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Irrigation Troubleshooting:. What does it take to be an “Irrigation Troubleshooter”?. An Electrician A Plumber An Electronics Technician An Irrigation Technician A Laborer ALL OF THE ABOVE. The 7 components of an irrigation system that we need to be concerned with:. • Water Supply

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Irrigation Troubleshooting:

What does it take to be an “Irrigation Troubleshooter”?

An Electrician

A Plumber

An Electronics Technician

An Irrigation Technician

A Laborer


The 7 components of an irrigation system that we need to be concerned with:

• Water Supply

• Backflow Preventer

• Main Line

• Electric Valves

• Lateral Lines

• Heads

• Controller

When a customer comes in or calls with an irrigation problem, what do you do?

What is malfunctioning?

Is it the controller, valves, heads, sensors, etc.?

Has anyone been working in the area other than you?

Have there been any storms lately?

Can you manually turn on the system?

Has the pressure been reduced in the area?


Ask Questions

Is the problem




There are two main divisions of an irrigation system. This will be the first question of your Troubleshooting Plan.

Electrical Troubleshooting

Two-wire technology for large systems

Traditional systems require at least one wire per valve, plus common ground wires.

Two Wire

Direct Burial Connectors

DBY/DBR- 30v Max

DBR/Y 600v Max

DBY/DBR -6 600v Max

Cut us some slack…

  • 5 feet slack wire, per splice

    • At decoders, and at T splices

  • Always in a valve box

  • Stake decoder upside down (recommended)

  • Up to 150 feet from decoder to solenoid (shorter is better)

Alternating current (AC) – Standard household current. Most irrigation systems use AC current.

Amperage (AMPS) – Quantitative measurement of flow of electricity, similar to Gallons per Minute in irrigation.

Circuit – In irrigation terms, the electrical wiring path from the station output terminal to and through the solenoid back to the common terminal.

Connection – Connection of one wire with one or more wires inside of an approved wire nut or other connecting device.

Direct Current (DC) – Directional flowing electricity: i.e. current flowing from the positive terminal of a battery through a device and back to the negative terminal.

Field Wiring – the wiring between the controller and any device/valve installed in-ground.

Ground – In electricity, it is always earth ground

Multimeter (Volt OHM-Meter) – Digital or analog testing device for measuring electricity’s characteristics (voltage, amperage, resistance).

Electrical Terminology

OHMS/Resistance – The resistance encountered by electricity in wiring or devices on a circuit, similar to friction loss in irrigation terms.

Open Circuit – Term given to a circuit when the pathway for electricity has been severed or is not completed.

Primary Side – The side of the transformer that is connected to the 120vac supply.

Secondary Side – In the irrigation industry, it is the 24vac output side of the transformer.

Short Circuit – Term given to a circuit where electricity bypasses the intended and goes directly from the hot to the common wire.

Short To Ground – the electricity has a direct path from the wire through the insulation to ground.

Solenoid – an electrical device on valves that when electrified creates a magnetic field that pulls a metallic plunger.

Electrical Terminology

Terminal Strips – A collection of terminals numbered to differentiate zones.

Terminals – The connecting device on the panel of the controller that the field wires are attached into. There are station output terminals and common terminals.

Voltage (VOLTS) – Quantitative measurement of the power of electricity, similar to water pressure (PSI).

Zone – Irrigation term used to differentiate one circuit from another: i.e. zone 5 or zone 12.

Zone Wire VS. Common Wire – The zone wire is the wire connecting a station output terminal on a controller to a solenoid or device. The common wire is the wire connecting the solenoid or device to the common terminal.

Electrical Terminology

Digital Multimeter (Volt-ohm meter)

Know what you are measuring

Volts……AC or DC voltage?



Set the meter to the proper scale

BE SAFE! Call a certified electrician if you

watch “Home Improvement” regularly

Using The Multimeter

Controller power specifications

120 VAC ± 10% (108-132 VAC)

Does my controller require a dedicated breaker?

If a high amperage device like an irrigation pump is powered on the same branch circuit as the controller, the answer might be--YES.

Why? The high amperage demand of the pump causes a severe drop in voltage.


Measure Transformer Voltage

Must be measured in-circuit

120 VAC supply

Controllers use approximately 0.25 amps

Add 0.12 amps for each solenoid

Refer to the manufacturer’s specifications


Most useful of all measurements in the field

Used to test for bad:


Field wiring


Shorts to ground




Open Circuit

Think of an “open” drawbridge

Turning off the light switch at home = open

Indicates no connection

Station will not work

Short Circuit

The common wire is touching a station wire

Internal solenoid wires touch-- too soon

Result? The fuse or circuit breaker opens, or……

The diagnostic circuit breaker “skips” the station

Resistance Terms

Electrical TroubleshootingSummary

  • Check the outlet that the controller is plugged into. Make sure it has 120 volts and that the outlet is not connected to a switch or is not part of a ground fault circuit.

  • Is the controller putting out 24 volts? Test the terminal strip with a multimeter to determine output voltage.

  • Is there continuity through the solenoid?

If not, then test the ohms on that station. A high reading (over 60 ohms) indicates an open circuit.

If the circuit is open, is the problem a solenoid or a cut wire? Go to that valve box, disconnect the solenoid from the valve wires. Take the ohm reading of the solenoid. If this reading is high, then replace the solenoid.

If the solenoid is normal, then we have a wiring issue. Here we will turn to specialized equipment for tracking wire.

Electrical TroubleshootingSummary

Common Valve Problems

  • Check resistance on the solenoid.

  • Check to be sure the flow control is not all the way closed.

  • Check for trash inside the valve.

  • Check to make sure bleed tube is not clogged.

Acceptable range: 20 - 60 ohms

More than 60 ohms is considered open

Less than 20 ohms is considered shorted

Solenoid Resistance

Asco (Bermad/ClaVal)14.4 ohms

Champion21.7 ohms

Greenlawn22.7 ohms

Griswold21.1 ohms

Hardie/Irritrol24.6 ohms

Hunter29.7 ohms

Imperial ATTV21.7 ohms

Nelson22.2 ohms

Orbit20.2 ohms

RainBird A series coil28.5 ohms

RainBird B series coil23.8 ohms

RainBird DV series51.8 ohms

Superior23.1 ohms

Toro 1” +/- 28 ohms

Toro ¾” +/- 23 ohms

Weathermatic34.1 ohms

Solenoid Ohm Resistance Values

Progressive Electronics 521


Pulse toner

Station master

2003 Fault Finder

Electronic Tracking Equipment

Hydraulic Troubleshooting

Pressure - 2 Kinds:

Static (Hydrostatic)

Dynamic (Hydrodynamic)

Check using a pressure

gauge on the backflow,

hosebib, and heads.

Hydraulic Troubleshooting

TIP – always begin at the beginning.

Start at the beginning of the water system. Make sure all irrigation water valves are open.

Hydraulic Troubleshooting

Hydraulic Troubleshooting

2. Is the backflow working properly?

  • Dual Check – you can’t

    tell by looking at it.

  • PVB – check the bonnet

    and poppet assembly

    for cracks or warpage.

    Also check the o-ring.

  • RPZ – look in both

    check valves for trash or cracks.

    Check the o-rings.

    Check the overflow valve.

Is the mainline holding water pressure? A pressure gauge comes in handy here.

Are the electric valves opening and closing properly? Obstructions around the diaphragm can cause problems. Check the flow control valve for proper opening position. Is it installed backwards?

Does the lateral pipe have any breaks or kinks in it? Could be trash from a previous (BAD) repair, tree roots, etc.

Hydraulic Troubleshooting

If there is no break in the pipe, the valves are operating properly, or there are no problems with the backflow preventer, and a sprinkler head is still not working properly; what would you do? Check the screen and/or nozzle in the sprinkler head first for clogging.

Sometimes rocks and debris can get stuck in the spiral elbow or the swing pipe gets kinked. You must dig up the head to get at these headaches.

Finally, when all is checked including last head pressure, the only answer may be in the design itself. Make sure that the zone requirements do not exceed the water source.

Hydraulic Troubleshooting

Tools Needed to Troubleshoot

A multimeter

A 4in1 screwdriver

12” channelock pliers

A pressure gauge

Irrigation Troubleshooting

Any Questions?

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