Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Opening Your Irrigation for the Summer

If you’ve survived another cold winter in the Northeast, you are probably excited to break out the shorts and get the sprinkler system fired up for the summer. But it’s not as easy as just turning on the water. There are several simple steps to follow to start up your system for the spring.

  1. Before turning on any water to the system, make sure all manual drain valves that you opened last fall are in the closed position.
  2. Visually inspect all valve boxes for rodent nests and debris.
  3. Re-attach any fittings removed in the fall, secure with new teflon tape if necessary.
  4. Open the system main water valve slowly to allow pipes to fill with water gradually. WARNING: If these valves are opened too quickly, sprinkler main lines are subjected to high surge pressures, uncontrolled flow and water hammer. Water hammer is the clanging in water pipes produced by a surge of air pressure caused by the rush of water suddenly flowing into an empty pipe, giving the air in the pipes no time to escape. Inside the pipes, the surge pressures can reach as much as 15 times the designed operating pressure of the system. These surge pressures can burst fittings and cause sprinklers to blow right out of the ground.
  5. Verify the proper operation of each zone valve by manually activating it from the controller and letting each zone operate for two minutes.
  6. Walk through each zone on the controller, checking for proper operation of each valve. Check for proper operating pressure (low pressure indicates a line break or missing sprinkler), proper rotation and adjustment of sprinkler heads, and adequate coverage. Check and clean filters on poorly performing sprinklers. Adjust heads to grade as necessary.
  7. Check vacuum breaker for leaks, there are replaceable seals that crack over time.
  8. Clean around heads to reduce wear on your sprinkler heads.
  9. Reprogram the controller for automatic watering. Always replace the controller back-up battery.
Everyone gets excited for summer, and we’ve all been guilty of overwatering at one time or another. Remember, an irrigation system should only act as a supplement to rain and there might not be a need to use sprinklers until June. Grass is healthiest and most resilient when it is thirsty, constantly seeking water and establishing a deep root system. Frequent watering stops the roots from seeking out deep moisture and causes shallow rooting which won't prepare grass for summer heat stress.

If recharging the irrigation system sounds intimidating or confusing, please do not hesitate to call in  the professionals. Irrigation systems are somewhat complex and lawn sprinkler installers are becoming licensed irrigation technicians in many states.

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