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Irrigation Systems Maintenance

Automatic irrigation systems require regular maintenance. At a minimum these systems must be shutdown at the end of the irrigation season and started up again in the spring.

Irrigation systems must also be regularly inspected to ensure they are working properly and that no leaks have developed. Many people opt to hire a professional irrigation company to handle maintenance of their automatic systems.

The subject of irrigation system maintenance is far too large to completely cover here. Instead we offer some maintenance tips and references for those do-it-yourselfers interested maintaining their systems on their own.

The Basics – Winterizing your irrigation system

  • Turn off the water to the irrigation system at main valve.
  • Set the automatic irrigation controller to the “rain” setting.
  • Turn on each of the valves to release pressure in the pipes.
  • Drain all of the water out of any irrigation components that might freeze.

These procedures will vary depending upon the climate (temperate vs. cold).

Spring Start Up Procedures

This is just as important as winterization. When you first turn on your sprinkler or drip system in spring you should always flush it out. During the winter many small critters take up residence in your sprinklers, emitters, tubes, and pipes. Often they manage to squeeze in, only to be unable to get back out when spring comes.

To flush the system, open the ends of drip tubes and flush them out by turning on the water. For sprinklers remove the nozzles from, at the least, the last head on each pipe (better yet, remove them all) and run the water.

After flushing, check the system out by running it. Look for clogged emitters or nozzles. Replace clogged nozzles and emitters with new ones. Cleaning them leaves small scratches that mess up the spray pattern and create dry spots. (So that’s often why you have more and more dry spots each year! Who would have known!

Calcium buildup on sprinkler nozzles can be removed using one of the many calcium remover products available for kitchen use.

Check for leaking valves. Often the flexible seals dry out over the winter and leak when the water is turned back on.

Finally, check the controller for proper run times for each station. If it has a back-up battery replace it with a fresh one. Almost all solid state controllers use ALKALINE back-up batteries and will not work right with other kinds- if in doubt use an alkaline type battery.

The battery on some controllers is located behind a face plate where you can’t see it (why do the manufacturers do stupid things like that?), so if you don’t see a battery, remove the wiring compartment cover and look for it in there.

A few of the high-end controllers have built in battery chargers (look at the batteries, they should be labeled “rechargeable” if the clock has a built in charger). Some controllers now come with non-volatile program memory and don’t need batteries.

William Lowe
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