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


  1. Shut off the water

Shut off the water supply to the lawn irrigation 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 above ground 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.

  1. Shut down the controller

If you have an automatic irrigation 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 above ground. 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 definitely worth the effort. When in doubt, call a professional.

Rain Bird has a detailed Homeowner’s Guide to Winterization.    >> Check it out here. <<