Thursday, August 7, 2014

Sprinkler Repairs: A Rite of Passage in Michigan

I'm not sure if this post will be helpful or interesting to anyone, but here we go.  About two weeks ago, my father decided to finally start watering the grass because the weather had stayed pretty cool until that time.  During testing, we saw that there was water gushing out from under the grass next to the driveway.  This was not much of a surprise since the past winter was so harsh.  The next day, I dug out the area around the leak and saw that one of the black polyethylene pipes connected to a sprinkler head had been pulled out a little bit.  The next day, after the area dried out, I undid the sprinkler pipe, cleaned out the opening, and tried to even out the gap.  That didn't do the trick.

The following pictures are all from my cell phone since I didn't want to get my camera dirty.

That weekend, I dug out the entire area between two sprinkler heads to get ready to replace the section.  I figured that part of the reason why my repair didn't work was that these pipes were 20 years old,  so the openings where they connected to the head were pretty stretched out.  I cut off about two inches from the side of the pipe that we were not replacing.

While I worked, Dad went out to get replacement pipe and the smallest length he could find at Home Depot was 100 feet and we only needed 8.  Oh well.  Also, it gives a sense of how little pressure the system can sustain when the pipes are simply forced onto the sprinkler head connector and tightened down with hose clamps.

Videos and tutorials on polyethylene sprinkler pipe repairs are easy to find on the internet and the job itself is actually really easy.  This probably only took about two hours including digging and it was a success.

Right after that one line was fixed, the PVC pipe leading to all six irrigation control valves started leaking.  I dug out the area and it looked like there was a hairline crack along the elbow joint.  I followed suggestions online and bought epoxy putty (JB Weld PlasticWeld) to fix it but it started leaking again after a day.  On the other hand, I'm going to be using this stuff for my Hot wheels and other craft projects.  It's easy to shape and can be built up, sanded, drilled, and filed like normal plastic.

To fully expose the pipe, I had to excavate the entire area to get the boxy, greenish gray valve cover out of the way.  Originally, my father was trying to stick to the idea of using right angle joints in the same fashion as the old pipe, but it would have been too hard to bend it to get the last joint in place.  It took some explaining, but I convinced Dad that my idea was a ton easier because he couldn't get rid of the preconception that all pipes had to be orthogonal. The entire diagonal joint could just be slid into place and no bending was needed.  Here it is shown on the right and it doesn't leak.

Video by Michael Sencenich

The video above helped teach me some stuff before diving into the project.  The funny thing is when Dad and I were mocking up the new pipes to measure them, we had a great deal of trouble getting them back apart but once the cement and primer were applied, they slid right together like butter.  The cement actually melts the PVC together to make a seal so that's probably why.  

Because this area is covered with red brick, it's possible that the pipe was fracture from the weight as well as all the snow that we always throw here in the winter.  Dad was trying to find ways that we could hold up the weight when Mom suggested that we build a little "house" that sits on the wood 4-by-4s holding up the green box so I did that quickly yesterday.  This way, the red bricks will sit right on top of the wood and put less weight on the pipe.  Hopefully the assembly doesn't go down too far when the dirt settles ...

We're planning to let the soil settle a bit before putting the bricks on, but here is the finished product.  I can't say this was an extremely hard or time-consuming project; most of the time was taken up by Dad's indecisiveness for every step.  I pretty much stood by, constantly asking whether I should do this today, tomorrow, or wait for him to come home to hover over my shoulder.  At least I'm an expert on sprinkler systems now.  That's got to be a plus for an architecture student.