Don’t Get Burned by an Early Freeze – Tips on Winterizing Sprinkler Systems

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Landscape Professionals Discuss Dangers of Not Preparing Sprinkler Systems for Winter

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Not winterizing a sprinkler system can be costly

It is a date professional landscape contractor John Reffel, III, owner of JLS Landscape & Sprinkler, Inc., remembers well. Last year, on October 10, overnight temperatures dipped to 16 degrees.

“That early freeze caught many homeowners off guard, and caused extensive damage across metro Denver to sprinkler systems that were not winterized or protected,” said Reffel, a member of the Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado (ALCC).

For systems that had not been shut down, the leaks did not appear until temperatures rose above freezing and some homeowners did not realize their sprinkler systems were damaged until they began watering their yards the following spring. That’s when their backflow prevention valves – the brass valve on the outside of homes – began to gush water.

Not Winterizing a Sprinkler System Can be Costly
According to Reffel, backflow prevention devices (BFPs) are one of the most costly components of a sprinkler system to replace.

“Not blowing out your sprinkler system properly can lead to replacing the BFP, which can run $300 to $400,” said Reffel. But potential freeze damage does not stop there.

“A hard and prolonged freeze can also damage other expensive components such as mainlines, automatic valves and manifolds, easily raising repair costs to $1,200 or more,” he added.

Steps to Take Now
So while October can bring Indian summer days and warm nights, it’s also the best time to shut off sprinkler systems. ALCC advises homeowners to take the following steps to winterize sprinkler systems:

  •     Before your system is winterized, protect it by wrapping the BFP in three to four inches of insulation (building insulation works well), cover it with plastic and wrap it with duct tape. The extra insulation will help protect against the 22 to 32 degree nights and the plastic keeps out moisture that can freeze.
  •     Arrange to have your system winterized by having the lines blown out with an air compressor operated by a qualified landscape professional. Average fees to winterize a residential system can range from $50 - $100, but can cost more or less depending on the size of your system.

Do-it-yourselfers can blow out their systems with a standard shop compressor, but according to Reffel, there are advantages to hiring a qualified landscape professional.

“Shop compressors typically only produce about 15 cubic feet per minute (cfm) of volume versus industrial compressors used by the pros that produce 150 cfm. The difference is, a pro can completely blow out a system in about 15 minutes versus it taking two to three hours using a smaller compressor and larger compressors do a more thorough job of blowing out water.”

Other Advantages of Using a Pro
According to ALCC, fall is also a great time to identify other issues with your sprinkler system. A professional can conduct a sprinkler audit to identify leaks, broken pipes or bad sprinkler heads; address those problems now; or make a record of problems so they can be fixed in the spring.

Last, Reffel recommends using a company that employs Landscape Industry Certified Technicians to winterize your sprinkler system. “ALCC offers a certification program for landscape technicians which requires 10 hours of testing and at least 2000 hours of experience before applying. This program ensures the landscape industry has highly-qualified professionals performing sprinkler system installations and maintenance,” said Reffel.

An Ounce of Prevention
As the early October freeze of 2009 reminds us, take steps now to get your sprinkler system ready for winter. You can pay a pro now to get your system winterized or pay $400 or more to repair a broken system next spring.

“It seems like a small step, but don’t take winterizing your sprinkler system lightly,” said Reffel. “I’ve seen homes that have incurred thousands of dollars in damage from a broken backflow prevention device that leaked water into the basement.”

About ALCC
With more than 700 members across the state, the Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado is the premier professional organization for Colorado’s landscape contractors. ALCC has been at the forefront for more than 40 years helping the landscape industry address Colorado’s unique climate and promoting responsible use of water and other natural resources. For free weekly lawn and garden tips, visit http://www.alcc.com and click on Tip of the Week.

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