Turning Your Sprinklers Back On After Winter: How-To Guide

With spring right around the corner, it’s time for you to switch on your sprinklers again so that your garden has lush grass and bright flowers. The good news is, there’s no need to call an irrigation contractor or a lawn service; you can turn it on yourself!

To turn the sprinkler on after winter, find the main shut-off valve and the vacuum breaker. Then, close the test cocks, open the shut-off valves, reinstall the main valve bleeder cap, and open the main valve. Finally, test each irrigation zone while checking for leaks or other problems.

Turning the sprinkler back on is a simple 8-step process that you can easily DIY. Let’s look at the preparation you need before switching the sprinkler, the tools you’ll need, and the eight steps you’ll need to follow. We’ll also go over how you can prepare for irrigation. 

Preparing to Turn Your Sprinkler Back On 

Winterizing a irrigation sprinkler system by blowing pressurized air through to clear out water

The different parts of your sprinkler system, like the pipes, valves, and sprinkler heads, must deal with harsh elements during the cold winter months despite being adequately winterized. So, before you can turn on your sprinkler, you need to inspect the system for winter damage. 

To do so, walk through the yard to get rid of dirt and debris from the sprinkler heads. Then, inspect the valves, pipes, and all the components around the backflow preventer, drain valves, and main valve.

Even a little bit of frozen water in the system can cause cracks, so you might not be able to detect any issues until you’re ready to switch on the sprinkler.

Also, make sure that you switch on the sprinkler system very slowly. The speed of the water can damage the sprinkler heads and pipes, so make sure you’re very careful.  

What You’ll Need

To turn on your sprinkler, you’ll need a pencil and paper. In addition to that, you’ll need a flathead screwdriver. You might also need pliers or a sprinkler valve key for some systems.

How to Turn Your Sprinkler System Back On

Once you have all the tools and are prepared to switch on the sprinkler, here’s what you need to do.

Locate Your Sprinkler System’s Main Shut-off Valve

The first thing you need to do before you switch on the sprinkler system is to locate the main shut-off valve. In most cases, it will be outside near your sprinkler box or in your basement or crawl space. In the case of the latter, you need to look for a pipe entering the house at the ground level. 

If you don’t know what the valve looks like, don’t worry. You’re looking for a ball valve with a level and a copper pipe. Just make sure not to confuse the main water line valve with the sprinkler shut-off valve. The latter usually comes from below the ground and is the one you don’t want to adjust yet.  

Locate Vacuum Breaker

Next, you need to find the vacuum breaker. This is a kind of backflow preventer and is typically located close to the house and above the ground. If you’re unsure, look for a plastic or copper valve assembly attached to two pipes. Each of these pipes should have a dedicated shut-off valve. 

Close Test Cocks

A vacuum breaker also has a couple of test valves (not shut-off valves). However, instead of a butterfly handle or lever, you’ll find a slot for a flathead screwdriver on the test valve. 

Use a screwdriver and turn the valves by 45 degrees. They should be perpendicular and not parallel to the stem where they’re connected. 

Open Shut-off Valves

Apart from the test valves, the vacuum breaker has a couple of shut-off valves, one on all the pipes connected to it. Here, too, you’ll find a butterfly handle or lever. Turn the handle parallel to the pipe to open the valve. Do this for all valves. 

Reinstall Main Valve Bleeder Cap

You might also see a metal cap on the vacuum breaker. The purpose of this cap is to cover up the bleeder nipple on the shut-off valve’s side. The bleeder nipple drains the residual water when you winterize the system. So if you have a cap, screw it in its place.  

Open Main Valve

Now, you can go ahead and open up the main valve of the irrigation system. Make sure you do it very slowly. 

Start by turning the valve to only a tiny part of the way. Then, with each turn, wait for a few minutes till you hear the pipes fill up correctly. If you open the valve too much too quickly, the water might rush through the system very quickly, resulting in a burst of water that’ll cause the sprinkler head to go flying.

Once you make a few turns, ensure the valve is open fully and parallel to the pipe.  

Run a Manual Test of Each Zone

Now that the water is ready, the next thing to do is a manual text from the control panel for all your irrigation zones. Before moving on, look for any issues with the sprinkler head in each zone. The sprinkler head might take a little while to flow freely, but it shouldn’t continue sputtering even after a few minutes.

Also, make sure you look out for pooling water or water coming up from below the ground. Both of these hint at a burst pipe. And once you check each irrigation, double-check the main line and the basement valves to ensure everything is tightened and intact. 

Check Valves/Vacuum Breaker for Leaks

Finally, look at the system to ensure there are no leaks. Open all the valve boxes and check the inside. Also, check around the vacuum breaker valves, the main valve, under the sprinkler heads, and the visible piping. If the bleeder cap is leaking, tighten it with pliers.

How to Prepare to Irrigate

Sprinkler watering the grass

Now that your sprinkler system is switched on, the next thing you need to do is get ready to irrigate. To do so, fix all the problems you encountered during your manual test, like replacing the damaged sprinkler heads and adjusting the spray patterns

Remember that a broken or faulty sprinkler system wastes a lot of water and damages your foundation and landscape. It can even wear down the system, so you must stay vigilant for all these issues.

Once you fix all the problems, you can set the timer for the first watering session. It’s better to set the system to water when you can also keep an eye on it to ensure everything is fine. After the first session, you can set the system to water early morning or at night.  

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