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Troubleshooting tips from Sean

Troubleshooting is both an art as well as a science. The trick to finding a solution is you must isolate the problem and work backwards to find the solution. I have found this to be true of most problems regardless of industry or equipment.

Hi, my name is Sean and I am a repair-a-holic. It's not that I can't stop - it's that I don't want to. I'm an addict. It stems from my childhood obsession of having to take everything apart to see what's inside. Drove my parents nuts. I had quite the collection of internal workings of digital watches at one point. They were my kryptonite.

As I grew, my curiosity grew into larger and larger things. Pretty soon I was pulling apart engines and refurbishing automobiles. Spending my off hours and weekends in a shop grinding and wrenching taught me a lot about how things work together and the value of knowledge. This is also where I learned the value of good tools and how many swear words would slip out upon busting a knuckle.

Once I got married and had kids, the list of things to be repaired became exponential. They don’t call it a "honey do" list for nothing. The destructive power of children is a force to be reckoned with. Things I had no idea could be broken (or that we even owned) ended up on the list. With each new repair came the knowledge of how it worked. It's that new knowledge that becomes so addictive.

Now that the kids are grown and I have a slightly smaller "honey do" list, I hope I have imparted some of that curiosity and willingness to learn to my children. The knowledge that you can do anything you set your mind to and be successful. Even if it requires a lot of work and a little bit of swearing.

There are two ways to solve broken wire problems - the hard way and the easy way.

The hard way - You can either:

  1. Trench in a new wire from the controller out to the valve. You will need to do a lot of digging so I hope you have a strong back. If the manual operation of a shovel does not sound like the way you would like to spend your day - trenchers are available at your local rental companies. Contact your local utility providers to make sure there are no underground lines.
    or
  2. You will need to fix the wire. The trickiest part of this will be to find where it is broken. You will likely need to use a wire tracer to do this. Sometimes these can be rented if you don't own one. Check with your local rental companies for availability.

    If you know of any new changes to the landscape, this may be the first place to check. The addition of new trees, shrubs, fence posts, signs, etc. can be the culprit in situations where valves have recently stop working.

    Trace the wire to where the break is and start digging. Dig slowly as you do not want to cut any other wires. Once you find the break you can fix it. You may also splice in some new wire to remove any other defects that would cause the circuit to fail again. Waterproof all wire connections.

    Test your system. Confirm your valves operate as expected and no wires were crossed in the process. Once everything checks out you can fill in any holes or trenches made in the process. Properly replant any trees or shrubs that were removed. Test your system once again to ensure no new issues have surfaced.

OR

THE EASY WAY - the easiest way to remedy a broken valve wire is to install a DOUBLER. The DOUBLER allows you to bypass broken wires without digging and disturbing your landscaping. It's the fastest, easiest and most reliable way to fix the problem of broken valve wires.

It's good to have the proper tools on hand when you are ready to troubleshoot and repair your sprinkler system. These will vary depending on your system and expertise. In this guy's opinion, it's always a good excuse to add tools to your collection. A piece of advice in this area is to always purchase the best tools you can afford. If properly taken care of, they will serve you for a lifetime and usually cut down on the amount of swearing done in the process.

A basic tool set for this type of job should consist of:

Multimeter - Your multimeter should be able to read Amps as well as AC and DC voltages. The continuity feature is handy to have on a meter as well. It's useful for checking fuses and wire.

Screwdriver set - A great item to have around. Use for getting into the controller, tightening station set screws, adjusting sprinkler heads, etc.

Razor knife - A nice sharp pocket knife can also be used in most instances. Use for opening packages, cleaning up the edges of pipe after cutting with a hacksaw, hunting small game and other generally manly things.

Hacksaw - Hacksaws come in a few configurations. The standard is always a good one to keep handy, as well as the keyhole type. The keyhole type allows you to make cuts in much tighter areas. This will be useful when cutting and repairing underground pipes.

Channel locks and pliers - Good all-around tools to have. Channel locks will allow you to get a grip on larger diameter pipes and can be used quite a bit in plumbing repairs. You will use both of these in many instances around the home and in the field. Other good variations to have are needle nose, bull nose and even snips will come in pretty handy from time to time.

Gloves - Never underestimate a good pair of gloves. Especially when it comes to doing manual labor such as digging or working around the sharp spines of a sago palm, bougainvillea or other viciously pointy vegetation.

Other general tools you may need:

  • PVC Cutter - This will make clean cuts for easier repairs to PVC pipe. Hacksaws work but these make a cleaner cut much easier.
  • Shovel - for digging up any elusive breaks and getting down to the area to be repaired
  • Spade - for more delicate work and cleaning out the hole to work the repair
  • Pruning shears - for trimming any branches or shrubs that may be restricting access to the repair location
  • Tarp - to put all that dirt and debris on. Keeping it off the grass aids greatly in cleanup

While it is usually not ideal, you can wire two valves together to water at the same time. This can lead to over or under watering of certain areas because everything is watering together for the same length of time. Or even worse, will cause low water pressure situation that can lead to nothing being watered at all.

When you need to operate two valves on one wire - DOUBLER can easily do this and eliminate all these problems. DOUBLER will allow the independent operation of two valves so you can water each zone for the correct amount of time. No wasting water and making a mess out of your landscape.

You may need to add additional controllers as your landscape expands and exceeds the capacity of a single controller. These controllers may be located next to each other or on entirely separate buildings but access the same pump or master valve. Multiple controller systems can have many problems that single controller systems do not (i.e. low water pressure and electrical feedback issues).

There are two main factors to consider when you are programming multiple controllers:

  1. Does the system have enough water pressure to operate multiple valves simultaneously?
  2. Are there requirements to water all zones within a certain period of time?

You can easily find each controllers start times by:

  1. Adding up runtime of each station to get the total watering time.
  2. Set the start time of additional controllers so that they do not overlap and water simultaneously.

HINT: You may even want to leave a little more time between the end of one cycle and the start time of the next to allow for seasonal adjustments without having to go back and reprogram your controllers every time. Start times can overlap if not careful.

When controllers share a common field wire or use the same pump or master valve, you may need to take additional precautions to protect your controllers. The best way to protect your controllers is by installing ISOLATOR. ISOLATOR is easy to install and will prevent multiple controllers from being interconnected by only allowing one controller at a time to use the circuit.

This can happen when more than one controller is on a system. It is typically caused by electrical feedback where power from one controller energizes the circuit and activates other controllers on the same system.

The best way to solve this problem is to use an ISOLATOR on each controller. It prevents the electrical feedback so all controllers on your system are protected.

Fuses can blow for a number of reasons. The direct causes may be hard to diagnose, but can usually be attributed to the following:

  • • Short circuits
  • • Large power draws
  • • Multiple controllers using same pump or master valve
  • • Interconnected field wiring due to adding valves or other repairs

These issues are more common on multiple controller systems. Additional issues that may also result in blown fuses or loss of the controller:

  • Polarity: The transformer wires may become reversed when a controller is re-installed after repair. The common terminal in these cases will produce a 24 Volt difference from other controllers on the system. The polarity difference may cause system damage and downtime.
  • Phasing: Phasing problems occur when controllers are on different "legs" of a 240 volt utility service. This will cause the 120 volt supply to the controllers to be out of phase. When these controllers are interconnected they will output 48 volts into the system instead of 24VAC.

The best way to protect your irrigation system against costly repairs and downtime is to use an ISOLATOR on each controller.

When adding valves to an irrigation system, you will also need additional stations on the controller. Some controllers are now modular and you can purchase additional “modules” to add more stations when needed. These are typically pretty easy to install and the procedure varies by controller.

But what if you don't have a “modular” controller or if your controller is full? Well, the best way to upgrade your controller is with PiggyBack. It adds up to 4 additional stations and eliminates the conflicts a second controller adds to your system.

PiggyBack connects to your existing controller for its power and start time so there is no programming required. It will allow you to add more valves to water those new shrubs, flowers or drip lines and take advantage of those extra field wires.

When you plant new vegetation or landscape you may need to add valves to water these new areas. This can be accomplished by:

  1. Adding new valves in an existing valve box or
  2. Extending the main water line into a new valve box and installing valves there.

If you are installing multiple valves, create your manifold by cutting 3-4" pieces of PVC pipe for spacing between valves. Install these pieces in between the tee fittings you installed in the feed side of the valves and assembling the tee manifold outside of the box. Be sure to install your elbows on the flow side of the valve in the correct directions accounting for any pipes that will be side by side in the trench

Once these are installed you will need to be able to control them from the controller for proper watering. This can be achieved by trenching in new wires from the valve all the way back to the controller. Or you can simply install a Doubler. Doubler will allow you to control valves independently without trenching new wires.

This is a question that may require some research on your part depending on the controller. Sometimes these specifications are listed on the controller or the owner's manual and you can simply do the math based on the type of valve you are using. If this is not the case you can typically find specifications just by searching the internet for your brand and model number.

  1. 1. Find the output per station. It will usually be in Amps. Most modern residential controllers are not more than 1 Amp and may be closer to .5 Amp.
  2. Once you have the controller specs, find the model of valve solenoid you are installing. You should have two different numbers, one larger and one smaller. The larger one will be the Inrush (the power it takes to start the solenoid) and the smaller one will be the Holding (power to keep it operating). Most residential solenoids will be close to .5 A Inrush and have a .25 A Holding.
  3. 3. Take the controller output per station and divide it by the Inrush number.

Example: 1 Amp (Controller station output) / .45 Amp (Inrush rating of solenoid) = 2.22 number of valves per station. Of course you can only use the whole number so you would be able to run two valves per station in this example.

Fixing a broken sprinkler is usually a pretty easy job and will mainly consist of purchasing and installing a replacement for the broken part. Identifying the problem will be the first step in a successful repair.

If the sprinkler is not spraying correctly this may be due to the head needing to be cleaned, adjusted or replaced. It may also just be a clogged screen. If these are pop up sprinklers, you will need to pull the pop up portion up to be able to unscrew the head. You will be able to check and clean the heads and screens with the heads off. Once done, screw the heads back on and adjust spray if necessary.

You may need to replace the entire sprinkler if the sprinkler body itself is bad or the internals are malfunctioning. This is a pretty easy task and will consist of uncovering the malfunctioning sprinkler, unscrewing it from the riser and screwing the new unit on. Once the old sprinkler has been removed, check the riser to be sure it is intact and will not be a source of a new leak once the new sprinkler is installed. Install the new sprinkler and then adjust the spray pattern to cover the area needed. Test your work and readjust as needed.

You may install the DOUBLER and DOUBLER2 as far away from the controller as necessary. They are designed to be able to operate at any distance as long as you still have enough power to operate the valves.

NOTE: The DOUBLER will operate at voltages lower than most valve solenoids. Even when there is not enough voltage to run the valve, your DOUBLER will continue to operate.

Your DOUBLER and DOUBLER2 have been designed to use a very small amount of power. It will only take approximately .35mA to operate your DOUBLER leaving plenty of power to operate all your valves.

Even though the DOUBLER and DOUBLER2 are labeled as one valve per output, each output has been overbuilt by design to handle up to 8 Amps (or 16 typical valve solenoids). Doubler is able to handle more amperage than most controllers will output and more valves than you have water pressure to operate. Your unit has been built for a long service life and dependable operation.

While we try to keep the complicated stuff on the inside, sometimes you may have a question. Or maybe the dog ate your set of installation instructions and you could use some new ones. Either way, our tech support is available by phone or email. If you are looking for product information, specs and installation instructions, you may view them by clicking here.

We are always happy to hear from our customers. Feel free to contact us by phone or email:

  • Pre-sales questions
  • Installation
  • Troubleshooting
  • Technical questions

Unfortunately, we are unable to sell direct. We encourage our customers to find a local irrigation distributor to help them find the TSM product that will best suit their needs. You can find a listing of our nationwide distribution partners here. You may also purchase online, if one is not close by. As always, if you have any questions along the way, you can contact us directly and we will be happy to help.

Sometimes it is necessary to add new zones to water those additions to your landscape. You will need to separate your zones by types of vegetation to be watered, as well as by how much water pressure your system has. Some types of plants take more water than others and should be separated accordingly to prevent over or under watering (i.e. grass, shrubs, flower beds, trees, etc.).

Once you have your zones lined out you will need to install valves to control them. Cut and install a “tee” to branch off of the main water line that feeds your other valves. You may need to use a expansion repair coupling to install the tee. Install new valves to control the sprinklers or drip for each zone. Your underground pipe or dripline will extend from these valves to each area to be watered.

After you have installed the valves, it is time to connect them to your controller via the field wiring. On some irrigation systems, the installer used foresight and installed extra pairs of wires in case the system needed to be expanded or wires went bad. If you have these wires installed, you will be utilizing these to wire each valve back to its respective station on the controller.

If you are not so lucky, there is any easy solution for you as well. Using a DOUBLER or DOUBLER2 you are able to utilize already existing wiring to operate additional valves without having to trench in wire back to the controller.  Once installed, all you will need to do is set your station times and enjoy your new landscape.

While this may be the time to call a professional, there may be some simple things to check beforehand.

  1. Check controller to make sure it is powered on and station times are set correctly. Also check that a start time is set, otherwise it will not activate the watering cycle.
  2. Check that the valves are on. Most valves have a flow control knob on them. Be sure this is not shut off, otherwise the water will not flow through the valve out to sprinklers.

If you have a multimeter and are more mechanically inclined:

  1. Check the output of the stations on the controller to make sure it is sending power to the valves. You can do this with a multimeter by measuring between the common terminal and the station that is active. Check each station - you should read 24VAC.
  2. Check that your valves are getting power from the controller. With the station for the valve active, use your multimeter to measure across the hot and common wires - you should read 24VAC.

If everything to this point has checked out and your system is still not watering, you may have a water pressure issue. If you are using a pump or master valve it is time to check them. Measure the voltage at the controller as well as at the pump relay or master valve to make sure they are being activated during the watering cycle.

Beyond these steps, you may want to contact a professional. A quick search should bring a few results in your area. Check them out and if you need some recommendations you may try contacting a local irrigation supply house to see if they know anybody right for the job.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to repair that broken or leaking sprinkler pipe that is making a mess out of your lawn and running up your water bill.

What you will need:

  • Tarp
  • Rag
  • Shovel
  • PVC expansion repair coupling
  • PVC pipe coupling
  • PVC cutter or hacksaw
  • PVC primer
  • PVC glue

If you don’t already know where your sprinkler system is leaking, one way to find out is to cap all the sprinklers in the zone and turn the zone on and wait. Once the sprinkler systems zone is on, you should be able to wait for it to start to puddle up where the underground irrigation pipe has cracked or broken.

Once you have located the area of the leak - it’s time to turn the water off and start digging (very carefully!!).

It's a good idea to use a tarp or something similar to set the grass, dirt and debris on. This keeps it from ruining the other areas around your work and makes for easier cleanup.

If the culprit is one of your lawn sprinkler zones, take your shovel and score the area around where you need to dig. Remove them in large sections with at least a few inches of soil still attached and set them aside. This will help save the grass and make the lawn area look as good as possible when the repair is done. Finish digging out and uncover the area to be repaired. You will want to dig out a few inches below the pipe and an area about a foot longer on each side of the broken sprinkler pipe to give you working room.

Now it’s time to clean off the area of the PVC pipe to be cut and repaired. Wipe it off with a rag or something similar. Cut out the bad area of the PVC pipe using PVC cutters or hacksaw and set it aside. You may have a bit of water run out of the irrigation pipe after you cut it off. Empty the hole as needed to get the water level back down below your pipe. This will give you room to make your repair while keeping your glue joints clean and dry.

Make sure the pipe cuts you just made are clean and free of any debris. Then prepare to glue your PVC coupling onto one end of the exposed pipes. Apply PVC primer to the exposed end of the pipe and one end of the PVC coupling. Apply PVC glue to those same areas and slide the coupling onto the pipe with a slight twisting motion (about a quarter turn). Hold this on for a few seconds to make sure that the pipe does not “push” the coupling back off. If it is “pushing”, just hold it on until the glue sets up a little bit (should be no more than 10 to 30 seconds).

Using your expansion repair coupling, measure that it will fit between the two exposed ends. If it does not, now would be a good time to cut off a bit more of the pipe to make it fit. Prepare the pipe end by cleaning it of any dirt or debris and prepare to glue the expansion repair coupling on. Prime the male end of the an expansion repair coupling and the open end of your coupling and then apply your glue as you did previously. Insert the male end into the coupling with a slight twisting motion (about a quarter turn) and hold it there for a few seconds to make sure that it does not “push” back out.

Once your new irrigation repair is complete, you will need to test your sprinkler system. Allow the glue to set at least an hour before turning your sprinkler system on the first time after repair. It's always a good idea to give the glue as much drying time as possible before putting it under pressure. If you have the time, it is better to do it before you backfill your hole (just in case).

If you ended up with debris in the line, you will need to flush the sprinkler system. Remove the sprinkler heads and activate the zone to let the water push out any debris in the underground pipes of your irrigation system.

It's now time to finish up. Start by dumping the dirt back in and packing it around the pipe. Then put your lawn pieces back in the same configuration that you removed them (this can be more like refolding a map sometimes but you can usually get close). Once everything is done - dust yourself off, grab a cold beverage and revel in the admiration of others. Job well done!

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