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Is Austin’s Winter Weather Causing Damage to Your Sprinkler System?

Is Austin’s Winter Weather Causing Damage to Your Sprinkler System

Generally temperatures around 32 degrees Fahrenheit will put your sprinkler systems at risk. Although Central Texas winter temperatures generally don’t drop that low, there are instances of it occurring. The temperature this winter did drop quite low in Austin, and so before you start your system this spring, know what to look for. 

Irrigation System Damage

Needless to say, a cold winter has taken its toll on irrigation systems in the past and it is beneficial to know what to look for in case your system was damaged this year. In some instances, water can freeze and expand inside pipes and sprinklers, causing cracks, leaks and ruptures. To see how well your system survives the cold weather, here are some recommendations on what to inspect.

Damage to Backflow Prevention Assemblies

Above-ground backflow prevention assemblies (BPAs) are the most susceptible to damage from freezing. And unfortunately, they’re the most expensive part of the sprinkler system.

Do a careful check of your backflow device and look for obvious signs of damage. You won’t have to look far if it’s ruptured and water is flooding the ground. Or you might find leaks resulting from broken ball valves or cracked bodies. Sometimes the backflow body gets warped, which prevents the internal parts from seating and working correctly. If you have a leak or rupture in your BPA, use the shutoff valve to turn off its water supply until it can be repaired or replaced.

A BPA installed below ground, such as a double check valve assembly, may have fared better, but check it out for external damage as well.

For an above-ground or below-ground BPA there might not be signs of external freeze damage. However, there could be internal damage, in which case the BPA won’t be providing any backflow protection. It’s extremely important that your BPA is working properly to prevent potable (drinking) water in the public water supply from becoming contaminated from any backflow of non-potable water from your sprinkler system. It should be checked out by a licensed irrigator or tester. If any repairs are made, it will have to be tested afterwards.

Frozen Pipes

Water gets trapped in irrigation pipes in low spots. If the PVC (polyvinyl chloride) pipes freeze, there’s no room for them to expand, and they crack or burst. Do a walk-through of your yard looking for wet, soggy patches.  Those are an indication of broken pipes or fittings.

Irrigation pipes should be buried at least 6-10  inches deep so they’re insulated from the cold and below the usual frost level for our area. This also protects them from shovels while gardening, and lawn aerators which can penetrate the ground down to 6 inches. Also, PVC pipes can “float” up, especially if the soil gets saturated with water — the more dirt on top the more they stay at their original depth.

Freeze Damage to Sprinkler Heads

Sprinkler heads don’t always drain out properly, and when the water inside freezes and expands it can cause them to pop off and break. Sprinkler bodies can also crack down the side and break open. And, if the internal mechanism that allows the sprinkler to pop up freezes and cracks, the sprinkler will remain in the down position.

Check the Valves and Manifolds

Check the manifolds and valves in their below-ground box for any cracks or leaks. You may have to empty water from the valve box first.

Run the Irrigation System

Once you’ve done a visual inspection, run each zone manually to make sure everything’s working. You want to look for such things as:

  • Sprinklers not popping up and retracting fully.
  • Clogged nozzles.
  • Sprinklers spraying in all directions.
  • Rotor heads not rotating properly.
  • Water bubbling up around sprinklers.
  • Geysers.
  • Water filling up the valve box.

After you’ve checked your irrigation system, and repairs are needed, or if you want to be certain there’s no hidden freeze damage, hire a licensed irrigator to do an inspection and any needed repairs. Make sure you’re getting a legitimate irrigator, as there are scammers and many “Chuck in a truck” companies that try to take advantage of any urgent situations after cold weather damage. You can protect yourself by doing the following:

  • Choose an reputable established local irrigation contractor.
  • Ask to see a current license and/or check for the irrigator’s license on the TCEQ (Texas Commission on Environmental Quality) website. Irrigation contractors must be licensed by the state of Texas and registered with the city of Austin.
  • Check out the contractor online for reviews from past customers.

Smart Earth Sprinklers is a licensed, insured, established, and experienced irrigator serving Austin and the surrounding areas. Call us at 512-694-1147 for your sprinkler system inspection, repair, and maintenance needs or reach out to us online.

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