Sprinklers save you a great deal of time and effort when it comes to creating and maintaining a lush, green lawn. However, that doesn’t mean that the sprinklers themselves don’t require their own maintenance. In most parts of the country, you ought to shut down your sprinkler system in the fall and bring it back online in the spring.
Particularly if you live in an area where ground temperatures dip below freezing, you’ll want to make sure that you’ve properly prepared the system for winter weather by draining out the water and insulating the sprinkler components. Here, we’ll go over how to winterize your sprinkler system in four easy steps.
Steps for Winterizing Your Sprinkler System
Some of these steps are easy to do on your own, but others require specialized machinery and the expertise of a professional. TruGreen, in addition to its lawn care services, offers sprinkler repair and maintenance to homeowners throughout the country.
Step 1: Shut Off the Water
It will come as no surprise that the first step is turning off the water to the system with a main valve that’s usually found near your water meter. If your system has valves to prevent backflow, shut these off, too. There are usually two of these valves that lead into the backflow device; be sure to shut them both off. If your system doesn’t use potable water, it might not have a backflow preventer.
Step 2: Turn Off the Timer
If your system runs on an automatic timer, make sure you shut that off, too. Some systems have a “rain mode” that allows you to essentially power down the timer without losing any programmed information or settings. Allowing the system to run in rain mode throughout the winter is usually safe and shouldn’t run up your energy costs. In the spring, you can turn the rain mode off, and the timer should resume working normally.
Step 3: Drain the Water
It’s not enough just to keep water from flowing into the system; you also need to drain out the water that’s already in there. This is the biggest and most time-consuming step in the process, but it’s absolutely vital. There are three main methods of drainage depending on what type of sprinkler system you have.
Some sprinkler systems may allow you to drain the water manually. These systems have shut-off valves at low points or ends of the piping. Make sure to wear eye protection while completing this step because the water supply in the system is under pressure. Slowly open the valves one at a time and let the water run out, then close them when finished.
Other systems have components that will automatically drain the water once the main valve is shut off and the water pressure drops. You can usually activate the system by running one of the sprinkler heads with the water supply off.
However, there will still be some water trapped within the valves themselves. Locate the solenoid on each valve—a plastic cap with wires coming out of the top—and loosen it. This will allow air to flow into the system and water to flow out.
Some sprinkler systems allow you to hook an air compressor up to the pipes to force the remaining water out of the sprinkler heads. However, this method is destructive and even dangerous when tried on a sprinkler system that isn’t built for it. Additionally, it’s worth mentioning that a typical DIYer’s air compressor might create the 50 PSI (pounds per square inch) of pressure needed to clear out PVC piping. However, at-home machines can’t usually generate the 10 CFM (cubic feet per minute) of volume needed to quickly and completely blow out the water.
For these reasons, we don’t recommend attempting the blow-out draining method on your own. Even if you don’t damage the system, you might not get the job done completely, and even a little water left in a sprinkler system over the winter can cause problems. Hiring a professional for this job is a once-a-year cost that’s well worth it.
Step 4: Insulate Above-Ground Components
Finally, make sure that all the above-ground parts of the sprinkler system are properly insulated from the weather. The main shut-off valve, plus any exposed pipes or backflow preventers, should be wrapped in foam covers or insulation tape. On the backflow preventers, make sure not to block any air vents or drain outlets.
Double-Check the User Manual
Particularly if you’re winterizing your sprinkler system for the first time, make sure you double-check the manufacturer’s user manual. The steps presented here are generic to most systems, but you want to see whether you need to take any specific actions for your sprinklers.
Lawn Care Help
If you don’t feel comfortable winterizing your sprinkler system on your own, there are plenty of professional lawn and sprinkler care services standing by ready to help each fall. We recommend the nationwide provider TruGreen.
Our Rating Methodology
To provide readers with the most objective, accurate, and detailed recommendations, the This Old House Reviews Team continually researches lawn care service companies on the market. We take the following steps to obtain up-to-date information about the industry and each company we review:
- Analyze more than 100 customer reviews from third-party review sites, such as Yelp, the Better Business Bureau (BBB), and Google Reviews, for each company
- Secret-shop for lawn care plans and packages to get a sense of cost, offered services, and the overall shopping experience for prospective customers
- Speak with representatives on the phone to simulate the customer service experience from each provider
- Update information on a regular basis to ensure the most accurate information when plans or services change with each company
We use the data from our research to build an in-depth rating system that allows us to score lawn care providers on a 100-point scale. Here are the factors in our evaluation and their designated scores:
- Plan options (30): As one of the most important factors for homeowners shopping for a lawn care service, this one is weighted heavily based on each company’s lawn coverage. Companies that offer more options, such as irrigation, weed control, seeding, and aeration services in addition to a general plan, score higher than others.
- Trustworthiness (30): Each company’s reputation is another significant factor for homeowners to consider before signing up for a plan. We scored providers based on their BBB score, accreditation, and offered guarantees available with each purchase.
- Additional Benefits (20): We gave extra points to companies that provide a few additional services and benefits with their offered plans, such as organic treatments, pest control services, and a mobile app for digital communication and plan management.
- Customer Service (10): In this rating category, we awarded points to customer-focused lawn care service providers who offer weekend availability and easy communication through phones, online chats, and online resources.
- Availability (10): We also scored companies based on their overall availability, rewarding those that are nationally available over local companies only operating in select cities or ZIP codes.
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