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How to Winterize Your Sprinkler System

By Dan Simms

Winterizing your sprinkler system is one of the most important things you can do to ensure that it works efficiently and effectively year after year. Failing to winterize your system or doing it incorrectly can damage the system, leading to costly repairs or requiring a full replacement come springtime. This guide is designed to teach you how to winterize your sprinkler system safely so it will be ready to go next season when you need it.

What’s covered in this guide:

  • Step by step instructions for winterizing your lawn sprinkler system
  • Tips for draining your sprinkler system safely
  • Alternative methods for people worried about damaging their system 

Steps on Winterizing Your Sprinkler System

Winterizing your sprinkler system is a fairly simple task that most homeowners can manage, but it requires some care and attention to detail. Make sure you read and understand all the steps before attempting to winterize your sprinkler system yourself.

Step 1: Shut Off the Water to Your Sprinkler System

Before you can winterize your sprinkler system, you need to shut off the main water valve that supplies the system with water. Most homes have a shut-off valve near the water meter. Don’t confuse the main shut-off valve with the smaller, local valve under your faucet.

If your system uses valves to prevent backflow, you also need to shut them off before you can continue. Most systems have two backflow valves that connect to the backflow device, so make sure you turn both off before proceeding.

Step 2: Turn Off the Timer if You Have One

If your sprinkler system has a timer, you’ll need to shut it off for the winter. Turning the timer off completely can create a hassle when it’s time to turn it back on since you’ll have to reprogram the settings.

A better option is to put your system into rain mode, a setting that prevents the sprinkler system from turning on. Rain mode is usually used to skip scheduled watering during rainy periods, but it’s also a great way to turn your system off for the winter without destroying your settings. When you turn rain mode off in the spring, your sprinkler will resume function with the same settings it had in the fall.

Step 3: Drain the System

Draining the system is the most time-consuming step and the one where you can do some damage if you’re not careful. Before you start, consult your sprinkler system’s user manual to determine what kind of draining your system has if you don’t already know. Virtually all sprinkler systems have one of three draining mechanisms: automatic draining, manual draining, or blow-out draining.

Automatic Draining

If your sprinkler system has automatic draining, you’re in luck. These systems are the simplest to work with and take very little time or effort to drain.

Some automatic draining systems activate as soon as the water pressure drops when you shut off the main valve. This acts as a protection mechanism that prevents homeowners from accidentally leaving water in the system. Turning on one of the sprinkler heads once the water supply is turned off is usually enough to get an automatic system working, but you should follow the instructions in your user manual.

Even an automatic draining system still needs some hands-on attention at the valves. Each valve has a solenoid cap that you need to loosen to let the water drain. Open the solenoid enough for air to flow into the system and allow the water to drain out of the valves.

Manual Draining

Manual draining sprinkler systems take slightly more effort to drain than automatic ones, but they’re still straightforward to work with.

Most manual draining systems have at least one manual drain valve at the end of the irrigation system or low points in the piping network. You need to open all shut-off valves by hand to let the water drain out of the sprinkler system. Some sprinklers have check valves that require you to lift the sprinkler head to let the water drain out. If you’re having trouble draining your system, check your user manual to see if you have check valves.

It is extremely important to wear eye protection and slowly loosen manual draining shut-off valves. Even if the water pressure in the system is low, the air pressure can remain high, making it dangerous if the manual valves open suddenly.

Blow-Out Draining

The most sophisticated draining system a home sprinkler system can have is blow-out draining. Systems with blow-out draining can use an air compressor to blow the water out of the irrigation pipes forcibly. This method is the most effective and surefire way to remove excess water from your sprinkler system to protect it from the winter’s freezing temperatures.

Unfortunately, blow-out systems are not as easy to winterize yourself and often require a professional-grade air compressor. Most home air compressors can easily supply enough pressure but are incapable of moving the air at the necessary ten cubic feet per minute (cfm) required to empty the entire system of any remaining water. Most people who drain their sprinkler systems with the blow-out method use a professional service.

If you decide to attempt blow-out draining, use a high-quality compressor that can supply the necessary ten cfm. Be sure not to exceed 80 PSI if your system uses PVC piping or 50 PSI if it uses polyethylene pipe.

Step 4: Insulate the External Components

After you drain the system, you need to insulate the backflow preventers, main shut-off valve, and exposed pipes. The easiest way to insulate these components is with insulation tape or specially-designed foam wrappings. Be careful not to cover any air vents and drain outlets on the backflow preventers.

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Reference Your User Manual

When in doubt, you should consult your sprinkler system’s user manual. It will have all the information you need to winterize your system and tell you if your system has a manual or automatic drain. Even though this guide will get you through most of the process, you should follow the user manual anywhere it deviates from the steps outlined here.

Lawn Care Resources

If you’re afraid you’ll cause damage to your sprinkler system if you try to winterize it yourself, there’s no shame in hiring a professional service. Many professional lawn care services also provide sprinkler winterization services, so you may already have access to a company you trust that can do it for you. TruGreen is one of the most popular lawn care companies offering winterization services for in-ground sprinkler systems.

You could also consider hiring a standalone sprinkler service company if you don’t use TruGreen and prefer not to DIY your lawn care. These businesses specialize in sprinkler maintenance and will know how to handle your system.

We strongly encourage you to use a service like TruGreen if you have a blow-out draining system. Compressed air can damage pipes if it’s not used properly, and dealing with high-pressure equipment is dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing.

Final Thoughts

Winterizing your sprinkler system doesn’t need to be a stressful experience. If you have an automatic or manual draining system, you can probably do it yourself without too much trouble; just make sure you have your user manual nearby in case you run into any issues. However, if you have a sprinkler system that needs to be blown out before the winter arrives, we recommend using a professional service to avoid causing irreparable damage.

If you decide to go with a professional service rather than winterize your system yourself, check with your current lawn care service provider since many professional lawn care companies offer a winterization package for in-ground sprinkler systems that will take care of everything. TruGreen is one of the most popular lawn care businesses that will winterize your sprinkler for you, and their services come highly recommended.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the benefits of draining my sprinkler system for winter?

The biggest benefit of draining your sprinkler system for winter is a functioning system in the spring. If you don’t drain your sprinkler system before the winter arrives, you will probably have to have it replaced. Freezing water wreaks havoc on sprinkler systems, so they must be drained before the ground freezes in the late fall or early winter.

Can I winterize my own sprinkler system?

Yes, you can. Automatic and manual draining systems are relatively easy to winterize yourself. Blow-out systems should only be tended by a professional with a high-quality air compressor. Unless you know what you’re doing, you should hire a professional service like TruGreen to winterize your blow-out system.

How do I drain my sprinkler system for winter?

The answer depends on what kind of draining method your system has. Manual systems require you to open drainage valves at the end of the pipes, automatic systems drain water as soon as the water pressure drops, and blow-out systems require an air compressor to blow the water out of the pipes.

Do I need to drain my sprinkler system for winter?

Yes, winterizing your sprinkler should be part of your winter lawn care routine. Leaving water in your sprinkler system during the winter can damage the system beyond repair. Water expands as it freezes, and ice will damage your system’s pipes and valves.

What should I do to winterize a sprinkler system?

To winterize your sprinkler system you need to turn off the main water supply, turn the system’s timer off, drain the water, and insulate external components.

How often should I winterize my sprinkler system?

Thankfully, you only need to winterize your sprinkler system once per year in the fall. Once you winterize it, you don’t need to do anything until the spring.

House Method Rating & Methodology

At House Method, transparency and trust are our most important values for the reader. That’s why we took the time to create an objective rating system and score each lawn company/service according to our methodology.

Our research team dug deep into the fine print of contracts, combed through more than one hundred customer reviews, and thoroughly investigated all of each lawn care service’s services, costs, and products. We’ve done the homework for you by researching nearly all of the lawn care companies on the market so you can have the information you need to make the best choice for your home.

We developed a formula to objectively determine the best lawn care companies and give each a score out of 100 based on the following criteria:

  • Plan Options (30): Do they provide a variety of plan options? We looked at the number of plans each company offered and the flexibility of adjusting the plan.
  • Services offered (20): How many services are offered in each plan? We looked at the number of lawn care coverages, including weed control, seeding, irrigation, aeration, dethatching, and more.
  • Trust (10): What do customers say after their lawn has been serviced? Does this company offer a guarantee? We considered how satisfied customers are post-service if the company does what it says it will, BBB accreditation, and service guarantees.
  • Prices (10): How reasonable are the costs of the plan or service in comparison to the industry average? We compared the costs of each company to competitors that offer the same lawn services.
  • Unique perks (10): Does the company offer discounts or special services such as organic treatments, pest control, or a mobile app? We looked for perks each company offers that set them apart from the competition.
  • Customer Service (10): How is the customer experience when contacting the company? We considered the speed of response, weekend/holiday availability, and ease of communication through phone calls, email, and online chat functions.
  • Nationwide availability (10): How many states does the company offer its services? Companies that operate nationally and in all zip codes are favored over those with limited availability. 

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