How to find an irrigation leak
Think you may have an irrigation leak? We care about water conservation because we care about the environment and we like to save money. It is ok to admit both. Perhaps one motivates you more than the other, but both are good. If we are going to waste water, we would prefer it be on a slip-n-slide or another minute in that deliciously hot shower.
What would make you suspect there is an irrigation leak?
- Water bill – If you have a WTF (What’s that for?) moment.
- An area that is particularly green…too green – something is up…
- Puddles / Soggy areas – Do you have an area that always seems to be wet?
- Spidey Sense – It’s a real thing. Don’t discount it.
So you suspect there is a leak in your irrigation system. How do you find a leak?
First, confirm you have a leak because it could be something else. We recommend you check the low-hanging fruit before crawling around the yard with your ear to the ground listening for an ever-so-quiet gurgling/hissing noise.
Maybe it isn’t a leak. Maybe it is a different system issue.
- Check the controller. It is not uncommon for controllers to fritz. When this happens, it could revert to factory settings, or it could send a zone into overdrive. This is the easiest thing to check (you don’t even have to leave the garage).
- Is it simply a poor irrigation design or drainage issue? If you have a spot in the yard that looks especially green or stays soggy, it could be a poor irrigation design or a low area where water collects.
- Is something broken? Is a head broken that is causing a lot of water in one area?
Now you have checked the other simple options and you still suspect there is a leak in the sprinkler system. How do you find the irrigation leak?
How to find the irrigation leak
Before you run the system, here are a few things you can work through:
- Visual cues. If there is a wet area or a green area, then you know where to look first.
- Use your noggin. Where is the most likely place that the system is leaking? Did you have heavy equipment in the yard recently that drove over an irrigation area? Are there some large trees that could have slowly broken a pipe via roots? Did the cable company recently come and lay a new line?
Now that you have used that supercomputer on top of your neck, you need to run the system to verify your suspicions. Many times, this step will be easier if you have a team-mate (one person to run the controller and another to inspect). But there are many systems now that you can run from your phone, negating the need for a partner.
Run each zone for 3-5 minutes sequentially. Here is what you want to be thinking about:
- Water gushing…voila…you found it. But here is the bad news: when you fix something like a big pipe break, you often find other issues “downstream”.
- Auditory cues. Often a leak will have an audible hissing or bubbling or gurgling noise.
- Look for dry areas because it could be indicative of a leak “upstream” (it could also just be a bad design).
- Flooding around a sprinkler (could be cracked at the base of the head).
- Uneven spray from a set of heads. This could mean there is a pressure issue (which could mean a leak).
As a last resort, you can use specialized equipment to help you find the leak. At this point, we recommend calling an industry expert.
What do I do with the irrigation leak?
- Let it dry out as much as possible. Depending on the leak, this may not be possible. You can do this via the controller or by shutting the backflow preventer for a couple days before you dig it out. Just don’t forget to open it up again!
- Pipes are usually 8-12 inches deep. In certain parts of central Texas they may be a bit shallower due to the high limestone content.
- Dig out the pipe.
- Repair the pipe. Videos are much better at explaining this, so watch this!
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