Keep Digging

How the pandemic helped me to find my peace with yard work.

Spring is upon us, and with that comes keeping up the grounds. That means, mowing the lawn, trimming it, and fixing anything else that needs fixing. But I was not expecting to fix this:

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I know, Medium didn’t preserve the aspect ratio of a picture taken in portrait mode from my phone. If you know how to fix this, let me know.

I have a leaky sprinkler line. It seemed like it was the sprinkler head, so I replaced it with this last week:

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With a bit of cropping, this one came out better.

I figured that’s it, right? Sorry. Not sorry. That didn’t fix the leak:

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Here the picture was taken in landscape and the aspect ratio is correct. But the leak remains here.

My weekend wasn’t supposed to go like this. See that tee in the middle over the puddle? My leak was there. I had feared though, that the tee connected to a riser from an even deeper pipe. It was not. Actually, that little black ring you see there at the bottom of the tee is a drainage valve. The drainage valve releases pressure in the sprinkler lines. Without that, we could have more leaks.

Unfortunately, my plans to relax for the weekend after mowing the lawn and vacuuming the house were not to be. I needed to deal with that leak and the puddles growing from it before the wasps determined that it was their watering hole and that they could set up a hotel nearby.

We had known about the puddle of water for some time now, but we thought that was forming just because the land was not graded right. We’d run the sprinklers and the grass at that end of the yard would be all muddy. Turns out, he did grade it right. The problem was, that for the 3 years since we had the lawn and the sprinklers installed, there was a leak in the valve.

This is not how I wanted to spend my Saturday, digging in the dirt. I wanted to call a pro to do it for us. I sent a text to two landscaping companies listed in the area nearby. “Booked for the next 3 weeks” and “no response” were clear indicators of one thing: I had to do it myself. My wife removed all doubt when she could not find someone in her network of Vietnamese friends to do the job the same day.

After we dug out all the water and the mud, and a few big rocks (what passes for soil in these parts is really just clay and rubble), we could see this black round thing. It felt fuzzy on the bottom. I learned later that it was an automatic drainage valve. Normally, they’re fine, but this one sprung a leak. Cool. I can just replace that and move on with my plans.

I went to Lowes and bought one. See the picture below. Pretty isn’t it? But there was a problem. I tried to remove the broken value by unscrewing it. It was on really tight. So I got the channel locks and tried them. Still no luck. Then I notice some blue stuff around the joint. Aha. The landscaper who installed that for us used PVC joint glue to secure the valve. Nice. So nice.

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But then I saw an opportunity. See, my original idea in all of this was to run a drip irrigation tube from that sprinkler head where I had installed a cap. I had installed a cap thinking that was the end of the leak. But it wasn’t.

Then I thought I only needed to replace the drainage valve, but since it was glued on, I had to cut the pipe off just before the tee. That was a disappointment that I turned into an opportunity for me. I had to make a change in plans.

Rather than try to retrofit from the sprinkler head fitting, I could retrofit from the 3/4" pipe and go from there. I could fit a 3/4 x 3/4 x 1/2" tee, where the 1/2" tee was threaded, allowing me to install the drainage valve. I also learned from the helpful people at Lowes, that the reason the old valve failed was due to dirt. He said we could wrap the new one in plastic to get more than the usual 3–4 years of life out of it, and I could use plumbers tape instead of PVC glue. I did that.

So I got a tee, a male to female 90-degree elbow, a short stick of 3/4" pipe, and another elbow, 3/4" female x 3/4" threaded male (for the irrigation adapter). Then I glued it all together as one.

The joint glue was very fast-acting. I had to move quick to put it in position because it froze up fast and hard. I was impressed with that, not so impressed that I didn’t wear gloves to do the work. Next time.

But once I had it all fitted together, I was ready to attach the fittings to the stub of pipe. I cleaned and dried the stub, put the glue on, and connected my fittings to the stub of pipe. I got it sort of plumb, but we’re not making watches here. We’re only trying to set up a bib for the irrigation system that we will attach to it later. That part is done, and here is what it looks like:

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This time, I took the picture in landscape to keep the aspect ratio.

Above, starting from the lower right, the original pipe, the tee with the drainage valve (wrapped in plastic), an elbow, a short riser, and another threaded elbow. The black fittings are part of the irrigation kit we bought. The plan is to connect that to a tube that will drip water to our garden on the sprinkler system timer.

If I had not kept digging, I would not have seen the opportunity present itself. If I had been able to hire a pro, I would not have had to think this through and come up with the solution I really wanted. I suppose it helps that I was a pipefitter for a year or so mumble-mumble years ago.

Had I not asked the right questions while I was at Lowes, I would have thought that I could just cut the pipe, put a cap on it, and be done. But if I had done that, there would be no pressure relief valve and that could cause more leaks. Digging down below the pipe allowed me to see what my options were for repairs and that in turn allowed me to consider my original plan in a new light. I dug far enough to find a solution that I could retrofit to my sprinkler system and put garden irrigation on a timer.

This is how I apply myself to every problem. I just keep digging until I find a solution that works for everyone. The pandemic helped to make it possible. I couldn’t go out to the parks, museums, or restaurants with my daughters, and I’m not that into TV. This project gave me many excuses to get out of the house. The pandemic made yard work seems somehow appealing. Bonus: digging in soil and dirt is good for the immune system.

But I’m not done yet. Today is Mother’s Day and part of my gift to my wife for today is to finish connecting the tubes that will drip water on the plants in our garden. Then later this summer, we will enjoy the fruits and vegetables of our labor.

Write on.

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