How to Find The Underground Sprinkler Wires Without Digging?

How to Find The Underground Sprinkler Wires Without Digging?

Table of content
- Why we need to find the sprinkler wires
- How to locate underground irrigation pipes without digging?
- Discussion about irrigation systems
- Exploring the dimensions of “Sprinkler Irrigation” in detail

Irrigation systems are defined as a systematic way of distributing water to various fields using smart technology. Irrigation is necessary to support dry areas or areas where rain expectancy is low and extra water is required to keep the fields green and alive. There're three major types of irrigation systems, the surface irrigation, sprinkler irrigation/underground irrigation, and micro or drip irrigation.

Why we need to find the sprinkler wires

  • Scheduled maintenance. This could be the foremost reason you would want to know about the whole buried system. Scheduled are not only necessary but increase the life expectancy of the whole system.
  • Dry landscape. Defective UG sprinkler system will be the trigger point to locate and isolate the faulty area. You would definitely opt to go for the whole map to avoid any unfavorable damage to the system. 
  • Low pressure in certain areas. If you experience low pressure at certain sprinklers, you would go for inspection of the neighboring pipes, valves and sprinkle heads. For this, again, an exact map will be helpful. 
  • Moving to a new house. If you are moving to a new house, you would definitely need a map of the existing system to be used in the future for any case.  
  • High water bills. If you persistently experience high water bills, it might indicate that there is a leakage in the system. To pinpoint the leakage, a map will be looked-for.
  • Any visible damage (or undesired flow of water). Any visible damage would call for an immediate recovery call, which will only be possible if you know the location of all the parts of the existing system.
  • Damage to the pipe. Leakages, broken or damaged pipes will be fixed only if the exact placement of the system is known to the repair technicians.
  • Choosing a different irrigation system. If you wish to change your system from one type to another, the routing of the existing system would be extremely necessary to carry out the task efficiently.

How to locate underground irrigation pipes without digging?

  1. Find the map

    The very first step you should take is to find the existing map of the whole irrigation system. This is the easiest and most accurate method which will locate each part of the irrigation system precisely.  

  2. Use surfaced sprinklers to determine the pipe system 

    The other method may include first identifying the sprinklers/risers and then moving in either direction vertically or horizontally. This will give an estimated location of the pipes. To add further exactitude, you must resort to small digging in either direction. It might take time, but you can accurately determine every part. Be careful with the digging.

  3. Digging small holes 
    Usually, the trenches in which the pipes and wires are buried are 6-12" deep. You can scoop small holes to discover the whole irrigation system. You should be very cautious so that the  digging doesn't damage any of the pipes or wires.

  4. Using wire tracers/locators

    An efficient technique could be using wire tracers/locators. They use the mechanism of sending and receiving the signals through both live and de-energized wires. High accuracy wire locators can help find the route of AWG wires and thus be useful in this case.

  5. Radio detection 

    Radio detection applies the technique of radio frequency to determine any possible obstacle in the underground. This method again requires artisans with various devices. Laymen cannot use this method directly. Also, this isn't favorable for electrical lines but very suitable for plastic pipes. 

  6. Electromagnetic locators

    It is one of the key tools for locating various types of pipes. Antennas, transmitters and detectors effectively work together to detect pipes and their accurate positions.

  7. Metal detectors

    Metal detectors can precisely locate the sprinkler's heads, which will then be used to find the route of the pipes and wires. Metal detectors can also detect valves which contain screws and solenoids. 

  8. Find Dry patches (if any)

    In the case of a faulty system, you may see dry patches on the irrigated field. This will indicate that some of the sprinklers aren’t working as required. This could be your first lead t locate the sprinkler and then the whole system using any of the suitable methods.


Discussion about irrigation systems

Surface Irrigation:
In this method, the “surface” of the field is flooded with water and then the water seeps down the ground with the passage of time. This is considered the most common and easiest way of watering the fields. There are various types of surface irrigation methods, like furrow, basin, border and uncontrolled irrigation. 

Facts:  85% of the world’s irrigation is still fed from surface irrigation.
India is the top country using surface irrigation in the world. (Source:

Sprinkler Irrigation:
The underground irrigation system or the sprinkler irrigation system is the second most common type of irrigation method used for various farms, vast areas, lawns, commercial parks, crops etc. This method uses pumps, pipes, hoses and sprinkler heads to distribute water. Water is sprinkled like rain over the desired surface and is considered the most versatile and highly effective method of irrigation. 

Fact: USA, Russia, China, India and France are the leading countries which use sprinkler irrigation worldwide. (Source: 

Drip Irrigation:
Unlike surface and sprinkler irrigation, this method distributes the water directly to the roots of the plants. It is considered the most efficient irrigation system but is also expensive and requires a complex systemic network of various tools to make it proficient enough. 

Fact:    Global drip irrigation market may rise to $9.4 Billion by 2027. (

Exploring the dimensions of “Sprinkler Irrigation” in detail.

Parts of Sprinkler Irrigation:

Sprinkler irrigation is the most obvious example of the amalgam of electronic and hydraulic technology. It uses a buried pipe system not only to transfer the water but also the electrical signals to control the flow and the pressure. Both systems are segregated but buried in the same trench. Normal PVC pipes are used to transfer the water whereas specialized AWG wires are used to transfer electrical signals.

Sprinkler irrigation system has mainly four (4) parts

  • Pump unit

    The main pump which is connected to the water source sends the pressurized water to the mainline, which then distributes water.

  • Mainline and sometimes submainlines

    It is the main pipe which is connected to a pump and has various branches of pipes coming out of it.

  • Laterals

    The sub branches that come out of the main line to distribute water to the fields are called laterals.

  • Sprinklers

    The final part of this system is where the water comes out, (in a pressurized mode) and is sprayed onto the desired field.

The wires are used to transfer the electrical signals to let the valve open, close, or adjust as per the requirement. They start from the sprinkle​-controller and end up at the valve. The properties of these wires have to be long-lasting, effective, and efficient when buried underground, and must withstand the signal strength. 

To suit the above requirements, 16AWG and 18AWG are the most commonly used wires. These wires are placed at least 2-4 inches under or either side of the water pipes.  

Let us dig into the various properties of these wires systematically.


  • used for longer distances
  • most common type of wire used for sprinkler system
  • can carry current up to 13Amp
  • easier to create pigtail coil
  • recommended by most of valve manufacturers


  • used when length (from controller to valve) is up to 750ft (single valve)
  • low cost solution
  • contain 3-8 strands (or sometimes up to 12)
  • can carry current up to 10Amp

Uses of sprinklers:

Underground sprinklers are widely used in agriculture, residential areas, industries, recreational areas (parks, grounds etc.), sports fields (golf, cricket etc.) 

They are efficient, easy to install, suitable and suit the aesthetics of the outdoor areas.

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