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If a sprinkler system is installed properly, it should give your client years of trouble free operation and require only minor maintenance. But, problems do pop up so the following information may be helpful to you in understanding and trouble shooting a system.

When is the best time to start up a sprinkler system in spring?

Opening the sprinkler system for the season will depend on the weather conditions in your area and individual watering needs. As a general rule, the system should not be opened until the threat of frost is passed. If you are an early planter, we recommend waiting to open the system until after April 15. By planting standards, Mother's Day (the 2nd Sunday in May) is considered to be the safe date to avoid frost damage, making May the ideal month to open your system. If you have a particularly rainy spring, you may even choose to open your system in June, although you should be sure to have the system fully operational before the heat of the summer.

How do I turn on the sprinkler system in the spring?

If the sprinkler system was installed properly, turning it on in the spring is relatively easy:

  • Be sure the manual drain valve is closed. This valve is usually located below or before the backflow device outside your house.
  • Slowly open the gate valve. This valve is usually located after the meter in the basement on the line going out of the house to the backflow device.
  • Check the main line, valves, and backflow device for any sign of leakage. Repair breaks as needed.
  • Open the front cover of the sprinkler timer, find the battery backup (if it has one) and replace. Follow the instructions in the sprinkler's timer manual. Go through all the zones one at a time. Check each zone for water coverage, leaky heads and breaks.
  • Cut and clean any excess lawn or plant growth away from the sprinkler heads that would inhibit proper operation of the sprinkler head.
  • Check and make sure the sprinkler heads are level and flush with the grade of the lawn, to insure that they will not be hit by mowers or other lawn equipment.
  • Be sure your sprinkler heads are at least an inch away from walks or curbing to insure that edgers do not hit them.
  • Check that the sprinkler heads are adjusted properly and coverage is correct for each zone area. Adjust heads as necessary using your hand and/or tools.
  • Make sure the sprinkler heads are not clogged. If clogged, unscrew the head casing or nozzle and check the filter at the base or in the stem of the head. Clean out the filter with air or water. Check to see if a stone or other debris is lodged in the nozzle; clean or replace as necessary.
  • If you experience problems with a particular zone, turn that zone off on the timer so the rest of the system can continue to operate normally.

We suggest checking the system at least two additional times during the watering season. It is especially helpful to check the system whenever you experience severe weather changes, such as increased rain or periods of drought.


A zone valve is being tested with a multi-meter. It is important to check that the sprinkler heads are adjusted properly and coverage is correct for each zone area.

Troubleshooting Instructions

Try these simple checks. It is encouraged that you work safely and, for your protection, we recommend that you wear safety glasses and gloves.

If the timer fails to start:

  • Check to see that the timer has power
  • Check the timer's fuse or circuit breaker
  • Unplug the timer, remove the batteries, wait 10 seconds, reinstall or replace the batteries, plug in the timer
  • back in and reprogram, following the timer instructions
  • Your timer's instruction manual should provide other troubleshooting ideas suitable to your model
  • Follow all safety instructions in your owner's manual

If the backflow device leaks and/or water is leaking into the house:

  • Shut off the main water valve until the device can be repaired or replaced

If a new pipe is installed in a faulty system, poly pipe can be pulled through with minimal ground damage. Top inset: Installation of a zone valve manifold. A stuck zone valve can lead to large amounts of water, soggy areas, or flooding. Middle and bottom inset: A sprinkler system should not be opened until the threat of frost has passed.

If a zone fails to turn on:

  • Check the wire connections at the valve and at the clock. Repair if necessary

If a valve sticks open and will not close:

  • Turn off main water supply valve at the backflow device or in the basement
  • Loosen the screws and remove the top cover of the sticking valve
  • Remove the rubber diaphragm
  • Look for stones or debris at the bottom of the valve
  • Inspect the rubber diaphragm for tears or embedded stones. Replace diaphragm if necessary
  • Reassemble the valve, replace the cover and test by working the zone at the timer.
  • If the valve continues to fail, replace it

If you see large amounts of water, soggy areas or flooding, check for the following:

  • Watering schedule (timer settings)--it may be as simple as shortening the watering time.
  • Broken heads
  • Stuck zone valves
  • Broken main or lateral lines
  • Repair or replace parts necessary

If timer operates but no water comes out:

  • Check the main shut-off valves to be sure they are open.
  • Test the rain sensor and override if necessary.
Opening the sprinkler system for the season will depend on the weather conditions in your area and individual watering needs.

When is the best time to winterize the sprinkler system?

The weather conditions each year will determine the best time to winterize your sprinkler system. Although most of the system is underground and protected until the ground freezes, external parts like the backflow preventor and blow-out port can freeze from cold overnight temperatures. You will want to keep the system running as long as possible if you have new tree or shrub plantings or have done a fall seeding. The "safe" period in our area runs between October 15 and November 30. You should winterize as soon as you are sure you no longer need continual watering.


Cut and clean any excess lawn or plant growth away from the sprinkler heads that would inhibit their proper operation. Be sure heads are at least an inch away from walks or curbing to insure edgers do not hit them.

How do I winterize asprinkler system?

  • You must have an adequate size compressor - minimum 2hp or 12 cfm @40 psi. is recommended. If your system was properly installed, the design should be straightforward and easy to winterize.
  • Please refer to the diagram, "Backflow Device."
  • Turn off the main sprinkler shut-off valve in basement.
  • Connect an air compressor (minimum 2 hp compressor or 12 cfm @ 40 psi. recommended) to the sprinkler blowout port, which is usually just before the backflow device outside.
  • At the sprinkler timer, turn on one zone at a time until only "fog" comes out of each sprinkler head.
  • When finished with all zones, open the bleed ports on the backflow device momentarily to empty all the water.
  • Go through the entire system a second time. Turn off and disconnect the compressor.
  • Close the blow-out port.
  • Turn off the timer, but do not unplug it.
  • KEEP IN MIND - older systems or those that were not installed according to proper design standards may have more than one shut off and/or blow-out port.

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July 20, 2017, 5:34 pm PDT

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Last Updated 07-17-17