How to Inspect Your Lawn Sprinkler System

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Every so often, it is not a bad idea, to see if your lawn sprinklers are working as intended. A quick inspection can save you money, and help your plants.

I think that most lawn sprinkler systems that I have inspected where originally installed by the builder. I find few homes where the homeowner may have installed a sprinkler system. Installation is a fairly simple task, and a well maintained, thought out system may be better at watering than you can with a hose. I prefer watering with a hose though. My wife did not understand how relaxing it can be until she decided to water the plants once. However,  I feel that most homeowners do not want that form of meditation, and a sprinkler system may help them maintain their gardens.

    One issue that I have noticed is that homeowners do not adjust the settings once they move in. Control systems can determine when the plants are watered and for how long. There are different schools of thought about the best time to water and for how long, and I will not get into that here. Builders may set the system to water the yard to help establish the grass, but they cannot for see your plantings. The builders may also schedule the watering when they can see it, so they can work on the system. I think for most homeowners that you should schedule the watering for early mornings, but you will want to avoid a time when you may be coming out to go to work or school.  After settling when to water, then you should consider for how long. When first creating a garden, watering should be more frequent. Established gardens need less water. Flowering annuals will require more water than the grass. What you should be considering here is that your garden changes over time, so the settings on the controller will need to change. Remember, the builder has set it to establish the grass, so this will need to be changed after you have been in the house a while.
    The next issue is adjustment. When the system is installed, you may have the only house in that corner of the block. As new houses are built, the crews may effect your sprinkler heads. I have seen new grass placed over a head. Sometimes lawn crews, landscapers, or homeowners effect the sprinkler heads. Builders adjust the heads to cover the yard, but I find that after a year, the heads may be watering the sidewalk. Moving the heads is not intentional, but people may not think about the fact that they changed the direction of the water flow. Another reason why the heads may need adjustment is your landscaping. A builder cannot guess where you may place your garden beds, so they design the system to cover the general area. I have seen trees, palms, bushes, or hardscape placed in the way. A raised garden bed may have a sprinkler that was designed for a field of grass. If this is the case, a new sprinkler head may be needed (one that raises above the level of the garden bed). Maybe the head has to be moved. You may even need more sprinkler heads installed. I have seen where parts of the yard no longer obtain water due to the landscaping.

    This is an issue that bothers me, but it is a common method for installing the wirings for the lawn sprinkler system. The controller will be placed in the garage. The signal wires go out to the system by exiting the garage wall towards the base. On the exterior, you will see a white plastic conduit going into the ground. This conduit is not attached to the building, so a lawnmower hitting it can damage the wires sending the control signals out. I advise clients to protect this conduit from harm, and to attach it to the wall.
    About your controller, you will more than likely have six zones that can be programmed, but depending upon the installer, you may have only three zones used/needed. To inspect the sprinklers, you will be running the system manually. Instructions for manual operation will be on a panel in the controller, but also in the operations manual. The most common configuration will be a dial for different program settings. You will turn the dial to manual; select the zone that you want to operate; and then return the dial to run. The water will take a few moments to build up pressure to run the sprinkler heads. The zones can be chosen by the arrow pad. Left and right arrows will change zone options, while up and down arrows change time settings. Once you have checked the zone, and you want to move onto the next zone, turn the dial back to run to choose the next zone. On some systems, you can just push the arrows to advance to the next zone. Once you are done inspecting the last zone, you could let it run till it goes off, or you can stop the sprinklers by turning the dial to the off position. Once the water stops, remember to turn the dial back to run, so the normal program can continue.
   The last issue to note deals with over watering. When you are watering by hand, you have the tendency to under water, because you want to move on. With lawn sprinkler systems, you can over water, sinceyou are letting the system function by program. If you have been having a good deal of rain, turn the sprinkler system off. Check to see ifplants need water. My vegetable garden will need more water than my decorative beds, but the sprinkler system may have vegetable and decorative bed on the same zone. By watching your plants, you will see the cues telling you to water and when to leave them alone.

One Response to “How to Inspect Your Lawn Sprinkler System”

  • cgfluid says:

    The most important time to inspect your sprinkler system is right after fall, before winter hits. Flush your lines, and winterize you sprinkler system, or you’ll end up with busted pipes that froze over with excess water in the winter. If you do end up with a broken pipe, get your replacement parts from Orbit Irrigation, they are built with a high quality polymer that can withstand a lot, get them here:

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This site came out of my desire to write about my love of gardening, but also to connect it to my knowledge derived from home inspections. That is why I tied it to the home inspection site.If you have questions, you can email them to me (frank at For home inspections, call 713.781.6090.
Happy gardening, Frank


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