During the fall, most sprinkler system owners pay to have someone winterize their sprinkler systems. This prevents pipes and fittings from breaking if the system is subject to extreme cold. However, once the warm days of spring arrive, that sprinkler system needs to be turned back on. And luckily, it’s a rather straightforward process. This guide will explain how to turn a sprinkler system on in spring.
You Will Need:
- A screwdriver
- A pair of pliers
- A sprinkler valve key (in some cases)
- A pad and pen
Before You Start
There are a few things that DIY sprinkler technicians need to know before they turn the water back on in the spring. One is to understand that despite being drained, sprinkler systems can sustain damage from the effects of brutal winters.
Cold weather, flooding, and a number of other scenarios can cause major problems for sprinkler systems. So, homeowners must be sure to inspect all sprinkler heads, pipes, and valves for visible signs of damage before firing the system up.
Next, it’s important to know where the different components of the sprinkler system are before starting. You’ll want to locate the main control valve, the vacuum breaker, control panels, and sprinklers along the way.
- In colder climates, the main control valve is typically in a basement or crawl space. In warmer areas, it may be outside near the house’s foundation, typically at ground level and featuring a quarter-turn or ball valve with a large (usually) blue rubber-coated handle.
- The vacuum breaker is generally on the other side of the foundation from the shut-off valve. It will usually have a pipe entering underneath with a valve attached, a pipe exiting the side with a valve attached, two small test ports with shut-off screws, and a bell-type cap on top.
- Control panels are usually located outside in a covered box or in the basement.
- Sprinkler heads can be located anywhere in the yard. Look for caps with small screws or hex bolt heads holding them shut.
When filling the system, it’s best to do so slowly. Water rushing through a system can cause “hammer,” and water hammer can cause damage in an otherwise tip-top sprinkler system. It can break elbows, fittings, valves, and sprinkler heads, so be sure to apply pressure on the valve slowly.
How To Turn a Sprinkler System on in Spring
This project might seem intimidating, but it shouldn’t take long if everything is still in good shape. And if something breaks or broke over the winter, don’t panic: The solution is to simply shut the control valve.
1. Ensure That Main Valve is Closed
Head to the main valve (usually in the basement, crawl space, or along the foundation) and ensure that it’s in the off position. This valve is attached to a pipe that enters the home at ground level, and it usually has a blue handle. It should be off, which means the handle should be 90 degrees to the pipe. Leave it off for now.
Note: If the shut-off valve is a gate valve (i.e., it has a round handle like a hose spigot), it should be turned clockwise until it won’t turn anymore. If it’s a butterfly valve (i.e., the valve handle looks like wings), the handle should be perpendicular to the pipe.
2. Set the System to Manual
At the control panel, set the system to manual mode. Once the system is filled, it’s important to test and monitor every zone to ensure they’re working properly, so leaving the system on automatic won’t do.
3. Close the Screws on the Vacuum Breaker
Locate the vacuum breaker. This is usually just outside the foundation from the sprinkler control valve. It should have two large valves with rubber handles and two smaller bleeder valves with screw-type shutoffs.
Over the winter, these screw-type shutoffs should be partially open to prevent captured water from freezing and snapping the valve body. In the spring, however, they need to be closed. Use the flat-blade screwdriver to twist the screws until they’re perpendicular to the bleeder valve.
4. Open the Large Valves on the Vacuum Breaker
The next step is to open the large valves on the vacuum breaker. These are usually quarter-turn or butterfly valves and require just 90-degree turns. In either case, turn the valve handles until they’re parallel to the pipes. This indicates that they’re in an open position.
5. Cap the Bleeder Valves
Vacuum breaker bleeder valves typically have caps over their threads to protect them and keep dust and dirt out of the small holes at the end of the valve. These are often removed over the winter to prevent them from freezing and blocking off airflow, but they need replacing in the spring. A few twists with a pair of pliers to snug them down on the threads is usually all it takes.
6. Slowly Open the Main Valve to Fill the System
Head back to the main sprinkler control valve and slowly open it. Twist it until it’s about
¼ a quarter of the way open and leave it for a few minutes, listening for water flow. Next, move it to the halfway point and wait a few minutes again. Once the water stops flowing, open the valve all the way.
Opening the valve slowly ensures that the water doesn’t hammer its way through the system, breaking valves and fittings and sending sprinkler heads into orbit.
7. Inspect the Valves and Vacuum Breaker
With the water turned on and the sprinkler control panel still in manual mode, check the vacuum breaker and valves to ensure that they’re not leaking or damaged. At first, a few drops of water from the vacuum breaker is normal, but it should not be more than just a few drips. The valve should not leak at all.
8. Test the Individual Zones One at a Time
Head back to the sprinkler control panel and activate each zone one at a time. As zone valves open, sprinkler heads will start to release air and sputter. Eventually, steady streams of water will shoot from the sprinkler heads.
With one zone activated, inspect the yard and the sprinkler heads. Look for wet areas in the yard, bubbling, or sprinkler heads that aren’t working properly. If you notice any issues, write them down along with the zone number that’s activated.
Head back to the control panel, shut off the activated zone, activate the next zone, and repeat. Fix any issues you found along the way.
9. Activate Scheduled Watering
Once the system is inspected and fully operational, reprogram your sprinkler system’s automatic watering function. Be sure to consider whether anything has changed from the year before. Consider if there’s been a new landscape layout, sunlight exposure changes from a tree being removed or an addition being built, and any other changes that might’ve occurred.
Program the zones accordingly to ensure that your grass and flowers can grow to their full potential this year.