How To Troubleshoot an Irrigation System
Your landscape is a major investment, adding up to 10 percent of the total value of your home, so an ounce of prevention is certainly worth a pound of cure. Like your car, your irrigation system has moving parts and electrical connections – thus it needs regular maintenance and a periodic tune-up. For irrigation systems, spring is an ideal time to perform the tune-up. Simple checks now can save you a lot of grief during a hot summer!
Take some time to familiarize yourself with your system. Notice what kind of controller and valves your system uses and learn what you can about them from YouTube or blogs. Take note of any common problems or complaints which can help if you run into any problems down the line. Once you feel comfortable with your set up, it’s time to get your hands dirty.
Check Emergency Shut Off Valves
First, check the emergency shut-off valve for ease of movement. These valves can “freeze” open due to the minerals in the water moving through them. By working them every so often, any mineral build-up is knocked loose. Then they will work when you really need them, like when water from a break is geysering toward the sky.
Clean The Filters and Emitters
Somewhere on your irrigation system there should be at least one filter to help trap debris. This needs regular cleaning, especially if there is new construction in your area. Take it out and soak it in vinegar to clean the debris you can’t see.
Check that all emitters are functioning. They can clog with the minerals that are naturally occurring in our water. Repair or replace any clogged ones.
Check For Leaks And Flush
Leaks encourage weeds and wastewater. Repair them as soon as you find them. You should keep a repair kit on hand with emitters, pipe couplers, microtubes (1/4 inch diameter), and some mainline pipe (generally 1/2 inch).
Remove end cap(s) and flush irrigation line(s). This helps clear debris that gets past the filter. There is almost always some debris.
Check that the manual override on irrigation valves can be activated. Electrically controlled irrigation valves have a manual knob that allows you to turn the water on when something is wrong with the controller (also called timer). They too can “freeze” shut from mineral build-up, and thus need occasional attention to keep them available for when you need them.
Adjust Controller Settings
If your controller is capable of it, you can store three complete programs, one for summer, one for winter, and one for spring and fall. If you go to the trouble to do this, don’t forget the next care tip!
Check that controller times are set correctly, especially after every power outage. Despite back-up batteries, some controllers reset when power is bumped.
Change the back-up battery in the controller. Do this once a year whether it needs it or not. You can change it when you do your home smoke detectors (in October, which is Fire Awareness Month) or with your irrigation system tune-up, just before the summer heat and storms.
Adjust The Emitters
Move emitters out to the dripline of trees and shrubs as they grow larger. The best way to keep trees from blowing over in the wind is to encourage sturdy wide-reaching roots. Water out at the edge of the leaves, not at the base of the trunk. Same for shrubs. You will need to add emitters as the plants age. More on landscape watering in future posts.
With a little routine maintenance on a regular basis, drip irrigation can be an asset to ease of maintenance for your landscape.