Cold weather is here, and winterizing your irrigation system may be the last thing on your mind. We don’t blame you! In the winter, who wants to get up out of the warm house and do work? Unfortunately, this is a pretty important task. If you live somewhere where temperatures drop below freezing, your irrigation can take a pretty intense hit. Frost can extend below ground and freeze water in your pipes and through sprinkler systems, busting pipe walls and damaging parts of the back-flow assembly.
Luckily, irrigation winterization isn’t all that complicated, and there are a couple steps that can be followed to make sure your system makes it through the winter. While getting to work doesn’t sound all that appealing right now, it’s definitely worth it.
Your main goal in winterizing is to get all the water out of the pipes. First, and perhaps this is obvious, you’ll want to shut off your main shut-off valve. After doing this, there’s a step that is only necessary if you have an automatic irrigation system. If you’re not sure how your system works, hit up Google and call up a local irrigation specialist who can determine if it’s automatic or not. If it is, you’ll need to set it into “rain mode,” which turns off the signals that go to the valves. The electronic programming in the system is kept if you do this, and everything will go back to normal if you turn rain mode off again. An alternate way of doing this is more brute force, and has you just shutting off the power to the system. This works the same for the valves, but you’ll need to reprogram the system once the winter is over, which is more of a hassle than just turning rain mode on. Whatever floats your boat, though!
Next, you’re going to want to deal with the back-flow preventer. First, you need to remove the whole back-flow preventer, then drain the water from the risers, then put the caps back on the risers. The rest of the water in the back-flow preventer needs to be drained as well, which can be done with a wet/dry vacuum if you don’t mind modifying it a little bit. After this, you’re good to go ahead and store the back-flow preventer for the season.
If you have any above ground pipes, you’ll need to remove and drain them, as well. While we’re on the subject, it’s also a good idea to insulate them year-round to avoid any freezing that occur during fall cold snaps before you winterize your system. This can be done with insulating foam found at any hardware store. If you have a main shut-off valve that is also above ground, this should be insulated as well. Just use some of the same foam and cover the valve in a plastic bag when you’re done.
Alright, now that this is all done, we’re on to the most important step, which is getting the water from the pipes and sprinklers. This is the real “winterization” that is going to prevent cracked pipes and other problems. There are three main ways of doing this, and it all depends on how your system was installed. Some systems are set up for a manual drain, while some auto drain. The third method is blowout, which works no matter the system. If you’re not sure what you have, you can either call up a specialist for a diagnosis, or just go with the trusty blowout option. It may be easier to avoid blowout if possible, however, so try to figure things out first.
Manual drain method
A manual drain is relatively simple, and we’ll walk you through what to do if that’s what your system is built for. The first thing you’ll do is open all the manual drain valves, which will drain water out of the mainline. After this, you’ll need to drain the water between the shut off valve and the back-flow system. You can do this by opening the boiler drain valve or taking off the cap from the stop and waste valve. Depending on your sprinklers, you may need to pull them up so that water is drained from their bodies.
If you have an auto drain system, you’re in luck! There’s nearly nothing to do. Hey, you’re almost done! You need to turn off the water supply, which you should have already done by now, then loosen each valve so that air is allowed in. This lets the water drain out, and you should be good. Nice job.
If you’re not sure how to do the manual drain, or you’re not sure what system you have, that leaves the blowout method, and it’s a bit more involved. You’ll need an air compressor with a CFM rating of about 80-100, which makes sure it’s strong enough to get the water out of your system. You can get this wherever it is you rent equipment near you (again, just hit Google if you’re not sure). You need to attach the compressor to the mainline after where the back-flow device would be.
Once the connection is made, you just need to slowly and gradually start the air compressor. Avoid reaching the maximum air pressure. Water should start to exit from the stations, though take care to not keep going once water stops exiting, as it can cause damage to the pipes. In general, each station should take about two minutes to drain, though it depends on the system. Once water stops coming out, you’re done!
There’s a few more things to know about blowout winterization. It can be done with the back-flow device still in the irrigation system, but you’ll need to open and close the valves on the device a couple times once you’re done to make sure all the water is. This essentially skips the beginning step, and it’s up to you how to do it. Additionally, it’s super important to remember to wear eye protection when doing the blowout method, as dealing with compressed air can be dangerous, folks! For more information contact QUENCH IRRIGATION