As the leaves begin to fall and temperatures start to drop, it’s time to shut down your lawn irrigation systems and prepare for winter’s bitter cold. Sprinkler pipes and other components are at risk of freezing and breaking when temperatures drop below 32 degrees Fahrenheit.

Immediate damage can occur to exposed pipes and sprinkler equipment with the first freeze of winter. Further damage can result as extended freezing temperatures and wind chill conditions cause the soil to freeze at the same depth as the underground pipes. In many cases, homeowners are not aware that their pipes have been damaged until they begin watering in the spring and discover leaks in their yards.

Taking the necessary steps for protecting your sprinkler system now will avoid costly repairs in the springtime. Even so, you should still do pre-season maintenance each year in early spring. Here are some tips on how to prep your system for winter conditions. Your individual products may be different, but generally the procedures are the same.

  1. How to winterize sprinkler system: insulation
    Shut off the water supply to the lawn sprinkler systems before the thermometer hits freezing temperature. The main shut-off valve for your sprinkler system needs to be protected. Make sure it is wrapped with insulation, packed in pine straw or somehow sheltered from subzero temps.If you do not have a main shut-off valve, consider it a preventative investment and arrange to have one installed to avoid an expensive lawn sprinkler system repair.Any aboveground sprinkler system piping needs to be insulated. Self-sticking foam-insulating tape or foam insulating tubes commonly found at home supply stores are fine. Better yet, bury the piping when possible.
  2. Stay in control of your irrigation systems
    If you have an automatic sprinkler system, then you will need to shut down the controller (timer).Most controllers have an “off” or “rain-mode” setting, which simply shuts off the signals to the valves. The controller continues to keep time, the programming information (start times, valve run times, etc.,) isn’t lost and the clock continues to run. The only change is that the valves will not activate.If your controller is responsible for activating a pump, as a precaution, remove the wires that are connected to “MV” and “common.” This will prevent the possibility of the pump from being activated, which could cause overheating.An alternative to using the rain mode is simply to shut off the power to the controller or unplug the transformer. If you do, you’ll need to reprogram the time and potentially all your other settings as well, and replace the battery (if applicable) in the spring.How much electricity is saved by turning it off? That depends. Solid-state controllers use very little energy, about the same as a night light. Mechanical controllers use more, as much or more than a 100-watt bulb in many cases.My rule of thumb is that if the controller has a digital time display, you should use the rain setting on the controller. If the controller has a dial, like an analog clock face, turn off the power to the controller to save electricity.
  3. Drain the pipes to prep your sprinkler system for winter
    In temperate areas, it is not necessary to remove all the water from the underground pipes, because it doesn’t freeze that deep. You do need to remove at least some of the water from the pipes, though, so that it won’t freeze and break the pipe or other components.There are several ways to drain your pipes: the manual drain valve, the automatic drain valve or the compressed air blow-out methods. However, because there could be potential safety risks, we recommend contacting a local irrigation specialist.
  4. Protect irrigation system valves and backflow preventers
    Insulate your lawn irrigation backflow preventers and valves if they are aboveground. You also can use insulation tape or pine straw for this.Please review your owner’s guide for detailed instructions on how to prepare your irrigation systems for the winter months. Remember, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. This applies when you winterize sprinkler system equipment. Knowing that in the springtime your system will start and operate without any headaches is worth the effort. When in doubt, call a professional.