How to Winterize Your Sprinkler System

How to Winterize Your Sprinkler System

Oct 5th 2023

Winter is swiftly approaching, so it's crucial to know how to winterize your sprinkler system to protect the irrigation system's valves and pipes from the cold. If you live in an area where temperatures drop below freezing and your yard experiences frost, you should properly prepare your system for winter by draining the water. With the right tools and methods, you can drain out the water from pipes and insulate sprinkler components because any sitting water might freeze and burst pipes, costing you hefty repairs.

So, it should be on your top list of things to do to prepare your home for the winter. In this blog, we discuss all the steps you need to take to winterize a sprinkler system. Let's begin and prepare your irrigation system for the chilly season!

Steps to Winterize Your Sprinkler System

Here are the steps to DIY winterize your sprinkler system and reduce the risk of freeze damage to your system.

Turn Off the Water Supply and Valves

The first and foremost step is to shut off the water supply to the system using a main valve, which is usually located close to the water meter or water source. Additionally, if your irrigation system has backflow-prevention valves attached to the backflow device, you need to shut off these valves.

Generally, two valves lead into the backflow device, so make sure to turn off both. However, if your irrigation system does not use potable water, it could not have a backflow preventer.

Shut Down the Timer

Your sprinkler system probably runs on an automatic timer. If so, make sure to shut it off along with the water. However, most advanced systems have a "rain mode" setting that you should turn on. This feature allows you to turn off the sprinkler system throughout winter without losing any programming settings or crucial information.

You can easily turn off the "rain mode" setting when you're ready to de-winterize your sprinkler system in the spring.

Drain the Water

Once you have stopped water flowing into the system, you must drain the water from pipes and sprinklers to prevent the water from freezing and breaking the pipe. Although this step takes time, it is the most crucial step. Depending on the type of sprinkler system, there are three methods to drain your pipes: manual draining, automatic draining, and blow-out draining through an air compressor.

Automatic Draining

Some sprinkler systems have components that can automatically drain the water, which is quite useful. To automatically drain out the water, you only need to turn on the sprinklers when the water supply is shut off. Most of the water will be removed, but some leftover water will still be trapped in the valves.

To drain the residual water, loosen the solenoid on each valve (it resembles a few wire cables looped out of a plastic cap). This allows air to enter the system and water to flow out of the system. When the water is entirely drained out, tighten these again.

Manual Draining

Manual draining is a simple-to-use method. Here, the pipes are elevated, so they manually drain water when you open the valve at the lowest point, which might be at the end of the piping. Let the water drain out by slowly opening each valve and shut it off when you're finished. While performing this draining method, wear eye protection because the water pressure in a system can damage your eyes.

Blow-out Draining

This is a complex and most effective draining method. Using this technique, you force compressed air into the sprinkler system to blow out the remaining water through sprinkler heads. The high pressure will cause the excess water to move out until there's nothing left.

However, this technique carries the risk of system damage if not carefully performed. All systems cannot handle the high pressure, so you should see the system's pressure ratings before doing it to ensure your sprinkler system can handle air pressure. PVC piping is capable of handling more pressure than polyethylene pipes.

Here are the steps you should follow when draining water through the blow-out method.

  • First, wear safety goggles to protect your eyes.
  • Find an air compressor that has a volume of 80-100 CFM. At-home machines cannot usually generate the volume that this method requires to completely blow out the water. You may need to rent one.
  • Next, connect the air compressor to your sprinkler system by utilizing a coupler or hose bib. It's important not to blow air via a backflow device because air pressure could damage it.
  • Now, switch on the sprinkler station that is the highest one and away from the air compressor.
  • Next, close the backflow isolation valves.
  • Now, open the compressor valve gradually and carefully to release air into the system. You need to ensure nobody is near the open sprinkler station.
  • Progressively release more air pressure into the system until the water starts flowing out. However, don't add too much pressure at once or exceed the recommended pressure for your system, as it could damage the piping. With PVC piping, don't exceed pressures above 80 PSI and 50 PSI on polyethylene piping.
  • Turn off the air compressor when the water stops coming out. There's no need to blow compressed air in dry pipes for longer than needed. Now, go through all the sprinkler stations and clear them one by one.
  • Once every sprinkler station is clear and drained, shut off and disconnect the compressor.

Whichever draining method you use, your sprinkler system should be entirely drained out now, and you're all set to insulate.

Insulate Above-Ground Components

The final step is to insulate all above-ground components of the sprinkler system. The backflow preventers, main shut-off valves, and any exposed pipes should be covered with insulation tape or foam covers. On backflow preventers, be careful not to block the air vents and drain outlets.

The Bottom Line

Winterizing your sprinkler system is an excellent way to protect your irrigation system in freezing conditions. Follow these steps to prepare your system for winter. If you do it properly at the right time, your system will be ready to run again in the coming spring to revive your lawn or garden.

If you feel uncomfortable draining the water on your own or need any help with winterizing your system, you can reach out to a local landscape professional in your area. Our irrigation experts here at Dripworks are always here to help you keep your sprinkler system safe and running for longer.