How to Winterize a Sprinkler System

By PropertyClub Team
Jun 19th 2022
A sprinkler system can keep your lawn fresh and green all summer lawn. You don’t have to raise a hand, other than setting the timer. But at the end of the season, it’s time to return the favor. You need to winterize your sprinkler system to protect it from damage caused by ice.

hash-markHow to Winterize Your Sprinkler System

1. Turn Off the Water

The first step to prepare your sprinkler system for winter will be to turn off the water. You will be able to find the valve that controls the system's water flow near the water meter. If your sprinkler system has a backflow preventer you'll also need to locate those valves and make sure they're shut off as well. 

2. Drain Water From the System

Draining water from your sprinkler system is the most crucial step in preparing it for winter as it will remove any water still in the system, ensuring it won't freeze and cause damage. Depending on the type of sprinkler system you have, you can either drain it manually, automatically or through a blowout. A sprinkler blowout is best handled by a professional and usually costs between $70-120. 

3. Switch Off the Automatic Timer

Most sprinkler systems run on an automatic timer, which you'll need to switch off for the winter. Before you turn off the system for winter you'll want to read the manual to ensure you won't lose any pre-programmed settings. Many systems will have a rain mode that deactivates the automatic timer, making it a great option to use for winter without losing your settings. 

If you don't have an automatic timer programmed you can stip this step. 

4. Winterize the Above-Ground Components

The last step to winterizing your sprinkler system is to insulate and protect the above-ground components from the elements. You'll need to cover any exposed pipes and backflow preventers with appropriate insulation. If your main shut-off valve is exposed, you'll also need to protect that. 

hash-markDo You Need to Turn off Sprinkler Systems for the Winter?

In a word, yes, because water expands when it freezes. Imagine a pipe that’s full of water. When the water freezes, it has nowhere to go and the pipe bursts. The same thing happens to valves or to any other closed system that’s full of water. The obvious exception to this is if you live in an area where the temperature never drops below freezing. In that case, there’s no need to winterize your sprinkler system.

However, just shutting off the water in your sprinkler system isn’t enough. Some water can remain in the pipes, and even a few drops of water in a valve can be enough to cause damage when it freezes. To keep your sprinkler system safe, you’ll need to blow it out.

hash-markHow do I Drain my Sprinkler System for Winter?

You can drain your sprinkler system to prepare for the winter cold by performing a sprinkler blowout. A sprinkler blowout is when you run compressed air through the pipes. This forces water out of the pipes, literally blowing it out. Once they’re clear, the controller is shut down for the year. You can even disconnect the backflow valve, although this shouldn’t really be necessary.

hash-markHow Does A Sprinkler Blowout Work?

A sprinkler blowout is a simple process that drains your irrigation system of any excess water. First, the water is turned off. Next, an air compressor is connected, and the sprinkler zones are turned on one by one. Ensuring there's no excess water in your sprinkler irrigation system protects the pipes from any damage that may occur if the water freezes during the winter. 

hash-markWhen Should You Blowout Your Sprinklers?

Because sprinklers get damaged at sub-freezing temperatures, you need to blow them out before the first frost of the year. Watch the 10-day weather report, and winterize your sprinklers a week before the first forecasted frost. This way, you’ll have plenty of leeway if the mercury decides to drop a day or two earlier than expected.

hash-markCan I Winterize my Own Sprinkler System?

Absolutely! If you know the ins and outs of your sprinkler system, it’s not that complicated. First, you’ll need to shut off the main water supply valve. There should be one at the sprinkler source, so you don’t have to shut off your entire house. The sprinkler valve should have a hookup for an air compressor, but you may need an adapter. If you have to take a trip to your local home improvement store, take a picture of the hookup with you to make things easier.

Next, hook up the compressor and start it running. Activate each sprinkler zone, one by one, and go outside to watch. At first, you’ll see water fitfully spurting out of the nozzles. When they’re just blowing out air, you can move on to the next zone.

hash-markHow Much Does it Cost to Winterize my Sprinkler System?

Sprinkler system winterization is very affordable, but it depends mostly on the number of zones. The more zones, the more time is involved, and the costs are correspondingly higher. For most properties in the US, it will cost between $70 and $120 to winterize your sprinkler system.

Some services will charge a flat rate for sprinkler blowouts, while others will charge their ordinary hourly rate. This costs more than doing the job yourself, but as you can see, it’s not terribly expensive. If you’re not 100 percent confident in your own winterizing abilities, hiring a plumber is a great way to make sure the job gets done right.