How to Adjust, Repair Lawn Sprinkler Heads

Sprinkler System

If you have a sprinkler system, but parts of your lawn look like the Great Dust Bowl, don’t worry. While we can’t promise you’ll never see grasshoppers, we can show you how to adjust and repair your lawn sprinkler heads so your grass thrives. In short order, your landscape will be looking fresh and green as if it were spring.

Follow these easy instructions to adjust and repair your lawn sprinkler heads:

How to Adjust Sprinkler Heads’ Spray Pattern

Photo Credit: Daniel R. Blume / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

If it’s been a while since you’ve done anything with your sprinkler system (aside from programming), you may not even know where all of your sprinkler heads are. Turn the system on to conduct a sprinkler head audit. Don’t worry, it’s not taxing.

Observe how the water is distributed and the amount of water. Also look for areas where its spray pattern isn’t functioning properly, watering unequally, or not at all.

There are many types of sprinkler heads and each one has different patterns or uses. The most common types are stationary, rotor, pop-up, and pulsating sprinkler heads. You’ll need a flat-head screwdriver and possibly a few other tools to adjust the heads.

How to Adjust Stationary Sprinkler Heads

  • Find the spray radius adjustment screw at the top of the nozzle.
  • You may need to adjust the water spray in the direction of your lawn.
  • Turn the screw clockwise to lower the water pressure on the spray head if too much water is shooting out.

How to Adjust Rotor Sprinkler Heads

  • You may need to adjust both the radius and the spray arc.
  • Rotor sprinkler heads are held in place with a setscrew.
  • Instructions on these vary with different manufacturers, so you’ll need to check your manufacturer’s specific instructions to make adjustments.
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How to Adjust Pop-Up Sprinkler Heads

  • You must adjust the pop-up sprinkler heads while the sprinkler is running.
  • Use a flat-head screwdriver to rotate the adjustment screw on the top of the nozzle.
  • To increase the width of the spray pattern, turn the screw counterclockwise.
  • To decrease the width of the spray pattern, turn the screw clockwise.

How to Adjust Pulsating Sprinkler Heads

  • Adjust the speed of the water output by pushing the tabs on the nozzle.
  • Turn the sprinklers on to be sure that they are all working.
  • Adjust the spray distance on each of the heads, considering sidewalks and driveways. Rotary sprinklers may go full circle, so adjust the degree to which they turn.

How to Clear Debris and Adjust Spray Nozzles

If your sprinkler head doesn’t show signs of damage, simply clearing the debris it has collected over time may do the trick.

Here’s how to clean your filter:

  • Lift the sprinkler head part that houses the filter and clamp with a vise grip.
  • Unscrew the tip and lift out the filter. Clean away debris with a towel.
  • Flush the line for a few seconds before reassembling the head.
  • Once clear, put the filter back in and screw the cap on.
  • Check the direction of the spray head, then release the vise grip. Turn the system on to check the spray direction is correct.

It takes just a few minutes to clear the debris.

How to Replace a Broken Sprinkler Head

The most common sprinkler head problem is damage. Before you buy a new sprinkler head, make sure you have the right one. According to Jeff Watson of Bright Water Irrigation and Lighting in Central Florida, if homeowners get the wrong one, the spray in that zone will be distributed unevenly. One common mistake, Jeff warns, is an incorrect sprinkler head. For instance, you can’t use a RainBird sprinkler head in a Toro system.

“You’ve got to get the right head for the right spot, and have the right fittings,” Jeff said. Also, don’t install a stationary mister and rotating sprinkler head in the same zone. “It takes 20 minutes for a stationary mister to cover an area while it takes 75 minutes for a rotator,” he said. “You can’t put them in the same sprinkler zone.”

 Before you head out to shop for replacements for your sprinkler heads, identify:

  • The type of sprinkler head you need
  • The make (i.e. Rain Bird, Orbit, Hunter, Toro, etc.) and model
  • The size of the nozzle

Note: sprinklers with rotor heads come in different rotation patterns. Some rotate a full circle while others only a half-circle. It’s important to replace a broken rotor head with one that rotates in the right direction. Homeowners can order replacements online or at a local home improvement store.

The price range varies:

  • Stationary sprinkler heads: $2 to $15
  • Rotor sprinklers: $5 to $20
  • Pop-up sprinkler heads: $2 to $10
  • Pulsating sprinkler heads: $10 to $20
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How to Repair a Broken Sprinkler Riser

Another problem with sprinkler heads is a broken riser. If it’s broken, you’ll be able to pull the head out of the hole without unscrewing it. It’s a simple process to fix it with a sprinkler riser removal tool, available at a hardware store, and a new riser part.

Repair the riser following these instructions:

  • Remove the sprinkler head from the hole.
  • Remove the broken riser part down in the hole using the sprinkler riser removal tool. Push in to catch the threads and turn counterclockwise until it unscrews fully.
  • Pull the broken riser piece out of the hole and off the tool. Repeat with the broken piece inside the bottom of the sprinkler head.
  • Install the new riser by screwing it clockwise into the bottom of the sprinkler head. Put the head back into the hole, but don’t tighten yet.
  • Remove the top cap and pull out the insides. Turn your water on for a few seconds to flush out the line, then put the insides back and put the cap back on. 
  • Now you can screw the sprinkler head into the water line.

Here’s a look at how to fix the riser. 

Let’s Install New Sprinkler Heads

Once you’ve got the new sprinkler head and the right tools to install it you are ready to move on. STOP! Did you turn the water off? Go ahead, I’ll wait.

  • Dig out a 1- to 2-inch ring around the sprinkler carefully so you don’t hit the waterline.
  • Remove both dirt and sod and unscrew the sprinkler head using a counterclockwise motion.
  • Screw on the new head by threading it on the stem snugly, but don’t crank it down.
  • Fill the original dirt and sod back in around the head.
  • Set up the nozzle on the new head by lifting the cap and threading it on the stem.
  • Run the zone to ensure it’s working properly.

If the water pressure is off, you might have chosen the wrong sprinkler head. Drat. Back to the home improvement store – aren’t you glad you saved your receipt?

Here’s a look at how to install the sprinkler head.

Who’s Responsible for Sprinkler Head Damage?

If a lawn service breaks your sprinkler heads, are you responsible for the repair? In most cases, with residential lawn services, there isn’t a contract detailing things such as this. But many reputable lawn services will agree to cover the cost if they believe that the damage was their fault.

If you are hiring a company for lawn care service or landscaping, let them know you have a sprinkler system and where the sprinklers are located.

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How Your Sprinkler System Works

Photo Credit: Thangaraj Kumaravel / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Understanding how your sprinkler irrigation system works may be helpful. Most systems consist of the following:

  • A water supply pipe that’s connected to the main water source.
  • A ground-level valve box that’s divided into different underground irrigation zones.
  • Zone valves that control individual irrigation zones.
  • An electronic controller to manage the time/duration of the watering sessions.

Irrigation zones divide parts of your yard. For example, a home could have multiple zones in the front yard for lawn and flower beds, and additional zones in the back and side yard.

When a zone valve is open, water flows through the underground pipes and into the irrigation heads in that zone until the electronic controller shuts it off.

The most common problems people run into with their sprinkler system are:

  • Sprinkler zones not coming on.
  • Leaky zone valves.
  • Sprinkler heads with low water pressure.
  • Individual sprinkler heads don’t work.


Do I Need A Special Tool To Adjust My Sprinkler Heads?

Usually, sprinkler heads can be adjusted using a flathead screwdriver. There are exceptions for specialized rotor heads and adjustment tools. See your instructions with your sprinkler head.

What Causes Sprinkler Heads To Break?

Lawnmowers, aerators, vehicles, and mechanical issues are the most common causes of damage. Reduce the risk by installing your sprinkler heads at the correct height. To help prevent breakage in severe weather, you should winterize your sprinkler system.

What Is The Best Way To Identify Broken Sprinkler Heads?

You’ll see damaged plastic casings around the sprinkler head or nozzles that are broken off. Other tell-tale signs are wild streams of water or no water flowing at all.

Occasional Repair: the Price for a Great Lawn

Instead of getting soaked repairing your sprinkler heads, why not hire a sprinkler system expert? The cost ranges from around $2.50 to $30 for parts, plus labor. In DIY mode, you could pay that much for extra trips to the store and the proper tools, and save the aggravation.

No matter the fix, in most cases, sprinkler repair is a simple DIY job. The choice is easy — Great Dust Bowl plagues of grasshoppers — or a fresh, green lawn your neighbors will envy?

Main Image Credit: Ildar Sagdejev / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Jennifer Lester

Jennifer Lester

Jennifer Lester is a freelance writer and social media strategist who covers a variety of home and garden topics. She’s a graduate of Texas A&M University and the proud mom of three boys. In her spare time, she volunteers in her community and her children’s schools.