How Can You Protect Your Irrigation System From Winter Damage?

sprinkler system spreading water across the garden

Having an irrigation system is great for keeping your lawn healthy and vibrant in the spring and summer. But once the colder weather rolls in, it is time to prepare your yard for the winter ahead. This means raking up all of the leaves that have fallen, covering your garden beds to protect them from frost, and winterizing the sprinkler system.

If you don’t winterize your irrigation system, it could get damaged from the harsh winter weather. When water freezes, it expands. Any water left in the irrigation system’s pipes can get frozen solid if you live in an area with freezing temperatures and snow. This can cause extreme damage to the pipes in your sprinkler system as they may crack or burst.

This could cause flooding in your yard and house, and the water damage could be significant. Further, you will need to have the broken pipes removed and replaced – all in the dead of winter.

Fixing these issues is not just bothersome; it can get costly, too! The national average cost to fix a burst pipe can be upwards of $350. Having your system winterized correctly can save you from these expenses and headaches.

Winterizing your sprinkler system is just as important as prepping it for the summer months – and thankfully, it’s probably a lot easier to do than you may think.

Let’s dive in.

Plan According to the Weather

When is the best time to winterize the sprinkler system for your lawn?

The answer varies depending on where you live and when the cold weather starts to set in. Ultimately, it is best to prep your irrigation system before the first deep frost, snowfall, or night when the temperature will drop below 32° F.

You will need to keep a close eye on the weather report to get a good idea of when to start winterizing the sprinkler system. You may want to run your sprinkler one last time to give your lawn a good watering. Just be sure there is enough time for the water to soak into the ground before it freezes; otherwise, you could damage your healthy lawn!

It would be best if you also looked for a consistent pattern of temperature drops. If there is a sudden drop for just one night before temperatures spike again, you can get away with just protecting the exposed pipes from frost. However, if it seems like a consistent cold is around the corner, it’s time to winterize.

Start Draining the System

man setting up drainage system

Once you are ready to turn off your sprinklers for the winter, you will need to drain the system. This will push out any of the remaining water in the pipes and protect the irrigation system from the winter months ahead.

The way you drain the pipes depends on the types of valves you use. If you are unsure of which type your sprinkler system is, be sure to contact the company that installed it or speak to an irrigation expert for help.

Manual Valves

If your sprinklers have manual drainage, you will need to open up all of the vents on your own to drain the system. The first step is to turn off the water supply. There should be a backflow device which will prevent water from flowing back into the house. Be sure that this valve is shut so all of the water will flow out of the sprinklers.

Then you just let gravity do its thing and propel the water out of the pipes on the lowest points of your system. Be sure to open up any check valves or backflow devices that may prevent water from flowing freely out of the system. Once the water is done draining, close up all of the valves completely.

Now, manual drainage is not always wholly adequate. Some of the water can get trapped in low points of the pipes and not drain out of the sprinklers. You can add some antifreeze into the pipes to prevent this from happening – or you can try the blow-out system that we’ll explain later.

Automatic Valves

Some sprinkler systems have automatic valves that will drain the water out of the pipes if the pressure falls below a set number of pounds per square inch. Usually, these systems will come with instructions in the operation manual of how to do this properly.

To trigger the automatic drainage, you will need to turn off the water supply and run just one of the sprinkler heads until the water is drained. There may be a switch on the control panel for the irrigation system to start the drainage process, or it may go automatically. You will still need to manually open any check valves and black flow devices on your own to make sure all of the water is cleared out.

hands of a man setting up valve

Blow-Out Method

One of the most effective ways to ensure that your pipes are completely drained for winter is air-drying them. This is known as the blow-out method. It involves using compressed air to push all of the remaining water from the sprinkler system.

To do this, you will need:

  • A 10 cubic-feet-per-minute air compressor
  • Quick-connect hose adapter to connect the blow-out port of your sprinkler system to the compressor
  • Eye protection

Once the compressor is connected, the air pressure is slowly increased to a set PSI (pounds per square inch) – 80 PSI for PVC pipes or 50 PSI for polyethylene pipes. It is recommended that you work zone by zone in a more extensive irrigation system, so the air is funneled evenly throughout the pipes. Once the airflow begins, the water will spout out of the drain valves and sprinkler heads. The airflow must be cut off as soon as the water stops flowing; otherwise, it could damage the sprinkler headgears.

This method can be difficult (and even dangerous) to do on your own. If you use too much pressure, you could blow out the pipes and cause a lot of damage. Using too much pressure could also break the sprinkler heads or valves.

Generally, it is best to leave this to the experts and hire irrigation system professionals to take care of it for you. This way, you can rest assured that the job is done correctly and your system is safe from any damage.

Insulate Exposed Pipes

Next, you will need to insulate any of the exposed irrigation systems. This includes the pipes that connect your irrigation system to the water supply and the sprinkler heads and drain.

Insulation does not require any fancy equipment. You can use some plastic bags or sheets and foam insulation tape to do this. Wrap up the piping with the plastic and tape it into place. If you live in an area with extreme snowfall, then you may consider purchasing an insulated cover. This protective structure will keep the pipes safe from any damage if you experience heavy snowfall or thick ice coverings.

Next, you will need to cover any above-ground backflow preventers, sprinkler heads, and valves – be sure that the air vents and drain outlets are not blocked. Cover the exposed pieces in plastic and secure it with foam insulation tape.

Keep up With Seasonal Maintenance by Winterizing Sprinkler System

display of a sprinkler system in a commercial building

The best way to prepare your sprinkler system for the winter (and upcoming spring) is by staying on top of maintenance throughout the year. It is estimated that routine maintenance cleanings and repairs could prevent 10% of all sprinkler system issues.

Remember, it will be much easier to fix a broken or cracked pipe before the ground freezes than during the cold months. So, be sure to book one last maintenance checkup before winterizing your sprinkler system – and keep up with seasonal maintenance year-round.

During these checks, irrigation system professionals will ensure that your sprinkler system is running at peak efficiency. They will also measure the pipes’ water pressure, correct spray pattern issues, and clean any clogged nozzles and pipes.

Conclusion

Winterizing the sprinkler system is one of the best ways to ensure you have a great looking lawn next spring. Failing to prepare your irrigation system could end in disaster and cost you a pretty penny in repairs. Instead, take these few easy steps to make sure your sprinklers are protected from the cold.

If you have any questions about winterizing your system or you want to book professional cleaning or maintenance, give Environmental Designers Irrigation a call.

We’ll help you prepare your sprinklers for the cold winter ahead and take care of any repairs or maintenance as needed.

Guy Virone