The Shut-Off Valve for Your Lawn Sprinkler System

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Lawn sprinkler systems can be such a benefit to the homeowner, yet these systems are not maintained. One feature that is common in commercial applications will benefit residential sprinklers. That is the shut off valve.

I was participating in an Earth Day event yesterday. A group of us who are providing services with a green flare set up our tables in the lobbies of two buildings in the Energy Corridor. I had a great deal of fun explaining to homeowners what different products were, and how they can better the energy and water efficiency of their home. I was also interested in the other vendors, so before the event really began, I went to the other tables to take a look. Te natural care cleaning services looked like something that should be furthered explored, and of course, there were the recycling companies present; however, I was interested in the vendor dealing with lawn sprinklers. He worked for a firm that specialized in commercial applications, but he did residential work as well. He brought a mock up of the lawn sprinkler system with various heads and the back flow preventer. Looking at his display, I spotted that he had installed a shut off valve before the back flow device, so we began to talk.

    Leaks around the back flow preventer seem to be common in my home inspections. I see them more at the joints of the tubing. This device is the U-shaped set of tubes that has a brass valve in on corner. This set up sticks up out of the ground; one of the few pieces of your lawn sprinkler system that is always visible. For me, the leaks seem to occur with homeowners or yard crews hitting these tubes with the lawnmower. What I had not seen is a back flow preventer leaking due to freezing. The back flow preventer is a valve, which will not allow water to flow back into the drinkable water of the home. When this is leaking, the homeowner will notice, so these are changed out. At this device there are two shut off valves on either side of the device. In the event of a hard freeze, you should treat this valve area like your treat the hose bibs: you insulate them from the cold. Homeowners do forget this step. When they begin to have problems due to the freeze, they turn off the valves. This stops the water flow through the device, but you have to drain the back flow preventer to stop the damage from the expanding water during freezing. The installer mentioned that he had to replace many of these valves this past winter.
    This is where the simple shut off valve becomes quite useful. If you have to work on this part of your lawn sprinkler system, the water has to be turned off to the house. I have never seen a residential installation with a valve at that point in the line. When this valve is in place, workers do not need to shut off all of the water, but this has a further application for the homeowner. Turning off the water to your lawn sprinkler system before the water reaches the back flow device helps to ensure no water can freeze in any of those tubes sticking up out of the ground. You still have to drain the back flow valve by opening the little release valve on the side.
    That simple idea caused me to remember to study commercial installations. Commercial buildings, because they are used by more people, have the tendency to see new ideas installed faster. More money is set aside for building maintenance as well.  This shut off valve is not a requirement for your sprinkler system. Possibly there will be residential installers who would argue with me that it is not needed. If you are a homeowner, and you are concerned with leaks, then this valve can help you, so have the installer place a valve before the water reaches your back flow preventer.

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This site came out of my desire to write about my love of gardening, but also to connect it to my knowledge derived from home inspections. That is why I tied it to the home inspection site.If you have questions, you can email them to me (frank at For home inspections, call 713.781.6090.
Happy gardening, Frank


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