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Turn On, Tune In, Blow Out

I know—I've slightly misquoted Timothy Leary—but my version applies much better to the annual maintenance required for your sprinkler system. Besides, this is a blog about the green industry, not 1960s counterculture.

Turn On, Tune In, Blow Out

The 'turn on' is, of course, filling the irrigation system with water in spring and setting it up for the year. The 'tune in' refers to changing the programmed times the system is set to run as the weather changes from spring to summer and summer to fall. Which leaves 'blow out' for when an air compressor is hooked up to evacuate the water from the sprinkler each winter to prevent freeze damage. Pretty clever, huh?

As spring approaches, we will focus on the turn-on process. Bio Green's Operations Manager, Mike Kula, walks us through what's involved:

  • First, be sure you wait until the chance of extended freezing temperatures is over before filling your irrigation system with water. Northern Virginia is known for its early/mid-March deep freezes. If your system is turned on too early and we get several days of below freezing temperatures, you're setting yourself up for a potentially serious repair bill.
  • Depending on the age of your sprinkler and the jurisdiction where you live, you may have a backflow prevention device that was removed when the system was winterized and stored indoors for protection. If this is the case, securely attach the device. Backflow prevention keeps the water in your system from contaminating the potable water supply.
  • When activating your system at the main water shut-off valve, make sure that you turn the valve on slowly to fill the system completely with water. Once filled (you will no longer hear water running), you can open the valve completely. This will help prevent 'water hammer' from damaging piping or components of the system. Water hammer gets its name from the repetitive noise coming from the pipes that sounds like a hammer banging. This banging is a result of the shock wave created by high-speed water slamming into the valve downstream and vibrating up and down the pipe. Should your sprinkler system experience water hammer, immediately turn off the valve and wait for the noise to subside. Then try opening the shut off valve again, only this time more slowly.
  • After you have filled your irrigation system, check the backflow prevention device to make sure there are no leaks. In addition, check that any other mainline water shut off valves are open. If any of these are completely shut, open them slowly as described above.
  • Next, run through each zone of your sprinkler system to make sure it is operating properly. Turn on one zone control valve at a time and walk the area it covers looking for leaks or other problems. Here are some basic things to look for:
    • Are any heads within a zone putting out a fine mist or fog? This is a result of too much pressure within the sprinkler system.
    • Are all the heads popping up? If not, this may be a result of grass, soil or debris covering the head. Remove any impediments and if head(s) still fail to rise up completely, there may be insufficient water pressure.
    • Are all the heads spraying properly and covering the area as designed (half circle, full circle, etc.)? If not, a simple adjustment or unclogging a nozzle may be needed. If that doesn't do the trick, this calls for further troubleshooting.
    • Check each zone control valve at the valve box to make sure there are no obvious leaks or other problems.
    • Check that each zone control valve operates electronically from the control box as well.
  • Finally, check the controller/timer to make sure that it is programmed properly for the time of year. Unless you have upgraded to a SMART system that adjusts the watering times and duration automatically, the program should be changed each season according to need.

If any of the procedures or possible problems described above leaves you scratching your head, seek professional help. While most anyone can turn on a water valve, to properly 'turn on' your sprinkler system each spring, you need to know what you're doing. It will head off problems with your system that could plague you all summer.

Thank you, Mike Kula for sharing your knowledge with our readers!

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