Winterizing Your Irrigation System

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If you’re a homeowner like me, you’ve probably heard that it’s a good idea to winterize your irrigation system, which includes your backflow device. But what exactly does this mean? And how necessary is it?

As a DIYer on a tight budget, I always weigh the “necessary” part. Is this something I NEED to do now, or can it wait? Of course, the answer depends on who you ask, and more importantly, where you live.

If you live in a climate where temperatures routinely dip below freezing during the winter months, taking steps to winterize your irrigation system will help prevent the contamination of your water supply, as well as avoid costly repair bills from a burst pipe.

What is Winterization?

When it comes to your irrigation system, winterization can mean several things:
• Turning off your automatic sprinklers
• Turning off your outside water supply
• Insulating your backflow preventer
• Blowing out your irrigation system

Here in the Northwest, we usually only need to worry about the first two items. But if you live in the Midwest or Northeast, you’ll want to address all four items.

What is a Blow Out?

The blow out method uses an air compressor to literally “blow out” any existing water in your irrigation system. If not done, any remaining water in your system could freeze and cause burst pipes. Although you can blow out your irrigation system yourself, I wouldn’t recommend it. If your compressor fails to blow out all the water, or if you use too much or too little pressure, you risk damaging your system. When in doubt, call your backflow test company to see what they recommend. Many offer a winterization package that includes a blow out, which in the end is much cheaper than expensive repairs.

What Can You Do Yourself?

If you don’t need to perform a blow out of your system, chances are you can do everything else yourself. Most automatic sprinkler systems have a switch that you can simply turn off. Your outside water supply should be accessible, regardless of whether it’s above or below ground. Mine is a couple of feet below ground and is a little hard to reach, so I use a wrench to help me turn the main valve to the off position.

If your backflow prevention device is above ground, it’s probably a good idea to insulate it. There are many options available at home improvement stores and online. Most look like insulated pillows or sleeves that you can just slide over the device.

Bring on Winter!

If you aren’t sure when to winterize your irrigation system, ask around. During my first year as a home owner, I asked my neighbors. Most seemed to do it around the same time, so I’ve continued to use that as a rule of thumb. Once your system is shut down for the winter, you can rest easy that you won’t have to think about it until the spring. This gives you the chance to work on projects inside the house, which is an entirely different kind of fun!

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