Preparing irrigation systems for the winter

Steve Bryan
My House & Yours

Question: Now that winter is here, what should we do about our landscape irrigation system? Last spring, we suffered several leaks in our system.

The rain has returned and the potential winter freezes are a reality, so it is time to winterize your system. It is usually less expensive to have a service winterize your system to prevent freeze breaks — and in the spring to fix broken heads and make adjustments for plant growth — than it is to call for repairs when problems occur after starting up the system next summer.

Typically, it should be serviced twice a year, in addition to a backflow devise inspection. We can do the servicing ourselves or pay a service to do the work. But a backflow test is required to be completed by a certified technician.

Standing water in buried pipes can freeze, and repairs can be costly to locate for patching. Compressed air is commonly used to remove all the residual water. The spring start-up will test the system and make adjustments for the previous year’s growth. All too often, I find sprinkler heads watering shrubs that do not need water, spraying on siding to the detriment of the house and watering driveways.

Backflow testing is required for all systems, and a certified technician will test and sign off. The city maintains a list of approved companies, and having the same tech take care of the system usually saves money over the long run, when their records show the location and history of your house.

Homeowner-installed systems need to be thoroughly inspected to ensure that the house connection has a backflow devise as well as readily accessible shut-off valves. Having an irrigation company inspect and correct older systems usually saves water.

Most new landscaping projects require more water to get established. Even plants chosen for being draught-tolerant require more initial watering to get started. But over time, water use should be shifted to those areas that need more water, such as vegetable gardens and flowers. Ask your landscaper what kind of water needs your gardens have, and limit the system to where it is needed. Even with all of our rain, water is a limited commodity and we have to divert large amounts of water from our streams and lakes. Treating, piping and storing water to support our landscaping deprives our wildlife. Help the fish and grow native draught-tolerant yards.

Islander Steve Bryan is the owner of Home Building Services, Inc. Contact him at

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