It’s getting chilly out! Are you and your garden ready for winter? There are many different steps you can take to ensure your precious plants and yard not only survive the winter, but thrive. These steps can include mulching, amending soil, pruning plants, and implementing frost protection. But it’s not just about your plants- your equipment needs to be looked after during the winter, too! And that’s where sprinkler winterization comes in.

After all, if you want to have a killer lawn next spring, your sprinklers will need to be working. Not winterizing your sprinkler system opens you to the risk of some pretty serious damage. Here’s the idea:

After you use your sprinkler system, water remains inside the pipes. If you don’t blow out sprinklers before the cold weather hits, the water inside them will freeze and expand. The expansion can cause the pipes to burst. Since sprinkler pipes are located underground, repair work requires extensive digging and re-piping. It’s an extremely costly job, and one that may involve tearing up your yard right as you want it to be looking its best.

Photo source: nenovbrothers / Canva

So let’s avoid that extensive work by winterizing your system. In this post we discuss how to winterize your sprinkler system using various methods to ensure you are ready for the cold weather. 

Understanding your sprinkler system

Sprinkler systems are made of five basic components as follows:

  • The timer or controller that controls when the valve opens
  • The pipes or tubing which the water flows through
  • The valves which release the flow of water
  • The sprinkler heads that the water comes out of
  • The backflow preventer which protects the system from contamination

Every part of the sprinkler system must be winterized to ensure optimal functioning. If any component is left on, it can cause water to run through it causing the pipes to freeze and burst. Freezing can also cause fittings to break. 

sprinkler head covered in frost
Photo source: Flavio Vallenari / Getty Images

When to winterize your sprinkler system

It is best to winterize your system at least a week before the first freeze is expected. Make it a part of your fall garden cleanup checklist. The time the first freeze occurs will vary depending on the region you live in. Colder areas will experience their first freeze in mid-October. Stay posted on local weather predictions and monitor your soil temperature to ensure you are prepared. 

Photo source: Andrew Linscott / Getty Images

Sprinkler Winterization Process Step by Step

Ok, so it’s time to get to work. Let’s go through the steps you’ll need to complete to successfully winterize your sprinklers.

Shut off the Water Supply

Shut off your water supply to ensure no water flows through your system in the cold weather and poses the risk of freezing. This is a three-step process as follows:

  1. Hit the Off Button on the Sprinkler Controller: Do not unplug the box. Doing so will erase your sprinkler settings. If the system does not shut down, you will have to turn it off at the source.
  2. Use the Backflow Device: The backflow device is likely to be in your basement. It will have valves labeled “B” and “C”. Turn one to an upward position and the water flow should stop immediately. 
  3. Use the Main Water Supply Line: If you notice a leak in your backflow device, head to your main water supply which is likely to be in the basement. It will have two levers, one for your home and one for your sprinklers. Turn the sprinkler level so it’s at a 90-degree angle from the pipe. 

Drain the System

The method you use to drain your system will vary depending on the type of system you have. Here are the draining methods for manual and automatic systems as well as the blowout method. 


A manual drain requires the following steps:

  1. Open the 2 Petrol with a flat head screwdriver so the head turns to a 45-degree angle. 
  2. Open the inside drain, make sure you have a bucket available to catch the drainage.
  3. Open the two ball valves to a 45-degree angle to prevent trapped water.
  4. Run your sprinkler through one cycle to release any water left in the valves. 


If you have an automatic system you may:

  1. Turn off the water supply
  2. Run one of the sprinkler heads briefly to release the water pressure in the system
  3. Automatic draining should begin


This method involves forcing compressed air into the system. It will send the excess water out through the sprinkler heads. Note, that this process can be dangerous. It’s advisable to call in a professional. 

Inspecting Sprinkler Heads

Check your sprinkler heads to ensure they are not damaged. Look for cracks, broken, pieces, dents, and obstructions. 

If your sprinkler is obstructed by dirt or debris, you can clean it out by following these steps:

  1. Pull the sprinkler head out of the housing
  2. Hold it in place with vice grips so it doesn’t fall back into the housing while you are working
  3. Hold the sprinkler by the threaded portion, unscrew it, and remove the filter
  4. Use a towel to clean off debris
  5. Leave the vice grips in place and turn on the sprinkler system to clean it out
  6. Reassemble the sprinkler

If the sprinkler needs to be replaced you must:

  1. Shop for a sprinkler head that fits your system
  2. Dig out the broken sprinkler head and unscrew it
  3. Attach the sprinkler head replacement
  4. Test the new sprinkler head
  5. Fill the hole around the new sprinkler

Insulating Above Ground Components

It’s essential to insulate above-ground components to protect them from freezing. The main shut-off valve can be wrapped in foam insulation tape and a plastic bag as a DIY solution. You can also simply purchase a backflow valve insulation cover online (see below). Finally, insulate any above ground pipes with foam tape or foam pipe covers.

black insulated backflow valve cover product photo showing the valve and pipes inside the bag
Photo source: Amazon

Setting the controller/timer

Most controllers have a rain mode that shuts down the signals to the valves. If you have an automatic system, you may have a shutdown timer. When the system is shut down, the controller will continue to keep time, and the clock will continue to run, but the valves will not activate. 

Note, that if you have a DIY sprinkler or irrigation system, you may need to use different winterization methods. 

Additional tips and tricks for effective sprinkler winterization

I’m no sprinkler maintenance pro, so I wanted to provide some online resources you can consult to do your own research. These are a few that will help you through the irrigation winterization process.

Make sure you have the right tools before you begin your winterization process. Here are some you should have on hand: 

  • A flathead screwdriver to drain manual systems
  • Vice grips for sprinkler head replacement
  • Insulation materials such as foam and tape
  • Plastic bags and other materials to keep the home dry
  • Compressed air if you are planning on blow-out irrigation

Hiring a professional vs DIY sprinkler winterization

Irrigation winterization can be a DIY task. But some people are better off calling in a professional. 

The biggest benefit of DIY is the money savings. If you can do everything yourself, you will save on professional fees. But if you don’t know what you’re doing, you could spend more money in the long run. An untrained DIY’er may damage irrigation systems. They can also get hurt during the winterization process. Both situations will lead to expensive medical and repair bills that add to costs.

professional working on sprinkler heads
Photo source: Welcome / Canva

Professional services are especially recommended if you are doing a blow-out irrigation. It can be a very dangerous process. Hiring a professional will save you time so you can enjoy your winter. 

Now your sprinklers are ready for winter!

Winterization is a necessary part of sprinkler maintenance. It will prevent your system from freezing and keep your pipes from bursting. It will minimize the risk of an expensive repair. 

Now that you know how to winterize your sprinkler system, what are you waiting for? Winter is almost here. Take the proper precautions before it’s too late. Then look forward to a great lawn next spring. 

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