Down here in Florida, and I guess this would be true for other places in the south, where it never gets cold enough, long enough to freeze water pipes, a very unusual practice takes place. At least it’s unusual to me, because I grew up in Michigan, where all pipes that have any kind of water in them must be buried under the frost line, and that is 4’6″ where I’m from, deeper if you go further north.
The unusual practice that I speak of is, having the feed for lawn sprinkler systems exposed above the ground. Let me explain, the feed for this is usually a 1″ PVC pipe that rises about 2′ above the ground with a 90 degree elbow, then a short piece of PVC with a threaded coupling, this threaded coupling goes into a 1″ brass ball valve, next there are back to back 1″ cast iron backflow preventer’s with strainers, then back into a 1″ brass ball valve another short piece of PVC a 90 degree elbow and finally back in to the ground where it will usually go to the garage to a water management timer and from there it feeds the sprinkler system.
Now think about this for a moment. We have these two 1″ PVC pipes sticking up from the ground holding up about 30 pounds of cast iron and brass components. I don’t know who the genius is that thought of this, but it seems to be the standard for these systems here. The first house I lived in when I moved down here, this set up was right in the middle of the backyard. Pretty easy to spot when mowing the lawn, but it looked pretty ugly as well. The next house I moved to, it was tucked away in the back corner of the yard, out of the way behind the shed.
In the spring time down here we get a lot of rain and vegetation grows very fast, my weed wacker was broke and it had been a week or so since I had trimmed the yard. So I’m out there cutting the lawn on my riding lawn mower, which I had just bought a couple of months ago, because it is too damn hot and humid to be trying to push mow anything down here, and I was making my first pass around the backyard. as I passed behind the shed I knew that the sprinkler pipe was in this area but couldn’t see it because the vegetation had grown up and hid it from my sight. I thought that I had given plenty of room and went right by. I don’t think I moved ten feet when I could feel water landing on my back. I knew immediately what I had done. I pulled the tractor up another twenty feet, so it wouldn’t get soaked and shut it off.
When I turned around I almost couldn’t believe my eyes, water was shooting up into the air 15-20 feet. The first thing I thought of was to shut one of the ball valves, which was a great idea except for the fact that the pipe was broke before the valves and they were lying on the ground. At first the water felt kinda cold but after a couple minutes I was getting pretty used to it. I was really amazed at the water pressure coming out of that pipe. Being a pipe fitter I looked in my stuff to see if I had anything to cap this geyser off with, but I work on steel pipe and couldn’t find anything. so I ran up to the hardware store and purchased a 1′ PVC cap and some PVC primer and glue.
So the first thing that I wanted to do was to square off the end of the pipe that had been broken. I got out my 1/2″ x 1-1/2″ pipe cutter and cut it off about a foot above the ground. I then filed the end of the pipe so the cap would slip on to it nice and easy. Now keep in mind that the whole time that I’m doing this I am getting a steady stream of water dumped on my head, because it’s shooting straight up in the air and coming right down on me. Not only that, there is now about 4 inches of water built up on the ground.
Alright, my pipe is cut an cleaned, so I put the primer on the pipe and then in the cap an then the glue on both. I then force the cap down onto the pipe and hold it with my hand in my crotch and applying all my weight on it. The water stops squirting out and I hold this position for about a minute, till my hand just couldn’t take it anymore. I slowly start to take my weight off of the cap and then move away, thinking whew, glad thats over. I took maybe two steps backward and poof, the cap pops off and flies about 30 feet into the air and water is gushing everywhere again. Just about this time my wife comes out and says “maybe we should call a plumber”. HAHA very funny.
After I found the cap, I saw that it had only gone onto the pipe about a quarter inch. Maybe the water was messing with the glue. so I cleaned everything back up and had her hold the other pipe, the one that had broken with the 90 on it, so it would shoot the water away from me and the pipe so the glue wouldn’t get wet. At least I’m not the only one getting wet now. I reprimered and glued the pipe and cap. Once again I tried to force that cap back onto the pipe, but the pressure was just too strong and I just couldn’t get it to stay. I again heard that little voice “maybe you should call a plumber”. I am not paying someone $90 an hour to fix this when I know I can do it myself. Just then, it hits me, and I think to myself you idiot, you sure wouldn’t fix this, like this at work.
So I head back up to the hardware store make my purchase and hurry home. By this time there is probably 6 inches of water on the ground and my wife says do you need my help? Nope I got it. I clean the pipe off one last time and apply the primer and glue to the pipe and the PVC ball valve I had just purchased from the hardware store. with the valve in the open position I slip it onto the pipe and make a quarter turn and hold it in place for about a minute. When I’m sure the glue has set I simply closed the valve and my nightmare was over. I purchased a ten foot piece of PVC pipe, three 90s, one straight slip coupling and a couple threaded couplings. It only took about a half an hour to completely rebuild the whole thing, and needless to say I don’t let the weeds grow up that high back there anymore.
I hope that this story has helped you. I know that I could have just told you from the beginning what to do, but I think you’ll remember it better this way.