A Guide To Winterizing Your Sprinkler System

As temperatures drop, you may be wondering whether you need to winterize your sprinkler system and how to do it. If so, you’re on the right track: In areas where freezing temperatures are common, winterizing your sprinkler system will prevent pipes from bursting or valves from freezing. Milder climates also benefit from winterizing, as it can prolong the life of your sprinkler system.

To winterize your sprinkler system in the fall, shut off the water supply from the main water valve. Drain the pipes for each valve and the backflow preventer, or have a professional blow out the lines. Then, with insulation, protect all exposed components from freezing, and store your hoses.

Let’s take a closer look at what it means to winterize a sprinkler system, whether you need to do it, and the steps involved in winterizing your system. Before you know it, you’ll understand exactly how to prepare your sprinklers for the winter months. 

What Does It Mean to Winterize a Sprinkler System?

Sprinkler winterization means taking steps to protect your system from freezing temperatures, regardless of whether the pipes are above or below ground. 

Winterizing is important because water expands when it freezes, and that expansion can cause severe damage to your pipes, valves, and other components of the system. Winterizing also helps prevent rust and corrosion.

Clearing out any water that could freeze and damage your system and protecting your pipes and other components are the two main goals of sprinkler winterization.

If you live in an area with mild winters, you may not need to do anything more than drain the pipes and store away hoses and sprinkler heads. But if you live in an area with freezing temperatures, you’ll need to take additional steps to winterize your system.

Do You Need to Winterize Your Sprinklers?

The best way to determine if you need to winterize your sprinklers is to consider the climate where you live. If your area is expecting below-freezing temperatures, it’s a good idea to take precautions and winterize your system.

Another way to tell if you need to winterize your system is to look at your soil type. Sandy soils freeze more easily than clay soils, so if your soil is sandy, you’ll want to take extra precautions when winterizing your system.

Finally, it’s always best to err on the side of caution and take steps to protect your equipment. Even if you don’t think you need to winterize, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

If you’re still unsure whether you need to winterize your system, you can contact a professional to get their opinion. A professional will assess your property and climate conditions to give you personalized advice on how to protect your system.

What Are the Steps for Winterizing Your Sprinklers?

The exact steps you’ll need to take vary depending on the type of sprinkler system you have installed and the climate where you live.

These are the general steps involved in winterizing a sprinkler system:

1. Shut Off the Water Supply

To shut off the sprinkler system water supply, turn off access at the main water valve. This valve is usually near the water meter or where the main water line enters your home. If you’re unsure where your main water valve is, you can ask your local water utility company or the sprinkler system installer.

You’ll also need to shut off the water to the backflow device to prevent water from flowing back into your system.

If you have an automatic timer, turn it off as well.

2. Drain the Pipes

There are a few ways to drain the water out of your sprinkler system, and the best method for you will depend on your system type.

Manually Draining the Pipes

To manually drain your pipes, open the valves on each side to allow the water to flow and drain the system. Be sure to close the valves after draining the system; leaving them open could invite pests or other problems into your home.

Automatically Draining the Pipes

If you have an automatic drain valve installed on your system, it will automatically open and drain the water after you close the main valve.

You can drain any residual water left in the valves by loosening the solenoid on each valve and tightening them again.

Blowing Out the Pipes

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

The best way to ensure that all the water is out of your pipes is to blow them out with compressed air to remove any water left in the system and help prevent freezing.

However, you’ll need to rent an air compressor, as the standard home air compressor isn’t powerful enough to blow out the pipes.

When you’re ready to proceed, open all the valves and drain any remaining water from the system. Once the system is empty, blow out the pipes by attaching the air compressor to the system and turning it on. Start at the highest point in the system and work your way down. Ensure all the water is out of the pipes by opening valves and checking for moisture.

This method can be dangerous if it isn’t done correctly, so follow all safety precautions or have a professional do it if you’re unfamiliar with the process.

3. Protect Your Equipment from Damage

Once you’ve drained the system, it’s time to protect your equipment from damage, especially if you live in an area where the temperatures are likely to drop below freezing.

Cover any exposed components like sprinkler heads, valves, and backflow preventers with insulation to prevent them from freezing. You can find pipe insulation (on Amazon) at most hardware stores or online.

You should also disconnect any hoses from your outdoor faucets to prevent them from freezing and bursting.

What Time of Year Is Best for Winterizing Your Sprinklers?

The best time to winterize your sprinklers is in the fall, before the first frost, to give you plenty of time to complete all the steps and protect your system from cold weather.

If you wait until winter begins, there’s the risk of your pipes freezing and bursting before you can finish the process, which can cause extensive damage to your system and may even require the replacement of some of your equipment.

Remember, if you’re not comfortable winterizing your sprinkler system on your own, hire a professional to do it for you. A professional can quickly and efficiently drain the system, blow out the pipes, protect your equipment from damage, and advise when to turn your system back on in the spring. 

What Are the Signs You Should Turn Your Sprinklers Back On?

Summer Shower

The signs that you should turn your sprinklers back on will vary depending on your climate. Start thinking about turning your system back on when the temperatures warm up and there’s no longer a risk of freezing.

In most cases, this will be in late March or early April. However, if you live in an area with a shorter frost-free season, you might have to wait until May or early June before using your sprinklers again.

Pay attention to the weather forecast and watch for any extended periods of warm weather. Once the temperatures consistently stay above freezing for a week or more, you can safely turn your system back on.

Contact a professional for advice if you’re unsure when to turn your sprinklers back on. They’ll be able to inspect your system and advise you on when it’s safe to use it again.

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