Expert Guide on Winterizing Your Sprinkler System

Ethan Miller

Your sprinkler system is an essential part of maintaining your lawn and garden during the warmer months. However, when winter arrives and temperatures drop, you need to take the necessary steps to protect your irrigation system from harsh weather conditions that could lead to costly damage. By winterizing your sprinkler system, you can ensure it will function properly once spring returns.

In this article, we follow the four key steps recommended by irrigation experts to winterize a sprinkler system effectively. We have also included essential precautions and tips to avoid any potential issues during the process.

Step 1: Shut Off the Water Supply

The first step in winterizing your sprinkler system is shutting off its water supply. Locating the main shut-off valve should be relatively easy, as it is typically installed close to the property’s water meter or in line with the external backflow preventer. Once located, turn the valve clockwise to cease the flow of water to the system.

Protecting the Main Shut-Off Valve

After switching off the water supply, insulate the main shut-off valve against freezing temperatures. This insulation can be achieved using specially designed covers, foam insulation tape, or simple household items such as towels or blankets. The importance of this step lies in preventing freezing pipes that may lead to cracks or leaks throughout the system.

Step 2: Drain the Pipes

Eliminating residual water from the pipes helps minimize the risk of the remaining water freezing and expanding within the lines, causing them to burst. There are several methods for draining the pipes, including manual draining, automatic drainage, or using compressed air via blowouts.

  • Manual draining: Locate every drain valve within the sprinkler system and open them to let residual water flow out. Be sure to close these valves afterward to prevent unwanted access for pests or debris.
  • Automatic drainage: If your system is equipped with automatic drain valves, they will automatically activate when the water pressure falls below a specific threshold. After shutting off the main valve, activate each sprinkler zone via the controller in turn and leave it running for a few seconds to allow the automatic valves to release any remaining water.
  • Blowouts using compressed air: This method requires professional assistance due to potential hazards, such as personal injury from flying debris, over-pressurization, or damage to the irrigation components. The process uses an air compressor to force the remaining water out through the sprinkler heads. Please refer to Step 3 for further details on using blowouts.

Step 3: Perform Sprinkler System Blowouts (Optional)

Compressed air blowouts are considered one of the most effective methods to winterize your sprinkler system, mainly if installed in regions with harsh winter conditions that experience extended periods of freezing temperatures. As mentioned earlier, this procedure should be conducted by professionals or experienced individuals who understand the system’s specifications and operate compressors safely.

Precautions for Compressed Air Blowouts

Before performing the irrigation system blowout, consider the following precautions:

  1. Wear safety goggles and ear protection during the operation.
  2. Never stand near or above the sprinkler heads while pressurizing the system to avoid injury from unintended activation.
  3. Ensure that no one else, including children and pets, is nearby during the blowout.
  4. Turn off the system’s timer/controller to avoid accidental activation during the winter months.

The Blowout Procedure

To perform a compressed air blowout on your sprinkler system:

  1. Locate the air compressor used for the process and connect it to the appropriate port near the main shut-off valve or backflow preventer.
  2. Set the correct PSI (Pounds per Square Inch) pressure for your sprinkler system. Lawn sprinklers typically require around 50 PSI, while large commercial systems may need from 80 to 100 PSI.
  3. Activate each zone one at a time, allowing it to run until all residual water has been forced out of the lines through the sprinkler heads.
  4. After completing the blowout for all zones, disconnect the air compressor and remove any adapters or hoses connected during the procedure.

Step 4: Inspect and Protect Components

With the water supply halted and pipes drained, it is essential to inspect the entire irrigation system for damages such as cracks or leaks in the pipes, sprinkler heads, or other components. Additionally, proper insulation and protection must be applied to specific parts of the system.

  • Sprinkler Heads: Regularly check for any visible cracks or damage. Consider replacing broken extension nozzles or risers with shorter versions that retract further into the ground to decrease exposure to freezing temperatures and potential damage.
  • Valve Boxes: Double-check the valves’ covers to ensure they fit tightly and are correctly sealed. Keep an eye on their condition throughout the winter, as heavy snow or ice accumulation could lead to the covers being dislodged.
  • Controllers/Timers: Before turning off any controllers or timers for long-term deactivation over winter, please consult the manufacturer’s guidelines. Some models may have specific “winter” or “off-season” settings that help preserve their functionality while not in use.

Taking a proactive approach to winterize your sprinkler system through these four steps will save you time and money on repairs following the colder months. By properly shutting off the water supply, draining pipes, using blowouts if necessary, and inspecting and insulating key components, irrigation experts agree that this comprehensive method is your best defense against potentially costly damage caused by freezing conditions.

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