Why & How To Winterize Your Sprinkler System


We’re not trying to be as ominous as “Game of Thrones,” but winter IS coming to the Midwest [sooner than most of us want!] and as you check off your lawn winterization to-dos, we want to make sure you’re also vigilant about caring for your lawn by winterizing your sprinkler system. Whether you’re in Kansas City or Wichita, our winters are cold enough that you need to protect your sprinkler system from freezing. Even in Springfield, the frost level can eventually extend below the depth of your installed piping as temperatures remain below freezing for days. That means you’ll want to take steps to make sure there is no water inside those pipes. While some attempt to winterize their sprinklers on their own, hiring a professional like RYAN Lawn & Tree is recommended to ensure proper sprinkler winterization.

 

What Happens When I Don’t Winterize My Sprinkler System?

Winterizing your sprinkler means removing all of the water from inside the pipes, backflow preventer, sprinkler heads and fittings. Sprinkler winterization is important because even the smallest amount of water left inside your irrigation system components can freeze, expand and crack PVC piping. 

“Even though we use more flexible pipe made of polyethylene plastic in all of our sprinkler systems, it can still be ruined by water left inside,” Vice President of Irrigation Mark Stuhlsatz said.

If your backflow preventer is located above ground, it is exposed to weather elements and therefore susceptible to freeze damage. When water turns to ice it expands, damaging the interior elements and fracturing the brass body. Replacing and repairing backflow devices can be expensive. 

“Oftentimes we see damaged sprinkler systems that don’t just crack the pipe, the pipe shatters several feet at a time,” Stuhlsatz said. “With it being underground, it is difficult to know how far the damage extends until you start digging. I’ve seen 30  feet of pipe completely shattered.”

 

How to Winterize Your Irrigation System 

Although your irrigation system may have been installed to drain manually or automatically, or to blow out the water using air, the basic steps of winterizing your sprinkler system are basically the same with only a few big steps. 

  1. Locate the main water valve and turn off your irrigation system.

    RYAN Pro winterizing sprinkler system

    You can trust the Pros from Ryan Lawn & Tree to properly winterize your sprinkler system.

  2. Turn all ball valves and test cocks on your backflow preventer to a 45-degree angle.
  3. Release the water pressure in the pipes by turning on each of the valves.
  4. Drain the water from all of the sprinkler components.
  5. Turn the controller to the “Off” position.

While these steps may seem simple, they actually are not.

 

How to Turn Off Your Sprinkler System

The first step in winterizing your irrigation system is to completely shut off the water supply to the irrigation system so there is not even a drop of water flowing. The shutoff valve is usually located in your basement or in a control box close to your water meter in the yard.  Be sure to turn the water off at the correct spot. Turning the water off at your backflow preventer instead of the shutoff valve can trap water in areas that can freeze and break easily, especially if it is located above ground.  

 

How to Winterize Your Sprinkler System’s Backflow Preventer

The backflow preventer is usually located on the side of your house, in the basement, or by the water shutoff valve in the control box close to your water meter. After you have turned the water off you need to turn both of the ball valves to a 45-degree angle and open all the test cocks as well. This is a simple step that often gets skipped or overlooked and this is especially important if your backflow is located above ground.   

 

Types Of Sprinkler System Winterization

 

Winterization By Draining

There are pros and cons to the different ways you can rid your sprinkler system of water that could freeze and cause damage. Using manual valves to dispose of the water means they must be set up intentionally at every low point in the system and you’ll need to manually open each valve. Auto-drain valves open themselves every time the pressure drops too low in the water pipe; however, they have an issue of keeping closed once they have not had an opportunity to open more often than not.

Manual Drain Sprinkler Systems

Winterization of sprinkler systems with manual valves requires you to locate each of those valves at the low points of the piping and open them, allowing the water to filter down to the low points and drain out.  At this point to turn on each zone of your sprinklers for a few minutes to help release any residual pressure. Leave the drains open until you turn the system back on in the spring.  

Automatic Drain Sprinkler Systems

This type of valve opens by itself each time the pressure in the pipe drops. After you turn off the water at the control valve and winterize the backflow preventer, simply run each zone of the system for a few minutes to release the pressure from the lines and allow the system to drain.  

However, there are times when the automatic drain valves stick closed-especially if they don’t have the chance to open on a regular basis. 

“We suggest installing manual valves at least on the mainline to ensure the water can be completely drained,” Stuhlsatz said.

 

Winterization by Blow Out With Air Compressor

The most effective way to winterize your sprinkler system is to blow-out the water using compressed air. This method should only be attempted by professional lawn care experts as the pressure of the air could damage the water pipes if the air pressure rating is not correct. Using a commercial-grade air compressor, experts can safely ensure the water is properly removed from all components. The air compressor is attached to the mainline with a quick coupler, hose bib or other connection located after the backflow preventer. [Never blow air through a pump or a backflow preventer.] Turn on only one valve at a time. Water is blown out of each station or zone of the sprinkler system beginning from the one farthest from the air compressor to the one closest. After the system blow-out is complete, disconnect the air compressor and release any air pressure that may be present. 

 

How to Shut Down the Sprinkler Controller

For automatic sprinkler systems, you’ll need to make sure you shut off or change the setting on your primary controller.  Simply turn the controller to the “OFF” position. You don’t need to unplug the controller. Keep in mind if you have a pump wired to your controller you should disconnect the power to the controller or disconnect the pump wire in the controller.  This prevents the pump from accidentally starting while the system is shut down.

 

Trust the RYAN Pros To Winterize Your Sprinkler System Today!

Most homeowners or businesses who have a sprinkler system trust experts like Ryan Lawn & Tree to properly winterize their irrigation systems. The small preventative maintenance cost of sprinkler system winterization eliminates the risk of expensive system damage that might occur if you choose to make it a DIY home project. The Pros at RYAN are experienced in winterizing all types of sprinkler systems and can make sure all water is removed to eliminate water freezing damage. With four irrigation specialist locations throughout the Midwest in Kansas City, Wichita, Tulsa and Springfield, there is sure to be a RYAN Pro near you. Give us a call at 855.216.2293 for a free price estimate on winterizing your sprinkler system today or ask a RYAN Pro if you have a question about sprinkler winterization!