Causes & Fixes If Your Sprinkler Heads Aren’t Popping Up

Kenneth Wilson

Pop-up sprinklers are considered one of the most popular options in many residences for two good reasons: It rests flush against the ground, and it doesn't disrupt the visual aesthetic of your lawn.

Not only that, but pop-up sprinkler heads also have the nozzle on top, which only "pops up" when it's turned on. It then retracts accordingly upon shutting it off. If you turn on the sprinklers and a couple of sprinkler heads fail to pop up– there might be underlying problems you need to address. This includes a leak in the waterline, a broken sprinkler head, or dirt/debris clogging.

Let's discuss every possible cause (along with the fixes), so you can repair your pop-up sprinkler heads to be fully functioning once again.

Why Won’t My Sprinkler Head Pop Up?

In most instances where one (or a few) sprinkler heads cannot properly pop up– this suggests underlying issues in many parts of the irrigation system.

We’ve compiled the most common reasons why a sprinkler head won’t pop up as follows:

  • Clogging issues due to dirt/debris build-up
  • Low zone water pressure
  • A possible break or leak in the waterline
  • A crack in the sprinkler head
  • New construction or water supply issues

Cause # 1: Dirty Sprinkler Head (Clogging)

The first thing you can check upon finding out one or two sprinkler heads won't pop up is the dirt clogging. If you're lucky, the sprinklers may be simply clogged with dirt or debris, which is why they can't rise out of the ground.

We're emphasizing the "lucky" part as the solution to this problem is a relatively easy fix, especially if you compare it to the other ones.

The Fix:

Clean the sprinkler head as well as the plastic screen basket. Another effective way to get rid of the blockage is to press the sprinkler head down with your foot while it is turned on. Force it all the way (as much as you can) into the sprinkler's body. Afterward, pull the pop-up riser manually.

You may need to repeat this process several times to loosen and eliminate any trapped debris in the sprinkler head. That said, expect that this fix can be rather messy– and you will undoubtedly get wet in the process.

Cause # 2: Low Water Pressure

The following probable reason that a sprinkler head won't pop up completely is the lack of water pressure in the zone. Generally, low water pressure is a probable cause that keeps your sprinkler heads buried in the ground.

And if one of the valves in the system is partially/wholly closed, it results in low water pressure for a specific zone.

The Fix:

The good news is this can be easy to diagnose. You will only need to check all the valves to ensure they are completely open, including the ones on the backflow device and the main shutoff one. Turn the valves counterclockwise to ensure they are all open. The completely open valves tend to give a high water pressure level. (Related: Step-by-Step Guide: How to Replace Sprinkler Valve)

Cause # 3: Possible Leak in the Water Line

Any break or leak in the waterline may also lead to low water pressure disabling the heads from popping up correctly. If inadequate water reaches the sprinkler head, it cannot rise from the ground.

A telling sign of a potential leak is low, wet, or muddy areas on your lawn despite dry weather. If you see a visible greener section in your yard or a drastic increase in your usual water bill, it may also suggest a potent leak or break.

The Fix:

Although you can attempt to fix this issue by yourself, locating the sprinkler leak can be challenging if you don't have the proper tools or expertise to do so. Keep in mind that most of the irrigation system is located underground, making it challenging to find the exact spot of the crack.

Suppose you find the leak spot in the waterline. In that case, you will then need to dig out the area to expose the problematic pipe. Use a hand saw to remove the spot and replace it with a brand new PVC pipe.

Important note: If you're not entirely confident in your DIY skills, it may be best to hire a local professional to handle the replacement process.

Cause # 4: Broken or Cracked Sprinkler Head

Another common reason your pop-up sprinkler heads cannot function correctly is that they may be broken or cracked. A broken sprinkler head won't pop up even with solid water pressure. If this is the case, the sprinkler heads may even seep in the water despite being shut off.

The Fix:

Fortunately, it is straightforward to determine the presence of broken sprinkler heads. Start by inspecting the sprinklers for any broken plastic debris, cracked pieces, or heads that stubbornly refuse to rise. Cracked or broken sprinkler heads must be replaced with a new model accordingly. You may want to talk to a local technician to determine the best options to consider.

Cause # 5: New Construction or Water Supply Problem

Lastly, new construction or water supply issues can be another plausible reason your sprinkler heads won't pop up. Water may be diverted away from your property due to an increased demand to serve more homes. Or, there may be a problem with the local water supply.

The Fix:

If you find yourself in this situation, your neighbors are also most likely suffering from the same problems. You may want to make a quick call to your local water company to help diagnose and address the issue at hand.

Should I Hire a Professional to Fix my Stubborn Sprinkler Heads?

Homeowners who want to attempt a DIY sprinkler head repair may succeed in finding the leak and making the correct fix– but it will be tough to find the exact cracked or broken water line spot.

Remember that the majority of your irrigation system is buried under the ground. Even if you find the right spot, you will need to dig out the area (carefully, at that) to avoid worsening the problem at hand. You will also need tools such as a hand saw to cut the broken section and replace it with a new PVC pipe.

If any of that sounds overwhelming, you may be better off hiring a professional to get the job done correctly. A local licensed irrigation specialist can help you diagnose the cause of your particular sprinkler head problem and make the necessary repairs. Always address the issue ASAP before a seemingly simple problem leads to multiple more significant issues. This way, you can keep your lawn healthy and avoid paying expensive water bills.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What’s the best time to water my lawn?

Early morning is often the best time to water your lawn (between 2:00 a.m and 5:00 a.m) because it is the time when the wind is minimal. Aside from preventing the water from evaporating, the dew will also provide you with added moisture which can help you save some money. Lawn disease can also be avoided when you run your sprinkler system in the morning because your lawn gets a chance to dry throughout the day.

How much does a lawn sprinkler system typically cost?

A four-zone sprinkler system may typically cost $3,000, which can already offer you a comprehensive and targeted watering capability for your entire lawn. You may also choose to add extra features with an additional cost, from a WiFi controller for $155 to a flow control sensor for $275 to $650.

Why do I need 6-inch heads for turf areas?

Floratam St. Augustine grass is the most common type of grass for many homes today. And this type of grass should be maintained at 4 to 4.5 inches high. It is ideal for your lawn sprinkler system to have 6-inch heads and not 4-inch because they ascend higher to clear taller grass.

Kenneth Wilson
February 12, 2022
Contractor Tips, Yard & Garden

Kenneth Wilson

Retired contractor. Currently residing in Southwest Florida. Now in semi-retirement, I write and manage this blog focused on helping home owners make savvy decisions when it comes to finding contractors and getting their projects done. I also operate remodeling design service for homeowners.

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