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How to Winterize a Sprinkler System - An Important Step in Maintaining Your Irrigation System


Owning a sprinkler system can be a great asset to a home lawn or garden during the hot summer months. Watering a lawn effectively is an extremely difficult task to get just right. Many homeowners are forced to drag a sprinkler attached to a hose around the lawn, placing it in different areas to water the lawn evenly. However, this process often results in some portions of the lawn being over or under-watered. With an irrigation system, watering a lawn is easy. Sprinkler systems are expensive, however, and many homeowners don't want to risk any damage to their system during the winter months. Effectively winterizing your sprinkler system will protect your investment.

Why Winterize an Irrigation System?

During the winter months, the ground may freeze to a particular depth. If your irrigation system is not buried deeply enough, or you live in a climate that has a deep frost depth, your irrigation system is at risk. The pipes of your irrigation system will freeze, and if there is any water in them, these pipes may burst. PVC piping is easily damaged by frozen water because water expands when it freezes. However, even polyethylene piping which is designed to be more flexible than PVC can be damaged by frozen water. Many irrigation systems have complex backflow assemblies which can be damaged by frozen water. If the pipes of your sprinkler system are damaged in the winter and you are not aware, you risk flooding your lawn when you turn the irrigation system on in the spring.

When you winterize an irrigation system, you remove water completely from the system so that there is no expansion due to frozen water which can burst the underground pipes. Depending on your system, there are several ways to accomplish this.

Manual Drain

If an automatic drain has not been installed in your sprinkler system, you may be required to use the manual drain method when draining off the water that remains in the pipes. To remove water from the entire system, you will have to shut off the main water supply to the system, and manually open all drains at all water access points. In some cases, you may have to disassemble the sprinkler fixtures to allow water that remains at the distribution points to completely drain off. Because this is a fairly complicated procedure, it may be best to hire a professional to ensure that it is performed correctly.

Automatic Drain

If you live in an extremely cold climate, your irrigation system may be outfitted with an automatic drain system. This system is designed specifically to pump water out of the sprinkler system when the source is turned off. You should check to make sure that all of the automatic pumps are functioning correctly when winterizing your pipes.

Blowout Process

If you aren't sure what drainage system your irrigation network has, you might consider hiring a professional to perform a blowout service. This process cannot easily be performed by the average homeowner as there is a risk of damaging the internal structure of your irrigation system if the process is performed incorrectly. With blowout winterization, an air compressor is attached to the water supply and compressed air is blasted through the piping system, flushing out any water that remains in the pipes. This method is effective at ridding the pipes of water, but there are many different steps that must be performed to prevent the sprinkler heads, TestCock valves, or backflow system from becoming damaged beyond repair. Hiring a professional to blowout your irrigation system will effectively prepare it for winter.

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