DEAR MIKE: My son was in the back yard playing soccer, and he must have hit a sprinkler head. The sprinkler now wobbles from side to side and when the water comes on it's like Old Faithful. How can I fix it? -- Jim B.
DEAR JIM: Teach your son to kick the ball next time -- not the sprinkler heads.
This is a common problem that usually is caused by a lawn mower that either runs into the sprinkler head or shears it off. As you have learned, children can be just as destructive as yard tools. It is very easy to fix. If you can screw in a light bulb, you can do this repair.
Either the sprinkler head has broken or, more likely, the riser has broken.
The riser connects the PVC pipe to the sprinkler head. Risers are short lengths of pipe that have male threads on each end. One side screws into the PVC pipe and the other side into the sprinkler head.
Unscrew the sprinkler head and inspect it for cracks near the base. If it has cracks, buy a new one.
When you unscrew the sprinkler head, the riser may come out with it, or more likely the riser will have broken in half. One half will come out with the sprinkler head, which will be easy to remove, and one half will be broken off inside the PVC. This one is a little tricky to remove.
Depending on the depth of the PVC, you may have access to it or you may have to dig around the sprinkler hole to gain room to work. The sprinkler hole is about two inches across and the broken riser you need to remove is only three-quarters of an inch.
If you are lucky, there will be a little stub of the broken riser sticking out of the PVC. If this is the case, grab it with some needle-nosed pliers and try to unscrew it. If this doesn't work or if the riser is completely broken off inside the PVC, buy a riser-removing tool. Yes, there is actually a tool made specifically for this purpose.
The tool is nothing more than a handle with a tapered cone on the bottom of it. Sticking out of the cone are some teeth that grab on to the broken riser as you back it out of the PVC. The tool works great as long as the teeth are still sharp and the riser is broken off flush with the PVC or there is a little of the riser above the PVC.
Stick the tool into the hole and bang on it so that the teeth grip the soft riser. Slowly unscrew it and remove the riser.
If the riser is deep inside the PVC, you will have to get creative. Since the tool is tapered, it may not be able to grip a riser that is too far down into the hole. In this case, jam the tool at an angle into the inside wall of the broken riser. Instead of unscrewing the tool, slowly rotate the entire tool counter-clockwise. You want the teeth to wedge into the riser and gradually back the riser out.
If all this fails, use a utility knife and score the inside of the riser. Grab a small standard screwdriver and pry the riser away from the walls of the PVC. You can damage the riser all you want, but be careful not to damage the threads of the PVC. Once you have pried the riser away from the PVC, you can pull it out or unscrew it.
Buy a new riser, cut it to length and screw it into the PVC. Turn the sprinkler station on and blow any debris out of the line, and then screw the sprinkler head back on.
If your sprinkler head breaks frequently, it is probably too high. When you replace the riser, buy one only about an inch tall. This will allow the sprinkler to sit lower. That way the neighborhood soccer stars can kick the ball, too.