Monthly Archives: July 2011

Sprinkler System Infinite Resistance

Well last night, my lovely wife remembered an event from last year. “Remember when your Mom and I were gardening and we cut a wire, but we thought it was a telephone wire? Could that be the sprinkler wire?” A lead! Although, if it were a telephone were that should have been noticed by some angry resident. Also there is no sense why it would be alone.

Went out this morning to take a look at this telephone wire and sure enough it’s the sprinkler wire. Why they decided to lay it going around the entire back yard, I don’t know but now I need to connect them with some weather proof connectors.

That difficult fix was made a lot easier by identifying the problem!

Now to figure out why 2 zones don’t kick on manually.

Canvas and JS Early Work

Re-purposing code is one of my strengths.  As is the case, here is my current HTML5 piece of work.  It’s really not much, but it’s a start. I’m attempting to make an isometric browser game. The sourceforge site can be found here:  Ultimately, I want it to be a cross of Majesty and SimCity2000.  That. Is. A. Long. Way. Off.  If you want to learn some HTML5/JS or have an interest in making Isometric pixel art, this is the outlet for you.  Next goal is using png images instead of drawing each rect.  Then it will be mouse interactions.  Then it will be “selecting” tiles.  Then it will be scrolling.  Then it will be scrolling a very large map using JSON and chunking.  Then more things, but I figure that’s a good start.  Here is the “tech” demo I have so far:

Water and Electricty

I had briefly alluded to this in the previous post, but it’s really the main reason I’ve had so much attention on my irrigation system lately:  I’ve got no electricity in my water!

Well, not exactly…but electricity is not flowing which means water isn’t flowing to my very thirsty lawn.

It started earlier in the season when I was trying to start up the system and manually test zones.  The weather decided it was going to rain until about mid June.  It also seemed to rain every weekend.  This meant the rain sensor was always activated when I was home and the controller would not fire any zone, even if triggered manually.  This was frustrating.  (Looking back it may not have worked due to all of the problems I am having now. Read further to understand.)

The logical step was to bypass the sensor.  At the time it didn’t appear to do anything.  Frustration increased.  I had had it up to ~points to chest~ here.  If the bypass wasn’t going to work, I’d bypass it the old fashioned way by unplugging the rain sensor.

This turned out to be possibly a bad idea.  After unplugging the rain sensor it became apparent that the controller would no longer turn on.  Further investigation revealed that the wiring job inside the controller was a pretty terrible hack job.  At this point I assumed I fried the controller and didn’t want to bother to troubleshoot it as I wanted a different controller anyway.  (Upon further thought, I may have fried the outlet or something.  Power strips don’t seem to work in the outlet, but the refrigerator we have does.  I’m nervous that the ground isn’t working properly.  Some one please illuminate me on this one.)

I went out and purchased an EtherRain with the intention of integrating it into a home automation system.  For this to work I had to convert my current redundant router into a client bridge that would allow the Irrigation Controller to exist on the home network.  This in itself is another post; for now just know that it went smooth and you need to run the Ether Admin application on a 32 bit machine.

With the zones hooked up to the EtherRain, I decided to give it a go.  I found that 2 zones were able to be activated from the controller and 5 appeared dead.

Group 1 didn’t work, Group 2 had 2 of 3 working and Group 3 didn’t respond at all.

Elizabeth’s dad was over and showed me how to activate the zones manually.  This would prove invaluable in my troubleshooting experience.  I was able to narrow down which zones were not working due to bad solenoids/wiring and which zones likely had a bad jar valve or diaphragm.

I now believe that group 2 has a bad solenoid and group 3 has a bad common wire connection.  Group 1 for some reason started working after I fixed the sprinkler heads.  This made no sense, but I’ll take what I can get.  In addition to not responding to electricity group 3 has a zone that has ceased to respond to manual activation.  I actually shut of the water line to the entire sprinkler system and took apart the jar valve for this misbehaving zone.  I could see no issue.  I believe that there is something plugging the pipe, bad diaphragm, bad solenoid or a leak in the pipe underground some where.  I have no idea how to cheaply test these hypothesis.

Hopefully the heat abates and I can get the multimeter on the wires this weekend and try to figure out if there is indeed a break in the wire to group 3.  I don’t know how much I can figure out as the zones didn’t respond to a DIY zone activator.  (This removes the controller from the equation and gives guaranteed voltage to the circuit.)

It’s at this point that I am debating hiring a professional to finish the job.  If it turns out that there is a short or a cut in the wire somewhere, I certainly do not want to have to lay the new wire.  A number of the heads need to be readjusted (dugout and repositioned) and due to foliage growth new sprinkler heads should be added to the system and some nozzle changes are needed.  (If you read the previous post you know that most likely means changing the sprinkler head itself due to outdated parts.)  It’s starting to look like a serious task that is a bit beyond my desired involvement.

If anyone has some basic wiring skills, I could certainly use the help this weekend.  I’m going to give it one more go before I break down call a professional.  We are currently manually activating each zone to water the lawn and that needs to come to an end.

Sprinkler Systems

Today I successfully replaced a sprinkler head. It was not as easy as I had assumed it would be and it is merely the first step in my task of fixing my busted irrigation system.

I pre-home-depoted todays task. I picked up a shovel, some 9V batteries, a solenoid and some water proof wire, to be technical, “thingys”. The shovel was useful for about 10 seconds when I removed the sod. The 9Vs helped me test individual zones to help rule out the new controller as the source of my troubles. The solenoid remains unopened as well as the wire thingys.

My first effort had me left with the top of the sprinkler head exposed. Seeing as how the sprinkler head itself was fine and the nozzle is all that broke (I was learning as I went along), I figured I could make a second run to home depot and pick up a new nozzle. My day was looking really easy at this point.

I gathered the inner part of the sprinkler head where the nozzle would attach and was off back to Home Depot. Home Depot had exactly two brands of irrigation products: Orbits and Toro. I was happy to see Toro as 50% of the equipment in my set up is Toro. I was less happy when I found that there were no nozzles at Home Depot that fit my existing head. It was a serious debacle of male vs. female heads. I guess male is the new hotness. This meant that I would have to install a new head.


I found a suitable head based on spray pattern. Picked a thread size and prayed that it would fit in the existing set up. (You’re supposed to bring the head in to make sure the threads match up.) I picked up an adapter just in case I wasn’t lucky. I also picked up a multimeter because 3/7 of my zones don’t respond to power and I am determined to find out why.  The last item I decided to pick up was a hand trowel with serrated edges on one side and a knife like edge on the other.  I had seen where I was going and I was not going to take that journey unarmed.

The first step to changing a sprinkler head is to dig down below the existing head’s base. This is usually a simple task. The hardest part being that you must avoid destroying the mysterious and fragile source pipe. My effort in this task was made ever more difficult due to the fact that this sprinkler head was entwined within the root system of a near by tree.Now you know why I purchased my unique trowel. Let’s just say that it took me the better part of the afternoon to find the bottom of the existing sprinkler head and I hope the tree lives.

Eventually I found the mysterious source pipe and proceeded to dig some more. You are supposed to dig a little under neath and around to make your life easier. I couldn’t stand digging through a thicket of roots anymore. At this point I said “what the hell” and unscrewed the existing head. First I checked the threads and thank goodness the head I purchased would work perfectly. While checking the threads I failed to notice that water was boiling up from the source pipe. This made sense of course as the head I was working on was the lowest head of the zone and would naturally be where any remaining water would flow. This wouldn’t be a problem if my hole wasn’t just big enough to replace the head. Dirt found it’s way into the source pipe and my work zone was soon underwater.

I decided it was a wise idea to dig some more to give the water an escape path. In addition I needed to jettison the dirt in the source tube or it would clog the screen on the new head and render my entire efforts wasted. I screwed the old head back on. It was nothing more than a 4 inch piece of PVC pipe now and I was hoping it would guide as much of the water up and away from the hole so as to not increase the amount of water in my workzone. Upon manually activating the zone I realized this was a pipe dream.  (Pun?) Without the nozzle, the head became more of a slow boiling exit for the water. It used to geyser up about 3-4 feet. After a few seconds I shut the zone back off.

I now had a 6 inch deep and 4 inch in diameter hole filled with water. I could tell that no new water was filling my work zone so I looked for a way to get the water out of the hole. A quick jump inside and I had a plastic cup. For about 5-10 minutes I used the cup to bail out the water. Eventually most of the head was exposed and the water level was at a workable depth. I unscrewed the old head and then screwed the new head in

Success!  I have 3 eggs – Q.E.D. I have 3 chickens.

Being the smart person that I am, I quickly headed over to the control valve to give it a test before filling in the hole.

I turn it on. Run over to find that the nozzle has popped up but no water is coming out. Son of a… I recall that there is a screw on top that controls something to do with water. At this point I was really just guessing. I start turning the screw and something seems to be happening but no water is coming out. Just a couple more turns.


Nozzle goes whizzing past my face, screen comes bubbling out. I drop my tiny screwdriver and make a b-line for the control valve as I have a geyser again. At this point I really think I just wasted money on this sprinkler head and will have to go buy a new one. I attempt to put the nozzle back in and solve the mystery of the tiny screw. It was at this time that I realized I no longer have my tiny screwdriver. Another 3 minutes is lost as I find that I tossed it towards the base of the tree during my moment of self defense. The tiny screw driver does nothing so I head in to get a slightly bigger screwdriver.

The problem was that I could not unscrew the screw that I had screwed so well.  I know it needs to come back out but it seems I may be…screwed.  A moments pause and some investigative flipping, I eventually find out that the tiny screw has a much bigger screw head on the bottom side and I am able to retrieve what was assumed to be lost.

After some tinkering I finally figure out that the nozzle and the screw are partially unrelated.  The nozzle needs to be opened to the desired spray pattern and the screw seems to affect flow.  With everything sorted out I replace the nozzle, adjust it to the desired 90 degree pattern and reactivate the zone.

Great Success!

It is by far the best performing head in the zone now. I looked around the zone and noticed other nozzles that were not working and set to fixing them. Now all nozzles in the zone are working great.

At this point I refilled the hole and made sure that the new nozzle could clear the grass. Done and done.

Next post I’ll talk about my electricity issues. Speaking of…it’s quite the storm out right now.