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Restarting Irrigation Systems in Spring


Ensure your customer’s irrigation system is set up for success. Read on for spring startup best practices.

February 25, 2022

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Turning on customers’ irrigation after the winter season is important to do correctly to avoid damaging the system.

First, check to ensure the winterization process was done correctly and there’s no electrical damage and all water was properly drained. Hard work in fall winterization leads to easier set up in spring season when workload is heavier.

Anything not maintained in the fall or damaged over the winter will need to be fixed as soon as you start systems up again in spring. It’s important to maintain communication with customers throughout the year about maintenance and irrigation schedules, and this helps your business continue good customer service. In the south, reaching out in January is a good time to begin conversations, and startups should begin in January - February.

For areas where the ground freezes, like the north, complete startups in late February and April (the month will be area dependent).

How to Recharge an Irrigation System

Remember to be cautious when starting irrigation systems after a prolonged time winterized. Inspect the sprinkler heads for any breakage before beginning, as a broken head can potentially cause injury to workers and damage to the system. Wear safety gear when installing, such as eye protection and gloves. If needed, use marking flags to ensure you do not disrupt any other pipelines.

A crew member should be manning the pump if not using a municipal water supply when turning the system back on and listening for any abnormalities. If there are odd sounds, this person should shut down and alert the team before continuing the process.

  1. Start by venting the system. Ensure the system is cleared of debris, open valves within the system, open couplers and air vents, and turn sprinklers to the “on” position. Air should bleed from the system when you first fill it. Check the backflow preventor and the valves in the valve box for leaks.
  2. Regulate and adjust the pressure before you fill the system. This prevents water hammer. As mentioned above, have crew members follow all safety precautions and wear eye protection and gloves, as well as use marking tags. Start with water pressure below 50 psi.
  3. Fill the system. Have the crew spread out throughout different points of the system to monitor water flow. Once water has reached the sprinklers, couplers, and open drains and there is no more air being pushed out of the system, the crew member monitoring those areas can shut off the sprinklers and close the drains to save water. Try to do this as slowly as possible for the optimal health of the system. Start from the point of the system at the highest elevation to the lowest until all air is moved out of the system
  4. Activate the controller and sprinklers. Keep the water pressure below 50 psi throughout this step. Turn on the sprinklers one zone at a time. Continue to have crew members listen to different parts of the system to ensure everything is running smoothly. You should be able to hear and see the difference between a correctly operating system and a pipe break or debris backup; lower pressure indicates a pipeline break. 
  5. Identify and fix any issues that arise. Look for heads not fully rotating, spraying incorrectly, or spraying in the wrong direction (misalignment is common for winter months). Listen for missing drip emitters- these will sound like a whoosh. Often the drip emitters are harder to see under plant cover, so take your time and listen carefully. Clean the filters if they’re not performing at 100%.
  6. Reprogram the controller according to customer needs and set the timer to the optimal time.

Mistakes to Avoid

Ensure the pressure is low enough to flow through system without causing damage. If this is set too high, it can cause pressure surges and potentially crack pipes. It is always better to have a slower refill using a lower pressure and flow than replacing surge damaged pipes or sprinklers.

Double check that the system is running smoothly and do full cycle run before leaving the jobsite. Ensure you’re watching every head work through its full pattern and they’re not stuck or misaligned.

Do not rush through a startup job, or your team may be called back for issues. If you rush, you waste time, labor, and money. Repair problems the same day or these issues will become another time and labor drain. Additionally, make sure you have enough people for the job. Note the size of the system before sending a crew out to complete the job, as you’ll need enough coverage to man each zone.

Upsell Opportunities

Startups are a great time to upsell, especially if a customer has outdated equipment. Before beginning the process, talk to the property manager or homeowner to discuss upgrade opportunities like high efficiency nozzles or SMART or Wi-Fi enabled controllers that will save them time and money.

Some product options are Rain Bird ESP-Me Smart Controller LNK Wi-Fi, Hunter WiFi Smart Controller Pro-HC Fixed with Hydrawise, and Irritrol Rain Dial Controller R Series.

Spring would also be an optimal time to add a new zone or change to a different kind of irrigation around the house, such as drip irrigation, before the system is turned back on. Ask customers what new plants they’ll have around the lawn and what they’re doing to maintain those plants.

Revisit notes from the property’s previous irrigation audit, as any coverage or repair suggestions are likely pertinent now.

Shop at SiteOne

SiteOne is your one-stop shop for all things irrigation. If you need help with a project or have any questions, your local branch associates will be happy to assist you. Pick up supplies in store or online at SiteOne.com.