The heart of your irrigation system: the irrigation valve.


If the controller is the brains of your system the valves are the heart. They control the flow of water through the lines. They are very simple in both principle and design.

This is an example of a typical valve. Details may vary but execution is the same.

Valves have water both above and below the diaphragm. The upper chamber pressure is greater than the lower due to the combination of spring pressure and trapped water. They also have an air space under the solenoid with a bleed hole that is opened when the solenoid plunger is retracted (zone turned on).

Opening this hole lowers the pressure above the diaphragm, the water below forces the diaphragm up and water flows through. Most valves will not open with less than 15 to 20 pounds per square inch of pressure. This is only a concern with extremely low pressure; usually on gravity feed water tanks.

Picking a good valve is simple: stay with a name brand. After that you have few decisions to make. Most people use 1” valves. Simple reasons are they are the most economical, readily available, both new and parts, and provide the flow most residential and small commercial designs need. Even if your design calls for a ¾’ valve use 1”. It doesn’t cost more and if you make changes or expansions in the future you won’t be restricted by the smaller size. A 1” valve will allow up to 25% more flow than a ¾” valve.

The next choice is flow control. Flow control is separate knob or screw on top of the valve and allows you to regulate the water going through the valve. In most cases flow control is not necessary but it does have advantages. If a valve sticks open, one of the more common valve failures, the flow control allows you force the valve closed. If your water pressure is low, either because of supply problems or overlapping valve operations, partially closing the flow control will help the valve close faster and more reliably. It’s cheap insurance to have.

Valves fail in consistent ways. It may not close completely. This could be due to debris, the most common reason, or worn diaphragms. Check out FILTRATION for how to prevent debris. Diaphragms do wear and age, generally resulting in a tear in the diaphragm. Just replace. For a very short video on how to do a repair look at VALVE REPAIR. Valve bodies rarely fail unless suffering freeze damage or shovel hit.

Solenoids will fail over time or the connections to the control box could have become corroded. Check the connections; make sure they are clean. For a simple way to test the solenoid:

 Steps in Creating a Portable Valve Activator.

  1. Take three 9-Volt Batteries
  2. Connect in a series
  3. Connnect one valve wire to the negative pole
  4. Then connect the other wire to the positive pole to activate the valve
  5. If the solenoid is functioning properly, you should hear a “click”

For a more involved but very easy and thorough way to test the solenoid and all wiring look at USING A MULTIMETER.

It’s just neat.


Had trouble coming up with a topic and started browsing the Sprinkler Warehouse website.

        Found out we sell some interesting things.  Some are just interesting, some are downright useful and one made me look twice and then start laughing. You get to figure out which one.

        Superman’s x-ray vision has nothing on these. The TurfSpy glasses let you see problems early, long before they are visible to mere mortals.  The earlier you treat turf disease the faster it goes away. Not only do you stop disease and infestations before they start, you look good doing it.

         Next is the mobile garden planter. It has wheels!  Now, you might wonder why that is exciting. I’ll tell ya’. I live in Houston, Texas. There is a law here that says we cannot get freezes unless it is a year in which I bought my wife new plants for the entry and walk. Then the freeze comes and I have to move all the plants inside. I have been told that, while my efforts are appreciated, the rusty Little Red Wagon does not really go with our décor.  These will.

          I want one: the Magnum Hose Nozzle. I am far from gentle using tools. When I am through watering I just drop the hose and nozzle. Doesn’t matter if I’m on grass or concrete, on the ground or on the ladder. Later I go to the hose bib and start pulling in the hose. Across the yard. Through the gate. Did you know that when pulling a hose and nozzle through the yard and around a corner that the nozzle handle acts like a grappling hook? Did you know that when it’s 100 degrees outside I have little patience and just pull harder? Did you know that most nozzles have many or are all plastic parts? Between dropping the nozzle on concrete and catching it on the gate I replace the nozzle every year. This is better. It’s all metal, no handles to catch and will survive my abuse for years. I’ve already proven I can’t learn new tricks. Might as well buy something that puts up with my old ones.

              Ever notice that no matter how much you try to clean your back yard there is always something that really doesn’t fit anywhere? Especially if you have kids. There’s always that one toy, that one tool or hose or gas can or just general clutter that never seems to go away. Now you don’t care if it goes away. You won’t be able to see it. Look at the Storage Rock. Open it up, fill it up, close it. No clutter, no problem.

          Remember those woven finger traps you had as a kid? Put your fingers in and the harder you pull the harder it holds. Well, they grew up, just like you did. The Wire Mesh Grips work the same way. Put the pipe in, start pulling and the grip just gets tighter and tighter. Wire Mesh Grips are used for pulling irrigation pipe, insulated wire, wire rope, tubing, PVC, and bare conductors. Far easier than pulling by hand and automatically adjusts to the size of the pipe. No programming needed.

    Well, playtime’s over. Gotta go back to work.

You filter your coffee, you filter air. Really should filter your irrigation water.


The water going to your irrigation system is probably not as clean as you think. Even if you have municipal water from the best city supply in the country (Austin, TX, Des Moines, IA, Sioux Falls, S.D.) that water has to get to you through old pipes. Many cities still have cast iron pipes as their main lines, some dating back over 100 years. Most homes built before the 1960s have galvanized piping.  Pipes tend to fail from the inside, losing minute rust and other particles into the water. Add in the occasional sand particles that get in the water when pipes or pumps break and are fixed, plus the minor debris caused by cutting and repairing pipes, and there is a whole flotilla of little particles floating in your water.

At this point you are probably thinking “Wait a minute! I drink that stuff! All that garbage goes into me!” Yes, it does. However, your body is better adapted to handling it than your sprinkler system. Besides, didn’t your doctor always tell you iron was good for you? Back to the pipes…

All of these particles go into your irrigation system and accumulate in valves, sprays and emitters. This causes decreased performance and a steady increase in maintenance. It also costs you money in ways you might not expect.  The thing to do is stop it before it happens.

A common problem with irrigation valves is failing to close completely. This leads to water seepage through the spray heads, wasting a great deal of water. Many times the problem is just grit or debris keeping the diaphragm from seating.

What you didn’t know it cost you: paying to fix something that is not broken. When you call a service tech (me) out for a leaking valve chances are good the first thing I will do is replace the valve. Generally I won’t even bother to see if it just needs cleaning. This is not done to save time. It is far quicker and easier to open and clean a valve than it is to cut the pipes and replace the valve.

I do it because people tend to be unhappy paying for service. People get really unhappy when charged for a service call and I look at them and say,  “Nah, I didn’t have to replace anything. I just wiped it off with a rag. It’s fine. Please pay me for one hour labor.” People like seeing things replaced. New is always better, right?

The debris also accumulates in your spray nozzles, causing pattern changes, reduced coverage distance and eventually complete blockage. These are easy to clean: tooth pick, tooth brush and running water. A tech will never clean them. It does take longer to clean these than to replace them.

The best thing to do is avoid these problems all together. Install a T-style filter.

The Vu-Flow screen filters keep out sand and debris. The body is clear so you can instantly see when the filter needs purging or cleaning. To purge, just open the valve on the bottom. The trapped dirty water flows out. If the filter needs washing unscrew the body, remove the screen and clean. You don’t need to dry it off, it’ll get wet anyway.

Various screen sizes are available for different debris sizes.

Sediment
In Water

Use
To Protect

Type To Use:
(Mesh; Micron; Inches)

Coarse Sand; Shell

Sprinkler heads

30 mesh; 533 micron; .021″

Medium
Sand/Grit
Pipe scale;
Well Cuttings

Solenoid Valves
Gear Drive Sprinkler
Domestic Water

60 mesh; 254 micron; .010″
60 mesh; 254 micron; .010″
100 mesh; 152 micron; .006″

Fine Sand/Silt

Poultry drinkers
Household well water
Drip Irrigation
Fogger Sprayer

140 mesh; 104 micron; .004″
140 mesh; 104 micron; .004″
250 mesh; 61 micron; .0024″
250 mesh; 61 micron; .0024″

T-filters are easy to install and maintain. Filtering your water extends the life of your valves and nozzles. Maintenance becomes less frequent, saving time and money.  All in all, a relatively minor investment with pretty good return.

Silly you. You thought ½” tubing measured ½”.


Half inch tubing is literally the backbone of many drip irrigation systems. It is by far the most popular size used.  The only problem is half inch tubing isn’t half inch.  It’s close! Closer than ‘hand grenade’ close. More like ‘electric razor’ close.

 

Piping has specific dimensions. Steel, iron, copper, pvc all have set standards set by ASTM International.  This means that the steel pipe you buy in Maine will fit the fittings you buy in Nebraska and connect to the existing pipe in Alaska.

Plastic tubing? No, no real standards.  The size can vary from manufacturer to manufacturer or even within the same manufacturer.  The term ½” is known as the nominal size, or the industry trade description of the product. As they say in the diet commercials, your results may vary. A lot, actually.

Irrigation 1/2-inch polyethylene tubing is available in different configurations:

1/2-inch – .570″ ID x .670″ OD     1/2-inch – .580″ ID x .700″ OD
1/2-inch – .600″ ID x .700″ OD    1/2-inch – .620″ ID x .710″ OD

Why do you care?  Honestly, the sizes are so close they won’t have much effect on water flow, especially the two biggest. You care because fittings don’t always fit. It’s easy to buy a ½” fitting that won’t fit a ½” tube.

It is important when building a drip system to check the internal diameter of the tubing against the size of the fittings you need. While always buying the same brand of tubing and fittings help it is not a guarantee of fit. The two fittings in the picture are from the same company.  They are not interchangeable. If you put the .520” in a .600 ID tube and clamp down tight enough it should hold. You can’t put the .600” in a .520” tube without deforming the tube.

Before you buy your system take a moment and verify dimensions. Look at the barb fittings  and you see the specs are given for each piece. All you need to do is match them to your tubing.

Fortunately, ½” tubing seems to be the only product with this problem. The ¼”, ¾” and 1” are all consistent in sizing.