By Dan Simms
Updated Jan 10, 2023
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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 next season when you need it. Use these 4 easy steps to properly prepare your sprinkler system for a freezing winter.
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 winterizing your sprinkler system.
Before winterizing your sprinkler system, you must 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 must shut them off before continuing. Most systems have two backflow valves that connect to the backflow device, so make sure you turn both off before proceeding.
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, which prevents the sprinkler system from turning on. A 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.
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 if you don’t already know. Virtually all sprinkler systems have one of three draining mechanisms: automatic draining, manual draining, or blow-out draining.
If your sprinkler system has automatic draining, you’re in luck. These systems are the simplest to work with and take 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 you need to loosen to drain the water. Open the solenoid enough for air to flow into the system and allow the water to drain out of the valves.
Manual draining sprinkler systems take slightly more effort than automatic ones, but they’re still straightforward.
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 requiring you to lift the sprinkler head to drain the water. 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.
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 force the water out of the irrigation pipes. 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 and often require a professional-grade air compressor. Most home air compressors can easily supply enough pressure but cannot move 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 attempt blow-out draining, use a high-quality compressor to 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.
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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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 it 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.
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.
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; 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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