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Sprinkler Heads Always breaking? (Here’s 4 reasons why)

We’ve all been there. You go outside to water your garden or lawn, and you see that one or more of your sprinkler heads are broken. It’s a frustrating sight, especially if you just replaced them not too long ago. So what gives? Why do sprinkler heads break, and is there anything you can do to avoid it? In this article, we’ll take a look at the 4 main reasons why sprinkler heads break, as well as some tips on how to avoid the issue altogether.

Damage From Lawn Mowers or Weed Eaters

Reason 1:

In many instances, this is the main reason your sprinkler heads become damaged or broken. This happens when a pop-up or, any other stationary sprinkler becomes choked by grass growing around or above the sprinkler head not allowing the head to retract back into the casing whereby whatever equipment comes along and shears the riser (shaft) of the sprinkler head. This is true almost 90% of the time.

Ways to Avoid Lawn Mower and Weed Eater Sprinkler Breakage

Ultimately What happens is, when mowing lawns with any type of equipment, people normally aren’t really paying attention to anything other than wanting to finish the job. It can be especially true if you’re in hot or really cold weather.

So, if this is your lawn and if the grass is somewhat tall, the first thing to do is walk the area. This is to ensure there is nothing that can become clogged, broken, or damaged. Usually, it’s a good idea to carefully clear grass around the sprinkler with a weed eater or small shovel. This in effect allows you to visually see if there are any obvious signs of breakage. (Care should be taken when using weed eaters because they have the potential to slice right through the plastic head, or be forced off. Just a hard-learned lesson I’ve personally experienced)

For more information about tall grass maintenance, check out this article:

Other times, if you purchase a lawn mower service it’s advisable to discuss your sprinkler set-up to avoid issues down to the line. Although it is fairly easy to replace broken sprinklers, it does cost money or time, or both depending on if you don’t know the brand of sprinkler or any information about the system.

Lastly, depending on the type of mower used, the weight of the machine can have a negative effect on the sprinkler head or setup connecting to lateral lines. A lateral line is a pipe that is normally connected to a water valve that feeds the sprinkler. This can happen if a riding mower’s tire runs directly on the sprinkler head applying direct pressure on the sprinkler itself that is connected to a buried lateral pipe. It’s worth mentioning that newly installed sprinklers are sensitive to any weight or pressure because the soil hasn’t had time to compact around the sprinkler itself. Also, installation and height can be an issue but will be discussed later in the article.

People Stepping on Them

Reason 2:

Another common cause of sprinkler head breakage is people stepping on them and normal foot traffic. This can happen when people are walking across lawns or playing games. This normally occurs along sidewalks and walkways. While unintentional, it can happen.

How to Avoid the Problem

Most often, many people walking on or across lawns are unaware of buried sprinklers which can result in a slight kicking motion that snaps the base or nozzle of the sprinkler. This can be due to unleveled installation where the sprinkler base is slightly high than ground level and can also be troublesome along driveways.

Although installing sprinklers is fairly easy to do, many people tend to get lazy when the casing of the sprinkler is longer than necessary resulting in an exposed cap. Since the top of the cap is supposed to be ground level, some sprinklers are left 1/2 inch above level and sometimes fully visible. While there is nothing wrong with doing this, it does pose a tripping hazard. Usually, people level them visible in fenced-off gardens or other places where foot traffic and machinery never go.

If foot traffic is an issue along with cars driving over them, you can purchase small concrete cylinders or if you have something hard and sturdy, you can place it over the top of the sprinkler. This help to cushion rollovers and accidental kicks while making sure the top or “cap” of the sprinkler is at ground level along with the protective sleeve. Regardless of what you use, make sure to place the pop-up sprinkler head at ground level to protect yourself and others.

Weather-Related Damages

Reason 3:

Weather-related damage happens to sprinklers when the temperature outside is either too hot or too cold. If it’s too cold, the water inside the sprinkler can freeze and crack the internal components. If it’s too hot, the heat can damage or warp the plastic.

To avoid this issue, you can purchase a type of sprinkler that has a built-in backflow preventer. This will help to keep water from entering and freezing inside the sprinkler. If you live in an area where it gets below freezing, you can also purchase a type of sprinkler that is made to withstand extreme cold weather.

If your area is prone to hot weather, you can try to find a type of sprinkler that has a heat-resistant casing. This will help to protect the internal components from being damaged by the heat. Although we all experience some types of weather, some are worse than others and depending on where you live, you may need to purchase sprinklers that are either high UV resistant or frost, and often times, both.

If your sprinklers do happen to become damaged from the elements, usually the first signs are either green circles around the sprinkler or a difference in the spray pattern other than what it was designed for. Upon inspection, you might not find obvious damage, but usually, the first to give out are the seals that prevent leakage on the cap of the sprinkler.

Rainbird offers a wide range of sprinklers and accessories for different climate regions and have top rated products. check out their official site by clicking here.

Poor Installation or Maintenance

Reason 4:

Finally, we have poor installation and maintenance. Some people are under the impression that a sprinkler system is a set-and-forget option when it comes to irrigation. While it may be true that a good installation lasts an extremely long time, it is because the user has performed some type of upkeep and preventative maintenance.

Some basic things to keep in mind before installation would be:

  1. Location of sprinklers: Most often, people forget about the importance of where they place their sprinklers. If you live in an area with a lot of trees, you’ll want to be sure to place your sprinklers in a way that the water sprayed will actually hit your lawn and not the trunk of a tree. The same goes for any type of obstacle in your yard. You’ll want to be sure to place the sprinklers in a way that water can reach the lawn without being obstructed.
  2. Pipe size: When it comes to pipe size, you’ll want to make sure that the piping you’re using is the correct size for your sprinkler system. If you use too small of a pipe, it can cause water pressure issues which in turn can cause your sprinkler heads to break. Another issue with poor installation is forgetfulness. People often times forget that a sprinkler system needs to be winterized in order to prevent freezing and cracking.
  3. Number of Sprinklers: Another issue that can occur is putting in too many sprinklers on one line. This will again cause water pressure issues which can break your sprinkler heads.
  4. Installing sprinklers to high to low to ground level: Make sure when you install your sprinklers that they are installed level with the ground or slightly above it (again just slightly). This will help to ensure even irrigation and will also help to prevent your sprinkler heads from being damaged by lawnmowers or other yard equipment. Also, it will help to prevent water from flowing back into the sprinkler nozzle and casing.

Although the list can be quite long, it all depends on individual property size and what exactly you would like to water. If you are planning to irrigate a flower garden, then another type of system such as a drip system would be advised, but the same principles apply, while each installation requirements are different.

For more information on drip irrigation and sprinkler systems, click here:

Ways to Maintain Sprinkler Heads

While installation is one aspect, maintenance is another. Below is a short list:

  1. Clear are around sprinkler heads: Be sure to clear any dirt, grass, or debris that might be around the base of the sprinkler head. This will help to ensure that water can flow freely and not be obstructed. This again helps with visibility if a sprinkler is stuck in the up position and avoids a snapped riser or sprinkler head shaft.
  2. Change out worn nozzles: Over time, the nozzles on your sprinkler heads will become worn and will need to be changed. Depending on the type of sprinkler head you have, the nozzles can be changed out relatively easily.
  3. Clean out sprinkler heads: Another thing you’ll want to do on a regular basis is clean out your sprinkler heads. This can be done by simply removing the head and using a small brush to remove any dirt or debris that might be clogging it up. Many times the tiny rock clog the spray nozzle resulting in an uneven spray pattern.
  4. Inspect system regularly: Be sure to inspect your entire sprinkler system on a regular basis to check for any leaks or other issues. This will help to prevent any further damage to your system and will also allow you to catch any problems early on. With the cost of water going up and prolonged droughts, the last thing you want is a broken head to be gushing water during the whole duration of the irrigation cycle.
  5. Always check sprinklers after mowing: Be sure to check your sprinkler heads after you or someone else has mowed the lawn. Many times, a lawnmower may unknowingly shear the nozzle causing it to break. This is easily avoidable by simply taking the time to cycle through your irrigation system.
  6. By following these simple tips, you can help to prolong the life of your sprinkler system and avoid having to replace your sprinkler heads.

Final Thoughts

While a sprinkler system is a great way to water your lawn, it’s important to keep in mind that they do require some maintenance in order to keep them working properly. Be sure to follow the tips above and inspect your system regularly to avoid any costly issues and depending on your local irrigation laws, some places may impose fines. Just some things to keep in mind.

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