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Posts Tagged ‘sprinkler systems’

Cast your mind back in the not-so-distant past, to early October last year.  The days were warm, the nights crisp, and frost nipped at gardens but the season was not yet at an end.  Lulled by temperatures swinging from 21F to 88F, gardeners delayed the chores of putting the landscape to bed for winter. 

Frozen backflow preventer - photo courtesy of ALCC.

Suddenly, the weather threw us a curve ball, plummeting temperatures to a chill 16 degrees on October 10.  Plants froze, and so did sprinkler systems.  Some were lucky, escaping harm to their pipes.  Others didn’t see the damage until spring, when they started up their systems to water yards.

 That’s when gushers erupted from backflow prevention valves (the brass valve on the outside of homes), cracked by water turning to ice in the sudden freeze.  Calls to sprinkler companies skyrocketed, and homeowners shelled out $300 to $400 for repairs.  Vows were made to never let this happen again.

But Mother Nature is having hot flashes, and our landscapes still need water.  The resulting seesaw between day and nighttime temperatures are a roulette game for irrigation damage.  But you can keep your system safe with a few tips from the Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado .

– Wrap your backflow preventer for as long as you want to keep your system operational.  Water in the preventer can freeze during cold snaps, so if you haven’t winterized your system when temperatures are due to dip, swaddle the backflow device with building insulation or towels, three to four inches thick, wrapping pipes all the way to the ground.  Cover it all with plastic, then secure it with duct tape.

– Once you decide to put the landscape to bed, winterize the system by shutting off the water and draining the lines.  Most systems in Colorado are designs that require blowout, but a few have manual or auto drains to remove water.  Should you have one of these, consider blowing out the system anyway, since lines settle over time and low spots often develop that hold water.

– Have your system blown out with an air compressor. Even if you’re a do-it-yourselfer for most tasks, blowing out a sprinkler system should be left to the pros.  A quick internet search for instructions on how to do this resulted in so many warnings shouted in bold, uppercase letters that it should be taken seriously.  According to the Hunter Industries website, using an air compressor to blow out lines can result in flying debris, although they don’t say if it’s from sprinkler heads shooting up like rockets out of the lawn.  The caution not to stand over the heads while they’re under pressure is an important safety tip.

To ensure your system is undamaged during blow out, look for a company with professionals certified by ALCC.  These Landscape Industry Certified Technicians must complete over 2000 hours of practical experience and 10 hours of testing in order to meet the standards of best practices the certification requires.   

Make your appointment soon, since October is a busy month for companies that offer winterization service.  Expect the blow out to cost $50 to $100, but it can save you higher costs come spring.

This post was previously published in the Longmont Ledger.

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Years ago, in one of my more embarrassing moments, I learned the value of winterizing the sprinkler system.  My spouse had shut the system off that fall, bleeding the lines dry. But on a warm January day while he was at work, I decided to water the trees the easy way by turning on the sprinklers.

Things were fine for a few days but then a hard cold snap settled in and froze the lines.  Once things warmed up again, a broken pipe near the house began to leak.  No, leak is an inadequate word here – water was gushing.  This was the main line running to the valve box; a big, three-quarter inch pipe that can put out a lot of water.

I know the sounds of my house, and “fire hose” isn’t one of them, so I did the only thing that seemed logical:  run around in a panicked circle a few times, then call my spouse at work.

After a moment of sheepish explanation on how water got into the lines, he told me to shut the water off to the sprinkler system until he got home to figure it out.  You know that moment in the movies where the hero/heroine have to go into the dark tunnel filled with icky things?  This is the same thing – it was a crawl space. 

Some things I won’t do, so I ran to my neighbor for help.  Matt is a brave man and a kind one, so he sighed and jumped into the darkness to go shut the line down.  Years later, we three still remember every detail of that day.

With the record setting low, our gardens are saying goodbye for the season, and although we may get a few more weeks out of our plants, the time has come to start shutting the systems down.  When to do this is a question haunting many, so it was with pleasure that I read the email Tip of the Week from the Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado ( you can sign up to receive this too – just go to their website.  This is a professional organization, not a company, so they won’t try to sell you something.):

“One simple precaution can save you $100 in sprinkler repairs and a world of grief,” their tip reads, “Every year that first early freeze catches homeowners off guard and the most expensive part of their sprinkler system freezes–often causing flooding and water damage.  Then there’s the repair bill to fix the tiny part that froze.

“Protect the most expensive part in your sprinkler system:  the backflow prevention device.  This component is required on all systems because it keeps the water that’s in your sprinkler system from backing up into the domestic water inside the house.  It’s also the most vulnerable part of your system if there’s a freeze.  It’s usually located somewhere outside the home and next to the foundation.

“This precaution will help protect the backflow from early freezes and still allow you to run your sprinkler system until it’s winterized.

– Wrap the backflow device with a towel which provides insulation.

–  Then wrap the device and towel with a plastic bag and secure with duct tape.  The bag keeps moisture that can freeze out of the device.

“Be ready to take these additional precautions before winter sets in:

– Drain the backflow so there is no water left in the device.  If you don’t know how to do this, call a pro.

– Winterize the system.  You won’t be able to operate your sprinkler system after draining it, so you are ready for the final step of protection which is having the system winterized by blowing out the lines (pipes) with compressed air.

“For help with winterizing your irrigation system to prevent freeze damage, go to the ALCC website and click on Find a Pro, a service that helps you search for companies in your area.

As a general guideline, get your sprinklers winterized before mid-November.

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