How to Winterize a Sprinkler System

How to Winterize a Sprinkler System featured photo

Are you anxious of experiencing another sprinkler system failure just because you see winter coming? Don’t be. Learn how to winterize a sprinkler system with these easy steps.

In preparation for the winterization of your landscape, you need to be particular about your sprinkler system. With a sprinkler system that isn’t winterized, you know there is a risk something will burst. This is because any water that is left within your sprinkler system may freeze and damage some major components of it. This can be extremely costly and time consuming to repair, especially if it’s an annual occurrence.

I am going to walk you through how to winterize a sprinkler system in simple steps that anyone can do without highly technical tools.

Winterizing Your Sprinkler System

There is hardly any need for you to irrigate your lawn or landscape during winter unless you reside in the southernmost part of the United States. Even then, sometimes there’s still a risk. Most people often ask me, ‘Isn’t just shutting off the tap enough?’. Well, it isn’t, actually.

When you turn off your sprinkler system, the pipe that supplies water ceases to do so but there is always leftover water trapped within the pipes of the sprinkler system. In is not often powerful enough to come out on its own and it cannot of course flow back to the source. Winter comes along and freezes these fluids and this can result in a serious problem.

In winterizing your sprinkler system, you need to get the water remnant out. In doing this, you need to know how your sprinkler system is laid, that is, the irrigation zones. It is for this reason that so many people prefer to hire pros but winterizing your sprinkler system isn’t so technical a step, you can do it yourself.

Do You Have an Air Compressor?

You can winterize just like the pro you want to hire but first, do you have an air compressor? A fairly powerful air compressor is needed for this operation and this is what you may not have in your garage. The good news, however, is that you can always rent one. Still, you must be careful when using an air compressor because it can equally damage your sprinkler system when used wrongly.

Professionally, you may need about ten cubic-feet-per-minute air compressor to get the job done. Is this machine expensive to buy? The truth is, yes. It is costly to buy and you may not need it so often. Hence, you may just hire a pro who has it, uses it more often and charges less for the same function you are trying to achieve.

How does the air compressor work?

In case you are settling for using the air compressor nonetheless, as mentioned earlier, you would need a 10 cubic-feet-per-minute model and protection for the eyes. You will also need a connect hose adapter to link up the air compressor to your sprinkler system.

Once you have connected the hose adapter to the sprinkler system, you will need to shut out water supply and then adjust the air compressor to have the pressure output of about 80 PSI if you are dealing with sprinkler system with PVC pipe layout. If your sprinkler system is Polyethylene, it is best you adjust the pressure gauge to be 50 PSI.

Do not open the air compressor suddenly. Open slowly until you see results in the form of water oozing out and clusters flushing away. Stop when you no longer see water flowing out and do the same to the valves around your sprinkler system until all valve openings have been completely winterized.

Red Alert!

  • When blowing out, this debris may go directly into the eye. Do not take chances. Always have eye protection on at all times.
  • Do not stand over valves, pipes of sprinklers during a blow-out operation. Initiate all you need to and be a distance away while you watch the blowing-out activity take place.
  • Always note the indicated and required pressures for certain sprinkler pipes indicated above for air compressor blow-out winterization. Do not exceed 80 PSI and 50 PSI for PVC pipes and Polyethylene pipes respectively. You can blow up your entire sprinkler system when you exceed this required pressure.
  • The first step when winterizing is blowing the sprinkling system. Do not start from the backflow before going back to the sprinkler itself. Winterization doesn’t work that way with sprinklers.
  • The air compressor is never to be left unattended to. You need to take a break, switch it off.

Do all winterizing processes require an air compressor?

The most important thing is studying how your sprinkler system works and the terrain your system is installed. Some sprinkler system just won’t do well with air pressure. Where you have a sprinkler system that is installed around a slope, you ordinarily wouldn’t need an air compressor.

In a situation where all the irrigation lines are installed in downhill and sloppy areas, you can basically winterize by opening the end of the sprinkler’s valve zones. This should be done after the main water supply has been shut down.

Once the valve ends have been opened, all you have to do is patiently wait until all trapped water have completely trickled out. This, by all standard, is the simplest of all winterization processes. That is not all, you would still have to still drain out the waste valve and the backflow valves using the same method before the entire sprinkler can stay perfectly winterized.

It is also possible, especially when you have a high-end sprinkler system, that your sprinkler system has an automatic draining function. Follow the manual of your favored brand as the automatic winterization process may be initiated directly from the control panel without going through unnecessary troubles.

Importance of Insulation

Do not forget to insulate. So much emphasis is on getting water that may become ice over time, out of the sprinkler system. This method is good for all pipe layout but essentially, for pipes above ground level, it is best you insulate. Just like the blow-out winterization method, you can seek professional help or you can insulate your pipe yourself.

In case you are picking the latter, you can buy an insulating tape of foam to wrap all above-ground pipe layout. This will prevent the snow element from damaging it up during winter. You may also insulate the backflow valves if they are above ground or you may remove them completely in case you are finding it difficult wrapping it and keeping it properly insulated.

The warning with the backflow valve is that you must not completely block out air vent and the drain outlets as well. The best way to go around this if you want to insulate the backflow valve of your sprinkler system is to use the R-11 fiberglass insulation. In case of emergency, you could cover this area up with crumpled newspaper and heavy-duty trash bag before holding it all up with proper insulation tape. The wrapping shouldn’t be too tight, but just enough to keep the insulation in place.

After all of these, the goal isn’t just to flush out what is remaining in the sprinkler system. The goal actually is making sure that after winterizing, no fluid goes up into the system again. Which is why it is very important to keep water permanently shut out of the sprinkler system all through winter. Stop the water supply and make sure water isn’t leaking. If you detect that somehow water manages to go through, then you would need to change the control knobs.

In Conclusion

Just as it is important to flush out your sprinkler system during winter, it is equally necessary to do the same as soon as winter is over. You should winterize and also spring up your sprinkler but nobody actually asks about springing up their sprinkler. There is no doubt that during the period of inactivity of your sprinkler many small critters build up within the components of it, which must, therefore, be flushed out. The procedure of springing up is just exactly the same as winterizing.

Knowing how to winterize your sprinkler makes you prepare well ahead and saves you from undesired expenses that you may incur from the damaged system. Understanding that you can do it with little or no professional help or with few or no tools leaves no room for excuses, so go straight to business!