Waterwisdom

How to activate a sprinkler system in the spring

Typcial 3/4 inch backflow device
Typcial 3/4 inch backflow device

How to turn on your own irrigation system in the Spring

Tools needed:

-Phillips (flathead) screwdriver

-small channel-lock (may or may not be necessary)

1.        Before getting started and turning on any water, please do the following:

  • Make sure the clock is in the off position
  • Locate the backflow prevention device (see diagram above - bronze device usually located above ground, against a wall on the outside of the house).  Verify that the testcock valves (the little bleeder screw things)  are in the closed position (perpendicular to the opening).  There should be 2, usually blue handled, ball valves (one on the side closest to the house and one on the side going to the irrigation system).  Both should start in the closed position (perpendicular to the pipe).
  • Make sure all other valves in the landscape (including the electronic valves in the boxes) are in the closed position (the selenoids should be hand snug but do not over tighten, two finger tight is enough).  Drain valves, typically red or blue handled ball valves located at the end of the sprinkler manifolds in the in-ground box, should be in the closed position. 
  • Verify that the drain (blow-out point is tight).  This is usually a cap or plug located just after or next to the bell looking thing, called a bonnet.

2.        Once all this has been done, the homeowner needs to determine where the main water shut-off for the irrigation system is.  It is usually located in the basement (or crawl space).   Utility rooms are the first places to look.    It is normally on a ¾” or 1” copper pipe.  One end is coming from another water line in the house and the other end is going outside to the backflow prevention device, also know as a Pressure-Vacuum Breaker (PVB) or an Reduced Pressure Assembly (RP unit).  RP units are required for systems that may also run on pump systems or non potable water.

3.       After you have located this, make sure the drain valve located next to the irrigation shut off (sometimes it is just a hose bib type valve) is closed.  You are now ready to turn in the water.

4.       Turn the main irrigation supply line on SLOWLY!  You should hear water running for a few seconds then stop.  If the water does not stop running, more than likely there is a valve still open on the outside of the house (on or around the Backflow device).  Turn off the water and go look for any sign of water spraying.  Close the valve (if that’s the case) and go turn the water back on. Listen again, if it runs for a bit then gets quiet you are ready to proceed.

5.       Now the water is on and there is no sign of water leaking anywhere.  Go outside and SLOWLY open the ball valve closest to the house, or first on the line coming out of the house.  This should pressurize the Backflow device.  Next SLOWLY open the other ball valve and leave at a 45° angle.  The irrigation mainline is now charging.  This may take several minutes, but eventually you are listening for the water to stop running.  As it charges, walk around and do a visual inspection, looking for any signs of water spraying or accumulating on the surface, look in the in-ground boxes as well.  If leaks are found, determine whether or not you, as a homeowner can fix them or if you need to call a professional.  Once the mainline has charged and there is no evidence of leaks, open the ball valve on the Backflow device all the way.  If a zone or station seems to be stuck on and you are sure the clock is turned off and the selenoids two finger tight it may be that the small bleed screw located next to the selenoid needs to be snugged down.  If one seems tight try them all until you have been through the system.  Sometimes us crazy installers put the valve for a zone on the other side of the yard, so try them all before you give up.   If you have tried them all, dont go Incredible Hulk on them, it is very easy to over tighten and damage electronic valve parts, it is now time to call a pro.  Sometimes sediment or trash gets caught in the valve and will not allow it to seat or close.  Taking a valve apart and rebuilding it is not horrible but it is begging to loose at least one of the 10 little pieces that live in there and is likely more frustrating than its worth. 

6.       The mainline is charged.  No signs of leaks.  Go to the irrigation clock and manually run through all zones.  As each zone runs, visually look for leaks and proper head adjustment.

7.       If everything looks good, follow our guidelines for programming your irrigation controller.

8.       If you have an RP unit the process is the same but with more test cock valves. 

9.       If you have a pump attached to the system, make sure the pump is isolated.  Irrigation systems should not run on house and pump water at the time because of the risk of contamination.  When it comes time to use the pump, shut the valves on the backflow device and switch over.

If this all seems like French then call us.