Specialty nozzles to nuzzle.

Ok. Not nuzzle. Couldn’t think of a good title. Some people say I never do.

I’ll get down to business. Most people know about the average, used everywhere nozzles. If you don’t then check out sprinkler nozzles. These generally do the job and are all most people will ever need.

There are a number of specialty spray nozzles available for increased water efficiency, problem areas or special applications.  Normally I avoid naming particular brands and products, preferring to give general information. This is the exception.

The first is the Toro Precision Series spray nozzle. While this is not technically a specialty nozzle it has some advantages over competing spray nozzles. The Precision Series has something they call H²0 technology which puts an oscillation on the spray . I’m sure the H20 name has nothing to do with the scientific name for water. Pure coincidence.  Anyway, quoting Toro, “Using patented H²0 chip technology – and no moving parts – each Precision Series Spray nozzles creates one or more high frequency oscillating streams to achieve the desired arc and radius with 1/3 less water usage.”  Yup. Sounds cool. But looks even better.

Ok. Pretty pictures and lots of marketing fluff don’t mean much without the facts. Comparing the Toro Precision nozzle to two major competitors:

Radius/ Feet Pattern GPM @ 30 psi Difference GPM
Toro 15 Full circle 2.31 —–
Brand A 15 Full circle 3.72 +1.41
Brand Z 15 Full circle 3.70 +1.39
Toro 15 Half circle 1.16 —–
Brand A 15 Half circle 1.86 +.70
Brand Z 15 Half circle 1.85 +.69

You might ask “If these are so good, why aren’t more people using them?”  Good question. Thanks.  The only downside to these nozzles appears to be the price. The Toro Precision sells for roughly 2.5 times the cost of standard nozzles. That can make noticeable difference in installation costs for an entire system. However if you are in a retrofit or repair situation and need to have better control over your precipitation, fix a zone that has been expanded beyond capacity, or control run off on slopes they offer you some valuable options.

Let’s talk about Rain Bird Rotary Nozzles.  These cover a radius of 13 to 24 feet. Their big advantage is the ability to match these to the Rain Bird 5000 rotor series and get the same precipitation rate.  Let’s say you have a large area that will be covered by rotors and a small area next to it, say 20’ x 20’. Normally the smaller area would require its own zone using spray heads on pop ups. With Rain Bird Rotary nozzles you can now cover the area with one zone and get the same precipitation rate. Use the 5000 rotors for the large area, the rotary nozzles for the small one. You’ve eliminated one valve, the wiring and one zone requirement on the controller.

Because of their low precipitation rate they are very good for watering slopes. The slower precipitation rate gives the soil more time to absorb the water, minimizing run off.

Next is the Rain Bird U-Series.  In a perfect system you have head to head coverage. Most sprays do well on the far  coverage but lack real coverage in the first couple of feet out from the nozzle. Head to head coverage means that the area missed by head A is now covered by head B. In many cases, due to poor design, changing landscape or deteriorating systems, this no longer occurs and you get dry areas around the head. The U-series has a second nozzle for greatly improved close in coverage. While not as good as head to head coverage it sure comes close.

This is beginning to sound like a Rain Bird advertisement. Not intentional, it’s just the way the nozzle sprays…

Now we have the lovely and talented Rain Bird SQ series nozzles. The SQ stands for square pattern. These put out a true square or rectangular pattern with edge to edge coverage. Most square pattern nozzles aren’t. On that I can speak from experience.

The SQ offers two settings so one nozzle throws 2.5′ or 4′, changeable with a simple twist of the top ring. It has a pressure compensator built in and fits standard pop ups and risers. It is also pretty low flow, using only .46 gallons per minute at its largest setting. Having a square pattern helps eliminate the waste that occurs when you try to match half and quarter circles to cover a narrow rectangular pattern.

And remember, if you are getting enough rain you need to muzzle your nozzles. Get a sensor.

Why didn’t the soil sensor want to party with the rain and rain/freeze sensors? BECAUSE THEY WERE ALL WET! Hahahaha…get it? All wet? Huh? Never mind….

I could have said “because he was well grounded and they were stuck up!” Would that have been any better? No?  Ok. I’ll stop.

Today’s controllers can do a number of things: multiple programs and start times, rain delays, soak cycles and more. They do it routinely, day in and day out, like nice little robots. But what happens if the conditions change? What if you don’t need more water? Tropical storm comes through and drops six inches of rain and your system is still running? What if your grandma is showing her favorite ice hockey moves on your frozen driveway? Need more ice?

Sensors are the answer. A sensor will turn your system off when there has been enough rain, or a freeze hits or if your soil just doesn’t need the water. This saves money on your water bill and, in the case of freezing, can prevent that lawsuit from when Grandma misses the goal and the puck flies across the ice into your neighbor’s window.

The simplest is the rain sensor. Easy to set, almost maintenance free. The rain sensor connects to your controller, either in a direct wire or wireless connection, and stops irrigation after a certain amount of rain has fallen. You mount it in an open area, such as the eaves of your house. You determine the amount of rain that causes the shut down, usually from 1/8” to 1”. To set the sensor you simply turn the top to the proper setting. That’s it. Rain comes down, sensor gets wet. When it gets wet enough it stops irrigation. Some rain sensors suspend irrigation immediately during rain events without need for rainfall accumulation. It rains, they stop.

Rain/freeze sensor. A rain/freeze sensor handles rain just like the standard rain sensor, either on accumulation or immediately upon rainfall. They add the advantage of shutting irrigation down before the water sprays and icicles and ice patches form on your yard and drive. The most common sensors stop activity when the temperature reaches about 37 degrees. Some models let you choose the shut off temperature, ranging from 35 to 45 degrees. The irrigation remains off until the temperature warms to above the freeze cut off settings. The rain/freeze sensor looks pretty much like a standard rain sensor.

The moisture sensor is a different kind of creature. The moisture sensor is buried in the ground, not up high. It doesn’t care if it rains or freezes. All it cares about is keeping the correct amount of water in the soil. If the soil has sufficient moisture it interrupts the irrigation cycle. Too much water in the soil can be just as harmful as too little. The moisture sensor aims for the proper range of moisture.  When the soil gets too dry it turns the cycle back on. With a direct read on soil moisture you don’t worry about wasting water through unnecessary irrigation.

With the proper sensors you can save water and money by watering only when needed. You also decrease liability by preventing icicles  and hazardous ice patches on the drive and walk.  The only downside is that Grandma might be upset you took her ice rink away.

Pipe Dreams? Or PVC Pipe dreams? There is a difference.

If you don’t know the difference we can’t help you here. This is not that kind of a blog. If you have nightmares about figuring out which pipe to use for your irrigation then we can help.

PVC stands for polyvinyl chloride. PVC is easier to say. PVC pipe accounts for about two thirds of the water distribution market, including drinking, irrigation and waste. So far the material has been found to be inert, meaning it doesn’t absorb or release harmful chemicals. Unless you burn it. Don’t sniff burning PVC.  It’s no fun, painful and the smoke can be hazardous.

The most common question we get is a two-parter: what size pipe should I use and what kind: Schedule 40 or Class 200? Knowing the differences can help you create an efficient system.

Remember the old “a picture is worth a thousand words” quote? I’ll give you a picture now and you can decide if you want to skip the other 476 words.

Let’s talk about Schedule 40 pipe first. It is the simplest. Schedule XX designates the wall thickness at a certain size. For example, a 1” pipe in schedule 40 has a wall thickness of .133”; schedule 80 has a wall thickness of .179”. Higher schedule = thicker wall.

You will care about this later. It does get more interesting, hopefully.

“Class” pipe is different and the original definitions go back to steam boilers. We’ll skip ahead. Class 200 pipe, the most common class pipe used in irrigation, is rated for 200 pounds per square inch pressure (psi) and has a wall thickness of .063” for a 1” pipe. Notice that is a lot thinner than schedule 40. This is about to become very important. Schedule 40, in comparison, is rated for 450 psi. This is not as important.

The average irrigation system is designed for about 30 to 50 psi. Plenty of safety factor built in. It is not, however, as much as you think. A poorly designed system can experience water hammer and a 60psi line can experience frequent surges of pressure up to about 170 psi. Still within safety range.

Now we can get into the “why do we care” part.  Everything in irrigation ties into gallons per minute. Your spray head puts out a certain number of gallons per minute (gpm). Your design revolves around it. If you have 13 gpm you can put six 2 gpm heads on that zone. Or four 2gpm and four 1 gpm. (Never design to the absolute max gpm.)

Look at the cross section of ¾” and 1” pipe both in schedule 40 and class 200. Check the comparative flows in the picture above. This difference in flow can make a big difference in how you design your zones. There are friction loss/flow charts available to help you.

So what do you choose? The rule of thumb is to use schedule 40 for the main line. Run it from the water meter, through the backflow and to the valves. Then use class 200 for the laterals, or after the valves.

Why schedule 40 when it allows fewer gallons per minute? Because the thick wall makes it tougher, harder to break. Your main is under constant pressure; the laterals are under pressure only when they are active and it is an open-end system. Before real pressure can build in your laterals the water is shooting out the sprays, keeping pressure down. Schedule 40 is more resistant to shovels (its sworn enemy), tent stakes, car tires, kids, dogs and other puncture/crack pressures.

There are exceptions to everything. There are situations where an entire system should be done in class 200 pipes. Same for schedule 40.  Now that you know the difference you can make a more informed decision and start dreaming about better things, like a 1973 Norton Commando.

Can’t afford a trip to the Bellagio? Stream rotors + your music + your lawn chair = you’re there!

The fountains at the Bellagio, Las Vegas, are world famous. They are designed to take you away from stress and trouble with their combination of dancing water, music and light. They are not, however, designed to keep you from gambling.

Each performance is a unique interpretation of a classic piece of music.  Their definition of classic covers a broad spectrum: Mozart, Glenn Miller, the Beatles and more. I hope they are working on Hank Williams. That might take a while. His work is pretty complicated.

If you can’t make it to the Bellagio, bring the fountains to you. Get stream rotors for your yard. You will enjoy the relaxing show and you will water your yard at the same time. Having a beautiful yard helps you relax even more. You benefit in many ways.

Stream rotors are different from standard rotors in that, instead of blasting a great deal of water out of one nozzle, they produce multiple streams of water of lower volume. These streams come out at different angles, some high, some low, ensuring even coverage. If you have sloped land the slow, even coverage minimizes the chance of water runoff. Blasting gallons of water every minute at sloped land just encourages runoff, as the soil cannot absorb the water as fast as it is applied.

In traditional stream rotors the Toro 340 is the answer. Designed to replace impact or gear driven rotors with a ¾” inlet it covers from 15 to 30 feet. It also has 9 easily set patterns to cover most any area. Great coverage, great application.

Don’t have a commercial application? Looking for the Bellagio effect at your home? No problem. In the last few years a number of manufactures have developed stream rotors that fit standard pop-up spray assemblies. The stream nozzles simply swap out with the standard spray nozzles and you are in business. Rain Bird and Hunter have every situation covered.

Not sure why you want to get rid of your old nozzles? Two good reasons come to mind. First, the stream nozzles cover up to 30 feet, where spray nozzles stop around 15 to 17 feet. This means that in many systems you can have the same coverage while eliminating a number of heads, saving water. Second, stream nozzles are not as sensitive to breezes as spray nozzles. The droplets are bigger and heavier; they go where they should when standard sprays are being blown away. Wait, I’ll add a third, no charge.  A zone with stream rotors can use 30% to 40% less water for the same coverage. Less water = less money.

The reason for their efficiency lies in their pattern. Small streams, slow application and constant, even movement add up to  more consistent, usable irrigation.Take a look at the spray pattern below.

Notice how closely it matches the Bellagio fountain pattern? Quality knows quality.

So turn on the stream nozzles, add music, sit back and enjoy the show. You can charge your neighbors admission if you wish. After all, look at the money you saved them by bringing the Bellagio to them.

And How Did You Tie Corvettes Into Sprinkler Nozzles?

Life is good. You just bought your first Corvette with all the features: 6.2 liter 430-hp LS3 V8, Bose® audio system, head-up display and, to top it off,  Mickey Thompson Baja Claw TTC radial tires for off-road mudding! Race track here we come!

Life gets better! You just moved into your dream home: ocean view, indoor pool, master chef kitchens (two, so you don’t have to walk too far), a personal theater furnished by Home Theater Gear, a private elevator and, out back, your own personal outhouse!  Time for a party!

In any system all parts must work equally to achieve the desired results. Let’s trade the Baja Claw tires for Goodyear Eagle F1 Run-Flats and see if we can’t get some plumbing into your new mansion.

Nozzles are the final and one of the most critical parts of your irrigation system. It does not mattop of a sprinkler nozzleter how good the system is; putting in the wrong nozzle will make it ineffective and a money waster.

Understanding nozzles is simple. For one, the notes you need are written right on top. It’s like having the answers to your history test on the same line as the question.

Look at the top of a standard nozzle. You’ll see three things: a number, a letter and some lines. On this sample the “10” means 10 foot radius, the “H” means Half Circle, or 180 degree coverage, and the line indicate the spray area. This notation is standard throughout the industry. A full circle nozzle has the distance and pattern but no line marks.

Specialty Nozzles

There are nozzles designed just for gardens and small areas. These are strip nozzles. Their patterns are as shown below.

sprinkler nozzle strip pattern diagram

Variable Nozzles

Variable nozzles are just that: variable. They can adjust spray patterns from 00 to 3600. Marking on these are usually the radius and either A for adjustable or VAN  or simply arrows pointing in both directions. These are excellent for small or unusual angles. To adjust you just turn the top ring or the side ring, depending on manufacturer.  Extremely versatile.

variable arc nozzles spray pattern diagram


Every manufacturer has specialty nozzles. Some are low angle, some are low flow, some have different nozzle design. Each has its benefits.  All, however, fall back to the same basic descriptions: they all have a radius/distance marking, they all have a pattern description.


There can be a great deal of difference in the amount of water two nozzles from different companies put out. For example a Hunter 15’ full pattern standard nozzle at 30psi puts out 3.72 gallons per minute (GPM). A Toro Precision series, same radius, pattern and pressure, puts out 2.31gpm.  That is a difference of 1.41gpm per minute.  Both fit a need and have a specific purpose. However, you do not want to mix the Hunter and the Toro on the same zone. You will either over or under water one area.

It is important to stay with the same manufacturer on nozzles to keep the same precipitation rates.

One Final Note

Most nozzles are female thread and will swap brand to brand without a problem. Some nozzles are male thread and are for certain brands only. Female thread tends to dominate the industry but make sure of what you have before you purchase replacements.

sprinkler nozzle threads

Every thing is good. You have the right tires, an actual indoor privy and perfect coverage for your yard.

Been to the Nile Lately? Bring mosquito spray?

The Nile is the longest river in the world, flowing through Rwanda, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Uganda, South Sudan, Sudan, and Egypt. In many ways it is literally the source of life and commerce for much of Africa. Remains of ancient civilizations abound on its shores, offering great insight into the history of the region. The area is well worth the visit, having something to offer everyone. Fortunately you only need to concern yourself with the East side of the Nile, which saves time and  money.

Why? Because mosquitoes are bringing the West Nile to you. In the 2011 Center for Disease Control study forty-five states had reports of West Nile Virus in humans. While the West Nile Virus is rarely fatal, with 80% of all people infected not even knowing they have it, it can have serious symptoms including neck stiffness, stupor, disorientation, coma, tremors, convulsions, muscle weakness, vision loss, numbness, and paralysis.  This is not good.

How do you avoid infections? First, strange as it sounds, don’t pick up any dead birds. Not sure why you would want to any way but don’t. Resist the urge. West Nile is very good at killing birds, crows in particular. If you do not know how the bird was killed (cat?) then assume it died of illness. If you must move a bird, use gloves or a shovel/scoop. West Nile is spread by mosquitoes biting infected birds and then biting you. Touching the bird will save the mosquito time and energy.

The next question becomes “How do I control mosquitoes?”

Glad you asked. Besides the standard suggestions about eliminating their breeding areas, you can simply kill them. That works pretty well to stop their biting. There is a system that can do that using your existing irrigation system. This means it covers your entire yard, not just part. It also means the insecticide goes to the low places that the water drains to.

The system is Skeet-R-Gone.mosquito control system for sprinklers Liquid pest repellent concentrate is injected into an existing sprinkler system by a 160 PSI pump that is housed in an exterior enclosure.  This enclosure also houses the concentrate.  The bug repellent concentrate is pumped through tubing that connects to a special mixing chamber and saddle valve.  The mixing chamber is installed directly into the water supply after the backflow preventer.  Once the pump is activated through the Skeet-R-Gone controller, the pest repellent will mix with water and be distributed throughout your yard by your sprinkler heads. mosquito control system for sprinklers

The all-natural pest control product is formulated with plant extracts from crops grown in North America. Precise blending with essential oils and spice extracts such as thyme, sage and oil of cedar give our Bug Slug Colloidal Pest Control muscle with NO hazardous chemical additives.

Some of the advantages of Skeet-R-Gone are:

  • Bug Slug Concentrate: Eco-Friendly
  • Bug Slug made from natural ingredients – it’s green!
  • Won’t harm grass, plants, people, or pets
  • Insects cannot build a resistance
  • Pesticide Free
  • High Performance
  • Contains no WHIMS regulated ingredients
  • Made from renewable natural resources

You and your family are far more important than the mosquitoes. At least, to us you are. Keep your health; stop the irritation, the scratching and the biting. Kill the bug.

By the way, it also kills flies, fleas, gnats, no-see-ums, mites, spiders, fruit flies, fire ants, chiggers, ticks, silverfish, crickets, moths, cinch bugs, ants, palmetto bugs and many more.

Anything that gets rid of fleas, ticks and chiggers has got to be good.

Not Just a Tool. It’s a GOOD tool…shovels, saws and the sledge hammer

Sometime around 1960, the Southwestern Bell Telephone company issued my father a set of work tools. He was a lineman and neither he nor Southwestern Bell wanted a tool to fail while he was on top of a pole. They were quality tools and he took care of them.

Fifty two years later I’m still using some of those tools. I’ve never worn one out. The ones I no longer have were “borrowed” by others. If they ever get returned (hope abides) I expect them to function perfectly.

There is no such thing as having too many good tools. A good tool will save you money in two ways. It will do the job correctly and you will not have to buy another one in the future.

A good tool should:

  1. Be well made from quality materials
  2. Be designed for the particular job at hand

A Tool Must Be Well Made From Quality Materials

True story: a car is broken down on the side of the road. Two guys stopped to help. The battery cable was loose but the nut had been rounded off. No wrench or socket would grab it. One guy walks into the “dollar store” and bought a pair of pliers. He came back to the car, opened the blister pack and they fell apart in his hands.  The look on his face was worth the dollar but the pliers weren’t.  It’s not hard to recognize a quality tool; it feels substantial, it operates smoothly and, more than likely, you will pay a premium price for it. But you’ll only do that once.

Think about the materials. For durability, weather and chemical resistance and overall strength it’s hard to beat fiberglass and polymer.  Take a look at something like the long handle drain spade.  Four foot of handle, tons of leverage. You and your neighbor can pull on this handle and it won’t snap. Speaking of neighbors, if they borrow your shovel and leave it out for weeks it won’t matter. The handle is UV resistant, waterproof, chemical resistant and their dog can’t chew through it.  Where is wood best? In absorbing shock. I hope you never have to use a sledge hammer, but if you do, get one with a wood handle. The fiberglass ones are OK but nothing absorbs shock like wood. Same with an axe or pick.

A Tool Must Be Designed For The Job At Hand

Have you heard the old saying “when all you have is a hammer everything looks like a nail?”  Yup. You use what you have so have the right tool.

Irrigation Tools:

Like any industry, irrigation has its own tools, some specialized, some not. Even the general, more common tools warrant a look.

The Shovel

The tool you love to hate. General requirements: the blade must have a turn-over at the top, giving you somewhere to place your foot and push. The blade must be strong, sharp, and well bonded to the shaft/handle, possibly with a re-enforcing ring. Long handles are better. People forget that the blade should be sharpened periodically. Do so.

The Sharpshooterdrain spade

Also called a drain spade. DO NOT scrimp on this shovel. You will work it to death. Make sure the D-grip is strong enough to take a great amount of pressure.  In this case I don’t like wood D-grips. The wood holds but the pins don’t. Go with a polymer D-grip. Sharpen the blade periodically.

The Clean Out Shovel

AKA a trenching shovel. You want the bottom of your trench clean to avoid pressure points on the pipe. Generally 4” wide is adequate for machine trenches, 6” for hand dug. Easy to use and, again, long handles are better.


I hope you don’t need one of these. If you do, my sympathies. Used for breaking up very hard or rocky soil. Also great zombie stoppers.  Get a pick/mattock. You will use the mattock to drag material out. Again, longer handles are better. Wood is best. Notice a recurring theme on handles? Impact = wood, leverage = polymer.


Used for cutting PVC. Many people will buy first class blades and then put them in a cheap, flexing frame. The strength/rigidity of the frame is just as important as the blade. Pay attention to the handle. Cheap ones have thin handles giving you little grip and causing discomfort. That’s known as “pain”. Get one with a thick handle.

PVC Cutters/Shears

Get the ratcheting type. Get the ratcheting type. Get the…idea? They are slightly slower on the cut but far less effort.

Things You Don’t Know You Need:

For really tough spots, get a rope/cable saw.

For semi-tough spots get a mini hacksaw. Being completely honest, I hate both of these. Partially ‘cause if I need one I’m really in a mess and partially ‘cause they don’t cut as easily and as square as the full size tools.  But they are just like a parachute: you sure better have it when you need it.

Most all purpose tools aren’t. Think of the slip joint pliers in your tool box. They do many things ok but nothing really right. All purpose tools are generally a waste of money. Except when they are specialized all purpose tools like the Poly-Gator™.  Why does it work? It is designed for a specific need: drip irrigation installation and repair. Not your car, lawn mower, etc. It’s dedicated to the ongoing success of drip.

Sledge Hammer

No, you probably don’t need one in irrigation. However, as someone with GREAT EXPERIENCE using a sledge I have some advice for you. First, 8 and 10 pound hammers are useless. They cause more work than they fix.  Get at least a 12 pound and you should get a 16 pound. More weight = more force on the hit.  Old joke: “Gent watching a road-mender swinging a sledge: ‘I say, my man, do you get paid money simply for bringing a hammer down onto some rocks?’  ‘No, sir. I get paid for lifting it up. It comes down on its own.’” With a 10lb you work bringing it around and you add force bringing it down. With a 16lb you get to the top of your swing and just let the dog run.

Wire Strippers

Yes, real men just use their pocket knife. I use wire strippers. Blood scares me. Strippers cut the wire and pull the insulation without damaging the strands. Thick grips are best.

Obviously a lot of the advice in this blog is based on personal experience. Many people have different opinions about handle materials. Polymer handles will last longer and generally take more strain than wood handles. They are impervious to weather and won’t rot away on you. I can’t remember the last time I saw one break.   I have driven literally hundreds of stakes with a sledgehammer, broken many a concrete block (no, I wasn’t in prison. It was a job).  I dug ditches in construction and dig ditches now as an irrigator. I’ve never found a material that beats wood for impact absorption and never had a wood shovel outlast a polymer one.

How to use a Multimeter to Determine if You Have a Bad Controller, Valve, or a Wiring Problem

Multimeters are handy for testing many kinds of wiring or electrical problems. Considering their versatility they are amazingly affordable. While they vary in complexity from basic to how-many-functions-did-you-say-it-had levels, we only need the basic here.

The most important thing to know if you have never read one: read the instructions. Two or three times. Make sure you understand the symbols and connections. There are few things as interesting as trying to test a 110AC wall outlet when your meter is set for low voltage DC. You’ll know you messed up.

Your problem: your valve won’t come on. And we don’t know why. There are really three electrical reasons it might not: bad controller, bad wires, bad solenoid. We always start with the simplest test first.

When testing to see whether our problem is with the controller the question we are really asking is “does the controller put power out to the valve?” To check this we’ll simply test two connections inside the controller. So open your controller so that you can see where the valve wires connect. You should have one COMMON, usually white, and any number of zones, usually red but any color is possible.

Turn your Multimeter to the proper VAC setting. Turn the problem zone on with the manual start on the controller. Here we will say it is zone 1. Touch one lead to the common and one lead to the zone 1 wire/screw. You should get around 24V. Usually 22 to 28 works. If you get lower than 22 you have a problem. Check another zone even though the other zones are working properly. It only takes a second and verifies that the Mulitmeter is set and functioning correctly.

Let’s assume the voltage is good. Now let’s check the wires. We’ll check for continuity, which is testing the ohms or resistance of the zone. Turn to the Ohms setting. It might look like (Ω). Check your manual to be sure. This will test for a short in the circuit. First, turn off the controller. You don’t want to check resistance with a live circuit. Disconnect the zone wire. Place one lead on the common terminal and one lead on the zone wire/screw. Depending on the valve brand you should get a reading from 20-60 ohms; every manufacture’s valves will have a slightly different reading. Low signals indicate trouble with the solenoid. On the other hand, any reading above 60 means you have a wiring problem, either stripped insulation, nicked wire or bad connection. Wire problems can be involved so, before we get the shovel out, let’s go test the solenoid and other wire end. Before you start walking, manually turn the zone on again.

At the valve disconnect the wires from the valve. Now set your multimeter back to the proper VAC setting. Touch one lead to the common and one to the power. You should get the same reading here (24v) as you did at the controller. If you continuity test you did in the last paragraph failed you probably won’t. We are double checking the wire to make sure of problems before we tell you to start digging.

If all that passes we are left with two things: either the twist connection for the controller wire to valve was bad or the solenoid is bad. Let’s test the solenoid first. Go back to your Ohms setting. Touch one lead to one wire from the solenoid, the other lead to the other. Again, you should get between 20 and 60 ohms. If not, replace the solenoid. If it passes the only thing left is a bad connection. Re-connect the wires using waterproof connectors, see if it now activates. Remember that the controller has that zone on so 24V should be going through those wires.  Careful. Might want to turn the zone off then reconnect and test.

If you have not found the problem at this time there may be a mechanical problem in the valve. You can replace the valve but first just open it and clean the internals.

We tested the controller for output, the wire for continuity, the connections for, well, connection and the solenoid for resistance. All with the handy-dandy Mulitmeter.

Solenoid Chatterer and Wire LocatorIf you plan on doing this on a regular basis, consider the Pro 48.   The Pro48 TechTool incorporates a solenoid activator to hold valves open; a chatterer to locate lost valves; a continuity checker to identify cut or shorted wires or solenoids; and a 24 VAC detector to ensure proper clock power output. Operation is simple as LEDs indicate tests and conditions. Truly a workhorse product for any landscape professional. This, along with a valve locator, can be purchased or rented at Sprinkler Warehouse.

Now You See it, Now You…Wait! Where Did it Go? Your backflow disappeared!

It used to be that the only things certain in life are death and taxes.  I’m going to add a third thing: someone wants your backflow.  Not in the manner of   “I want to buy Girl Scout cookies.”  This is in the line of “I want to steal that backflow and sell it for money.”  Someone is looking to you to pay their bills. After all, charity starts at home. Your home, your backflow, your expense.

Three things are combining to cause trouble. The economy is down, which means unemployment is up. Besides the standard, everyday crook, people who would never consider theft before now turn to it to pay bills. The second thing is continuing global population growth. More people means more resources are needed to support them. That means metal for tools. The final thing is the growth of formerly agricultural economies into modern, technology driven countries. Technology requires metals of all sorts.  Roll all this together and prices for scrap metals are high and rising. Your backflow is worth noticeable money to someone.

You lose in two ways. The most obvious is you have to pay to get the backflow replaced, parts and labor. The second is the water you have to pay for when they steal the backflow and your system starts pouring thousands of gallons out to the street.  Not to mention the inconvenience of going without household water if you don’t have a cut off valve on your system.  The best thing to do is stop the theft from ever happening.

Artificial rock backflow preventer coverOne way is to use the Jedi mind trick: “you only thought you saw a backflow here…you are obviously wrong…there is no backflow here…” This trick works best if you supplement it with a Dekorra rock enclosure. These are fake boulders designed to cover your backflow and make it blend into the landscaping. Who notices a rock? There’s not a lot of demand for stolen boulders. The enclosures cover the backflow, are available in standard, insulated and heated options, two finishes and a multitude of sizes. Since rocks are used in landscaping already it doesn’t scream out “hidden backflow.”  It says “landscaping feature.”

If you want the cover and/or insulation but aren’t a Jedi you can use the standard backflow enclosure. They provide the same weather protection as the rock enclosures without the camouflage effect. They do add the option of a side grid for quick visual inspections.

These also add one more step to getting to your backflow. This adds time and your average thief wants a short, quick job. Adding time discourages theft.

If adding time and effort discourages theft, then the other option is making the backflow very hard to get. Use the Gorilla Cage. Sounds like a visit to the zoo, doesn’t it? Except this cage keeps animals (crooks) out and peace and serenity in. The cage is made of strong steel tubing, angle and expanded metal with a guard to prevent the padlock from be cut by bolt cutters. Notice how the lock guard completely surrounds the lock? You don’t  The cage is bolted down to a concrete pad making for strong unitized construction. The form is even provided with the cage. Once unlocked they allow easy access for servicing or testing of the back flow.

No one will open these with a simple hammer or hacksaw. Bolt cutters won’t work. A cutting torch will but that’s a little more obvious than crooks want to be. Most crooks will pass these by and go to the next unprotected backflow they can find.

Whether you protect your backflow by hiding it or locking it away, the important things is that it stays in your yard, not someone’s truck.

Valve Manifolds and Why You Want Them

Think about your average irrigation system. Say five zones made up of spray heads and  rotors. Front yard, back yard, side yard. Pretty much what you see everywhere.sample diagram of where to place valves in a property This means that there are five valves in the system. Now, there are two ways you can install valves. Both work. You can install them in each zone, as illustrated:

This works fine but someday, when you need to find the valve for repair, it may be overgrown, have a dog house on it or have simply disappeared.  Plus you are spending money on seven valve boxes and all that wire to go to all those valves.

sample diagram of where to place valves in yard
This is another way to place your valves. This keeps all the valves in a simple to find and maintain area and you would only need two valve boxes. This is called clustering. It makes long term maintenance far easier. You can also cluster them in out of the way, low traffic areas, minimizing risk of damage.

The easiest way to install this is with pre-made manifolds. Two of the most popular are the Action Machine and Dura brands. They are both available in different sizes and are expandable for future growth.

So what’s the difference? Why is one labeled Premium and one Standard?  There are two main differences. The first is the pressure rating. The Premium has a pressure rating of 235 psi @73o. The standard has a rating of 150 psi. Again, either will work for the vast majority of installations.

The second difference is more practical. Understand that once these are installed you don’t touch them again until something goes wrong, usually years down the line. At that time they will be dirty, wet, muddy and possibly underwater. Now you want anything that will make it easier to work on the system. The Action Machine coupling has a much larger and more defined grip on the ring. The larger grip makes a world of difference when it’s wet and slippery. Saves time, skin and frustration.

Either manifold will work fine.  You might wonder at this time why you can’t just build your own. After all, PVC is cheap and you will be working with it already.  No reason you can’t and it will work. However, the premium manifolds are made of Schedule 80 PVC, much stronger than the Schedule 40 you will be working with. Add the fact that the manifold backbone is one piece and you gain both rigidity and a guaranteed straight line.  Finally, the time and effort you spend measuring, cutting and gluing your parts together is worth something. Save that time for relaxing after the job is done.   Pre-made is best by far.


For any irrigation system questions please visit us at Sprinkler Warehouse.