Choose a sunny day when you need to work on your sprinkler system and don your swimsuit and flip-flops because you're going to get wet. Turn on one valve at a time, looking for broken heads or nozzles, tilted heads, misaimed heads, overspray, underspray, or otherwise out-of-whack heads. Use the adjuster screws on top of the heads to fine-tune the distance of throw.
Rotor heads sometimes have nonintuitive ways of adjusting the arc; refer to the manufacturer's catalog for instructions. Set all heads so the bodies are straight up; they depend on being plumb to deliver an accurate pattern.
You can unthread and remove the nozzles for cleaning or replacement. While you're in there, remove and clean the strainer basket that's usually located underneath the nozzle. If water leaks out of the head while it's in operation (other than where it's supposed to, that is), you may need to clean or replace the seal in the threaded cap that holds the head together. If water constantly leaks out of the lowest head in the zone, check for a leaky control valve; if that's okay, you probably just have water draining out of the pipes for a while after the zone shuts off. To remedy, install a check valve on that head.
Ever notice that the ice cubes are bigger than the amount of water you put in the trays? It's not your imagination. Unlike most materials, water expands when it's frozen. It does that in your irrigation system too. So if you live where winters are cold, you need to drain the water out of the system at the end of the season to avoid damaging pipes and other equipment.
All the pipes in a good cold-weather system slope to drain valves located at low points, making it easy to open the valves and empty the lines quickly — that is, unless it's already starting to freeze. If your system doesn't have drain valves, use a compressor to blow the water out of the lines. Either way, make sure that the lines are completely empty before freezing weather comes along. After you've removed all the water from the lines, turn off the main valve at the beginning of the entire system, and then set your automatic controller to the rain-off position.
When plants grow up, they can block sprinkler heads, leaving dry spots on the lee side of the plant. In fact, sprinklers work best when plants aren't around. Don't remove them, though; just cut back the offending foliage.
When you're done checking your sprinkler system, use catch-cans to do a water audit to ensure that you got things right. Chapter 9 shows you how.
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