Checking for Irrigation Leaks

Are your water bills too high? The most common outdoor leaks found around a home occur with the irrigation system. Most homeowners catch indoor leaks quickly, but outdoor leaks can be harder to find, especially with your irrigation system.

A typical irrigation system consists of a backflow prevention device, piping, valves, sprinkler heads or emitters and a controller. Performing irrigation troubleshooting checks to determine if you have a leak or malfunctioning system can help you conserve water and save money.

Irrigation Controller Check

Controllers, themselves, don’t leak water. What they are is an electrical clock that tells the sprinkler valves when to release water through the sprinklers and for how long. What you’re checking for when you look at the controller is to make sure that the programming is reasonable. Sometimes, for whatever reason, an irrigation program (collection of sprinkler zones under one program) loses its programming, maybe due to loss of power, and goes on default, which may be the totally wrong schedule for your area. Routinely checking your controller’s programming and time clock can ensure you are watering at the appropriate time of day, times per week and for the right amount of time.

Sprinkler Valves Check

Locate and check each of your valve boxes. Are they flooded or dry? They should be dry. If they’re wet, and it hasn’t been raining, check them carefully for worn parts, loose wiring, or water leaking out between fittings. Using irrigation flags to note problem locations is helpful in assessing all your systems issues.

If you are doing the repairs yourself, estimate and purchase the parts you will need and make the repairs all at once, before going on to test the rest of the system. If you are not making repairs yourself, you might want to start a list of the problems you find for your landscaper or plumber to take care of and leave the flags in place so the contractor you choose can quickly go right to the problem areas.

Sprinkler Stations Check

Once the controller and valves have been tested, it’s time to start checking sprinklers. If you have a large yard and numerous landscaped areas, you may need the help of another person – one to stay at or near the controller to turn stations on and off, the other to walk around the sprinklers, as they come on, and take notes. The walker should also be carrying irrigation flags to mark whatever problems they find for later repair.

Turn the stations on one by one. You will be looking for several indications of wasted water:

  • Water geysers – which indicate missing sprayheads.
  • Floods around the base of a sprinkler – grass may need to be cut shorter or a short riser replaced with a taller one. Also, could be an old valve that is not shutting off properly. You might want to check the valve that supplies that sprinkler again.
  • Misaligned sprayhead – shoots water into a nearby obstruction or over the sidewalk or driveway, instead of grass. Technically not a leak, the sprayhead just needs to be realigned.
  • Water spurts in the space between sprinkler heads – indicating a broken pipe (lateral line) that has already blown out the soil above it.
  • Flooded areas between sprinklers – can indicate a slow, steady leak in a lateral line underground. You will have to dig down to find the actual spot.
  • Spurts of water at the base of a sprinkler – indicating a broken seal where the nozzle or riser meets the supply line beneath.

All these problems commonly occur when you have an irrigated yard and landscape beds, however, they are easy to address with a bit of education and some patience. They also need to be checked for and fixed on a regular basis – at least once a month. Routine maintenance, in itself, will save you water and overtime, money!

Once all the stations have been checked and repairs made, you can test your irrigation system against your water meter to ensure that all leaks have been addressed (see website article on “How to Read Your Water Meter.”)

For homeowners that prefer assistance with irrigation system checks, the District offers a free program called W.I.S.E. Guys (Water Irrigation System Evaluation). The purpose of this program is to evaluate existing residential irrigation systems and make recommendations for improvements to the performance of the system and to the scheduling of the controller to eliminate unnecessary waste. The program allows for a licensed irrigator/representative to provide face-to-face education to the homeowner on efficient irrigation and proper controller scheduling which in turn will eliminate unnecessary waste and allow for residents to save money on their water bills. You are not required to make any adjustments or repairs to your system.

To take advantage of this free irrigation system evaluation program click on the following link to get started: