Closing Test Cocks on the Double Check.

 So you’ve turned on your sprinkler system yourself in the spring and have gotten squirted in the face by one to four full force jets. You jump up from the valve box furious at your incompetent sprinkler guy who obviously didn’t winterize correctly. Now you’re positive your backflow preventer has a freeze break.

Well, let’s check the test cocks first. Take a look at this photo (click on to enlarge). The flathead screwdriver is inserted into the slot of a test cock. There are four test cocks on every double check valve assembly, (only 3 are visible here). When a system is winterized, the water is shut off and blown out with a compressor or drained. The test cocks should all be opened to drain the backflow and left open all winter. The reason they are left open is if the main shut off valve for whatever reason is defective in a way that makes it slowly leak, the sprinkler mainline will eventually refill with water and freeze. If the test cocks are open, at least the water will spill out right away before entering the mainline. Some shut-off valve leaks (weeping) are so slow they aren’t detected at time of winterization.

Note: the backflow preventer and double check terms I use refer to the same device- the brass thingy with two (usually blue plastic coated) handles. Backflow preventer is the generic term, and double check is the specific type of  device. You’ll hear the two terms used interchangably. There should be a separate shutoff valve upstream of the backflow that tees off your house water. Sometimes the backflow itself is the only shutoff. If this is the case, the first test cock cannot be opened to drain because it is upstream of the first ball valve. ( blue handle thingy )

Anyway- where were we? Oh yeah, let’s close the test cocks. With the water off stick a flathead screwdriver in that slot in the middle of the test cock. Sometimes the backflow is installed in such a position these are hard to get to. You may need a small mirror, flashlight, and/ or a stubby screwdriver.  Turn in any direction (it will spin around both ways) until the slot is perpendicular to the test cock itself (which will be parallel to the big backflow device). Make sure all four are closed. Now turn on the water. If you’re still getting a small squirt out of the cock (no giggling please) give another slight twist with the screwdriver in either direction until it shuts off completely. If you can’t get it to stop dripping there is something wrong and the test cock should be replaced. Call your sprinkler guy!

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About The Crusty Sprinkler Guy

I have worked in the landscape irrigation business since June of 1989. I have seen just about every kind of system there is, from ancient galvanized pipe systems from the 1950’s to the latest weather based technology systems. I’ve been on crews that installed systems in golf courses, hospital and school campuses, even state parks. I’ve also installed the smallest detailed drip systems in window boxes and patio pots.

Right after graduating high school in Pocatello,  I moved to the Wood River Valley of Idaho. There a family friend hired me on as a laborer installing sprinkler systems around Ketchum and Sun Valley. I worked for him for two summers, then got a job at a bigger landscaping outfit the fall of ’90 shoveling snow at first. The following two years I was the go-to sprinkler boy of Peter Flood & Co. Most of the installations we did were for the rich and famous’ homes occupied two weeks out of the year.

The small town kid had a big city itch and moved west to Boise in November 1992. That winter I found a job at Sterling Landscape. I quickly became their go-to sprinkler boy. The installations there were of a much larger scale. A few included St. Alphonsus Hospital, the new Eagle High School (1995), what is now Timberline High School, which in ’93 was built to be a middle school, Lake Walcott State Park in Rupert (’93), Woodhead Park at Brownlee Reservoir (’94), there were many other elementary schools,industrial parks, and car dealerships I can’t recall the names of.

I thought I’d had enough of the sprinkler biz in the fall of ’95 and tried my hand at hanging sheetrock. I soon learned I preferred my feet on ground level and lower as opposed to scaffolding and sketchy planks. In the spring of ’96 I went to work for Intermountain Sprinkler, which was part of Hillside Nursery. My role there was a service tech. I drove a truck around diddy boppin’ residential repair and service mostly.  I picked up a lot of electrical and miscellaneous troubleshooting skills there. I did get involved in some bigger projects there too: ACHD street upgrades, The Edwards 21 Cinemas shopping center, the new Flying Wye construction of I-84, et. al.

The big city itch was not yet satisfied, and in the fall of ’99 I went looking for an apartment and job in Seattle with my girlfriend Heather. I cold-called Craig at City Rain because his was the first sprinkler company listed with a 206 area code. I had no desire to commute north or to the east side for work. I was pretty much hired upon our first meeting, and I haven’t been fired yet. For the last twelve years I’ve learned quite a bit serving the Seattle area. I seen the new weather based technology working its way to affordability and practicality. I married that Heather girl too.

I’m excited to be a part of the future wise management of water, which is currently an undervalued commodity. I believe in the value and dignity of labor, and all skilled trades. Labor makes the world run, labor runs the world.

To Netafim or Not?

Netafim installed on sloped bed

Netafim dripline is great way to efficiently water plants. This photo shows a slope installation, where the rows are spaced further apart. Rows are spaced tighter on flat beds, and the spacing depends on soil type as well. Sandier soils require closer rows.Netafim is half-inch poly tubing with built in emitters every twelve inches. Each emitter is pressure compensating and designed to be clog free. The most common emitter type we use is .9 gallon per hour and .6 gph. We decide the output rate depending on zone size, plant requirement, soil, flow available, etc.The tubing is installed on the soil surface with staples, and mulched over. If the bed is already mulched, we scratch in the tubing a few inches.In order to achieve good coverage and soil saturation, the tubing is laid out in an evenly spaced grid pattern. Depending on the soil type this spacing varies from 12-16″ usually. Netafim is a great way to water dense perennial beds where sprayheads get blocked or grown over. Water is not wasted misting in the air or saturating mulch. It’s also good for high traffic areas where sprayheads get kicked or damaged. Netafim is very durable and low maintenance.

Netafim is NOT a good choice for annual beds, or beds that are constantly dug up, harvested, etc. You would have to be prepared to make many of your own repairs if you plan to dig a lot in these beds. The other reason is that Netafim alone is not going to establish new plants. It works well with plants with established roots. New plants should always be hand watered in for the first few weeks.

Netafim obviously doesn’t work well in rockeries or uneven surfaces where it’s hard to conceal. One of the most common complaints about Netafim is that if it’s not properly buried or stapled, it will  come up and be visible.