How to Replace a Sprinkler Head on an In-Ground Sprinkler System

Keep your lawn looking great—and save cash, too—by swapping out broken or worn sprinkler heads with new ones.

By Theresa Clement and Timothy Dale and Bob Vila | Updated Nov 28, 2021 4:30 PM

sprinkler head replacement

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A working sprinkler head can be key to maintaining a healthy and well-watered landscape. Your lush lawn demands regular watering, and you likely rely on a sprinkler system for that. Trouble is, even dependable in-ground sprinkler systems don’t last forever; the parts are all too easy to damage with your mower, or they may simply get cracked and worn over time. Signs that a sprinkler head needs replacing include low water pressure, frequent leaks, and a poor or nonexistent spray.

When a sprinkler head is shot, you’ll save cash tackling the replacement yourself: The head will run you no more than $20, while hiring a pro for the job ranges between $75 and $250. Although installing a sprinkler head is a fairly simple DIY task, requiring a few basic tools and no plumbing experience, it’s important to know how to replace a sprinkler head. So keep green on your lawn and in your pocket by following these six simple steps for sprinkler head replacement.

STEP 1: Shop for the right replacement sprinkler head.

The first step in how to change a sprinkler head involves finding a replacement. Choosing the wrong replacement for the sprinkler head can result in an overwatered or under-watered section of lawn and may interfere with the performance of the other sprinkler heads you’ve installed nearby. Fortunately, the top of the existing sprinkler head should contain all the information needed to find a new head that matches.

Check whether the current sprinkler head is a pop-up or impact sprinkler head; pop-up heads must be further identified as stationary, rotor-driven, or gear-driven. The replacement head needn’t be the same brand as the previous head, but it must be the same type.

The next specifications to identify are the inches-per-hour (iph) or gallons-per-minute (gpm) delivery rate, the spray pattern, and the throwing distance. If any specs are missing from the top of the old sprinkler head, you’re likely to find the info on the side of the head after you remove it (details below). Failing this, reference the brand and part number on the manufacturer’s website to find the needed specifications.

New sprinkler heads can be bought at local home improvement stores or online. If the exact specs of the sprinkler are still unclear, bring the old head to the store and compare it to new heads, consulting an experienced store employee for advice.

STEP 2: Dig up the broken sprinkler head.

After finding the right replacement, it’s time to start the sprinkler head repair. Sprinkler heads sit just below or flush with the ground, so a sturdy trowel is typically suitable for digging up the head.

Remove the sod or patch of grass around the head carefully so that it can be replaced later. Then dig a hole about 6 inches deep and a foot in diameter around the broken sprinkler head, taking care not to puncture the water line with your trowel. Place the soil in a container so it can easily be replaced but poses no risk of getting knocked into the open water line.

Check to ensure that the water line isn’t damaged. If there is a leak or rupture in the line, the poor performance may be with the plumbing service and not the sprinkler head. In this case, ask a plumber to locate and repair the issue.

sprinkler head replacement

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STEP 3: Unscrew the old sprinkler head.

The sprinkler head sits on a small pipe, called a riser, that connects the head to the water line. Unscrew the sprinkler head from the riser by twisting counterclockwise. If the sprinkler head riser comes off the water line with the sprinkler head, detach the two parts carefully. There should be plumber’s tape or pipe thread sealant on the riser, which is used to fill any excess space between the male threads of the riser and the female threads of the sprinkler head, lowering the chance of a leak.

Remove the sealant or tape, and inspect the thread pattern on the riser. If the threads are cracked, aggressively worn, or appear misaligned, the riser will need to be replaced. If the riser looks fine, apply new thread seal tape and reattach the riser to the water pipe, taking care to avoid knocking dirt into the open water line.

If the riser is damaged, the good news is that replacing sprinkler head risers is easy. If the riser came out with the sprinkler head, simply buy a new riser that matches the length and diameter of the broken one. Apply thread seal tape to both ends and screw in the new riser. If the riser broke when taking out the sprinkler head, remove it with a riser removal T-tool and then replace with a new riser.

STEP 4: Attach the sprinkler head replacement.

The next step in changing sprinkler heads is attaching the new sprinkler head. The riser should now be in place with thread seal tape wrapped around the threads. Turn on the water to the system to flush out any dirt that may have fallen into the pipe. A flexible garden hose can be placed over the riser to redirect water into a nearby drain during this process.

Turn off the water and screw the new sprinkler head onto the riser in a clockwise motion, tightening by hand until it is secure and pointing in the desired direction. Some sprinklers spray in a 360-degree pattern, while others spray in a 180-degree pattern.

sprinkler head replacement

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STEP 5: Test the new sprinkler head.

Turn the system on and observe the new head for about a minute to test for functionality and any leaks around the riser and sprinkler head. If there appears to be a leak, turn off the system and tighten the sprinkler head or reapply thread seal tape for a snugger fit. Test the system again for leaks. If the sprinkler system involves smart sprinkler controls, make sure to test all of the functions on the controller.

Also check the height of the sprinkler head in comparison to the others on your lawn. If the correct sprinkler head was purchased, it should sit at the same height as the other heads. Not only must the sprinkler head be low enough to avoid damage from mower blades, but a uniform head height also ensures the most accurate spray pattern for the lawn.

If the new head doesn’t align with the others, try tightening it further. Or, if the riser was also replaced, check the length of the new riser against the old one for height consistency. If there’s a discrepancy, the new riser will need to be replaced—the reason why it’s crucial to measure the old riser before replacing it. Finally, ensure that the sprinkler sprays in the desired direction. If not, tighten the sprinkler head until it is spraying in the correct direction.

sprinkler head replacement

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STEP 6: Fill the hole around the sprinkler.

Once the new sprinkler head is functioning properly, fill in the hole by shoveling the dirt back into the opening with the trowel, making sure to spread it evenly across the base. Tamp the loose dirt down flat with your hand, foot, or the back of the trowel.

If the sod was removed in one piece, it should be easy to add after you replace a sprinkler head, sitting it on top of the dirt around the irrigation fixture. Tamp it down and water it immediately to help the lawn reestablish its roots. If the turf was damaged during removal, spread new grass seed on the ground around the sprinkler head and fertilize it to aid growth. Avoid walking around the new sprinkler head for a few weeks so that grass can reestablish itself.

sprinkler head replacement testing

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FAQs About How to Replace a Sprinkler Head

Now that you’ve read the steps involved in how to replace a sprinkler head nozzle, there may be new or lingering questions about the process. Below are answers to some of the most common questions about how to fix a sprinkler head. One of these answers may be what you need to get started on your project.

Q. How do you know if your sprinkler head is broken?

If you are noticing low water pressure, frequent leaks, and a poor or nonexistent spray, the sprinkler head may be broken. It’s also important to check the sprinkler pump and underground pipes for other possible causes for these issues, such as leaks.

Q. Are sprinkler heads universal?

Unfortunately, lawn sprinkler systems and sprinkler heads are not universal. The top of a sprinkler head usually has the information needed to find a replacement. A sprinkler head can be a pop-up or impact sprinkler head. Pop-up heads are also stationary, rotor-driven, or gear-driven.

Q. How many sprinkler heads can you put on a zone?

The number of sprinkler heads per zone depends on the size of the zone, the kind of sprinkler, and the watering needs of the plants in the zone. To figure out how many sprinkler heads your system can support, divide the system’s total gallons per minute by the sprinkler head’s flow rate.

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