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Don't wait to winterize outdoor pipes, sprinklers

By Brad Haire
University of Georgia

Homeowners should winterize outdoor pipes and lawn sprinklers soon. A few precautions now can save a lot of time and headaches come springtime.

Temperatures in north Georgia have already dipped below freezing. And this winter is predicted to have extended periods of freezing weather throughout the state.

Freezing temperatures can cause the water in an exposed pipe to expand. If the water expands too much, the pipe bursts.

"With home irrigation systems, you probably wouldn't know you had any pipe damage until you turned it on for the first spring watering," says Kerry Harrison, an irrigation specialist with the University of Georgia Extension Service.

Most in-ground sprinkler pipes will be OK, because only the top two inches of the ground freeze in most of Georgia. Pipes should be well below this level. Other irrigation components, like backflow prevention valves, are at ground level and could be in danger.

If there are any exposed valves or pipes around your home, tape them up or "use a good old sack to wrap them," Harrison said. Home-improvement stores have many tapes, foams and gadgets to keep these pipes warm on cold, winter nights.

The tips of sprinkler heads can hold water. When frozen, they can rupture. The whole sprinkler system holds water, too, even when it isn't being used, like in the winter. Don't forget to drain the system, he said. If you don't drain it properly in the winter, your sprinkler could be a geyser when you turn it on next spring.

"Arrangements should have been made in the installation process to have a way to drain those lines that would hold water through a buried valve in a pit," he said.

If you've bought a home with an installed irrigation system, find this drain valve. Some systems are equipped with automatic drain valves.

Don't forget about outside water hoses. You can do two things:

* Leave the hoses hanging outside. But disconnect them from faucets.

* Disconnect, drain and store hoses someplace with a constant temperature. This will prolong the life of hoses.

If you leave hoses undrained outside in the winter, don't move them or touch them in freezing weather. You could be the one to break them. Frozen hoses are fragile.

Private water users and rural residents with wells should check out their main water pump. There is usually a quarter-inch pipe connected to the pressure switch. If it's metal, it likely won’t freeze. But if it's plastic, it might freeze and burst. This could cause the water pump to fail or continue to run and cause some major winter repairs.

If all these precautions fail and a pipe bursts, there's still one thing to remember. "Know where your main water cutoff is," Harrison said.

(Brad Haire is the former news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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