. You will need to go around to each individual zone and inspect.
- Look for Wet Spots: That’s usually a good indication of a sprinkler head that cannot pop up, or might indicate a leak such as a break in the pipe, but it usually indicates a sprinkler head. If you find a sprinkler head that won’t pop up, usually it’s the cause of overgrowth. See if there are any grass or weeds keeping it from coming up. You may need to do some clipping around the head to get it to pop up. In some cases, you may have to help the head up.
- Pressure Check: You will want to make sure that the zone has the proper pressure. Observe that each head is squirting out an ample amount of water for the position it’s in. Look for coverage. If the head is one that moves back and forth, (rotor head) check that it rotates properly and stops in the proper place. If you have a head that doesn’t seem to be putting out what you feel is the proper amount of water, it may be the result of a pipe break or a clogged or broken sprinkler head.
- Sprinkler Head Leaks: Go to each head and observe if the sprinkler head is leaking from the wiper seal or base of sprinkler head.
- Clogged Sprinkler Heads: Check is the nozzle is clogged. To unclog the nozzles, you might try using a small flat head screwdriver to remove small debris from the tip of the nozzle. If this doesn’t work, you’ll have to wait until the system is off and remove the nozzle and its screen. Rinse the screen off with water to get out any debris. (I usually try washing it in reverse flow.) If this doesn’t clean it, then simply replace it.
- Sprinkler Head Adjustments: Check if the head is adjusted properly and watering the desired area fully. As you go through each head, make the adjustments as needed.
- System Breaks: If you find any breaks, repair, or have repaired and then re-inspect any zones the break was in. Keep in mind that dirt can enter the pipes when a break occurs, and flow to the head after repairs are done. This can cause clogged heads. The same goes for replacing sprinkler heads.
- System Timer:
- Make sure that the date & time is set correctly. If not set it.
- Check and/or program the days of the week you’d like the system to run. Every yard is different and conditions vary around the world, but a good rule of thumb is for lawns to run the system once every three days in the Spring and Autumn seasons and a little more in the Summer. Set the timer for specific days or once every X number days.
- Check and/or program each zone to run for a specific amount of time. The amount of run-time depends on several different factors such as system design, landscape type, and soil condition. Sprinkler heads are categorized by precipitation rate. As a rule rotor heads need to run longer than fixed spray heads. Spray heads have a higher precipitation rate or output water faster than rotors.
- After you have setup your system to run on a regular schedule, pay attention to it for the next week or so.
- Make sure the timer is keeping time by checking it and observing that the system is running at the times that you set. I generally set the time a little later for the first week or so, so I don’t have to get up so early and then set it back to 5am or whatever your start time will be after it all checks out.
Be sure and inspect your yard in those initial weeks and make sure that everything is getting watered properly. If you notice any hot spots or dry areas, it may call for some further adjustments. By just spending a little bit of time, you can ensure that your San Diego lawn sprinklers are working in peak condition.