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How to Turn Your Home’s Sprinkler System Back on After Winter

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Residential irrigation systems deliver the proper amount of water and typically save much more water than their rubber hose counterparts. They also help you keep your lawn or garden healthy and green with very little effort.

Most Nebraska homeowners with in-ground irrigation systems have them flushed dry and turned off in the winter for many reasons, especially so the pipes don’t burst from freezing. But now that spring is around the corner, you will soon want to turn it back on so you can keep your property watered all through the warm weather months.

Some homeowners hire a lawn service or irrigation contractor to winterize the system in autumn and turn it back on the following spring. If you have the time and desire to turn it back on yourself, there is no reason to pay for this service. It’s very easy to do yourself, in just a matter of minutes. We have a few tips on how to do it:


What You’ll Need

  • Flat-head screwdriver
  • Sprinkler valve key (as needed)
  • Pliers
  • Notepad or scrap paper with pen or pencil



When turning on a sprinkler system after winter, the most important thing to do is to turn on the water very slowly. If it’s turned on too quickly, you may cause a shock wave (sudden change in water flow). That may burst fittings or even pop off some of the system’s sprinkler heads. When you open the system shutoff valve slowly, you allow it to pressurize gradually. If you have any reservations about doing this yourself, please give us a call.


STEP ONE: Locate the Main Shutoff Valve

These are usually found in your basement or crawl space. Look for piping coming into the home, near the ground level. That piping should include a single shutoff valve (usually a ball valve with a lever-type handle). If there is not a sprinkler system shutoff inside your house, look inside the sprinkler system valve boxes in the yard. The shutoff valve has a cross-shaped handle and could be below ground level, inside a large pipe or ground box.


STEP TWO: Locate the Vacuum Breaker

The Vacuum Breaker is usually above ground, located near the house. This is a copper valve assembly, connected to 2 pipes, each with a small shutoff valve.


STEP THREE: Close Vacuum Breaker’s Test Cocks

Test Cocks look like slotted screw heads. Turn them about 45 degrees to the direction of the nipples to which they are attached. Close them both by turning with a flat-head, standard screwdriver so the slot on the test cock is perpendicular to the nipple.


STEP FOUR: Open Shutoff Valves

Next, you will carefully open the two shutoff valves on the vacuum breaker. Each of the valves is located on a pipe leading to the valve and they typically have a butterfly-type handle. Similar to the test cocks, the valve handles should be already turned to be perpendicular to the pipe for winterization. Open the valves all the way by turning the handle so it is parallel with the pipe.


STEP FIVE: Reinstall Main Valve Bleeder Cap

Certain system shutoff valves have a small metal cap that threads onto a bleeder nipple on the side of the valve. This is for draining residual water from the pipes when shutting down the system. If your irrigation system’s shutoff valve has a bleeder nipple, be sure the cap is in place and snugly tightened.


STEP SIX: Open System’s Main Valve

Return to the main shutoff valve, and slowly open it to let water enter the sprinkler system. If it is a ball valve, turn the handle one-quarter turn until it is parallel to the pipe (that is the fully open position). If you have an in-ground shutoff valve, use your sprinkler valve key to turn it counterclockwise until it stops.


STEP SEVEN: Run a Manual Test

Once you have completed the steps above, set the system’s timer to run a manual test of all sprinkler zones. Run each zone for approximately 3 to 5 minutes. Watch the sprinkler heads as each zone turns on to make sure they are working properly and write down any problems and/or take photos of them so you can resolve the issues. You will likely notice water sputter and blow out air when they first turn on. This is normal and should stop within 60 seconds or so.


STEP EIGHT: Check Valves & Vacuum Breaker

Open each of the valve boxes in the ground to make sure there are no leaking valves or any other issues. Look over the vacuum breaker and related valves and piping for leaks or any other possible problems. On the main shutoff valve (as applicable), check the bleeder. If that cap is leaking water, carefully tighten it gently with pliers.


STEP NINE: Prepare to Irrigate

If you found any problems during the manual test, correct them. Then adjust the sprinkler head spray patterns and/or replace any damaged heads. For the first time using the sprinkler system, you water when you can keep an eye on the whole system to make sure everything is working properly.

If everything is running well, keep in mind it is usually best to water at night, early evening, or in the morning before the heat of the day to conserve water.

A properly installed and maintained sprinkler system offers many benefits, including saving you time to self-water your lawn. Take the time to learn how yours works and how to troubleshoot potential problems. Of course, your friends at A&A Plumbing are just a phone call away to help!