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Replacing an Irrigation System DIY Style

How many of you have an irrigation system that looks likes this? Rusted, don’t know how much longer it’ll last kinda pipes.


Do you know if you have galvanized or PVC pipes?  Do you really care?  Honestly, I didn’t really care until our professional plumbing guy said, “Houston, we have a problem.”  We were upgrading from a tank to a tankless hot water heater (that we love by the way – we’re saving about $50 a month on the gas bill and electric only went up a couple of bucks).  All that had to be done for the tankless was to tap into an existing pipe and that proved to be very difficult.  Imagine rusted crumbling pipes, several small puddles, and subterranean termites.  All I hear is cha-ching, cha-ching.  You could see dollar signs coming out my ears floating right into the plumber’s and exterminator’s pockets.  To the plumber’s credit (he’s a really great guy we’ve used for a couple of projects), he tried and tried to tap into an existing pipe but it was literally crumbling in his hands.  Fast forward half a day later, $800 poorer, and 3/4 of our house was copper piped.

Back to the task at hand… the irrigation system.  If you don’t care, point is, one day you will care when you either see your water bill and wonder why it’s gone up or you’ve created a muddy sink hole in your garden.  I know there’s nothing glamorous, fun, or fascinating about replacing an irrigation system, but if you learn to do it yourself you can save a few hundred bucks!

We spent a total of $30 on all the parts and one day’s worth of in-the-baking-sun tough labor (taking those pictures is rough – I may have index finger clicking syndrome).  Anyhoo, the hubby’s first job was to dig the trench to expose all the old pipe.

We knew we had a bit of a problem because the galvanized pipe eventually worked its way under the sidewalk.  So, we had to choose a spot to cut the pipe and figure out how to connect a non-threaded galvanized pipe to PVC.

Cutting the pipe with with a small hacksaw

We went to our locally owned home improvement store and asked what we could use.  Right away the gentleman gave us these parts:

On a side note, it’s important to wrap a teflon tape around the threaded ends of a pipe to ensure a good seal.  Next up, the hubby measured and cut all the PVC pipes and connected all the joints and elbows.

He first did a dry fit before gluing the pieces together in place.

After the dry fit, the next step is to sand the connection surfaces to accept the primer and cement (purple and clear stuff).

Then, the pieces get put together like a puzzle and laid in the ground at least 20″ deep.

This next step is crucial to success!  Wait approximately one hour for the cement to dry and then turn on the system to test for leaks.  If there are leaks, you have to back up to the beginning again.  Cut out the leaky sections and re-pipe with new parts.  If there are no leaks, you’re good to go and can back fill your trench.

You’ll notice the caps on the risers.  We temporarily have these on to keep dirt out of the pipes until we connect our drip system.  If this area was to be lawn, we would have connected sprinkler heads to the risers.

The last step was to install an automatic timer/shut off valve.  We had one lying around so no mulah was spent on this item!

 That wasn’t too bad, was it.  If we the hubby can do it so can you.  It’s honestly not that difficult, it just takes time.  The hardest part was digging the trench (there were some Chinese Elm roots to deal with).  The most challenging was the galvanized compression coupling to PVC connection.  With our California market, we saved between $200-$300 doing this project ourselves!

If you decide to tackle this project here’s an abbreviated list of materials needed:

  • Landscaping plan to know where irrigation should be installed
  • Safety glasses & gloves
  • Measuring tape
  • Trench shovel & pick axe
  • Hacksaw
  • PVC parts and pipes
  • Teflon tape
  • Sandpaper
  • Primer & cement
  • Automatic timer/shut off valve
  • Sun hat, sunscreen & lots of liquids

For some very specific and detailed instructions, visit this guy’s site.

Have a nice weekend!





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