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Winterize Your Irrigation System Now!

Well, it’s that time of year again. The leaves have fallen and temperatures have dropped. This also means that it is time to shut down your irrigation system. Although not as necessary as other parts of the country, here in the North Georgia our irrigation systems should be winterized to avoid damage caused by freezing temperatures. 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 apparatus 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 sustained damage until they begin watering in the spring and discover leaks in their yards! Taking the necessary steps for protecting your irrigation 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 prepare your system for winter conditions. Obviously, the products and scenarios may be different, but generally the sequence of procedures is the same.

1. Insulate your assets.

Shut off the water supply to the irrigation system. The main shut off valve for your irrigation system needs to be protected against freezing. Make sure it is wrapped with insulation, packed in pine straw or somehow protected from freezing. If you do not have a main shut off valve, consider it a preventative investment and arrange to have one installed. Any above ground 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 them when possible.

2. Stay in control.

If you have an automatic system then you will need to "shut down" the controller (timer). Most controllers have an “off” or “rain-mode" 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 the MV and common. This will prevent the possibility of the pump from being activated which could cause overheat damage.

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.

In temperate areas such as ours it is not necessary to remove all the water from the underground pipes since 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, since there could be potential safety risks we recommend contacting a local irrigation specialist.

4. Protect valves and backflow preventers.

Insulate backflow preventers and valves if they are above ground. You can also use insulation tape or pine straw for this.

Please review your owners guide for detailed instructions on how to prepare your irrigation system for the winter months. Remember, "An once of prevention is worth a pound of cure". This definitely applies to winterizing an irrigation system. Knowing that in the springtime our system will start and operate without any headaches is definitely worth the effort. When in doubt, call a professional.

Additional information on the most efficient use of your irrigation system can be obtained by contacting: Ed Klaas, Vice President – Business & Legal Affairs, Southern Sprinkler Systems, LLC at 678-461-7922. Southern Sprinkler Systems is a full service irrigation company specializing in residential and commercial irrigation installations, repairs, upgrades, maintenance and consulting.

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About the Author

Ed Klaas, Southern Sprinkler Systems, LLC
1180 North Coleman Road
Roswell, GA 30075

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