Methods for Repairing a Burst PVC Pipe

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A peculiar custom has developed in Florida and perhaps elsewhere in the south, where winters are never severe enough to freeze water pipes. It’s unique, at least in my experience; where I grew up in Michigan, state law mandates that any pipe carrying water be buried below the frost line, 4 feet six inches in my hometown and deeper further north.

I reference the odd custom of leaving the feed for sprinkler systems in lawns and gardens visible above ground. First, a 90-degree elbow connects a 1-inch (2.5 cm) PVC pipe to the bottom about 2 feet above the elbow; then, another 1-inch (2.5 cm) PVC pipe with a threaded coupling leads to a 1-inch (2.5 cm) brass ball valve; then, two 1-inch (2.5 cm) cast iron backflow preventers (BFPs) with strainers sit in between the BFPs and the brass ball valve; finally, the BFP is connected to the ground and the

Now, give that some consideration. About 30 pounds of cast iron and brass parts are supported by two 1″ PVC pipes that protrude from the ground. I can’t credit whoever came up with this, but it seems to be the norm for such systems around here. This setup was smack in the backyard of the first house I ever lived in when I moved down here. Easily spotted while mowing the lawn, but also unsightly. It was in the back corner of the yard, behind the shed, at the next place I lived.

My weed wacker was broken, and I hadn’t cut the yard in a week or so, and since we receive a lot of rain, vegetation proliferates in the spring down here. It’s too darn hot and humid to be trying to push mow anything down here, so I bought a riding lawn mower a few months ago and was making my first trip around the property. The sprinkler pipe was in this place as I walked behind the shed, but the overgrowth of plants prevented me from seeing it. I passed them by without realizing they were still there. When I felt the water hit my back, I stopped moving and didn’t go more than ten feet. Instantly, I realized the severity of my error. So that the tractor wouldn’t get saturated, I backed it up another twenty feet and turned it off.

I nearly didn’t believe my eyes as I turned around and saw water spraying 15–20 feet into the air. My first instinct was to close one of the ball valves, which seemed like a good plan until I realized the pipe had broken before the valves and was now lying on the ground. After wading around for a few minutes, I realized I quite liked the water’s chill. The water pressure from that pipe just blew me away. As a pipe fitter, I rummaged through my tools to see if I had anything suitable to stop this geyser, but I usually dealt with steel pipe and came up empty. I needed a 1″ PVC cap, so I went to the hardware shop and got some primer and glue for PVC.

The first thing I wanted to do was make the broken end of the pipe look like it had never been broken. A foot above the ground, I removed my 1/2-inch by 1-and-a-half-inch pipe cutter and lopped it off. I resorted to filing the pipe’s end to make it compatible with the cap. Now bear in mind that the entire time I’m doing this, water is being dumped on my head as a continuous stream, as it is being shot straight up into the air and then poured down on me. Additionally, there is a total of around 4 inches of water that has accumulated on the ground.

I’ve finished cleaning and cutting my pipe; now I’m ready to prime it and attach the cap. Then, with one hand in my crotch and all my weight on it, I slam the lid onto the pipe. The squirting water stops, and I maintain this position for nearly a minute until my hand finally gives up. I ease my grip off the cap and step back, relieved that the ordeal is over. I just took two steps back before the top flew off and landed some 30 feet away, resulting in water once again spraying everywhere. It’s at this point that my wife suggests we get a plumber. That’s hilarious.

When I finally located the missing cap, I noticed it had been pushed onto the pipe a mere quarter of an inch. Perhaps the glue had been affected by the water. I dried everything off and had her hold the broken line with the 90, directing the water away from me and the pipe so the glue wouldn’t get wet. I won’t be the only one getting soaked this time. The line and its end cap were primed and bonded by me. Again, I attempted to reattach the lid to the pipe by sheer force, but this time it didn’t stay put. The nagging thought that “maybe you should call a plumber” kept popping into my head. There’s no way I will spend $90 an hour for someone else to fix this if I can do it myself. Then it dawned on me, and I thought, you idiot, you wouldn’t fix this, like this, at work.

After making my purchase, I rush back up to the apartment. Six inches of water had accumulated by this point, and my wife asked whether we needed her assistance. Certainly not; I’ve got it. I finish cleaning the pipe and then glue it and the PVC ball valve I picked up at the hardware shop together. I slide the open valve onto the line, turn it a quarter turn, and then hold it there for a minute. When I was optimistic that the glue had dried, I shut off the water supply. A ten-foot length of PVC pipe, three elbows, a straight slip coupling, and a couple of threaded adapters were among the materials I acquired. It took me less than half an hour to reconstruct the entire structure, and needless to say, I no longer let the weeds in the back grow to that height.

I hope you’ve learned something from this. I could have just told you what to do from the start, but I think this manner will stick in your mind more.

Jackson, Robert Jack Robby

I’d like to hear your thoughts on this, so please comment.

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