How to Winterize an Irrigation System: A 3-step Plan

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Ensuring that your irrigation system is properly winterized for the cold months is imperative. This is true if you are an avid gardener who uses your personal irrigation system to bring life to your plants and vegetables, or a homeowner who simply wants to make sure that your irrigation system remains in good condition for watering the lawn. Irrigation systems can easily freeze and break with winter snows and freezing temperatures. Knowing how to properly winterize your irrigation system will give you peace of mind.

There are three basic approaches to winterizing your system. You can perform a manual process, blow out your lines, or use automatic irrigation winterization processes. When deciding on the method to use to winterize your irrigation system, consider your irrigation size, needs, and land footprint.

Winterizing your irrigation system may seem like a very daunting task. When wondering where to begin when it comes to irrigation system winterization, choosing a method is your first big decision. Below we will discuss the simple 3-step plans for manual, blow out, or automatic irrigation winterization. By the time you’re finished with this article, you are sure to be able to prepare for the coming winter months like a pro.

Do I Need to Winterize?

Is winterizing an irrigation system important and integral to its proper function? The short answer is yes. Do you need to winterize your irrigation system this year? (We will discuss the different types of irrigation systems later in the article.) Most likely, though it can depend on a few factors.

Winterizing your irrigation system whether it is a drip irrigation, sprinkler system, or another type of irrigation system on your home or business property will depend on what region or state you live in. People who live in warmer and more humid states or cities such as

  • South Carolina,
  • Southern California,
  • Florida,
  • South Texas, or
  • New Orleans,

typically do not need to worry about the winterization of their irrigation systems. This is because the temperatures will seldom drop low enough during the wintertime to negatively affect the system they have.

For people who live in regions or states within the United States that tend to get cold in winter and reach frozen or below freezing temperatures, winterizing your irrigation is imperative. These states and areas include

  • Minnesota
  • New York
  • Connecticut
  • Northern California
  • Colorado
  • Utah
  • Some parts of Arizona
  • Oregon
  • Washington
  • Idaho
  • Most of Montana
  • Wisconsin
  • Other Midwestern states
  • And other various eastern states

How Does Cold Weather Affect My Irrigation System?

Photo 169179549 | © Trong Nguyen |

Cold weather is detrimental to irrigation systems because the freezing temperatures have the ability to damage the hoses and pipes used to transport water to your yard, plants, and vegetation. When the temperature becomes cold enough, metal pipes can freeze and burst while rubber hoses can degrade and tear due to water freezing inside of them.

Winterizing your irrigation system will ensure that your system will not become damaged during the middle of winter due to inclement weather such as frost or snow.

When to Start Winterizing Your Irrigation System

While there is no steadfast rule on exactly when to winterize your irrigation system, it is recommended to begin thinking about the first winterization steps as autumn comes each year.

Falling and freezing temperatures are what you want to avoid when winterizing your irrigation system. Make sure that you are not attempting to winterize too soon, as you will still want to use your system. Waiting past September and October into the beginning of November is a great time to winterize.

While waiting until November is the ideal time to winterize your irrigation system, it really depends on where you are living. It is best to check the weather and temperature averages for each autumn and winter month in the state or region where you are living. If you notice that frost and freezing temperatures come closer to October in your area, then plan to winterize during that month.

A great rule of thumb is to winterize when the weather begins to cool, but no later than a week before the frost. This ensures that your pipes and hoses will have no chance of freezing and breaking or becoming damaged.

How to Winterize Using the Manual Drain Method

The Manual Drain Method is one of the most popular methods of winterization for both residential and commercial irrigation systems across the country. This method includes a little bit of manual labor but ensures that you will see the results and know exactly how much water has been drained.

Step 1: Locate the valves. In order to manually drain your irrigation, you will need to know where your drain valves are and how to open them. If you cannot seem to figure this out on your own, call a professional and have them help you locate them.

Step 2: Shut off the irrigation water supply. If the water supply is left on, all you will be doing is flushing water both into and out of the irrigation pipe. Shutting the water supply off means that only existing water within the pipe will be able to drain out.

Step 3: Open all the manual drain valves until all the water has been drained out. Once this has occurred, you can shut the valves and leave the pipe empty. A pipe or irrigation hose that is empty of water cannot freeze on the inside.

The videos below from “The Broomfield Channel” explains the process in great detail.

Winterize Your Irrigation with the Blow Out Method

The Blow Out Method is another, more technologically advanced method of winterization irrigation systems. This method involves protective gear, professional equipment, compressed air, and some patience.

Step 1: Rent an air compressor. You can probably rent an air compressor at your local hardware store, or order one for rent online if you do not own one already. An air compressor will be the main component to ridding your pipes of water.

Step 2: Attach your compressor to the main line. Make sure to remember that the air compressor should not be blown through any backflow devices. If you are unsure how to attach the compressor, consult the directions on the equipment or call a professional to help you.

Step 3: Slowly open the valve on the compressor to begin pushing compressed air through the irrigation pipes. This will send the water out of the pipes through their typical irrigation methods until the pipes are totally empty of any substance.

If you need a visual step by step guid, check out the video below from MoneyAhoy.

The Right Protective Gear for Winterizing With the Blow Out Method

There should always be a lot of caution and care taken when you are winterizing your irrigation system with the blow out method. This is because you are blowing the system out with compressed air. Compressed air can sometimes cause harm to people and result in accidents including:

  • Eye injuries,
  • Skin injuries, and
  • Cuts from flying parts or debris.

It is imperative to wear ANSI (American National Standards Institute) approved safety eye glass and other bodily protection when performing the blow out method for irrigation system winterization.

Make sure that you are not standing too close to any pipes or valves while the air is blowing out and perform this task very slowly and carefully.

Ensure that pets and children are not in the area, and that there are no valuables in the vicinity. Remember to park your car and other motorized equipment away from the area you will be winterizing.

The Importance of Preparing Your Hydraulic Control System

Preparing your hydraulic control system is of utmost importance when winterizing your irrigation system using the blow out air compression method. Your control system preparation will depend on the type of controllers you are utilizing.

The Outdoor Controllers: Turn the dial switch off but leave the power button on. This will make sure that no damaging moisture or condensation occurs prior to use.

The Indoor Controllers: Similar to your outdoor controllers, turn the dial switch off and leave the power switch on.

Important Sensors for When It Rains or Snows: Your rain and snow sensors do not need much in the way of preparation, but you can definitely remove any water so that it does not freeze when the weather becomes cold.

Things to Avoid When Winterizing with The Blow Out Method

There are a few things which are important to avoid when using the complicated blow out method for winterizing your irrigation system.

  • Always remove your flow sensors.
  • Do not leave any manual drains open.
  • Do not ignore the air compressor or allow children to use it.
  • Do not let the air pressure become greater than 80 PSI.
  • Do not blow the air compressor unit through a backflow pump of any kind.

When you follow these simple safety rules and tips, winterizing with the blow out method can become almost second nature.

Winterizing with Convenient Automatic Irrigation Valves

Photo 16241527 | © Alex Petelin |

Winterizing when using an Automatic Irrigation Valve is considered one of the least difficult ways to make sure your irrigation is prepared for the winter season. Involving the least amount of labor, automatic irrigation valves come equipped with their own winterizing systems to flush any remaining water out of the pipes and hoses. This means that with only a minimal amount of effort and no extra equipment needed, the automatic irrigation valves are able to practically winterize themselves by draining unnecessary water when the temperatures get too low.

Step 1: Ensure that you do, in fact, have an automatic irrigation system. If so, take the time to read the installation manual so that you know how to activate the self-winterizing feature before the temperature drops.

Step 2: Turn off any water that is supplying the irrigation system. This will prevent new flow of water to the sprinklers or water outlets. Then, use the sprinklers in order to release any remaining pent up water within the hoses.

Step 3: Drain any left over water that has gotten stuck between the backflow device and the cut-off valve which blocks water flow. Then, sit back and let the Automatic Irrigation system and its winterizing valves do the rest of the work for you.

What Is an Irrigation System, Anyway?

For those who are unfamiliar with what an irrigation system is, or what the term specifically refers to, irrigation is simply a type of sprinkler system. Irrigation, or the process of getting a specific amount of water to plants, grasses, vegetables, or yards, allows for the water to be timed and the amount to be controlled throughout the day.

Irrigation is one of the best and most effective ways to grow vegetables and ensure that you will have a beautiful garden. Almost every modern or contemporary home with a front yard, a side yard, a backyard, or a lawn area of any kind has an irrigation system.

Though the most recognizable and common forms of irrigation systems found on most suburban home properties are simple sprinkler systems, there are actually four different types of irrigation systems all created for slightly different irrigation needs.

Surface Irrigation: Surface Irrigation is a type of irrigation which involves distributing water all the way across the surface of the ground. The water is then able to soak into the ground soil, therefore making it useful to the roots of any plants nearby. The best way to integrate surface irrigation into the soil is to use:

  • Structures: The structures are known as the main pumping systems from which liquids are pumped.
  • Furrows: Furrows are typically small flooded rows that create small rivers in order to water plants or crops.
  • Basins: A basin is a dip in the landscape where water can end up easily collecting.
  • Siphons: A siphon, or a siphon tube, can direct water and dictate the water’s levels or amounts when flowing.
  • Pipe Grates: A pipe grate is a type of drain in which the water is grated.

When using these types of Surface Irrigation techniques, it is always best to use them on a sloped yard, property, or piece of land. If the land is too flat and leveled, the water will end up pooling in one spot and cause a tiny flood or pond. This will, in turn, drown any of the surrounding vegetation. Make sure that your soil is aerated enough and medium textured so that water can easily penetrate its surface.

When you see surface irrigation, it will more than likely look like a series of small rivers flowing in a directed way towards the plants or grasses it is needing to service.

Sprinkler Irrigation: Sprinkler Irrigation is a type of irrigation where water is sprinkled into the air by a hose, creating many tiny beads of water that are sent across an area with gravitational force.

The water is sprayed out of tiny holes in one or multiple water cannon mechanisms to replicate the effects of a natural rainfall on grasses, plants, and other vegetation. Sprinkler Irrigation systems are most common when watering plants native to a specific region or lawns installed in dry climates.

Photo 170693584 | © Piman Khrutmuang |

There are three types of Sprinkler Irrigation most commonly seen in both residential and commercial irrigation.

  • Solid Set Sprinkler Irrigation: The sprinkler system can be placed permanently onto a fixed spot in the ground where it will not move but will pop up when it is time to water.
  • Portable and Intermittent Mechanical Sprinkler Irrigation: A sprinkler system that can be moved around the yard or property and is attached to a hose that can adjust the amount of water given to plants and moved around when necessary.
  • Linear Wheel Roll Sprinkler Irrigation: This type of irrigation is a linearly moving irrigation system most often used on farms and large agricultural properties. The sprinkler in this system is attached to a pole or beam made of metal such as brass or a sturdy type of non-rotting wood. The system is then rolled across a field or very large vegetable patch as it sprays water down onto the plants from above.

Drip Irrigation: Drip Irrigation systems are a way to disperse water in between plants such as trees, bushes, or small rows of vegetables. The water drips through small holes in a pipe or hose that are lined to lay down on the soil. The water drips slowly and consistently in order to allow an even and thorough dispersal of moisture. This type of irrigation is the best when it comes to saving and conserving water, especially during droughts or in hot weather.

Photo 41268992 | © Photozirka |

Subsurface Irrigation: Subsurface Irrigation is the type of irrigation that requires digging into the actual soil. When hoses are rooted into the ground, a type of drip irrigation allows for the water to not only be dispersed evenly and slowly, but also closer to the root of the plants.

Do I Have an Irrigation System?

There are a few main simple ways to figure out whether you do or do not already have an irrigation system.

If you are a homeowner:

If you are a homeowner, it is fairly simple to figure out whether or not you already have an irrigation system. The easiest way to know whether you have an irrigation system is to do these things:

  • Know whether your property is a condominium, an attached home, or a detached home.
  • Before purchasing a home, ask the realtor or previous homeowners if there is irrigation and what type.
  • If you live in a detached home and have a lawn, you probably have an irrigation system of some kind.
  • Go outside and check your property. If you find hoses, tubes, or sprinkler spouts, you do have an irrigation system on your property.
  • Take a look at your vegetable patch. Odds are there will be a form of watering mechanism nearby. This could very possibly be an irrigation system.

If you are a property owner:

If you are a property owner, it can sometimes be somewhat complex to figure out whether or not you already have an irrigation system. The easiest way to know whether you have an irrigation system is to do these things:

  • Know whether your property is zoned as a warehouse, a storage space, agricultural land, for business, or something else.
  • Before purchasing the property, ask the realtor or previous property owners if there is irrigation and what type.
  • Go outside and check your property. If you find hoses, tubes, or sprinkler spouts, you do have an irrigation system on your property.
  • Take a look at any vegetation nearby. If it is dead, you might be in need of an irrigation system. If it is alive, check around it for any watering mechanism nearby. This could very possibly be an irrigation system.

While sometimes it can be hard to determine whether or not you already have an irrigation system, it is common that a simple inspection of your home or business property done by eye can quickly answer the question for you.

Is an Irrigation System Right for Me?

Knowing whether an irrigation system is right for you can depend on many factors. It can depend on:

  • The region that you live in, whether you are in a hot or cold climate. In a hotter and dryer desert climate, you will definitely need an irrigation system to keep any non-native plant species alive.
  • Whether you have a large or small lawn. If you have a small lawn, it will make more sense to have a sprinkler system for your irrigation. You can also add timed features so that less physical time is needed when watering your lawn.
  • Whether you have a large or small property. On a small property you can get away with hose watering. On a large property, installing an irrigation system will save you a lot of time and effort.
  • What you are interested in growing. Deciding whether it will be vegetables or flowers will impact whether or not you need an irrigation system. Trees and bushes that are spread apart do really well with drip irrigation systems, while vegetables such as tomatoes and peppers like sprinkler spray systems to replicate natural rain.

When deciding upon whether investing in an irrigation system is the right choice to make, consider the cost. According to the National Association of Realtors, homeowners spent an average of $2453 in 2018 to install irrigation sprinklers. If you feel that the cost will be worth the pay off, then an irrigation system is a great way to maintain your yard or garden.

Two additional important factors to consider are the aesthetic factor and the landscape requirements of irrigation systems. Depending on the slope of your yard, the layout of your property, and the grading of your landscape, the irrigation system will need to differ depending on its water distribution patterns. Aesthetically, having certain irrigation systems can impact how much of the mechanics are seen or hidden when looking directly at your yard.

When to Consider Replacing Your Irrigation System

When you already have an irrigation system that has been winterized in the past but aren’t sure exactly when it needs to be replaced, look for these five signs that it is time. The five signs that it is now time to replace and re-winterize your irrigation system are:

  1. You notice a lot of leaking. A leak can look like a few different things. A leak can be a large puddle of water sitting in the middle of your lawn. It can also be a dripping hose, or a sprinkler system head that is gathering a pool of water around it in the corner of your lawn, oftentimes located near a sidewalk or path.
  2. The water pressure has become alarmingly low. Low water pressure can indicate that the water is escaping elsewhere and therefore means you might have a leak in your system, or the system is no longer pushing water to the desired locations efficiently.
  3. If you haven’t replaced your irrigation since you first got one or are living in a home or operating a business that has an irrigation system that is twenty five years old or older, then it is definitely time to replace your irrigation system. Properly working irrigation systems must be winterized and regardless of their condition, replaced roughly every twenty to thirty years to ensure proper function.
  4. The water bill is suspiciously high. If you are noticing a sudden increase in the amount that you are required to pay for your water bill, then it might once again mean that your irrigation system is leaking somewhere. This means that it will need to be replaced. Once it is replaced, your water bill should return to normal because you aren’t using excess amounts of water to keep your vegetation healthy.
  5. If you notice a sudden growth of trees or roots in the area where your irrigation system is located, odds are that you will need to relocate the system. While tearing down trees and ripping out their roots is not recommended, it is recommended that the irrigation system itself be relocated and winterized for optimum performance away from any large trees or their roots.

All of these reasons, though each concerning in their own way, point to the fact that you should replace your irrigation system as soon as possible. Upon doing so, winterizing it right away will be your best bet for keeping it successfully operational for as long as possible.

A Properly Winterized Irrigation System Is A Successful Irrigation System

Having an irrigation system that is properly winterized is the best way to ensure that it will not become damaged during the winter months. Whether you live in a place where it freezes, rains, hails, or has consistent frost, winterizing your irrigation system will be one of the best decisions you can make to guarantee that it lasts as long as possible.

Whether you choose to have a sprinkler system, drip irrigation, or another form of irrigation system, winterizing using manual, automatic, or blow out methods, and following the 3-step winterization guide will help you immensely.

A properly cared for irrigation system means happy plants, lawns, and vegetation when spring comes around again.

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