How to Turn off Sprinkler Valve
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How to turn off water to sprinkler system
Irrigation systems obviously need a water source. Unless, of course, you have a magical irrigation system. And if your irrigation system is magical, it probably does not require maintenance the way a regular, non-magical irrigation system does.
But if your irrigation system is not magical, you are going to need to know where the water source is located. It is probably going to be in one of a few places:
Is my irrigation shut-off valve in my basement?
I don’t know. I’ve never been to your house. For some reason, you’ve never invited me. And quite frankly, that hurts a little. But regardless, if you suspect that your irrigation system’s water source is in your basement, here are a few tips on how you can find out.
If you have an unfinished area of your basement, that is a good place to start looking. It might be near your hot water heater or your washer and dryer. If you are on a well, it could be near your expansion tank.
It is possible that someone (a previous homeowner, or the original builder, or an irrigation contractor who installed or serviced the system in the past?) labeled the irrigation shut-off valve.
That would make life considerably easier. Or if the irrigation valve itself is not labeled, maybe the other shut-off valves in your basement are labeled, and by process of elimination, you can determine which of the valves is for the irrigation system.
If nothing is labeled, start by looking to see if any of the pipes in the basement exit through the basement wall. Other than the irrigation pipe and your hose-bibs, there are generally not many other pipes that would exit the house through a hole in the wall.
It should be fairly easy to rule out the hose-bibs because hose-bibs are nearly always a ½” pipe, while the irrigation mainline pipe is almost always larger than ½”.
Half inch irrigation systems do exist. But they are not ideal, except for something like a small micro-drip system. Low pressure and flow on a ½” mainline system. 1” and ¾” are the most common sizes of mainline for residential irrigation systems. 1 ¼” and 1 ½” are also possibilities, though. Especially for larger systems. But the odds are that your shut-off valve for your sprinkler system is either 1” or ¾”.
Something else to keep in mind is that most homes have two hose-bibs and nearly all irrigation systems only have one point of connection/shut-off valve. There are some rare, strange set-ups where one irrigation pipe exits out of the front of the house and the other out of the back or side, but that is uncommon.
This means that if you can find your hose-bib pipes in your basement, they may help you find the irrigation shut-off valve; if you are still lost. Often the irrigation mainline pipe exits out of the same wall as one of the hose-bibs. So, by locating the hose-bib, you may be able to find the irrigation system’s shut-off valve.
If you have no idea which pipe in the basement is the irrigation and the hose-bib shut-off valves are not helping you locate it, you can try to work backward by going outside and looking around the house to see where a ¾” or 1” pipe goes through the wall.
Then, once you know which wall the irrigation mainline enters through, you can go downstairs to that wall and follow the pipe back until you see the shut-off valve for that pipe.
You also might have an outdoor, above-ground backflow preventer in your irrigation system.
If you know where your backflow preventer is outside, and you don’t know where your irrigation system shut-off valve is, go outside to your backflow preventer and see if there is a copper, PVC, or poly pipe nearby that enters your home in close proximity to the backflow preventer.
Once you go outside and see where the pipe exits the house, you can go to the basement to find the corresponding shut-off valve in the basement.
Sometimes the irrigation mainline pipe goes through the wall underground and sometimes it exits the wall above the ground outside. If the irrigation installer ran the mainline pipe underground through a basement wall, you can look outside near the exposed pipe at the ground level for a green, round (or possibly square or rectangular) irrigation valve box.
If you open the lid and look down, you might see that the mainline irrigation pipes go in the direction of the basement.
Figure out which wall corresponds in the basement and go down to the basement and follow the pipe back until you see a shut-off valve. That may be your irrigation shut-off valve.
Instead of being outside, it is possible that your backflow preventer might also be in your basement.
If you’re on city water, your irrigation shut-off valve likely looks similar to your whole house water shut-off valve. And it’s probably nearby, too. They are often both 1” pipes.
It is also possible that your irrigation shut-off valve is behind a dry-wall cut out somewhere in the basement. If this is the case, a lot of times there is crownmoulding around the cut-out or a little latch or something that would indicate that something important is hidden behind there.
Just keep at it. Maybe you’ll get lucky and find a secret stash of diamonds or an original copy of The Declaration of Independence or an old bag of mushrooms or something.
Or if your basement has drop tiles anywhere, you might need to remove a tile or two to find the irrigation system’s shut-off valve.
Get creative. Pretend this is a scavenger hunt where the winner gets an ultra rare, original Action Comics first issue. Because maybe you’ll find one of those in the walls like this couple did.
Is my irrigation shut-off valve outside in my yard near my water meter?
If you were unable to find valuable treasure or your shut-off valve, your irrigation system point of connection might be tied directly into your city water outside. If so, the irrigation shut-off valve is likely going to be in a green plastic valve box near your water meter. It could be round, square, or rectangular. The water meter crock is usually larger than an irrigation valve box, so you are likely to find the water meter before you find the irrigation valve box. So, let’s start by finding your water meter.
Your water meter is probably under a round, metal lid that looks something like this:
If you are still having trouble locating your water meter, look at the asphalt in front of your house. Sometimes there will be a marker or a blue spot of paint to indicate where the city line tees off the main city water line.
If you follow the markings toward your house, you might see the water meter.
If not, you may need to get the old metal detector out. Oh, you don’t own a metal detector? Me either. Guess we’ll just need to go get a shovel or a big screwdriver and start poking around to see if it has been covered up with mulch or if the grass has grown over the water meter crock lid.
Once you find your water meter, you will likely find your irrigation shut-off valve in a valve box somewhere between the water meter and your house.
A valve box is basically an overturned bucket with a removable lid. If your valve box is in the grass, you will likely need the assistance of a shovel or a pair of channel locks or a hand trowel to pry the lid open. The grass can grow around the lid and it can require some leverage to remove it.
Is my sprinkler system turn off valve outside in the yard near my well head?
If your home’s water supply comes from a well rather than city water and you have determined that the irrigation shut-off valve is not in the basement, the next step is to go outside to your well head and see if there is a green plastic valve box lid nearby.
If so, the shut-off valve for the irrigation may be inside the valve box near the well-head.
Is my sprinkler’s shut-off valve outside, connected to my hose-bib?
Or, your irrigation water source may tie in directly to your hose-bib on a Y connector. Go check all of the hose bibs around the house. There may be a splitter connection at your hose, and the irrigation water may branch off from the hose.
If that is the case, you will need to determine whether you would like to turn both the hose and the irrigation system off for the winter. The safest way to handle it is to turn off the hose-bib’s shut-off valve inside the house. Because the hose bib itself has a valve somewhere further back the water line toward the main shut-off valve for your whole house.
If you need help finding your hose bib’s shut-off valve, check out this Irrigation Skill article entitled, “How to Find Shut-Off Valve For Outdoor Faucet.”
Is my irrigation system’s shut-off valve in my crawl space?
It is possible that your irrigation shut-off valve is underneath your house in the crawl space. If so, I am very sorry for your loss. Because crawling into a den of cob-webs and rodent-droppings suuuuuuucks! Not to mention the possibility of a friendly snake to drop down on your head to say “Hi, friend!”
If you do need to brave a gnarly crawl space, I have a few pieces of advice for you. First, and I cannot stress this enough, get yourself a jumpsuit. Not only is it always the correct fashion choice, but it is also practical for crawl space exploration.
You don’t want to be worried about your favorite Tom Ford suit while you’re crawling through old piles of mouse bones and snake skins. But if you get your jump suit dirty? No problem. Throw it in the garbage or into the washing machine. Worst case scenario, you have to set it on fire to rid yourself of the foul remnants of your under-house spelunking adventure. Either way, the mess stays on the outside.
My second bit of advice here is to pretend that you are Indiana Jones and that instead of looking for a rusty old irrigation valve, you are actually searching for the Ark of the Covenant. It will be way more fun that way, and you’ll get to wear a cool hat and carry a big whip.
But as far as where to find the valve itself, go exploring and see what you find. Most of the advice from the “Inside your house in your basement” section is still going to apply to a crawl space. So, if you skipped that section, head back and pay attention this time, Bueller!
How to turn off water to sprinkler system
Okay, so you went exploring and you found your irrigation system’s shut-off valve. What now? Well, you turn it off, obviously. But the “how” part depends on what kind of valve you have.
Ball valves and globe valves are the most common kind of valves that I have seen for irrigation systems.
A brass ball valve looks like a larger tongue compressor attached to a piece of metal pipe. When the valve’s handle runs parallel with the pipe, it is on. And when it runs perpendicular to the pipe, it is off.
A PVC ball valve works the same way a brass ball valve does, but the handle is a bit different. As with a brass ball valve, it is on when the valve’s handle is parallel with the pipe. And it is off when the handle is perpendicular with the pipe. And both require a 90 degree turn to open or close the valve. On a brass valve, the handle is connected to the pipe on one side. A PVC ball valve is connected in the middle of the ball valve handle.
A globe valve, much like a globe, is round. The handle, anyway…
A globe valve works the same way that a hose bib works. To close a globe valve, remember the golden rule of opening and closing: “Righty tighty. Lefty loosey.” If you want to open it, turn a globe-valve’s handle counter-clockwise. If you want to close it, turn the handle clockwise. Opening the valve giveth you water. Closing the water taketh your water away.
If you are unsure whether you turned off the correct valve, you can test it out by going upstairs to a bathroom or to the kitchen and running the faucet for 20 seconds or so, to make sure the pressure does not drop to nothing.
If the pressure at your faucet drops to a trickle and then the water stops flowing, you will know that you accidentally turned off the main shut-off valve for your whole-house’s water supply.
If that is the case, turn the shut-off valve back on and keep looking for the irrigation valve!
Do not use a faucet in the basement for this test, because gravity will cause the water from the main floor and/or the second floor pipes that still remain in the line to come down and exit through the basement faucet. So it would take longer for the pressure to drop. To prevent this, head upstairs and use a faucet on the main floor or the second floor. Or, the third floor if you are Mrs. Moneybags or Richie Rich and you live in an enormous mansion.
How to drain sprinkler system for winter
Once you have turned off your irrigation system’s main shut-off valve, you may want to drain down the water in the irrigation mainline pipe. If your shut-off valve in the basement is brass, it may have a bleeder cap. If so, grab a bucket and a wrench and get to work.
Just to be clear here, draining down your mainline is not the complete winterization process. In order to empty all of the sprinkler pipes and heads, you will need to hook up an air compressor and blow the water out of the lines. That way, they will be empty when it gets cold enough to freeze the ground and crack the pipes below ground.
However, because the ground acts as an insulator, any above ground/exposed pipe freezes well before anything underground will. If the temperatures drop well below freezing for a night, your exposed pipes that are above ground can freeze and crack because they are not insulated. So, if you are just trying to buy some time before you ultimately blow the water out the pipes, then you will want to drain the water from the exposed piping.
First, make sure that the shut-off valve has been turned off completely before you start this process. If the water is still on when you remove the bleeder cap, you (and all of your surrounding stuff), will be totally soaked if you remove the bleeder cap.
Again, a brass shut-off ball valve is off when the handle is perpendicular to the pipe. It is on when the handle is parallel to the pipe. You want the handle to be perpendicular to the pipe before removing the bleeder cap.
Once you have drained the water from the pipe, you should screw the bleeder cap back on. That way, you will ensure that you won’t lose the cap over the winter. And again, if you were to accidentally turn on the valve in the spring with the bleeder cap still off, it would be bad news. Water everywhere. So, go ahead and screw the bleeder cap back on now to save your future self the hassle.
Where to find my secondary outside shut-off valve for my irrigation system
Okay, you have learned how to turn off sprinkler system from the main shut-off valve, but there might be a second way to accomplish this.
If your irrigation water source is in your basement, there may be a secondary shut-off valve outside, where the pipe exits the house. If you are turning off your irrigation system’s water for the winter, you will want to turn off the main, primary shut-off valve inside. But, it is a good idea to know where your outdoor secondary shut-off valve is, in case there is a leak and you need to turn off the water to the irrigation system quickly, while you are outside.
Also, if you have a mainline leak in your irrigation system and you hired a company to come out for a service call to repair the leak, it can be best to leave the irrigation water valve on in the basement and off outside at the secondary shut-off valve. That way, if you are not home at the time of the appointment, they can still fix the leak from outside, without needing to get inside the house.
Of course, if the mainline leak outside is before the secondary valve, you will need to turn off the valve inside the house.
If you have an above-ground backflow preventer, there are usually some secondary shut-off valves before and after the backflow preventer.
If you do not have an above-ground backflow preventer outside, your secondary irrigation shut-off valve may be underground, in a green valve box where the water exits the house. If your secondary shut-off valve is in a valve box, you will need to remove the lid to access it.
There you go! You are now an expert on how to find and turn off the shut-off valve for your irrigation system. Congratulations! You now know how to turn off sprinkler!
How to turn off water to sprinkler system:
- If you have a basement, head downstairs and take a look to see if you can locate your irrigation system’s shut-off valve down there.
- You will likely be looking for an unfinished section of your basement.
- You will be looking for a pipe that exits through the basement wall.
- Usually, the only other pipes that exit through the basement wall are your hose bibs. It is generally pretty easy to tell which shut-off valve is for your hose bib and which is for your irrigation. Hose bib pipes are usually ½” and irrigation mainline pipes are usually ¾” or 1”.
- It could be in the ceiling or right up against a basement wall.
- If you don’t see it in an unfinished section of your basement, it might be up behind your drop tile ceiling. Or it could be in a dry-wall cut-out in a downstairs bedroom or closet.
- If you don’t have a basement, check your crawl space.
- If you struck out in your basement and you don’t have a crawl space, the next step would be to mosey on outside and see if your irrigation system is tied into your main water line for your house.
- If you are on city water and your irrigation system’s shut-off valve is outside, it is likely going to be pretty close to your water meter.
- If you don’t know where your water meter is, try checking your front yard near your street. You will be looking for a big metal lid.
- Once you find your water meter, the next step is to look between the water meter and your house for a green “valve box.”
- A valve box is a round, square, or rectangular box, with a lid at ground level. You may need a shovel or a wrench to pry the lid open.
- When you open the lid, hopefully you will find the irrigation valve.
- If you are on a well, and your irrigation shut-off valve is not in your house, it could be outside in a valve box near your well head.
- If you still haven’t found your irrigation shut-off valve, it’s possible that it is connected to your hose-bib.
- How to turn off water to sprinkler system.
- A ball valve is open when the handle is parallel to the pipe and closed when it is perpendicular with the pipe.
- If you have a brass or PVC ball valve, gently turn the valve handle 90 degrees to open or close it.
- A globe valve has a round handle. Turn the handle counterclockwise to open the valve and clockwise to close it.
- Drain sprinkler system for winter?
- First off, draining your mainline pipe in your basement is not enough to clear all of the water out of the lines. You will need to hook up an air compressor and blow the water out of the lines. But, if there is just one cold night in the forecast and you need to drain down the exposed pipe until you later blow out the lines with an air compressor, you can use the bleeder cap on your brass shut-off valve.
- If you have a brass ball valve, look for a small, metal bleeder cap. If you find that your valve has a bleeder cap, get your bucket ready and make sure the shut-off valve is fully closed. Then unscrew the bleeder cap and let the water trickle into your bucket.
- Screw the bleeder cap back on after the water is drained down.
- Where to find my secondary outside shut-off valve for my irrigation system?
- If your irrigation’s water shut-off valve is inside your house, you may have a secondary shut-off valve outside.
- To check, go outside to where your irrigation system’s mainline pipe exits your house.
- If you have an above ground backflow preventer, it may have shut-off valves before and after the backflow preventer itself.
- If your irrigation system’s mainline pipe exits the house below grade, then your secondary shut-off valve may be in a valve box.