I am, still, learning about sprinkler maintenance and repair. For the same reason that a mother deals with diapers. Pure love. But this time it is love for my garden and yard. However, I find sprinklers much more stressful than diapers ever were, even after a few years of sprinkler system tutoring by my husband and my son. So, it is worth mentioning that today I replaced a broken impact sprinkler head all by myself. True, it was on a riser, so no digging involved, but I am pleased. If I can do it, you can, too.

1.  My first concern was removing the old, broken, plastic sprinkler head without breaking the fitting (the part that screws down into the sprinkler pipe). I have broken such things before, and it greatly complicates the process. It is particularly an issue with plastic sprinkler parts.

At first, I tried to unscrew it with my hands, but I couldn’t get a grip. I know this is partly because I have wimpy, tender hands. There was also too much sprinkler part “debris” in the way, which I will discuss in Number 2, below.

2.   A concurrent problem was remembering which way to turn the sprinkler head to loosen it. Not knowing if I’m turning it the correct direction for this could result in me over-tightening and breaking it. I have a hard time applying “lefty loosey righty tighty” to a circle, so I saved thinking about it much until I had the pliers held in place on the fitting. With the handles sticking out away from me, I could think of the handles as moving to my left. If the handles are pointing in toward me, this helpless female trick doesn’t work. I’m just happy I figured something out!

Fixing a sprinkler head

The pliers would not make good contact with the sprinkler fitting until I completely broke off the remnants of the plastic guides (which are used to keep the sprinkler spraying in a certain area). I grabbed them with the pliers and was relieved when they flicked off fairly easily, and without breaking anything else.

Fixing a sprinkler head

The coupler (a piece needed because both the sprinkler pipe and the sprinkler head have the threads for screwing on the outside, so they need to screw into a connector to attach them) wanted to unscrew instead of the sprinkler head. It was enough to just hold that with my other hand. In a few seconds after that, the broken sprinkler head was removed.

3.   Now, I had to decide whether to use a new metal sprinkler head or a new plastic sprinkler head. I had one of each available. The metal head is stronger, but heavier. Even though the riser is supported by a U-post, the old plastic sprinkler head had still been shaking some. A plastic head is less expensive, too, but tends to break more easily. Especially the same guides that I had to break the rest of the way to begin with. These guides are important when I want to direct spray away from things it might ruin or where water would be wasted. And this is exactly why I was replacing this sprinkler head. Also, the little plastic screw that adjusts how far the sprinkler sprays out also breaks more easily, like when I barely touch it to adjust things. More on that later. You can understand why I chose the metal sprinkler head.

4.   Screwing the new sprinkler head into the pipe, via the coupler, was pretty basic, even for me. I was just careful to hold the sprinkler head in a way that wouldn’t put pressure on any upper mechanical parts that needed to move when the sprinkler is operating. I also didn’t want to break my plastic riser or coupler, so although I used the pliers for one final nudge, I didn’t exert much force.

5.   I have finally learned to tell the front of the sprinkler head from the back. That is, I know where the water sprays from without having to see the sprinkler on. This is very handy, because it means I can adjust the percentage of the circle, or zone, that will get water without having to water myself.

There is a little metal wire shaped into a rectangular tab, that looks like part of a paper clip to me. Anyone know what that is called? It can be flipped up or down. Up means the sprinkler head will not be stopped at any point in its circular motion, resulting in watering a complete circle. Down means the wire tab will hit the guides so that water is only distributed within a certain angle. The guides can be set to any angle.

Fixing a sprinkler head

The guides are two pieces that encircle the neck of the sprinkler (the guides are metal if a metal head, and plastic if a plastic head). They are not rings, though. Right where the circle would connect, the guides have extensions, one on each side of the broken circle. Strangely, if the guides are squeezed together, it loosens the circle part around the neck, allowing the guide to be moved. The guides can be moved by holding both extensions for one guide and pushing them together, or by pushing just one extension from the side that causes them to be pushed together. I like the second method better because it seems easier to fine tune the guide position this way.

Fixing a sprinkler head

It is the position of the extensions that matter, because the downward facing wire tab is stopped by the extensions, keeping the sprinkler head from rotating past that point. It is helpful to remember that the wire tab is at the back of the sprinkler. The area that it travels between the guides is the mirror image of the area that the sprinkler will water in the other direction.

6. The last step is one I haven’t figured out how to do “dry.” This is adjusting the distance the spray travels out from the sprinkler head, or the radius of the watered area. Now I had to deal with the screw that I have mentioned. It looks like an odd screw, possibly an extra just sticking randomly out of one of right arm of the sprinkler head. What is really does is disperse the water spray. If it is not sticking into the middle very far, the spray goes far. If the screw is screwed further into the spray, the spray disperses such that it doesn’t travel as far.

Fixing a sprinkler head

So, I turned on that set of sprinklers and stood next to the that particular one. The good news is that it was a warm evening. Also, the sprinkler head can be held still while working on the screw. I just have to time the pattern of all the sprinklers to get there with the least amount of dousing. However, I do stand there and watch the sprinkler through a few cycles, as it is useful to see exactly where the spray is hitting. This is also a time to double check how the guides are set and make any final changes in that.

This momentous day I ended up replacing two broken sprinkler heads. I mean broken like they were completely missing noses and guide arms. They could not be repaired. I know I have more maintenance to do because I put the whole sprinkler system through a fast forward cycle to evaluate, and made a somewhat daunting list of issues. With eight zones and at least six sprinklers per zone, plus some drip irrigation on my acre, I will have plenty of opportunity for practice. My tutors are still available for consultation and actual help, thankfully, because sooner or later, I will be facing in-ground sprinkler heads again.  Meanwhile, I will bask in my recent accomplishment.

Fixing a sprinkler head

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