Autumn is setting in, so to many that means football, back-to-school and the leaves changing colors. To those of us in colder climates, it also means shutting irrigation systems down until spring.
The United States Department of Agriculture advises watering your landscape through mid-September. This “allows plants to slow their growth and harden for the winter. Water again in mid-October to store moisture in the soil.”
If your landscape includes evergreens, it is important to drench them with water them just before the ground freezes. This will help the plants not to stress over the winter, so they can return healthy in the spring.
Eventually you should turn your outdoor irrigation system off for the winter. Shutting off your outdoor irrigation helps to keep your pipes in working condition. Our Caring For Pipes page has several tips to consider as the weather gets colder, including:
- Disconnect and drain outdoor hoses
Detaching the hose allows water to drain from the pipe so an overnight freeze doesn't burst the faucet or the pipe it’s connected to.
- Insulate pipes or faucets in unheated areas
It's best to wrap all water pipes in unheated areas (such as the garage, attic or crawl space) before temperatures plummet. You can find pipe wrapping materials at any hardware or building supply store.
- Consider installing “heat tape” or “heat cable”
Install “heat tape” or similar materials on all exposed water pipe (i.e. exterior pipe, or pipe located where the temperature might drop below freezing). It is relatively easy to install and can be found at your local hardware or building supply store. Be sure that you use only UL-listed products and follow the manufacturer's instructions carefully.
- Find the master shutoff valve
Usually located where the water line enters your house (or near the water heater or washing machine), the master shutoff valve turns off the water to the entire house. Paint it a bright color and make sure everyone in the household knows where it is.
- Check with your water company
Various additional precautions (such as letting a small trickle of water run from the faucet or covering outdoor meters) may need to be taken depending on local circumstance. Contact your water company for additional measures.
During an extended cold spell, your pipes can freeze, even if you take all the proper precautions. If you think you know where the freeze occurred and want to try thawing it yourself, the easiest tool to use is a hair dryer with a low heat seating or a portable space heater. DO NOT under any circumstances use an open flame. Using the hair dryer, wave the warm air back and forth along the pipe. DO NOT heat only one spot on the pipe, as this can cause it to burst. If you don't have a hair dryer or a space heater, wrap the frozen section with rags or towels and pour hot water over them.
Be careful when heating the pipe. It may already be broken and just not leaking because the water is frozen. When you thaw it out, the water could come gushing out. Be ready to run for the master shutoff valve if necessary.
And then in spring, we start the cycle over again.