Irrigation Helps & Tutorials - How to winterize your Irrigation & Sprinkler System (Automatic Drain Valve Method) (2023)

Winterization is an important part of maintaining a properly running lawn sprinkler system. Where you live plays a big part in which steps you will need to follow. In this how-to guide to winterization, we will take a look at the steps involved in winterizing your sprinkler system in a cold climate. As a part of that, we will examine a method for removing the water from pipes and sprinklers using automatic drain valves. When you have finished reading this article, you will have the knowledge necessary to successfully winterize your lawn sprinkler system.

Step One: Turn Off The Water

First things first: when the time to winterize your irrigation system rolls around, you'll need to shut off the water at the main valve before doing anything else. By necessity, the shut off valve for your sprinkler system needs to be located in a place where it can't freeze up; this should have been done when the system was originally installed.

Step Two: Shut Down The Controller

Here's where things get a little less cut-and-dry. Automatic irrigation systems have a controller - or timer - that regulates when they turn on and off. Depending on what kind of controller you have, you may either choose to set it to "rain mode" or disconnect the power from it altogether.

Please note that you can always buy a more up-to-date, efficient controller or timer to save yourself a lot of time and money in the long run. offers the best selection and most competitive prices for lawn sprinkler system controllers on the market today.

Solid State Controllers

A solid state controller usually have digital time displays and generally use up a lot less electricity and power than their mechanical counterparts. Disconnecting the power from your sprinkler system controller means having to reset all of its associated settings when spring returns - not necessarily the simplest task in the world.

Solid state controllers tend to use very little electricity, though, so leaving them on - but in "rain mode" - will not cause a major spike in your electric bill. Therefore, if you have a solid state digital controller, use the "rain mode" setting and save yourself a lot of frustration down the line.

"Rain mode" means that your controller stays on, maintaining its settings, programming and keeping the time - but the valves simply don't come on. They can save you a great deal of time when it comes to winterization.

Mechanical Controllers

Mechanical sprinkler system controllers can be identified quite easily; they typically have a dial on them similar to one found on an analog clock. These machines do use up a lot of electricity when compared to solid state controllers. Most people find the cost of keeping mechanical controllers on throughout the winter overly prohibitive.

Instead of using "rain mode," then, it makes sense to turn off the power to a mechanical controller for optimal winterization performance. One more thing: if you have a pump wired to your mechanical controller, disconnect it. This can help eliminate the risk of the controller inadvertently kicking in and damaging the pump.

Step Three: Remove The Backflow Preventer And Take Care Of Risers

Next, you will need to remove the backflow preventer from your lawn sprinkler system. Once it's removed, drain all the water from it and store it someplace safe. Although you can always reinstall it once it's drained, that's usually a task best kept for the springtime.

While there's a chance that you'll be able to siphon water out of your irrigation system's risers, chances are that you'll have to pump it out. If so, a wet/dry shop vacuum is your best option; use duct tape to make the hose narrow enough to work properly.

Valves that are installed above ground should be drained of water and stored somewhere safe. Some people choose to use pipe heating cables on their backflow preventers and above ground valves. Keep in mind, though, that even when used properly such arrangements can fall victim to power outages and serious damages to your irrigation system can occur.

Removing A Backflow Preventer

As noted previously, removing your irrigation system's backflow preventer and storing it for the season is a smart move when you're completing the other steps involved in winterization. How do you remove a backflow preventer, though? With any luck, the one that you have is held in place with union connections. In this case, you'll just need to uncouple them on either end of the backflow preventer, just before the bends in the piping. Once it's removed, storing it will be simple. You can use insulation on the exposed ends of the pipe to keep them safe from harm - and to keep critters and debris from inadvertently getting in.

If you don't have union connections in place, though, you're in for a little bit more work. The people who have the biggest trouble removing their backflow preventers are the ones whose system doesn't use union connections. In this case, you'll have to cut the backflow preventer out manually. It's definitely more work, but the good news is that once that's done, it's done. When spring rolls back around, you can reinstall the backflow preventer for your irrigation system using union connections; the next time you need to winterize your lawn sprinkler system, it will be considerably easier.

Step Four: Removing Water From The Pipes And Sprinklers

Now comes the most important step of the winterization process: removing all of the water from the system's pipes and sprinklers using the drain valve method.

The Drain Valve Method

In order to explain the process more clearly, we will highlight the pertinent facts and steps involved in using the drain valve method to drain the water from your lawn sprinkler system in small, easy to grasp sections below.

  • Location - It's critical to have properly placed drain valves. Basically, you will need a drain valve at every low point in your piping system. Additionally, a drain valve is needed at every high point that doesn't have a sprinkler so that air can escape; otherwise, the water won't drain.

  • Organization - If you're using manual drain valves, do yourself a favor and clearly mark down where each valve can be found on an easy-to-read chart. Keep the valves in a box and store it somewhere where it will be easy to find when it's needed.

  • Strategy - When your lawn sprinkler system was installed, optimally the remote controllers were placed just above the lowest point in a circuit. That way, you can install the drain valves at the same place as the controllers, making it much easier to winterize properly. About 1/4" of slope is needed per foot to drain the pipes effectively; in the best case scenario, you'll only need one drain valve per lateral.

  • Automatic Drain Valves - You can streamline your winterization process by using automatic drain valves. Assuming they are on the ends and the low points of your sprinkler system, automatic drain valves work to drain excess water when the pressure gets below 10 psi. Activate a station to release the pressure and to get the automatic drain valves going. You'll find that they save you a great deal of time and frustration when the time to winterize your irrigation system rolls around.

  • Water In The Valves - Since water won't drain all the way out of the valves, it will be necessary to remove them. Although it's possible to take them apart and dry them manually, it is not a practice recommended for the average, everyday DIYer. Choose valves with unions to make removal easier. After removing the valves, cap the ends to keep garbage and pests out.

  • Water In The Sprinkler Heads - Sprinkler heads with built-in check valves don't drain completely; neither do side inlet sprinklers. If you're unsure what kind you have, remove a sprinkler's cap to see if there's water down in the sprinkler body. If so, you'll need to remove it and shake it out thoroughly. Otherwise, you could try using a wet/dry shop vacuum to suck the moisture out.

A Note About Backflow Preventers

Irrigation Helps & Tutorials - How to winterize your Irrigation & Sprinkler System (Automatic Drain Valve Method) (1)Whether you live in a temperate or a cold climate, you can save yourself a lot of hassle - and make winterization much easier - by insulating your irrigation system's backflow preventer. In cold climates, occasional late and early season freezes occur and can damage your equipment. Using a small amount of self-sticking foam insulating tape - without blocking the drain outlets or the air vents - should be sufficient. Otherwise, try using some R-11 fiberglass insulation. Wrap it around the backflow preventer, then use duct tape to secure a plastic bag around the whole thing. Don't secure it too tightly - just tight enough to keep it from blowing off.

Practice Makes Perfect

As outlined above, it is easy to see that winterizing your irrigation system doesn't have to be an impossible task. Doing it yourself can save you a great deal of money, and with every passing season you will become more skilled at it. Having the right equipment and parts can also help tremendously; you can find the best controllers/timers, for example, by visiting Remember, also, that once you've insulated all of your pipes and backflow preventers properly, you will be set for some time and won't need to repeat the process every single year.

Irrigation Helps & Tutorials - How to winterize your Irrigation & Sprinkler System (Automatic Drain Valve Method) (2)
Irrigation Helps & Tutorials - How to winterize your Irrigation & Sprinkler System (Automatic Drain Valve Method) (4) Irrigation Helps & Tutorials - How to winterize your Irrigation & Sprinkler System (Automatic Drain Valve Method) (5)


Do I need an automatic drain valve on my sprinkler? ›

In cold climates, underground sprinkler systems can freeze and burst in winter unless the lines are drained or blown free of water. An easy way to drain those irrigation lines is to install automatic drain valves.

How do I clear my sprinkler system for winter? ›

Blow-Out Method Procedure
  1. Shut down the water supply and connect the air compressor to the irrigation system using the coupler. ...
  2. Find the sprinkler station highest and farther from the compressor and turn it on.
  3. Close the backflow valves.
  4. Slowly open the valve on the compressor.
  5. Gradually add more air pressure.

Should the irrigation control valve be on or off? ›

Make sure the sprinkler valve is closed, unless it's the valve farthest from the main water source. You'll want to leave this valve open and remove the sprinkler nozzle to allow air to escape when you turn on the water.

Should you leave sprinkler valves open in winter? ›

Manual valves should be left in the open position throughout winter to prevent repressurization. Some sprinkler heads have both side and bottom pipe inlets. If you use the side inlet, install a drain valve on the bottom inlet to prevent the case from freezing.

Should I turn off irrigation in winter? ›

Your lawn should receive 1″ of water per week unless it is in dormancy. Shutting off irrigation systems just before the temperature begins to drop below freezing will help ensure that your system is not damaged.

Should I drain sprinkler system for freeze? ›

When temperatures start to fall, it's time to consider winterizing your sprinkler system. Your lines must be drained or blown out using an air compressor before the first hard freeze.

How long does it take to winterize irrigation system? ›

Winterizing a drip irrigation system will take between fifteen minutes to an hour, and is best done before the first freeze. The little time spent now will result in a low maintenance irrigation system that does not need replacement parts because of freeze damage.

When should I turn off my irrigation system? ›

Now that night temperatures are dipping below freezing, it's time to think about turning off your irrigation system. Shorter days, cooler temperatures and plant dormancy, all signal decreased needs for water. To avoid damage from freezing, shut off your system before cold temperatures arrive.

How do I winterize my sprinkler system without a blowout? ›

Not all systems need to have the water blown out of them. You can winterize a sprinkler system without an air compressor if all of your irrigation lines are buried at a slight downhill slope. Simply shut off the main water supply to your system and open the drain valves at the end of each zone.

What is the best automatic watering system? ›

Best Automatic Watering System for Indoor Plants Reviews
  • Raindrip R560DP Automatic Watering Kit. ...
  • Moistenland DIY Micro Automatic Drip Irrigation Kit. ...
  • SPlant Big Power Automatic Drip Irrigation Kit. ...
  • Kollea Reliable Automatic Watering System. ...
  • RAINPOINT WiFi Automatic Watering System. ...
  • MANGOIT Self Plant Watering Spikes.
28 Jun 2022

How long does an irrigation valve last? ›

One of the components that you may need to replace regularly are the wires, often due to improper installation and corrosion. Valves will give you 10 to 15 years of service, while controllers 5 to 10 years.

Do I need a pressure regulator on my irrigation system? ›

Pressure regulators are not essential, but tend to make a much better drip system. Drip irrigation usually requires lower water pressure than the normal pressure found in the average home water supply. The low water pressure makes sure that the drip system works effectively without wasting water.

Should irrigation run every day? ›

Watering every day is not advised. It should be done 2 to 3 times per week only to prevent a shallow root system. If possible, water during the early morning hours to ensure that the lawn dries entirely before nightfall. However, watering at any time of the day is better than not watering at all.

Should outside faucets be left open or closed in winter? ›

Share: If you own a home, chances are pretty good that you have at least one outdoor faucet. With outdoor faucets, it's exceptionally important to remember to detach your garden hoses at the end of the season, close the inside shut-off valve(s) and drain the faucet fixture before it freezes.

How cold does it have to get for sprinkler lines to freeze? ›

A sprinkler system will freeze if the temperature falls below 32° F (0° Celsius). Now, most indoor sprinkler systems are inside of buildings or homes where the temperature won't ever drop into the danger zone.

At what temperature do you need to winterize a sprinkler system? ›

To avoid any possibility of damage, sprinkler lines need to be drained prior to temperatures dipping below 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Failing to winterize a sprinkler system before a hard freeze (air temperature is below 0 degrees Fahrenheit) can lead to expensive and time-consuming repair costs.

What happens if you don't winterize irrigation? ›

If you forget to winterize your sprinklers, you run the risk that water will freeze in the irrigation valves, pipes and sprinkler heads. When water freezes, it expands causing the parts of your system to burst and destroying your sprinkler system.

Should I leave my sprinkler on all night? ›

No. Don't let your sprinklers run at night. Without the sun to help dry up the water, it can turn your lawn into a breeding ground for bacteria and fungus that have the potential to actually kill your lawn.

Should you run irrigation at night? ›

Watering grass at night or later in the day—particularly if it's bright, warm, and breezy—means that the wind and heat of the sun and soil will rob your grass and other plantings of precious hydration. Water is less likely to evaporate in morning's lower light and temperature, so you waste less.

How long does it take sprinkler pipes to freeze? ›

In general, a very approximate time frame that is needed for your pipes to freeze and then burst is from four to six hours. But that is only if there is no access to a heating source, and if the temperature is lower than twenty degrees Fahrenheit.

Is it best to turn off water during a freeze? ›

Even when the water is turned off, you'll see the leaks," he says. To prevent pipes from freezing, the best thing to do is turn your water off if you can locate your valve. If not, leaving your faucets on with a slight trickle - not a drip - to prevent broken pipes, he says.

How much does it cost to have your irrigation system winterized? ›

The typical sprinkler winterization cost of $75 to $150 assumes that you have an irrigation system with 3 or 4 zones. You may have more or less depending on the size of your yard. The more zones you have, the more you'll pay to prepare your sprinklers for freezing temperatures.

What is the best time of day to run your sprinkler system? ›

Watering in the morning (before 10 a.m.) is the best time for your lawn; it's cooler and winds tend to be calmer so water can soak into the soil and be absorbed by the grass roots before it can evaporate.

How many times a week should you run your sprinkler system? ›

Usually 1 or 2 times a week is sufficient. If you want to determine the maximum amount of time your sprinklers can be left on at one time, observe a cycle from the beginning to the time when runoff begins. That is the maximum amount of time that you let your sprinklers run in any given watering.

How long should you run irrigation? ›

Your goal is to irrigate enough in one day to soak just past the root zone, then let the soil dry down a few days. The best time to water is in the early morning hours. Allow 30 to 60 minutes between watering cycles so water has a chance to soak in the soil. The heavier the soil, the longer the soak time needed.

Do plumbers winterize sprinkler system? ›

Your plumber or landscaper may do it for you as part of the winterization service. If you don't feel comfortable doing it yourself, ask to be sure.

How do I winterize my backflow irrigation system? ›

Turn off water to the backflow preventer. Most have an isolation shutoff valve located below ground before the backflow preventer. Open test cocks on the backflow preventer to drain all the water from it. Once water is drained, close both shutoff valves with a one-quarter counterclockwise turn.

What are the 4 types of irrigation? ›

The different types of irrigation include- sprinkler irrigation, surface irrigation, drip irrigation, sub-irrigation and manual irrigation.

What is one disadvantage of an automatic watering system? ›

The disadvantages of automatic irrigation are: costs for purchasing, installing and maintaining the equipment. reliability of irrigation system (due to human error when setting up) increased maintenance of channels and equipment to ensure it is working properly.

Do automatic sprinklers use a lot of water? ›

That might not sound like a lot, but your sprinkler system uses about 12 gallons of water per minute, which works out to 2,160 gallons or $13 over three hours. A leak in the system will spike your water bill even higher.

How long does it take to drain a sprinkler system? ›

What is the typical process for blowout? The blowout process is a pretty quick process, typically only taking about 15 – 20 minutes, depending on the number of zones. General steps are as follows: First shut off the water supply to your irrigation system using the master shut off valve.

How many drains should a sprinkler system have? ›

Most fire sprinkler systems have three types of drains: the main drain, the test drain, and the auxiliary drains.

Do I need a backflow preventer on my irrigation system? ›

Lawn irrigation systems can backflow contaminated water into your drinking water. In order to prevent this, building codes require that these systems be protected with a backflow preventer: International Plumbing Code 2006 608.16.

Do I need a rain sensor on my sprinkler system? ›

Without a rain sensor, you're at risk of higher utility bills and overwatered sections of your yard. Residential rain sensors offer multiple advantages when attaching them to your automatic sprinkler system.

Do you need a master valve for sprinkler system? ›

Master valves are a common component in most irrigation systems, but they are not always required. A master valve is an automatic valve that is installed at the point where the irrigation system connects to the water supply.

What are drain valves for sprinkler system? ›

Plastic Automatic Drain Valves prevent damage to irrigation system due to freezing by automatically draining the sprinkler lines when the water is turned off. Automatic Drain Valves are installed at the lowest point of each sprinkler zone.

Where is the best place to put a backflow preventer? ›

You should have your backflow prevention assembly installed inside an above-ground enclosure. It's the safest and most cost-effective place to put it. Installing your backflow preventer above ground in an outdoor enclosure allows you to protect your backflow preventer and maintain easy access to it.

Can a plumber install a backflow preventer? ›

A licensed contractor, plumber, backflow professional, or the property owner can install the device.

Do I need a pressure regulator for irrigation? ›

Pressure regulators are not essential, but tend to make a much better drip system. Drip irrigation usually requires lower water pressure than the normal pressure found in the average home water supply. The low water pressure makes sure that the drip system works effectively without wasting water.

What setting should my rain sensor be on? ›

IFAS researchers recommend rain sensor thresholds of 1/4” for 2 or 3 day per week irrigation with no more than 1/2” for 1 day per week irrigation. Remember, the lower the setting, the more water saved.

How long does an irrigation rain sensor last? ›

How long do rain sensors last? The average rain sensor only functions for 3-5 years before needing replacement.

Does a rain sensor have a battery? ›

The Wireless Rain and Freeze Sensor operates automatically and usually requires no regular maintenance other than replacing the batteries in the Rain and Freeze Sensor (Transmitter) every three (3) years. Replace the batteries with two Panasonic CR2032 3V or equivalent replacement.

How do I know if my sprinkler system has a master valve? ›

It is connected to the "master" or "pump" connection in your controller. For Generation 1 controllers, this is the blue terminal in the wall mount. For Generation 2 controllers, find the terminal marked "M". In the image below, the master valve is in the small circular box to the left of the main sprinkler box.

Do I need a booster pump for my sprinkler system? ›

The uses of booster pumps are many, and it's even a necessity for applications like watering your lawn or garden using an irrigation or sprinkler system, or for increasing water pressure in a multi-story building or apartment complex.

Is there a main shut off valve for sprinkler system? ›

Locate the main shutoff valve on your irrigation system. It is between the main water supply to your home and the sprinkler controller. Alternately, the main shutoff is located outdoors near a faucet bib. The main valve may be in a box in this area to protect it from the elements.

How long does it take to drain sprinkler system? ›

What is the typical process for blowout? The blowout process is a pretty quick process, typically only taking about 15 – 20 minutes, depending on the number of zones. General steps are as follows: First shut off the water supply to your irrigation system using the master shut off valve.


1. How To Winterize Your Sprinklers
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2. How to Blow Out a Sprinkler System
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3. How To Winterize Your Sprinklers (Sprinkler Blow Out With Air!)
4. Preparing your Irrigation System for Winter
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5. Rainbird Automatic Drain Valve Installation & Sprinkler Winterization
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6. How to Blow Out Your Irrigation System | Winterize #shorts
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