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Fixing a Broken Sprinkler Pipe: It's Easier Than You Think

By Brett Freeman
Fixing a Broken Sprinkler Pipe: It's Easier Than You Think

A broken sprinkler pipe can be a major headache. Many irrigation companies can't be bothered to service a system that they didn't install, and if you are lucky enough to get someone out, the repair bill can run you hundreds of dollars or more. In the meantime, your irrigation system is offline and your lawn is turning brown. But the truth is that fixing a sprinkler pipe is simple, once you've located the leak. For under $50 you can do the same repair that could cost you $500 or more if you hired an irrigation contractor.

Finding the Leak

It can take many hours to find a leak in your irrigation system, which is why repairs can be so expensive. But if you know you have a leak, then you also know which sprinkler zone is the problem. Turn that zone on manually at the control box. If you see a reduction in water pressure between two sprinkler heads in the leaky zone, the leak is somewhere between them. If some of the sprinkler heads don't come on at all, note the sprinkler that is farthest from the valve box, and identify the sprinkler head closest to it that isn't coming on. The leak is between these two. Now leave the zone running. Over time, the ground over the broken pipe will start to seep water.

When you've located the spot, turn the zone off and start digging. Place the sod and dirt that you remove on a tarp or a collapsed cardboard box. When you get down to the leaking pipe, you often find that the break isn't visible. Have someone briefly turn the sprinkler zone on and off while you stand over the hole. The spraying water tells you in which direction to continue digging. Once you've located the break, enlarge the hole so that the pipe is exposed for six inches on either side with at least three inches of clearance underneath.

Repairing the Pipe

The hard work is already done. All you need now is a compression repair clamp for whatever size PVC pipe your system uses (the size is written on the pipe). The compression repair clamp is a hard plastic tube with two gasketed ends that unscrew. Cut out a section of broken pipe that is about two inches shorter than the repair clamp. Place one of the unscrewed ends and gaskets over each of the exposed pipe ends. Push one of the gaskets back far enough so you can slide the tube part of the repair clamp onto the pipe (you have to pull up on the pipe to create enough space to do this), then slide everything back together and screw the ends tightly onto the tube. This compresses the gaskets, sealing your repair. Now turn the sprinkler zone back on to make sure the repair holds. If one or both ends of the repair clamp leak even though you've tightened them as much as possible, this may be due to dirt in the threads. With the water still on, slowly unscrew the leaking end or ends a full turn or so. The water pressure will flush out the dirt. Turn the zone off, re-tighten everything, and test it again. Repeat these steps until there is no leakage.

For the final step, fill the hole in and replace the sod. Take care to fill in the area underneath the repaired pipe before you shovel in the rest of the dirt. If you leave any gap underneath the pipe, over time the dirt on top bends or compresses the PVC, and you end up having to dig it all up again.

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