Coughing Sprinklers? What You Need To Know

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When a sprinkler head sputters during operation, it's known as a coughing sprinkler head. It's not a concern if it only happens for a couple of seconds when the sprinklers begin running, but it can be a major issue if it affects the sprinkler head through its entire irrigation cycle.


A coughing sprinkler head won't spray water as far as it is supposed to. It may also fail to deliver the amount of water desired. The result is browning, under-irrigated grass in the area surrounding the affected sprinkler. Depending on the cause of the coughing, it may also affect water delivery to the sprinkler heads further down line from the one that is coughing. This can lead to a lack of water and dead grass over an even greater area.

Depending on the cause of the coughing and sputtering, there could also be damage occurring to the water supply lines or the sprinkler head. Obstructions, for example, can cause pressure buildup in the line that will eventually cause it to spring a leak. 


A few different issues can cause coughing in a sprinkler head. Sometimes the problem is something as simple as soil or other debris stuck in the sprinkler head emitter or in the line itself. Damage to a sprinkler head can also lead to coughing and sputtering.

More often, pressure issues or air in the line are causing coughing symptoms. A failed water pressure regulator on the sprinkler lines can lead to sputtering, as can a leak near the valve and line gasket that is allowing air to get into the line.

Repair Options

Repair starts with an inspection of the easiest component to repair — the sprinkler head. The sprinkler head must be cleaned to make sure there is no debris in it, then it will be inspected for cracks or other types of damage. If damaged, then a simple and inexpensive replacement will solve the problem.

The next place to check is in the sprinkler valve control box. Your sprinkler tech will test the valves for leaks. Gaskets or valve handles may require replacement. Then they will test and replace the pressure regulator, if necessary. If there are no issues in the valve box, then there may be a leak in the sprinkler line. The line will need to be replaced in order to solve the problem. 

For more information, contact a company like A Ronnow Lawn Sprinkler, Inc.