Jess Stryker's Landscape Tutorial Series, Sprinklers & Irrigation.

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Irrigation Q&A

Valves & Controllers


My valve opens, but won't close. If I turn off the main water supply the valves closes. But the next time the valve is turned on, it sticks open again.

My valve opens, but won't close. If I manually close the valve then reopen it, the valve stays closed. But the next time the valve is turned on, it sticks open again.

There could be a number of problems. If the valve opens, then it is probably not a controller problem. To be honest, controllers rarely fail. It's almost always the valve when it sticks on with one exception (see next question). Let's start at the top. Work down the following list until the problem is solved.

    1. Try using the flow control to partially close the valve. The flow control is usually a handle located in the center of the valve. Some cheap valves have a flow control screw rather than a handle. On these valves the solenoid is right in the middle of the valve and the screw is just to the side of the solenoid. (The screw will probably break when you try to turn it! Did I mention these are cheap valves?) After a few turns of the flow control does the valve close by itself? If so, leave the flow control in the partially closed position. For a valve to operate it has to have some pressure drop between the inlet and outlet. This pressure drop provides the energy used by the valve to close itself. At low flows some valves don't have enough pressure drop, so you need to create some. You do this by leaving the valve partially closed. Some cheap valves don't have a flow control, if you have one of those just replace the valve with one that does!
    2. The plunger in the solenoid may be sticking. Remove the solenoid (the little cylinder with the wires sticking out of it) by unscrewing it. Be careful, when you remove it there is a little spring loaded plunger in it. On some solenoids the plunger will pop out and if you don't catch it you will lose it! Make sure the plunger moves back and forth freely. If it doesn't replace the solenoid with a new one. You can try testing the solenoid by turning on and off the valve using the controller but this won't tell you much. Sometimes they work fine when removed from the valve but stop when reinstalled.
    3. Remove the top half of the valve. There are usually 5 or more screws that hold it in place. Look at the valve where the solenoid attaches. There are two tiny "ports" or holes where the water flows into and out of the solenoid chamber. Using a very thin wire, make sure they are not blocked by debris. Try not to scratch the valve with the wire. With the top removed turn on the water and allow it to flow freely out of the bottom half of the valve to flush out any garbage. Check the rubber diaphragm for cracks and replace it if it is cracking or splitting. Some valves have small screens inside to protect the ports. Make sure they aren't plugged. Some valves have metering rods- long stainless steel rods that move up and down in a small hole. Make sure they move freely. Generally inspect the valve for anything else that looks wrong. There's not too much complicated stuff in there. Reassemble everything in reverse order of how you disassembled it. When tightening the screws that hold the top to the body make sure to tighten them a little at a time working around the valve so that you don't warp the top.
  1. Give up and replace the valve.


My controller always sticks on the last valve station, leaving the valve on.

You probably have a 4 or 6 station mechanical controller. Probably a "IrriTrol", "Richdel" or "Lawn Genie" model but may also have other brand names on it. The common feature to look for is a large dial with a small set of gear teeth attached to the edge of it. These teeth engage a gear on a smaller, medium size dial when the large dial is turned. This is a common problem with this controller. Fortunately it is very easy to fix. The controller looks something like this (the various wheels may be in different locations depending on the model).

To repair the controller do the following:

  1. The large dial has a small set of gear teeth attached to it's outer edge. Turn it until these teeth mesh into the gear teeth on the medium size dial.
  2. There are several screws around the medium size dial. Loosen, but do not remove, them.
  3. Press the medium size dial firmly against the large dial, so that the gear are firmly meshed together. While holding them together, tighten the screws. That should cure the problem.


My valve doesn't open when the controller tells it to.

Work down the following list until the problem is solved.

  1. Check for current at the valve with a voltage meter (about $15.00 in the electrical dept. of any hardware store). Set the voltage meter to the 50 DCV setting. Turn on the valve using the controller. Touch the voltage meter leads to the valve wires at the valve (you may need to remove some insulation to get to the metal wire). The meter should show at least 20 volts. If no voltage is found run the same voltage test but this time test the output terminals where the wires are connected to the controller. If there is no voltage at the controller, the controller is broken. Check the fuse, most controllers have one somewhere in the case. If there is power at the controller you have a broken wire between the controller and the valve. If you have other valves that still work it is probably the lead wire rather than the common wire. Check it first. Replace the wire from the controller to the valve. If all this lead/ common wire stuff has you confused, take a look at the installation tutorial.
  2. The plunger in the solenoid may be sticking. Remove the solenoid (the little cylinder with the wires sticking out of it) by unscrewing it. Be careful, when you remove it there is a little spring loaded plunger in it. On some solenoids the plunger will pop out and if you don't catch it you will lose it! Make sure the plunger moves back and forth freely. If it doesn't replace the solenoid with a new one. You can try testing the solenoid by turning on and off the valve using the controller but this won't tell you much. Sometimes they work fine when removed from the valve but stop working again when reinstalled.
  3. Remove the top half of the valve. There are usually 5 or more screws that hold it in place. Look at the valve where the solenoid attaches. There are two tiny "ports" or holes where the water flows into and out of the solenoid chamber. Using a very thin wire, make sure they are not blocked by debris. Try not to scratch the valve with the wire. With the top removed turn on the water and allow it to flow freely out of the bottom half of the valve to flush out any garbage. Check the rubber diaphragm for cracks and replace it if it is cracking or splitting. Some valves have small screens inside to protect the ports. Make sure they aren't plugged. Some valves have metering rods- long stainless steel rods that move up and down in a small hole. Make sure they move freely. Generally inspect the valve for anything else that looks wrong. There's not too much complicated stuff in there. Reassemble everything in reverse order of how you disassembled it. When tightening the screws that hold the top to the body make sure to tighten them a little at a time working around the valve so that you don't warp the top.
  4. Give up and replace the valve.


Do I need a main valve. I got a little confused when I saw that the controller has a spot for a main valve.

The correct name for this valve is a "Master Valve". No you don't need one. The most common use for the master valve circuit is to start a pump. Actual master valves are used on very sensitive irrigation systems where a valve failure might cause enormous damage, such as a steep slope. If the valves were to stick "on" the slope might wash out. No need for them on the average irrigation system.



i have several zones of sprinklers all controlled by a timer. when the timer is controlling the water, one zone does not get enough pressure to fully pop up the sprinkler heads. however, when i manually bleed the valve, the sprinklers fully pop up. i had the exact same problem with another sprinkler zone several weeks ago and it was fixed by replacing the valve solenoid. i tried this for the current problem but it didn't work. i guarantee the problem is unrelated to my, or my neighbor's water usage at the time the zone turns on. in other words it doesn't have anything to do with neighborhood water pressure and usage. can you give me some suggestions?

I hope you get the shift key on your keyboard fixed soon. :)

Try the following:

1. Solenoid bad. (You checked this so we'll eliminate it)
2. Solenoid port partially blocked by something. Remove solenoid and clean out those tiny holes under it. There should be two of them, one for water coming in and one for water going out.
3. Wires from controller to solenoid are bad. Try bypassing each wire by temporarily connecting another wire to the problem valve. Does it fix the problem? If so the wire is bad. If the common wire is bad, then all valves will have problems, although some may be worse than others.

or

Try snapping 3- 9 volt batteries together end to end (they will snap together). Then connect the last terminal on each end of the battery string to the solenoid wire. This gives you 27 volts and the valve should snap open. If not, you have a bad solenoid. If it does open you have bad wires.

Finally:
Be sure to seal the wire connections to make them water tight on the new solenoids. 90% of solenoid failure is because the wire connections weren't waterproofed. Capillary action pulls the water up the inside of the wire insulation into the solenoid and it shorts, or rusts, out the solenoid. Use a wire connector for the wire splices and then fill the connector with silicon bathroom sealer so that no bare wire is exposed to air.



How can I test my electric valves if the controller isn't installed yet?

Try snapping 3- 9 volt batteries together end to end (they will snap together). Then connect the last terminal on each end of the battery string to the solenoid wire. This gives you 27 volts and the valve should snap open. If your hands are wet it will also make you jump!


I have a 6 zone drip system controlled by an irrigation controller. It also controls a pump at my lake via a relay. One zone dedicated to a valve that controls a fountain in the middle of the lake for 5 minutes 3x/day. I would like to have a siren sound, or music play, when the fountain comes on. Can I use the same 24v wires from the controller to switch on another device or must I use a different circuit?

A siren?!!! Hmmm. Glad you don't live next door to me! You can use the same wires, just add a second relay to the circuit. Beware, however, that most relays use more amperage than solenoid valves, so it might not work. Depends on the controller and how much capacity it has. Some can run several devices on a single station, others struggle with one. You may need to do some research of amperage of various relays. You can always use one relay on the controller, which then switches several others connected to it, if you need to. As the saying goes, "where there is a will, there is a way!"



I read that the valve must be 6" higher than the highest sprinkler. In my backyard I have grass (flat) then a retaining wall and a high slope. Exact height I have not determined, but it is over my head when standing on the grass. Do all valves need to be higher than the sprinklers up there or only the valve for that line? So that means a line needs to run to the top than my valve and the sprinklers for up on the slope. The rest of the valves can be down below that control the sprinklers for the flat area. Do I have the right logic going there.

Only the valve for the line on the hill needs to be higher, and only if you are using anti-siphon valves.


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