How to do Spring Sprinkler Start Up

How to Turn on a Sprinkler System in the Spring

You really don’t need to pay your local landscaping company a small fortune every spring to turn your sprinkler system back on.

If you’re willing to get your hands dirty, we’ll walk you through everything you need to get that water flowing. Afterwards, if you decide it’s too difficult, you can always schedule sprinkler system turn-on services from a local landscaping company.

First Things First – Inspect Your System

Before we get to opening valves and turning handles, it’s smart to poke around a bit and get a lay of the land. After months of bitter cold, flooding, snow piles, and who knows what else, you’ll want to check for any damaged equipment.

Take a little wander around your pipes, valves, sprinkler heads – you get the idea.

If you see any cracked fittings, bent pipes, or broken sprinklers, make a note so you can make repairs before the water starts gushing. Safety first!

Gather the Essential Gear

You may have some of this stuff already in the garage or tool box:

  • Screwdriver – flathead and/or Phillips head
  • Pliers – make sure they’re not too rusty!
  • Sprinkler valve key – usually a little T-shaped gadget, super helpful for getting into valve boxes
  • Notepad and pen – for jotting down damage, making notes as you go

And hey, no shame if you have to take a trip to the hardware store for supplies. Now you have an excuse to peruse the aisles and get one of those hot dogs spinning temptingly on the roller grill by the register.

Know How the System Works

Before we start flipping switches and cranking handles, you have to understand how all this stuff actually works. Every system is a little different, but here’s an overview of what you might encounter:

  • The Main Shutoff Valve: This bad boy controls water flow to the entire sprinkler system. Often found near the house foundation, it may look something like a spigot handle or round valve wheel.
  • The Vacuum Breaker: Usually mounted higher up on a wall/pipe, opposite the main valve. Prevents “backflow” issues. Has an inlet pipe, outlet pipe, and maybe test ports.
  • Control Panel: Could be mounted outside, in garage, or in basement. Has buttons/switches/display to program your sprinklers.
  • Sprinkler Heads: Located along pipes/tubing throughout the lawn and beds. Have small caps that unscrew when operating.

How To Turn a Sprinkler System on in Spring

Follow these steps, and you’ll give your grass and gardens their best chance to thrive through the growing season.

#1 Ensure That Main Valve is Closed

Before working with any of the valves or pipes, you first need to locate the main shut-off valve that controls water flow into the sprinkler system. This is usually found in your basement, crawlspace or along an exterior wall of your home where the water line enters underground. Look for a pipe coming through the wall or floor with a valve attached to it, likely with a blue handle.

Make sure this valve is set to the closed position, with the handle turned perpendicular to the pipe. If it’s a round, hose bib-style gate valve, it should be fully clockwise. If it’s a lever-style butterfly valve, the handle should sit at a right angle across the valve opening.

Closing this main valve cuts off water access to the entire system while you get it back up and running. Consider it the power switch that places everything in OFF mode until you’re ready to activate each component.

#2 Set the System to Manual First

Next, head to your sprinkler control panel, often located in a garage, basement utility room or outdoor access point. Here you’ll find a display with buttons or switches for programming the automated settings that operate each watering zone on a schedule.

Look for a switch or button to set the panel to MANUAL operation. This takes the preprogrammed timer out of the equation so watering doesn’t kick on automatically as you’re testing and adjusting the system. MANUAL setting allows you to activate one zone at a time to inspect performance before letting automation take over again.

It gives you precise control as you bring the system back online from its winter nap.

#3 Close the Screws on the Vacuum Breaker

Now, move outside near where the main water line enters your home and locate the vacuum breaker device. This gadget sits along the pipe between the control valve and the rest of the system pipes branching out underground.

Your job is to prevent contaminated water from your lawn’s pipes from ever backing up into your home’s drinking supply. It has a couple of large valve handles for shutting off water outflow plus a pair of smaller bleeder valves.

Those bleeders release excess pressure to keep pipes from bursting. Check that the screw knobs on the bleeder valves are closed tightly. Over winter when the system sits idle, they get opened partially to let trapped moisture escape so ice doesn’t build up and crack the valve housing.

But with the system active for spring, any drips or leaks get stopped here. Give each bleeder screw a few extra twists with a flat screwdriver to make sure they’re sealed tight.

#4 Open the Large Valves on the Vacuum Breaker

The vacuum breaker will also have one or two larger valves controlling overall water passage beyond the red metal device. Examine the valve handles here—likely a quarter-turn ball valve you rotate 90 degrees or a butterfly design that flips the handle down parallel with the pipe to indicate open flow.

With bleeders closed, now is the time to position these main valves so their handles align with the pipe, letting water stream through the vacuum breaker. Opening both large valves sets the stage to pressurize the system.

#5 Cap the Bleeder Valves

Take another close look at those small bleeder valves on the side or top ends of the vacuum breaker. At their outlet openings, you’ll likely see threaded fittings where protective caps screw in to keep dirt and debris out of the works while allowing pressure releases as needed.

Over winter, the caps get removed—now put them back in place. Just twist each cap down snugly over the valve fittings by hand or with pliers. Be sure not to torque them down too harshly or you’ll crack the plastic caps. The gentle pressure of hand-tightening is plenty to guard the bleeders.

#6 Slowly Open the Main Valve to Fill the System

The sprinkler network now sits primed awaiting your command. Walk back over to that main water supply valve you started with—likely mounted near your home’s foundation where underground pipes emerge—and place your hand on its handle.

Carefully start turning the valve counter-clockwise to allow water to journey into the long-idled system. Go slowly! Cranking the valve wide open may send high-pressure water hammering through the pipes, damaging valves or sending sprinkler heads aloft like launchpad rockets.

Ease it open to about one-quarter capacity for 30-60 seconds, then halfway for the same duration, listening closely for any errant hisses or drips. If all seems quiet, continue opening the valve until fully counterclockwise and parallel with the pipe. Congrats, your sprinkler system now awakens with water coursing through its veins! But the work isn’t done yet…onward we go.

#7 Inspect the Valves and Vacuum Breaker

Before pushing any buttons on that control panel, walk the network of pipes emerging from your home seeking leaks or loose fittings dislodged by winter frosts and thaws. Follow the main line toward garden beds and turf zones, visually tracing branches to each sprinkler head or drip emitter endpoint. Seal any cracks or clamp down hose fittings with gaskets that don’t look snug. Ensure buried pipes haven’t become exposed and vulnerable.

Swing back past the vacuum breaker valve to confirm everything there remains sealed tight without drips or hisses as water flows beyond. A few droplets from those bleeders upon initial pressurization is no concern. But continual leakage requires re-closing the screws firmly. No dampness should emerge at pipe joints or around valve handles. Tight is right for a water-safe network.

#8 Test the Individual Zones One at a Time

Walk the area, looking and listening for that first set of sprinkler heads to start squirting. Keep an eagle eye for misaligned nozzles shooting wayward patterns rather than evenly watering plantings.

Also, scan for patches of grass or garden going dry while there should be ample moisture. It is a hint of underground pipes split apart. Make notes on your phone or a clipboard, tracing zone numbers to any areas needing adjustment.

Return the panel and shut off zone 1 when inspection complete. Repeat for each subsequent zone, verifying all heads activate and distribute water just where thirsty roots need their share.

#9 Activate Scheduled Watering

With all zones tested satisfactorily, flip that MANUAL override switch back to AUTO mode and let the programmed calendar take over. Now your grass knows exactly when to quench its thirst! But before walking away, push those scheduling buttons to ensure you have cycles suited to the needs of the new growing season.

With potential landscape additions or subtractions over winter, take fresh stock of sunlight patterns that dictate soil moisture and plant needs in your yard’s microclimate zones. Perhaps a removal of a shade tree means more solar energy to nourish a former problem dry spot or added pavement increases runoff, so less water now suffices for nearby beds.

Tweak the timing and frequencies across your irrigated acreage accordingly. Set it…and forget it!

Well, at least until those autumn shutdown steps roll around again in 6 months or so when the ground again goes frigid.

But for now, let your well-tuned sprinkler system work its magic so your landscape flourishes as a true backyard oasis. Welcome spring!