Cold Weather: Prepare or Repair


The backflow preventer is a costly part of your sprinkler system, and despite its tough looking construction, it can be surprisingly fragile under freezing temperatures. If you live in a part of the country where freezing temperatures are common, you should take the time to prepare & protect your backflow preventer (and other components) from freeze damage. The good news is that backflow preventers are surprisingly easy to winterize or even repair! In fact, most can be winterized in less than 5 minutes or repaired in under 15 minutes using tools any home owner would have on hand!



Step One

Start by first shutting off the water supply to the sprinkler system.

Step Two

 Next, ensure that the ball-valve controlling the incoming water is closed and the ball-valve controlling the water going out to the sprinkler system open.

backflow freeze prev diag

Step Three

Locate the test cocks (i.e. test-ports) located on the side of the backflow preventer and remove any caps of protective covers from the ports.

Step Four

Locate the adjustment screw on the side of the test cock and using a flat head screwdriver, turn that screw (to the right) approximately one quarter turn and leave the screw in the 45° position. (Repeat this procedure for the remaining screw(s). As you do this some valves will expel water, others may not, this is normal).

Step Five

Finally turn the ball-valves to a 45 degree angle. This ensures that water will not become trapped behind the ball valve while in the fully open position, while at the same time allowing for continuous flow in and out of the backflow preventer.

Step Six

INSULATE-INSULATE-INSULATE!!! If you are unable to winterize your Backflow preventer or just want another layer of protection, be sure to insulate your exposed devices (hydrants, Backflows, pipes etc)  from direct exposure.

(Directions apply to the common pressure vacuum breaker style of backflow preventer)



The process to repair your backflow preventer if it has sustained freeze damage is very easy, so long as the housing of the device did not crack under the pressure. It’s most likely that the bonnet and poppet assembly within the device broke under the pressure from the frozen water. They are designed to give way under pressure to protect the backflow preventer from more extensive, expensive damage. 

Step One

Start by turning off the water to your sprinkler system. This can be done at the primary shutoff valve. It is not uncommon for this valve to be located underground, in which case you would use a long metal key handle to turn the valve and shut the water off. If this valve is by chance located in an area where it can be exposed to the cold temperatures be sure it is insulated and/or protected from the cold.

Step Two

At the backflow protector, find the valve handle controlling the incoming water. This is usually locate on the pipe coming up from the ground into the base of the backflow preventer. Turn the handle ro-degrees to the right, shutting off the flow of water into the device. You will know the handle is in the off position because it will be positioned horizontal and parallel to the ground. Next locate the valve handle for the water coming out of the backflow device. Turn the handle 90-degrees just as you did the previous handle. When closed this handle will be vertically aligned, going up and down.

backflow partsStep Three

Using a flat head screwdriver locate the Test ports (i.e. test cocks) located on the side of the device and turn the screw slightly, allowing any pressure being held inside the device to be relieved. Repeat this for both screws.

Step Four

Using an adjustable wrench, carefully remove the nut on top of the bell cover. Lift off the bell cover d to access the bonnet and poppet assembly. Remove the nut on the top of the plastic bonnet and remove any and all plastic bits and pieces that have broken. Once the inside of the device is clean and free from any debris, carefully take your new bonnet and poppet assembly and screw it down into the place where the old one was. Be sure to only tighten the new parts down into the device hand tight.

Step Five

Replace the nut on top of the bonnet and poppet. Next replace the bell cover and nut. Additionally replace the bell cover on top of the the backflow preventer and tighten it moderately.    Also close the test ports on the side of the device using your flat head screwdriver.

 Step Six

Cover your backflow preventer pipes with insulating tape and take time to cover the entire device with some kind of insulation. Perhaps an insulation sleeve or a decorative cover 



Even if your backflow preventer is not damaged, you may want to have a bonnet and poppet assembly on hand just in case your get caught off guard! Surprisingly, backflow repair kits are an item that is highly susceptible to the supply and demand curve. When they are in demand, they are in HIGH demand. Which means you may not be able to find one locally or they may be severely overpriced as a result of the demand.

Buy a bonnet and poppet assembly to keep in case of emergencies. You never know, it may just save the day when you least expect it! Or perhaps you can help to save the day for one of your neighbors in distress. Nevertheless, its a good idea to have one on hand and be prepared with a backup plan. 

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The Benefits of Bees, Insects and other Animals Part I

How to Keep the Beneficials Around

Have you ever wondered how to get rid of those pesky bees, spiders, and other creepy crawlies in your garden or lawn? You might want to rethink this if you plan on having blooming flowers, and ripe vegetables. Especially bees, these insects help to protect your plants from non-beneficial insects that will take out your prized vegetables and bring upon diseases. Here is a list of beneficial insects that you should try to keep in your plants environment:

  • Bees – especially honey bees are some of the most diversified insects ever. They pollinate every kind of plant, including all of the fruit and vegetables you see at the store.
  • Ladybugs– feed on aphids and other soft-bodied insects and are attracted to flower nectar and pollen.
  • Lacewings– feed on flower nectar, as well as aphids, thrips, scales, moth eggs, small caterpillars, and mites.
  • Hunting and Parasitic Wasps– these mini-wasps often attack the eggs of pests, and are one of the most important insect groups that provide control of garden pests. They can be attracted by growing pollen and nectar plants.
  • Spiders– all spiders feed on insects and are very important in preventing pest outbreaks. Typical spiders found in your garden will not move inside, nor are they poisonous. Permanent perennials and straw mulches will provide shelter and dramatically increase spider populations in vegetable gardens.
  • Praying Mantis– rid our gardens of evildoers such as aphids.


In order to attract these types of insects, you will need to have a healthy garden. To do this, native plants are a great start. They are easy to care for and will attract many native beneficial insects. Plan out how you would like for your garden to look and don’t forget to include how you will irrigate your plants.  This time of year you will want to have your starters going indoors, and checking your soil every few weeks to estimate when you can plant your natives. If you plant too early the seeds or seedlings won’t succeed and you will have wasted your money.

Start setting up your bird baths, for migrating birds, and your hummingbird feeders. Make sure they are in a well visible, but protected area.  A few feet away from shrubs and trees is the most ideal. Pruning your fruit bearing trees will help bring birds migrate into your garden. Native shrubs include beautyberry, American cranberry bush, elderberry, blueberry, chokeberry, winterberry, and coralberry.

Backflow Preventers: The unsung hero of your sprinkler system

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Sprinkler systems (in concept) are not very complicated…they are designed to deliver water to plants and vegetation alike in a uniform and controlled manner, keeping the world around us looking green and beautiful! And while designs can vary in size and complexity (based on the irrigation needs of the property and the local legal regulations… among other things) there are a few parts that every sprinkler systems (should) have in common.

                  Today we will focus on the backflow preventer —                                              “The unsung hero of the sprinkler world! “

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Too often this indispensable part goes unnamed and unnoticed (likely) because of its passive role in the otherwise regimented and choreographed lawn watering production. Unlike the corps of valves, opening and closing in perfect conformity with the system controller — the humble backflow preventer performs its task consistently and dutifully no matter who is watching. After all, a well planned and expertly installed sprinkler system should be an unremitting symphony of irrigation — performing day in and day out in perfectly correlated consonance.

It is interesting to note that the backflow preventer is the only non-electronic part of the sprinkler system which is constantly working – day or night, whether your sprinklers are running or not — standing guard protecting the potable water supply from contamination.


So what makes the backflow preventer so special?


“When you are thirsty, and go to fetch a glass of cold water straight from the tap, do you worry about it being contaminated or even think twice before you drink it?

I suspect the answer is a negligent, “NO”. Most likely because so many of us grew up living in a society where we have been conditioned to not worry about things like water contamination. 

“Should you worry?”


After all, it is not uncommon for farmers to apply chemicals or fertilizer through their irrigation systems. And in theory it seems possible that a little bit of that fertilizer could be siphoned back through the pipes contaminating the potable drinking water we all use. 

“No, you don’t need to worry.”

Fortunately, backflow preventers are an integral and requisite part of nearly all irrigation installations and can be found throughout the public water system. So, the answer is no,  you do not need to be on a constant alert for contaminated water. 


There are several kinds of backflow preventor designs in use today, ranging from simple to complex designs incorporating multiple fail-safes for protection. To put it very simply, a backflow preventer is an elaborate one-way valve.  It allows for water to flow in one direction into a system, but will prevent any water from returning back into the potable water source.


                            “My water comes from a well on my own land, Do I need a backflow preventer?” 

You will have a backflow preventer whether you get your water from the city water supply or from your own on-site well. They are generally located on your private property as close to the potable water supply source as is possible.

Get tested

If you are not already familiar with what a backflow protector does, it may be a wise decision to contact a local backflow testing service to come and test your tk_9a_openedbackflow preventer. It is recommended (and in many places required) that you have your backflow preventer tested yearly by a certified tester. They will be able to show you the location of your backflow preventer, and tell you what style and brand of device you own. They will test the backflow preventer using special tools and  provide you with results. (I was able to find local listings for testing services online in several large and small towns by typing “backflow preventer testing [and your town name]” into Google. I found the average cost to be in the $75-85 range for a residential inspection/testing nationwide.


.shutterstock_140918242 .

Backflow preventers are designed multiple fail safe features to protect and ensure their function. However,  there are are two very serious, very real, threats facing backflow preventers…

Theft & Freeze Damage

Backflow preventers are a prime target for theft because they are made from valuable metals which can be easily recycled for quick cash. And with the replacement cost being as high as $500+ it is important that you take proper precautions to prevent theft by incorporating an anti theft device with your backflow preventer such as a backflow theft prevention cage  or the Sekure-It lock up kit.  For less than the cost of one replacement backflow preventer you can ensure your backflow preventer stays protected and STAYS YOURS for life!



The other fatal factor to be aware of is cold weather. If you live somewhere in the country where freezing temperatures are a common occurrence, you should winterize your sprinkler system — including the backflow preventer.  Regardless of where you live in the country, it is recommended that you insulate your backflow preventer as well as any other exposed pipes or fixtures to protect them from frequent or infrequent cold temperatures. The complete guide on winterization can be found here.



 Thermostatic Freeze Relief Valves

Thermostatic freeze relief valves are now available to add to your backflow preventer or climate exposed pipes. It will automatically open itself up, permitting an escape for the pressure created by frozen water. For less than $100 this kind of relief valve will prevent a cracked backflow preventer housing — saving you big bucks in parts and labor.

(Of course you can always take your cracked & broken backflow preventer down to the metal recycler, and get enough money to hopefully buy a relief valve to install on the next one!)

Polar Vortex the New El Nino ?

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When I moved to the great state of Texas from the Pacific Northwest, I was excited to escape the cold weather and all the icy annoyances that made life in Idaho really cold and really dangerous! And wouldn’t you believe it…the first winter I have in Texas turns out to be one of the coldest on record!

The reason the nation is experiencing colder than usual conditions is largely due to a phenomena called a Polar Vortex.

But we are not out of the woods just yet!– Meteorologists are predicting another polar vortex experience in the near future.

What the heck is a polar vortex!?

The first thing to know is that (ironically) it has to do with global warming. That’s right, the recent nationwide cold-spell…the same exact cold spell responsible for blizzard like conditions and freezing temps in all 50 states…is an indirect consequence of global warming!

I will do my best to explain this as simply and accurately as possible, here we go…

The far north is warming at a rate nearly twice as fast as the middle part of the planet.  The result is a diminished difference between the Arctic temps and the temperature of the central part of the planet where continents such as North America are located.

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Directly above the arctic north pole is a giant mass of swirling cold air moving above it  in a counter-clockwise direction. This circular motion is created by the difference in temperatures between the arctic and the central part of the planet.

However, as the average temperature of the Arctic is rising at nearly twice the speed as the rest of the planet the difference in these values is changing the way the cold air mass over the north pole behaves. The larger the difference in temperatures the

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tighter that swirling pattern stays. But, as that temperature difference grows closer together, the pattern grows wavy and more erratic. Occasionally the mass of air shifts further beyond the norm and we experience a cold spell like what happened during the first week of January.  

In other words, we experience a Polar Vortex.

We can expect to see this kind of thing happening more and more frequently, because it is directly related to global warming.

Prepare your home for the cold weather.

Whether you live in Texas like me, or you live in another part of the country…last week’s polar vortex experience proved that NO ONE is safe from the freezing temperatures (Hawaii included!)

Take special care to put your animals indoors during potentially cold days, or prepare a warm place for them to weather the storm.

Make sure you have a first aid kit and some supplies with you in your car at all times…cold weather can cause your car’s battery to be as much as lose 33 percent of its power when the temperature dips below freezing, and over 50 percent of its power in subzero conditions! So be sure to have a warm blanket or sleeping bag inside your car just in case you are stuck in the cold longer than you plan to be!

Lastly, prepare your home for the cold. Where we are outside of the growing season, it’s unlikely that you have flowers or plants that need protecting, but if you do, be sure to cover them  to prevent the frost from damaging them. If you have any exposed pipes, be sure to wrap them with insulating tape or buy a insulating cover for them.  If you have a sprinkler system installed in your lawn you need to locate your backflow preventor and protect it by winterizing it! (a broken backflow preventor can cost you hundreds in parts and labor if the housing is cracked)

How to Choose an Irrigation Controller


irrigation controllers

Web Based Timers– Example: Irrigation Caddy S1– Web based controller that can connect to Wi-Fi or an Ethernet cable, 9 zones, 5 start times, and is rain sensor compatible. Your controller can be controlled from your PC, tablet, or mobile device. No special software is required.

Battery Operated Controller– Example: Irritrol IBOC-12PLUS 12 Station Outdoor Sprinkler Timer– Sets up to 12 stations, comes with solar and battery powered options, and built-in surge protection. Battery operated controllers can be used for residential or commercial use or for sprinkler and drip irrigation systems.

Standard Controllers– Example: Hunter PCC1200 12 Zone Outdoor Sprinkler Timer w/ Internal Transformer– Up to 12 stations and 12+ run times per day can be set up, weather sensor ready and could be used for large commercial applications. Simple and cost effective, standard controllers are a great option for those installing a basic sprinkler system.

Cyber Rain

Irrigation controllers can use weather conditions to determine how much water to apply and when to run your sprinkler system. Little monitoring is required, and it can help you save up to 25% of the water that you would apply by a traditional controller.

Most irrigation controllers vary in their complexity, but are relatively simple to install and operate. Installation requires some basic electrical knowledge and can be accomplished by most homeowners in as little as twenty minutes or as much as three hours. Sprinkler timers come in a wide range of makes and models. It is important to choose your timer based on the size of the sprinkler system and any specific landscape requirements.

Three major factors that should affect your selection of a sprinkler timer:

Zone/Station Quantity- You need to decide how many zones are in your irrigation. The timer you select must be able to operate at least as many zones as your sprinkler system is broken into.

Location – You have to decide where you want your controller mounted– indoors or outdoors

Desired Number of Programs- A minimum of two programs is recommended for programming flexibility; you may want more for increased flexibility. Most sprinkler timers come in single, two, three, or four-program designs.


Additional Features:

  • Remote: Many of the major irrigation companies such as Hunter, Irritrol, and Rain Bird carry compatible remotes that you can use up to 2 miles away to operate your system without all the walking back and forth.
  • Seasonal Watering Adjustment: Most timers have seasonal scheduling options, in addition to daily, weekly, and monthly scheduling.
  • Memory: If you live in an area where power outages are common occurrences, battery backup is highly recommended, which will store programming indefinitely without power.
  • Self-Diagnostics: Some timers include water fluctuation compensating diagnostic programs or short-circuit protection.
  • Rain Sensor: A great water-conserving feature for sprinkler timers is a rain sensor, when precipitation is detected watering is suspended temporarily.

**As a matter of personal preference many additional features and options may be available that you can choose but are not critical to your sprinkler system functioning properly.**

Here are a few links to help you make the best decision for your lawn:

Sprinkler Timers

Drip Irrigation Timers

Battery Operated Controllers

Types of Timers

Choosing a Timer:

Backflow and the Polar Vortex


Almost every lawn in the United States is subject to severe winter weather, especially the new Polar Vortex that has hit the states. This Vortex has caused many people to rethink their pipe protection and backflow prevention devices. In order to make sure that your home is prepared for when the polar vortex is over and everything starts to melt, you might need to run out and do some shopping.

Recent history shows that areas most vulnerable to damage from sudden frozen temperatures are those in the southern portions of the country because they are not prepared or acclimated to long periods of freezing temperatures. For this reason, it is critical that every home owner prepare for problems during the winter weather.

As you might expect, the most common types of sprinkler problems during the winter months are freezing water in your pipes. Two problems that are most prevalent: water accumulating in sprinkler systems from the compressed air in the sprinkler pipes, and improper insulation of backflow devices.

When a backflow device is not winterized and freezes, it will expand along with the frozen water inside of it, causing a few different things to happen; the bonnet and poppet assembly could freeze causing it to blow apart and water will run all over until it is shut off, if your valve brakes, it will be another problem and will be extremely costly to fix.  When you go to turn on your irrigation, water will flow freely from the broken backflow and you might even have non-potable water rushing into your potable water inside of your home. If you do not become aware of any breakage with your backflow, this will lead the way for a very unsatisfactory year of lawn maintenance and possibly health care bills if you ingest any water from the backflow device.

What To Do:

Turn the water off

Replace broken part

Drain the backflow

Turn the valve handle at a 45 degree angle

Wrap the device with a towel

Wrap everything with a plastic bag then tape or secure in place.

backflow parts

A New Year, A New Lawn


January is filled with promises, resolutions, and planning. This shouldn’t just apply to your waistline, but also to your lawn. January is National Mail-Order Gardening Month, which means it is time to start ordering the supplies you will need to have a successful and hassle-free landscape season. Chances are that you did not get all of your winterization done; this includes a fall clean up of all the leaves, pruning, and fertilizing. Here are a few tips that you will need in order to make sure you are ready for this spring:

  • As soon as there is decent weather it should be safe to prune your dormant trees and shrubs.
  • Apply anti-desiccants to newly planted evergreens.
  • Inspect your winterized roses and make sure that they are still covered.
  • Continue protecting container plants from freezing temperatures.
  • If winter veggies look yellow, add nitrogen fertilizer.
  • Frost free zones can now plant spring annuals outdoors.

There is always something to be done when you are dealing with living plants so make sure to double check everything. Don’t forget to place orders for tools and irrigation parts that you may need come spring time. You wouldn’t want to be waiting on one small part because it was out of stock.


Pruning your trees and shrubs will help come spring time.

It is easy to shrug off your yard duties because it is cold out and everything is covered in the white stuff. However if you wish to have a blossoming yard when spring rolls around, it is essential to make sure that your prep work is done. Inspecting, pruning and planning are all things that will bring peace and relaxation to your life.

Winter Wonderland

When it’s cold out, no one wants to work

**Backflow: It is very important to check on your backflow device and what pipes you can reach or see. When spring rolls around it could be a disaster if pipes have burst or your backflow has broken.

For more information search our DIY site at: