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Thread: Efficient ways to trace buried sprinker lines?

  1. #1
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    Efficient ways to trace buried sprinker lines?

    Is there a an efficient way to trace the path of buried PVC sprinkler lines?

    At a friend's house, there is an old sprinkler system that nobody knows anything about. The location of the electronic timer and the location of a box in the ground with one electric valve in it are known. The location of the sprinkler heads are known. However it's unknown where the rest of the electric valves are and where the sprinkler lines connect to the main water supply.

    As far as having a sprinkler system, the best solution for my friend is to install a completely new one. However, I wonder how "the pros" go about tracing sprinkler lines when they need to. I might try their methods, just out of curiosity.

  2. #2
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    Maybe turn them on and use a spike to listen for flow. You could use a battery operated fox and hound to trace the control wires.
    Bil lD

  3. #3
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    If they are electric low voltage wire buried you can use a pipe horn if you know anyone who has one. I don't know if you can rent one anywhere.
    SWE

  4. #4
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    seems like something you could train a dog to listen for.
    Bil lD

  5. #5
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    PVC pipe tends to get laid in more-or-less straight lines, and minimizing the amount of trench to be dug factors high in the planning. Just dig around each head and see what direction the pipes come from...connect the dots.

    The connection to the supply will be near either (1) where the supply enters the house or (2) a hose bib. (I have two, one of each.) The valves will be between that/those spot(s) and the first head in the circuit. (My preference is to have them all as close to the supply as possible to minimize the amount of pipe under constant pressure.)
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  6. #6
    make a couple of divining rods out of some welding rod. The results might surprise you.

    When I was a kid I watched a guy find a water main and tee valve alongside a dirt road with them, the hole he dug down was right on the money...
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  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kev Williams View Post
    make a couple of divining rods out of some welding rod. The results might surprise you.

    When I was a kid I watched a guy find a water main and tee valve alongside a dirt road with them, the hole he dug down was right on the money...
    You can also use a couple of old coat hangers bent in a "L" shape. I have some that a phone technician left on our property that are made from heavy gauge copper that work really well. Hold them in loosely your hands with one leg of the L pointing straight out ahead and level to the ground. The piece in your hand should point down. As you walk over a water line the wires will swing in toward each other and then separate as you walk past the water line. You may also find electrical lines this way. It is spooky, but it works.
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  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bill Dufour View Post
    Maybe turn them on and use a spike to listen for flow. You could use a battery operated fox and hound to trace the control wires.
    Bil lD
    On the one electric valve that can be found, I unscrewed the bleed screw all the way and no water appeared anywhere. So I think there is no water in the system. The control box has power to it and it sends power to wires connected to it, but nothing happens.


    Quote Originally Posted by Lee DeRaud View Post
    PVC pipe tends to get laid in more-or-less straight lines, and minimizing the amount of trench to be dug factors high in the planning. Just dig around each head and see what direction the pipes come from...connect the dots.
    We've done this around several sprinker heads. However, in the yard in question, this is tough work. The soil is hard, dried clay.


    The connection to the supply will be near either (1) where the supply enters the house or (2) a hose bib.
    It's definitely not at a hose bib. As is the custom in local houses from the 1950's, the man water line probably runs parallel to the main sewer line. The city's water meter box is located near the sidewalk at the front of the house. There are sewer clean outs near the front wall of the house. The path between the box and the cleanouts is about 35 ft long. We see no box for a water valve along this path.

    The control box is mounted outside on the back wall of the house. The one electric valve we've found is in the backyard.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by Steve Eure View Post
    If they are electric low voltage wire buried you can use a pipe horn if you know anyone who has one. I don't know if you can rent one anywhere.

    That's an interesting idea. The control box sends 24 V AC to wires connected to it. Can you post a link to a type of "pipe horn" that can detect that?

  10. #10
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    A utility locating service can locate anything with a wire underground. It's not terribly expensive either.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Stephen Tashiro View Post
    On the one electric valve that can be found, I unscrewed the bleed screw all the way and no water appeared anywhere. So I think there is no water in the system. The control box has power to it and it sends power to wires connected to it, but nothing happens.
    That sounds suspiciously like there's a (manual) master shutoff valve for the system somewhere, presumably right at the supply connection. You really need to find that...if there's a basement/crawlspace, it may be inside.

    First step in the diagnosis is seeing if there is 24V coming out of the controller, then cycle through the circuits and check for 24V at the one valve.

    Quote Originally Posted by Stephen Tashiro View Post
    We've done this around several sprinker heads. However, in the yard in question, this is tough work. The soil is hard, dried clay.
    Well, look at it this way: it's way easier than a new install is going to be.
    Yoga class makes me feel like a total stud, mostly because I'm about as flexible as a 2x4.
    "Design"? Possibly. "Intelligent"? Sure doesn't look like it from this angle.
    We used to be hunter gatherers. Now we're shopper borrowers.
    The three most important words in the English language: "Front Towards Enemy".
    The world makes a lot more sense when you remember that Butthead was the smart one.
    You can never be too rich, too thin, or have too much ammo.

  12. #12
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    Two metal coat hangers will find water lines, electric lines and telephone lines. Watch some you-tube videos. I have tried it and it works.
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  13. #13
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    If you slice off a streak of sod with a square point shovel, you can see where an old trench is, and then lay the sod back in place. In an extreme case of finding a water line, I scraped the top off of the ground with my loader bucket in a driveway. It turned out that water line went into the next door neighbor's yard, and then came back in. Fortunately, that was under a gravel driveway, so I just spread the gravel back out when we finished. That line was nowhere close to where anyone thought it was.

  14. yep two pieces of steel wire about 28 or 30 inches long. bent with a 4 inch "L" on each. hold one in each fist with your hands together and the wire extending straight out parallel and sllghtly down ward. When you walk over a buried line or place where the ground had been disturbed the wires will swing, either apart or to cross each other. I learned this trick when I was a kid 60 years ago. I found buried water lines for people, found septic tanks, buried electrical lines etc. It works for most people and No I don't have a clue why, but I have shown many how to do it. What's fun is when the doubters try it and it works. Some say it is dousing to find water. It isn't. It finds where trenches or holes have been dug. Heck it is fun just to show the kids. My 6th grade teacher swore it was BS. I took two wire rods to school and demonstrated it as well as found where the water line came from the street and under the playground to the school. He pulled out the old design plans and I was on the money. Heck teach kids to do it. They need to believe in something without a solid explanation.

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kev Williams View Post
    make a couple of divining rods out of some welding rod. The results might surprise you.

    When I was a kid I watched a guy find a water main and tee valve alongside a dirt road with them, the hole he dug down was right on the money...
    My neighbor can trace water lines with divining rods. He uses copper, bent in an "L" shape. I watched a utility guy locate a water line like that too. I couldn't make it work.
    I don't think it will work unless the lines are full of water, perhaps an issue for an unused sprinkler system.

    I did watch a cemetery custodian use two divining rods to locate my grandmother's grave. I tried it and that worked for me. When the rods moved it felt like magic.

    JKJ

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