Winterizing Sprinkler Systems

Jeanne Grunert
lawn sprinkler

Winterizing sprinkler systems is an important fall chore. Irrigation and sprinkler systems must be drained before the first prolonged period of cold weather strikes or else the water in the system can freeze, cracking the pipes. Neglecting this task can result in costly repair bills or a ruined sprinkler system.

Methods of Winterizing Sprinkler Systems

The steps to winterize a sprinkler system depend upon the type of system installed. When in doubt, talk to a professional landscaper or plumber knowledgeable about the system at your home.

Draining Pipes

The objective of winterizing sprinkler systems is to drain as much or all of the water remaining in the pipes and shut off the water flow during the cold weather. To do this:

  1. Shut off the water at the main valve for the sprinkler system.
  2. If you have an automated system, turn it to a "Rain" setting. The "Rain" mode shuts off the system entirely.
  3. Turn on each of the valves in the system to release the pressure.
  4. Allow each portion of the system to drain thoroughly.

Many underground systems are buried sufficiently below ground level to protect the underground parts of the sprinkler system from freezing. Above-ground pipes need insulation. Purchase pipe insulation sheets or tubes at a hardware store and install them before the winter.

These instructions work for most sprinkler systems installed in an average to warm gardening climate. For those living in very cold areas, Jess Stryker's Landscape Irrigation Tutorials offers very detailed instructions on what you need to do to fully protect your system during the winter months.

Blowing Out the Irrigation Pipes

Some systems require homeowners to use forced, pressurized air to remove water from the pipes. This is calling blowing out the pipes. Many websites recommend that only a professional landscaper attempt to use pressurized air to winterize sprinkler systems. It's dangerous, noisy, and if not done properly, can potentially damage the system. Instructions are provided on the DIY (Do It Yourself) site.

Don't Forget Spring Maintenance

Spring procedures to restart automated sprinkler systems are also as important as winterizing sprinkler systems. It's not pleasant to think about, but small creatures such as mice and insects often take refuge in sprinklers and pipes during the cold weather. Open the ends of the drip tubes or sprinkler nozzles and run the water in the system for several minutes to flush out any critters or bugs living in the system. You may be shocked at the dirt and debris that wash out of the system. When the water runs clear, switch it off and replace nozzles and caps.

Do a test run on the system. Switch on each portion of the sprinkler system and watch it for a few minutes before switching it off and trying another section. Note if the water pressure is uneven or the nozzle is spraying in only one direction. This may indicate a clog in the pipe or the sprinkler head. Check each if you notice a problem.

Another thing to check for are leaks. During the time you're flushing the system, walk around any exposed pipes and note leaks. Use caulk or replace parts that are dripping.

Finally, check the batteries in the automated system. It's a good idea to replace them with fresh batteries each spring to ensure that your system is running properly.

Winterizing Sprinkler Systems