When you live on ten acres in rural south Salem, there's always something going wrong. I am that "you," along with my wife, so I know what I'm talking about.
OK, not always, because that would be 24/7. But definitely things go wrong often.
Which happened a couple of weeks ago when we noticed that two of our sprinklers were mysteriously running longer than they should have.
In fact, they wouldn't shut off at all. So I had to turn off the water to the entire sprinkler system while we figured out what the problem was. A control valve, obviously, which I had neither the competence nor the interest to fix myself.
Plus, there was another problem in addition to the stuck-on sprinkler problem.
We weren't sure that we knew where the valve box was. The green-lidded in-ground boxes that were visible weren't close to the malfunctioning sprinklers, which worried me. I became even more worried when neither my wife nor I could find a map that we'd made of the valve boxes, even after looking for a long time.
So here's a lesson for both us and anyone reading this post. Don't lose track of your sprinkler valve boxes.
This being July, the first sprinkler repair companies I called in the Salem, Oregon area all said that they were scheduling at least two weeks out. However, I got lucky after I left a message with Abiqua Irrigation and Backflow. Someone had cancelled an estimate appointment, so Dustin could come out on Monday of the following week.
I'd mentioned that we weren't sure of where the valve box was, so Dustin of Abiqua Irrigation brought a gadget that senses either the ground wire or a live wire in a sprinkler system. He hooked up a gizmo to the controller box in our garage, then set out to trace a wire to the missing valve box.
We knew it was missing, because Dustin turned on and off each of the valves in the boxes we knew about. None of them were connected to the stuck-on sprinklers.
Dustin looked and looked, for about two hours. The beeping machine indicated some possibilities, but when we dug and probed, there was no valve box. He didn't charge me for his time, since he didn't find the valve box, which I thought was very generous. I then called a landscape company that we'd used to design and build our small water feature.
I was told that whenever they can't locate a sprinkler box, they use Dan's Leak Detection. It turned out that in addition to finding a leak, Dan also can locate missing sprinkler valve boxes.
When he came out to our yard, Dan used the same approach Dustin had, though he had a different variety of wire tracer that could indicate how deep a wire was buried. Strangely, though, Dan spent over half an hour looking for the valve box, focusing on the same area of our yard that Dustin and I had zeroed in on. An island surrounded by grass.
It's weird that both Dan and Dustin couldn't trace the wires that lead to the missing valve box, since they said their success rate is high. My theory is that because we have a well with very high iron and magnesium content, and the sprinkler system uses that untreated water, somehow the electrical signal got confused by the mineral rich soil.
Regardless, Dan had to go to his backup approach.
A gadget that, when connected to a certain zone in the control box, forces the valve capacitor to turn on and off rapidly, 150 times a minute, I believe. Dan had a headphone device ready to use, but the noise of the capacitor was so loud, we could tell exactly where the missing box was.
And not only one missing box, but two other missing valve boxes, one of which was near the malfunctioning valve. They'd gotten grown over with grass, and we'd lost track of them.
So Dan's Leak Detection saved the day by finding the missing valve boxes. I then called Dustin at Abiqua Irrigation and asked him to come back and replace the innards of the malfunctioning valve, which he did today, accompanied by his son.
Both Abiqua Irrigation and Dan's Leak Detection are small family-owned businesses, where family members work. I can recommend both highly. Dustin and Dan were pleasant, friendly, open, honest, and on-time.
It was frustrating to lose track of the valve boxes, but not that we've found them, we're going to use maps and photos to make sure that we never lose them again. Yeah, us old people can learn new tricks.