Part of the challenge of owning a home is making mistakes that you need to fix. I’ve made lots of carpentry mistakes, electrical mistakes and even plumbing mistakes in my own home, but I haven’t made too many landscaping mistakes… until now. One of the first mistakes I made when moving into our current home was not remembering that my front yard had an underground sprinkler line when I went to dig a hole for a new sapling I wanted to plant. I pushed my shovel into the ground and almost immediately felt the unmistakable snap of plastic cracking beneath the soil. Ooops. I had dug through an underground sprinkler line and now I had to repair it.
Now, you could always call the local irrigation system company and have them come out to make the repair, but a repair like this will usually take an hour or two and could ultimately end up costing you upwards of $200 if nothing goes wrong. If, however, you have an hour of your own time and a few simple tools then you’re better off trying this home repair on your own.
The first step for any underground sprinkler repair is turning off your water and making sure you’re not losing more water into your yard. Once you’ve stopped the leaking your next step is to figure out exactly where you need to repair. If you damaged your line with a shovel like I did, it’s probably pretty clear where the problem lies. If you simply have water pooling in your yard you’re going to have a tougher time finding the exact leak, but carefully digging down will help you find your damaged sprinkler line pretty quickly.
After finding the cut and clear out the area you’re going to need to work around. If your sprinkler was running or if it had water in it then you’re probably dealing with a muddy, sloppy mess. Dig out the soil around your leaking pipe, trying to remove as much water and mud as possible. If you have a lot of water you can try to dig out a small channel in your yard to pull the water away from your cut.
Once you find your cut dig out a good foot or two in both directions and clear a little soil out from under the sprinkler line as well. You’ll need some space to work and it will be easier if you have some flexibility with wiggling your sprinkler line. If it’s just tiny cut in the line you may want to try your luck with some plumbing repair tape (I’ve had mixed success) but if the cut’s more than a few inches you’re probably better off fixing it.
Now that you’ve found your leak you’re going to want to cut out a small section of the damaged pipe. You want to cut out as little as possible, which will make repairing your split that much easier. You also want to make sure you have clean cuts, not crimping, cuts in your sprinkler line. You can use a standard pipe cutter for this (just roll it around your pipe multiple times, tightening it with each rotation) or use a hand saw or a reciprocating saw to cut the pipe cleanly.
For my sliced sprinkler line I made two small cuts on either side of the leak, essentially removing about an inch of black polyethylene tubing. Once the damaged piece was removed I had two irrigation lines that were now about an inch apart.
Connecting the two pieces and making the repair required a few parts: I picked up two metal hose clamps and a polyethylene coupling. The repair itself is easy, but sometimes takes a little muscle and determination.
First, open up each hose clamp with a screwdriver and slip one clamp on to each side of the cut irrigation line. Now insert your coupling into one side of cut irrigation line ends. You will want to use a mallet or wood block to pound the coupling in fairly tight. Now the tricky part is wiggling and maneuvering your other polyethylene pipe end onto the other end of the coupling. This is where it helps to have a little more of your pipe dug out that needed: you can bend and twist things a little easier if they aren’t buried in your lawn.
Once your coupling is inserted between the two cut pieces of irrigation line you can slide those hose clamps up to the two ends and tighten them down. Sprinkler lines are low-pressure lines, so tightened hose clamps should be good enough to prevent any leaking.
Sprinkler Line Repair Video
This simple method of cutting the irrigation line, inserting a coupling, and tightening down hose clamps is pretty much all you need to repair most sprinkler line leaks or cuts. If you happen to damage a larger piece of polyethylene pipe you can simply cut out the damaged area and replace it with a new piece of pipe of similar length, again using the coupling as connectors.