Irrigation System Start-Up


Getting an irrigation system ready for the spring season should be built into your year just as a routine physical would. It’s a quick check-up to make sure everything is ready and functioning correctly. By scheduling spring irrigation start-ups, you can connect with customers proactively, provide added value to your services, and receive potential new referrals. By doing proper start-up and full system testing, you’ll be able to diagnose the system’s condition, check for winter damage, and optimize efficiency.

Irrigation System
(Photo: Ewing Irrigation & Landscape Supply)

Timing System Start-up

In cold climates, perform irrigation starts-ups when the soil on-site has thawed to a depth of 1′. It’s also important to be aware of upcoming temperatures. You don’t want to start up the system and then hit more freezing temperatures. You run the risk of bursting pipes or damaging other parts of the system.

Conversely, don’t wait too long. Once the weather warms and the spring season is underway, your crews could run out of time to review and check the irrigation system. In warmer climates, you can perform an annual irrigation start-up at the beginning of spring to fix leaks and other issues. In areas with milder winters, you can start check-ups a bit earlier.

Perform The System Check-up

When starting the irrigation system for the first time after winter, you want to inspect each part. There are four main areas: check the controller; check the sprinkler heads; check the valves; and run the system. Before getting started, if the system is winterized you need to recharge it before inspection. Don’t forget to turn off the water and make sure the backflow device is turned on.

Check the Controller. Clean and check the settings of the irrigation controller, and replace the back-up battery. Next, uncover and clean any weather sensors. If the system is on a timer or doesn’t have weather or flow sensors, consider talking to the property owner about installing sensors or upgrading to a smart controller.

Before programming the controller for the upcoming season, record the zone’s data to review later in the year during irrigation audit check-ins. Once the controller is functioning correctly, update the irrigation program and schedule for the spring, adjusting for any changes to the landscape design.

Check Sprinkler Heads. When inspecting the sprinkler heads, remove any dirt and debris from the area first. If any are damaged or clogged, replace them or clean out the screens to remove any debris. If you have a drip irrigation zone, be sure to clean out all Y filters and check drip emitters for clogs or damage, replacing as needed.

Check the Valves. When opening the valve that supplies the manifold, be sure to do so slowly to prevent damage to the lines. Inspect the valve box for any standing water or obstructions. Also, make sure the waterproof splices have been used. Then, test each zone in the system to ensure proper valve operation and identify possible leaks.

Run the System. After you’ve checked all system components and replaced broken or worn parts, slowly open the water line to prevent pressure surges in the main lines, uncontrolled flow, or water hammer. When running the system, check for adequate coverage, and adjust for overspray and runoff.

Now you can adjust the nozzles to limit runoff, as needed. Also, see if nozzles are performing properly, and make sure heads are not slanted at an angle. For a drip irrigation zone, flush out the lines by letting the system run at full force for a few minutes.

When on a job site, it can be handy to use a checklist of what to perform and what to look for. It’s also a good idea to leave a detailed visit report for the property owner. Leverage the four key areas above as a guide in creating your checklist and report.

York is national irrigation product manager for Ewing Irrigation & Landscape Supply, supporting the company’s more than 220 locations nationwide. Representing the fourth-generation of family leadership, York manages Ewing’s irrigation category. For resources on irrigation systems maintenance, see Ewing’s service visit checklist and startup irrigation checklist.

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