How to Find Lawn Sprinkler Irrigation Valves
In a lawn irrigation system, repair or replacement of an irrigation valve is a very common repair. An irrigation system is typically divided into several zones, each of which feeds sprinkler heads in a different area of the lawn or garden, and each zone is controlled by a valve that receives signals from a centrally located controller. The constant on-off cycles of the valves creates wear and tear, and sooner or later you will be faced with the job of working on one or more of the valves.
Surprisingly often, though, it can be difficult to locate the sprinkler valves. The task is complicated by the fact that the valve locations can vary greatly depending on the size of the yard and the design of the system. In many areas, the source water for irrigation systems may not come from the house: Some local jurisdictions require there to be a reduced pressure zone assembly (or RPZ valve) on the source water, in which case the valves will be outside.
- Sometimes (and rarely), the valves are located above ground, usually near where the source pipe emerges from the house to split into various irrigation zones. In this case, it's usually quite easy to find the valves.
- Often the valves are located inside one or more in-ground valve boxes. The tops of these boxes will be at ground level, and these, too, are usually fairly easy to spot and access.
- The valve box, or sometimes the valves themselves, are sometimes buried underground. This is where it can get challenging. There are many instances where homeowners have dug up large areas of the yard in an effort to find buried valves.
Finding Above-Ground Irrigation Valves
Above-ground irrigation valves are usually installed near the water source, so start by looking around the perimeter of the house or garage. Look behind bushes, since shrubbery that spreads as it matures can often hide the sprinkler valves. Often, the zone valves will be located in close proximity to the vacuum breaker, a required feature in most irrigation systems.
Tips for Finding Buried Irrigation Valves
In newer lawn irrigation systems, the valves should be installed in valve boxes set into the earth. Often these are easily visible. In small yards, there is often a single valve box located near where the irrigation pipes enter the ground from the water source. Larger yards may have remote valve boxes set at the start of each irrigation zone. Here are some tips for location below-ground valves, beginning with the easiest.
- Begin by looking for exposed valve boxes. In many instances, the valves will be conveniently located in green or black plastic boxes set into the ground, with covers that can be removed to expose the valves. These boxes have covers that can be removed to access the valves. Over time, however, these boxes can get covered with grass and dirt. After a few years, they can virtually disappear.
- Check your sprinkler system documentation. Many sprinkler system installers provide a system diagram that outlines the location of sprinkler heads and valve.
- If the irrigation system required a permit for installation, your local permits department may still have an irrigation blueprint on file, which will indicate the location of the valves.
- It may be possible to follow the sound of the water leading to the missing valve. Have someone turn on just that zone at the main controller and listen for water going to the valve. Also, listen for clicking when the valve is activating or hissing from the water pressure in the valve. This is best done when there is little surrounding noise interference.
- The order in which the sprinklers in that zone start up can be another clue. Have a helper manually turn on that zone at the controller and observe. The sprinkler head that is closest to the valve should pressurize slightly before the rest of the sprinklers. Start at that sprinkler and try to find the valve nearby.
- The cheapest and easiest way to find buried irrigation valves is often to probe the soil with a thin rod, such as a long screwdriver. Often you can estimate the rough location of the irrigation valve, then find a buried valve box by probing the ground. But this is not a good method unless you are sure the valves are protected by a valve box, since probing can damage the solenoid, valve wires, or the irrigation pipes. To estimate the location of a valve, note the point where the controller wire enters the ground from the main controller, and project the path of the wire. Very often, the valve location is near the corners of the house or just slightly past the backflow preventer. Probe the ground to a depth of about 6 to 12 inches and listen/feel for the presence of the hollow valve box. When you think you have found the box, dig down carefully with a hand trowel to avoid damaging the irrigation pipes or controller wires.
- With automatic sprinkler systems, you may be able to trace the controller wires all the way from the main controller to the valve locations. Dig holes every 10 feet or so to observe the direction of the wires until you locate the valve, but be careful not to damage the wires as you dig—a hand trowel is the best tool to use.
- A simple tool known as a chatter locator energizes the valve solenoid, making it possible to locate the valve by listening for the clicking sound it makes.
- Another rental tool, known as a valve locator, can find a valve by tracing the controller wires using a transmitter, receiver, lead wires, and a grounding stake. It operates much like a metal detector.
Map Your Irrigation System for the Future
Once you have located the irrigation valves, consider drawing up a diagram of the sprinkler system to avoid this problem in the future. It may be a while before you need to repair or replace a sprinkler valve again, and you may not recall the exact location by then.
Combining the quality HRM Series Manifold System with the reliable Rain Bird 100-DV Series valves, these ready-to-install kits take the hassle out of specifying, configuring and installing quality valve systems.
We use only high quality parts and, with our large number of available configurations, we are sure there is a valve manifold available for virtually any application.
- 4 Rain Bird 1" 100DV Valves
- Speed Seal™ wire nuts with silicone
- Installs in minutes
- Hand tighten; no tools required
- Controls water flow for 4 sprinkler lines
- Works with 3/4" Blu-Lock Poly pipe systems
- Manifold inlet: Reducing Male Adapter - 1" Mipt x 3/4" Insert
- Valve outlet: Reducing Male Adapter - 1" Mipt x 3/4" Blu-Lock
- Manifold inlet: Male Adapter - 1" Mipt x 1" Insert
- Valve outlet: Male Adapter - 1" Mipt x 1" Blu-Lock
Note: The handle shown on the photo is not included.
Click image to enlarge
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Introduction to Irrigation Controllers, Manifolds, and Valves
Once you have delved into the world of irrigation it will not be long before you begin to expand your system to include other aspects of irrigation. Once your project has grown to a certain size you will find the need to zone your system. Zoning a system is most often done for several reasons, among them: the flow rate of the water supply cannot keep up with the demand of the emitters, different plants and landscaping have differing hydration needs, the property is large and needs to be divided, or a combination of all of the above. That’s where manifolds and valves come in.
The following article is meant as an introduction to these concepts and is by no means a comprehensive training guide that includes everything one needs to know in order to setup an automatic valve system. The ideas presented here are meant to introduce the basic concepts to the avid DIY’er and create a foundation from which to build.
A manifold and valve system starts with a controller. Think of it as the brain of the system. The controller is similar to a timer in that it opens valves at specific programmed times and durations, however unlike common hose end timers the controller does not have its own valve. Controllers are connected to the valves by running wire from the controller to the valve itself.
Controllers can be either AC or DC. AC controllers are not compatible with DC valves and vice versa. This means if you have a DC controller you will need DC valves. Controllers do not attach to a hose or faucet. They are typically mounted on a wall inside or outside. Some must be hardwired directly into the electricity, some come with an external transformer that can be plugged into a wall outlet and some are battery operated.
You can see a list of available controllers here: Irrigation Controllers.
Manifold: noun: a pipe or chamber branching into several openings. As the definition suggests, an irrigation manifold is a pipe that branches into several openings, in this case to deliver water to multiple irrigation valves. The manifold is typically fed by pipe or tubing that is tapped directly into the house’s water supply, but it is also possible to supply it by a faucet or hose connection.
Manifolds come in many different sizes depending on how many valves and zones are needed. The one pictured above is for a two-zone system, but options exist for much larger setups. We offer Manifold Kits for up to six zones. Thanks to products like PVC-Lock it is now easier than ever for the homeowner to assemble their own manifold system.
You can see a list of available Manifold Kits here: Manifold Assembly Kits.
Available manifold parts can be found here: Manifold Parts.
There are many types of irrigation valves. In this article we will focus on solenoid valves, the kind usually found in automatic irrigation and sprinkler systems. Solenoid valves consist of the valve itself, that is the part that opens and closes to allow or restrict water flow to the system beyond it, and the solenoid. The solenoid is the part of the valve assembly that is wired directly to the controller. The controller sends a signal to the solenoid which then opens or closes the valve.
One side of the valve connects to the manifold; this is known as the inlet. The inlet will be under constant pressure and allows water to pass through only when opened by the controller. The other side of the valve (outlet) connects to your lateral lines. Lateral lines are the pipes or tubing that carry water from your valves to your emission devices, typically sprinklers in a setup like this. Lateral lines are only under pressure when the valve is open and water is allowed to flow through.
A list of our valves by brand can be found here: Irrigation Valves.
The manifold and valves are usually buried under ground. To protect them from the elements and allow easy access for maintenance and repairs, they should be placed in a valve box. Valve boxes come in a variety of shapes and sizes to fit the needs of the system. From round to rectangle, to as small as six inches or as large as twenty-one inches, a valve box can be found to fit almost any common residential setup.
Our valve boxes are created from HDPE for strength and chemical resistance. They are able to withstand light pedestrian traffic, however care should be taken to avoid any vehicle traffic as this could cause irreparable damage.
You can see our selection of valve boxes and valve box lids here: Valve Boxes and Replacement Lids.
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