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Sunday, July 3, 2011

Water Worries, Sprinkler Debugging and Water Traps

I thought that I would write this week about something that I have seen many times and fixed many times. Sprinkler Valve Wiring. Why is the wiring so complicated and always seems to be messed up? I don't think that this post will answer that question (or any others) but it is a good time to share my experiences with sprinkler valves and maybe something that is only related by virtue of the fact that is involves water (more about that below).

Some people reading this may know that I recently moved into a new home a few miles from where I had been living for several years. This new place is the first for me that in quite some time actually has a lawn and sprinklers to water it. After living here and settling in I decided to see what days the sprinklers were programmed to water and how much water I was paying for to keep the lawn fresh and green. To do this I of course started by checking the programming on the sprinkler controller and placing a low pan on the lawn to catch the water. The pan is to see how many inches of water is being delivered to the lawn per sprinkler cycle.

Bad Sprinkler Valve Wiring

So I turned on the sprinklers and waited for the pan to fill up with water. The lawn only has two 'zones' or valves so I thought this would be quick. The first valve opened and the sprinklers spränkled like they should, all the little droplets of water going everywhere you might expect them to. Then when it came time for zone two to turn on nothing happened. I looked at the valves and the wires a little closer and found what you see in the above picture. The duct tape was a nice touch but to find out what was wrong click on the read more below...

Why am I writing about this? Normally I wouldn't but because this is approximately the 50th time (OK I'm exaggerating a little) that I have encountered this problem over the years (and had to fix it) I thought I might spend a little quality time on my blog and rant talk a bit about it. Anyway back to the sprinklers...

When wiring up sprinkler valves there are a couple of circuits that come to mind, series and parallel unfortunately neither of those are right. What you want to do is wire each valve up as a separate circuit just like it shows on the little piece of paper that comes with your sprinkler controller. Have a close look at the link above to series and parallel and study it then don't wire your valves like that. I just might rent a house from you at some point and have to fix it. The important thing to remember when correctly wiring up sprinkler valves is that only one wire from each valve can be connected together. There will be a knotty mess of wires that are all twisted together and taped up but only one wire from each valve can go into that mess. The other wire from each valve must be connected to it's own wire going back to the controller. The knotty mess of wires should go back to the controller and is usually connected to Com (or common) or Ret (return).

What was wrong with the sprinklers that I have now is that both of the valves were wired in parallel and connected to both zones of the controller in parallel. But why didn't both of the valves come on when zone one turned on and nothing turned on when zone two came on? Good question!!
When zone one turned on it powered up both valves at my house. With both valves open the water pressure was so low that only zone one's sprinklers came on. Zone two's valve was open but water only trickled out to the sprinkler heads and there wasn't enough pressure to raise the sprinkler heads to spränkle level so it looked like only zone one was on. That's why I only saw one zone of sprinklers come on. When the controller turned on zone two it should have turned on both valves (because they were both wired to zone one and zone two on the controller) but nothing came on because the wire was broken. Actually it wasn't broken it had just been twisted into a knotty mess and wrapped with duct tape so after who knows how many years the copper wire had oxidized to a nice green patina and wasn't connected. That's what was preventing my lawn from having a nice green patina all it's own.
I took off all the duct tape and cut all the wires, getting rid of the knotty messes. Then I stripped the wire insulation back until I got nice copper and soldered all the connections together. After that heat shrink tubing with the water resistant heat activated glue inside was applied and slid it over the solder connections. I thought about wrapping it all up again in silver duct tape just to preserve the original look but decided against it.
At this point I was ready to get back to the water pan and take the sprinklers out on their maiden test sprinkle. After one cycle of both valves functioning as they should the pan had 1/2" of water in it. I reprogrammed the controller for three times a week giving me 1-1/2" per week as recommended by several Internet pages for hot weather.
When the sprinkler valve rewiring had been done I noticed a puddle of water in my garage. Fearing the worst I thought for a second that maybe somehow there was now a leak in the sprinkler pipe but the puddle in the garage wasn't anywhere near the sprinklers. The puddle was pointing to the clothes washer!
It seems that the clothes washer inlet valves were leaking and had been dripping for some time but I didn't notice it because the water was going behind the washer. This was a bad day for water valves in my house I guess. Maybe if I washed my clothes more often I would have noticed the puddle sooner but once you get all settled into a pair of shorts who wants to change them? Can you blame me?

Closer inspection showed that the leak was very small and there were two of them, both the hot and cold water valves. It was leaking from the valve stems and dripping off the knobs and onto the floor. By turning  each valve off slowly I could slow down and speed up the dripping. This means that each of the valves needs new seals and to fix this I would have to turn off the water to the entire house and take the valves apart. It's a two story house and the washer is in the garage downstairs so I'd also have to drain all the water out of the upstairs bathrooms as well etc.. I was starting to wonder just how often I really need to wash my clothes.

Leaky Clothes Washer Valves
Rather than fix the valves I decided to just make something to catch the water and forget about it until the valves really start to dribble everywhere. The above picture shows what I came up with. I bent up a coat hanger to hold a plastic tray that was actually packaging material for something I bought. I always save cardboard and plastic packaging material for things like this. The tray is removable so I can empty the water out after every load and I put a little silver duct tape on it for decoration and added DIY mojo. As a general rule it's always a good idea to add duct tape any time a bent coat hanger is involved in home / auto repair. The synergy created by the duct tape and wire coat hanger has mystified physicists for centuries. So far this is working like a charm, you can tell because I'm not smelly.

That's about it for my fun times with water valves this week.


  1. I just wanted to add a comment here to mention thanks for you very nice ideas. Blogs are troublesome to run and time consuming thus I appreciate when I see well written material. Your time isn’t going to waste with your posts. Thanks so much and stick with it No doubt you will definitely reach your goals! have a great day!

  2. Irrigation Repair,

    Thanks! I appreciate you taking the time to comment and read my blog ;-)