How To Troubleshoot Your Sprinkler System & How To Repair It

This Is How We Repair And Troubleshoot Irrigation Systems For Our Clients In Hancock County, Lucas County, And Wood County, Ohio

Anyone with a broken irrigation system could be in big trouble! It can hurt your plants, the look of your yard, and your bank account.

In this post, you’ll find out how Simmons Landscaping & Irrigation troubleshoots sprinkler systems. You can also discover how to repair a damaged irrigation line and all the tools we use for irrigation system repair.

Locating and fixing a leaking irrigation system

Problems On Problems On Problems

“This is a borderline disaster,” sighs James, rubbing his temples.

“Ugh, it’s so unfair!” cries Sarah. “It took so long for any signs that our irrigation system was broken to pop up. Now we have a huge water bill, dead grass, and puddles.”

“Ok, let’s split up the work,” suggests James. “I’ll look up topics like ‘how to repair an irrigation line’ and ‘how to troubleshoot irrigation system’. Maybe I can fix it or put a patch on it. You can find out how much it can cost to repair an irrigation system.”

“Good plan, let’s do it right now,” says Sarah. The couple picks up their phones and starts Googling for answers.

Here’s what James discovers:

How To Troubleshoot Your Sprinkler System In 12 Ways

Flowchart for how to troubleshoot an irrigation system

Following these 12 ways to troubleshoot a sprinkler system should help to find the issue:

1. The water is off

Turn the water on.

2. Vacuum breaker valves are closed

Open the valves (for city water systems).

3. The pump isn’t running

Check all of the following: 

  • The pump spins freely and isn’t blocked
  • The power supply for the pump is correct (120/240)
  • Water source isn’t compromised
  • The pump start relay isn’t acting up
  • Pump start wire is properly connected and undamaged
  • The pump is properly primed
  • Filter or strainer is clean*

*For water sources from lakes, ponds, rivers, shallow wells, deep wells, & sand points

4. The controller is OFF/display is blank

Turn on the controller or check the power supply (24V) and the outlet (120V).

5. Rain sensor has been activated

Bypass the sensor.

6. The controller is outputting 24 volts to 

Test for the correct voltage with a multimeter for each zones wire.

7. Verify wire path to suspect zone(s) 

Use a multimeter to test that the voltage is correct at each valve in your yard.

8. If all of the above is good…

Bleed the valve manually and look to see what’s happening.

Chris Corney checking a compressor

9. The zone works by manual bleeding

Replace the valve diaphragm and solenoid or install new waterproof splices.

10. The zone fails to work by manual bleeding

Look for a pinched pipe, cut pipe, any recent construction areas, manual bleeding additions, or digging. Turn off the water and disassemble the valve. Slowly turn on the water and see whether any comes out of the open valve.

11. If water is observed in the valve

Investigate beyond the valve in the area the zone should cover for a pinched pipe, cut pipe, and signs of recent digging. Locate and repair the problem.

12. If water is not observed in the valve

Investigate the mainline for a pinched pipe, cut pipe, and signs of recent digging. You may need to bypass from one valve bank to another overground to isolate where the blockage is.

Tools For Repairing An Irrigation Line

  • Shovel
  • Hand trowel
  • Water
  • Cloth
  • Tubing cutter
  • Slip coupling
  • Pinch clamps
  • Screwdriver
  • Pinch clamp pliers

How To Repair A Damaged Irrigation Line In 11 Steps

Repairing a leaky irrigation system
  1. Turn on your irrigation system and locate the leak*
  2. Turn it off after you find the leak
  3. Use a shovel to carefully cut a square outline in the leaky area**
  4. Use a hand trowel to carefully remove the patch
  5. Dig around until you expose about 6 inches of the line
  6. Clean the section so you can see clearly
  7. Use the tube cutter to remove about 4-inches of line
  8. Place (don’t tighten) a pinch clamp around each end of the pipe left in the ground
  9. Insert a slip coupling into one end and then the other***
  10. Tighten both pinch clamps with the pinch clamp pliers to seal the line
  11. Turn the system on and check for leaks

Let it run for a few minutes to make sure everything works. If it does, fill in the hole and place the square patch of earth back.

1. listen for running water, look for leak/improperly working sprinkler

3. So you can put it back and not ruin your yard

9. You can take the damaged piece of the line to a hardware store and use it to find the right size slip coupling

All The Tools For Sprinkler Repair

Locating and fixing stuck valves

These are all the tools for sprinkler repair that we use as needed for each job:

Irrigation Repair Tools

Trench Shovel – the narrow shovel used for the majority of repairs.  It fits in small areas and makes a neat clean hole when digging up sprinkler heads.  It is for precision work not for moving large piles of soil.

Leaf Rake – the springy rake used for cleanup of loose soil after a project is complete.

Bow Rake – the rigid rake used for raking large piles of soil to a flat profile.

Flat Shovel – for use scooping and placing soil on a hard surface, such as a driveway or sidewalk

Pointed Shovel – for use doing rough work or digging/scooping out larger holes and excavations

Spade – a sharp tool used for cutting through roots or removing sod to install pipes. Use sparingly as it can also cut wiring and pipe.

Pick/Mattock – for digging in especially hard and compacted soils

Axe – used to cut tree roots that may encapsulate a pipe.

Dewalt Battery Sawzall – useful for cutting tree roots in areas that have limited access for repair.

Geo Ripper 620 – a powerful handheld trencher useful for adding wire, pipe, or heads to existing irrigation systems.  Do not use without calling OUPS (811) first.

Broom and/or leaf blower – for final cleanup when working off of hard surfaces.  Leave sites neat and clean.

Boot Covers – keep our clients’ floors clean and free of debris stuck to our boots.  They must be worn any time entry to the living portion of the house is necessary.

Tools in the blue repair tote box:

Soil Knife – for ultra-fine digging purposes or cutting sod plugs when replacing sprinkler heads.  Useful for loosening compacted soils or gravel.  Also aids in the loosening of soil around valves that were installed without service boxes to prevent digging through the wires or wire splices.

Blazing Tubing Cutter – for cutting Class 200 PVC, 1” Poly, and Rain Bird funny pipe to length

Propane Torch – for warming pipe to allow for an easier installation when using poly fittings and also for sweating copper pipe for repair work

Poly Pinch Clamp Pliers – for closing the ears on poly pinch clamps to provide a leak-tight seal

Small And Large Channel Loc Pliers – tor loosening and tightening threaded fittings or getting a grip on a part that is hard to hold onto.

Pipe Reamer – for beveling the cut end of a PVC pipe before inserting into a PVC fitting for a proper solvent welded joint.  Failure to bevel will scrape out the PVC cement when inserting the pipe into the fitting.  THIS STEP MUST NOT BE SKIPPED FOR ANY REASON.

Pry Bar – for gaining leverage against a pipe or fitting in tight digging situations.  Can also be used as a brace.

Lenox Pipe Saw – used to cleanly and efficiently cut large diameter, and Schedule 40 or 80 PVC

Underhill Big Gulp Ultra Max with mudguard / Underhill Syringe Gulp hand pumps – for dewatering holes, valves, main lines, excavations, and any area where water is negatively impacting the ability to perform a repair.  If the hose is not long enough to carry the water far enough from the hole, insert the hose into a length of PVC pipe propped up on an angle to move the water further from the excavation.  Use care not to bury the end of the pump in mud or it will be difficult to draw water from the hole.

Rotor adjustment tool – we use Rainbird or Toro adjustment screwdrivers as these are the most common types of heads that we encounter.  Rotation adjustment of Hunter heads is possible with both RB and Toro tools.

PVC Solvent & Cement – low VOC Oatey products for cleaning and cementing PVC pipe joints.

Marking Flags – used to mark broken sprinklers, leaks, or other areas of interest or concern

Tools in the copper repair tote:

  • Hacksaw
  • Rigid tubing cutter & confined space tubing cutter
  • MAPP Gas Torch
  • Oatey No. 5 Lead-Free Paste Flux
  • Oatey No. 95 Lead-Free Tinning Flux
  • Flux Brushes
  • ½”, ¾”, 1” Copper wire fitting brushes
  • Silicon Carbide Abrasive Roll
  • PEX crimpers
  • CPVC Primer & Cement
  • Channel Loc Pliers
  • Rags

Tools in the diagnostic tool bag:

Toro Pressure and Flow Meter – used to determine if the system was installed within the specs of the available water supply.

Digital Multimeter – for testing high and low voltage, valve solenoids, pumps, breakers, outlets, relays, diodes, controllers, and 2 wire systems.

Armada Pro 48 – used to test wire splices and activate valves from the valve box or controller.  Requires a direct wiring connection.

Armada Pro 900 – used to track underground wire and cable over long distances.  Useful for pinpointing valve solenoid to locate problem valves in the field. Can also be used to locate broken wires and wire splices with enough practice.  While a direct connection is always the best, it can be used in a passive mode that does not require a physical connection to the wire to be traced.  This is useful for tracing live high voltage wirings, such as lamp post lights or wire runs between a house and an outbuilding where access to the switch or breaker is not practical.

Armada Pro 65 – used to locate the path of buried irrigation pipes in conjunction with the Pro 900. Dig up and cut into the pipe and fish the sonde through the pipe to be traced. Once the sonde stops, connect the Pro 900 and follow it to the end of the pipe or fitting location.  Repeat as necessary to trace the path of pipes.  Useful in commercial irrigation for locating where pipes go under driveways or through sleeves.

Armada GFL3000 – locates electrical faults to ground caused by nicked wire insulation, bad splices, or splices made without waterproof wire nuts. Follow the direction of the “kick” of the needle on the detector to precisely pinpoint the area to dig.

Armada Pro 400 – useful for diagnostics and troubleshooting in 2 wire irrigation systems. Tests for shorts and open connections and displays the distance to help with locating problems in the field.

Klein Tools 15-in-1 Multi-Bit Ratcheting Screwdriver – all the bits necessary to perform everything from mounting a new controller to servicing a Rainbird DV100 valve.

Klein Tools 9 in. High Leverage Side Cutting Pliers with Connector Crimping – Linemans pliers the grip and also make crimp connections.

Klein Tools 8-18 Solid/10-20 Stranded Heavy-Duty Wire Stripper with Shear-Cut – wire strippers for high and low voltage application.

Milwaukee 8 in. Long Nose Pliers – needle nose for gripping and inserting wires in tight spaces

3M ScotchCode Wire Marker Tape – for Zone wire ID when dismounting a defective controller.

Milwaukee Head Lamp – for hands-free light in dark places

Assorted Fuses – for repairing older controllers that lacked the ability to detect faults and blew out their fuses when a zone encountered a short circuit.

You May Also Like To Know

“Ok, this is way more than I thought it would be,” says James. “It might be best to use whoever you find to find out what’s going on and fix it.” Sarah nods. “I agree. While I keep looking, why don’t you see what else you can find out on that blog? Might help us avoid this problem in the future.”