How To Look At A House

McGarry and Madsen's home inspection blog for buyers of  

site-built, mobile/manfuactured and modular homes

What problems does a landscape sprinkler system have when it is not used for a long time?

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Sprinkler systems deteriorate at about the same rate when they are not used as when they are used regularly. The difference is that nobody notices the accumulation of defects in a system that sits idle for a year or two until it is turned back on.

    It’s easy enough to spot an ignored or abandoned system. The first clue is that the control panel is unplugged. This means it is likely, but not certain, that the sprinkler system has been gathering dust for a while. But, when you plug it in and crank up the system in the first zone, a sure sign of long-term inactivity is the little dirt-and-grass-plug hats on top of each pop-up head, like in the photo above. It’s difficult to see the sprinkler in the photo because of the chunk of yard it pushed up.

Other signs of a system that has been off for a while are:

  •  The line of spray is obstructed by bushes that have grown around the heads.
  •  Control panel no longer functional, or the display panel has deteriorated and shows only fractured pieces of numbers and letters.
  •  Gushers from heads damaged by lawn equipment.


  •  Solenoids that won’t activate a zone or are sluggish to close it. 
  •  Cracked pipe underground causes water bubbling up and puddling above it.


  •  Sprinklers that spray on the walls and windows.
  •  Pop-up heads that cannot break through a thick grass mat grown over them.

    Systems that have been unused for a few months usually just need minor service, but ones that have been inactive for years often require replacement of the control panel, as the first step before testing to determine the extent of further work necessary.

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Here’s links to a collection of our other blog posts about “SPRINKLER SYSTEMS":

• Why is a backflow preventer required on lawn sprinkler systems?

• What is the difference between regular tap water and recycled/reclaimed water for landscape irrigation? 

What devices are code approved for backflow prevention at a sprinkler (lawn irrigation) system?

• Will a sprinkler system work without a vacuum breaker (backflow preventer)?

• Does the receptacle outlet in a garage for a sprinkler control panel have to be GFCI-protected?

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