How To Find A Broken Sprinkler Pipe Underground

Sprinkler systems can take your lawn to the next level. They ensure your lawn remains hydrated, promoting lush, healthy growth and strong roots. But when your sprinkler system undergoes damage, like a busted sprinkler pipe, these benefits may dissolve.

Key Points:

  • Sprinkler systems are essential for keeping lawns hydrated and healthy.
  • If a broken sprinkler pipe is left unchecked, it can cause extensive damage through oversaturated soil, skyrocketing water bills, and mold or fungal growth.
  • To find a broken sprinkler pipe underground, look for key signs like pooling water or spreading fungus, or use specialized sound wave equipment to detect the leak with your ears.

You might notice patchy spots on your lawn where water is pooling, skyrocketing water bills, and mold or fungus overtaking sections of the grass. If the pipe goes unchecked for months, the effects can lead to extensive damage to your home’s foundation and utility lines, not to mention the sinkholes that can develop in your lawn.

So, once you notice signs of a broken sprinkler pipe, you need to address it. But how do you find the broken piece of a line that’s hidden by soil?

Let’s find out!

Why Is It Important To Repair A Broken Sprinkler Pipe Immediately?

A broken sprinkler pipe can introduce a host of problems, from oversaturated soil and dead grass to structural issues with surrounding buildings. Here are a few potential issues that could arise from a broken sprinkler pipe left unchecked:

  • Lofty water bills
  • Ruined utility lines
  • Underground cavities and sinkholes
  • Damage to your home’s foundation, deck, patio, shop, or nearby structures
  • Dead grass due to oversaturated soil and root rot
  • Fungus or mold issues in patches of your lawn

The ripple effects of a broken sprinkler pipe can be expensive, so it’s essential to repair the problem as soon as you detect it. Waiting weeks, months, or years to correct the issue could lead to thousands of dollars in repairs (no, thanks!), so be sure to address the problem as soon as you notice it.

How Do You Find A Broken Sprinkler Pipe Underground?

While finding a broken sprinkler pipe sounds like a simple process, the buried aspect of the project makes things tricky. Since you can’t visualize the pipe to find the damage, you’ll need to use an alternative method to pinpoint the problem. Here are a few options to help you find the culprit:

Look For Key Signs

Generally, the water spraying from the broken sprinkler pipe ends up on the surface of the lawn (at least some of it). Eventually, the ground becomes oversaturated, and there’s nowhere for the water to go, so it pools on the surface or begins flowing across the surface of your yard.

So, use this to your advantage in your search for the culprit. Look for puddles on your lawn, as this could point to oversaturated soil. Examine your yard for signs of mold or fungus, as this can indicate overwatering and rotting.

Check the water coming from the sprinklers – if it’s dirty, the leak is somewhere before that point. You can get a semblance of an idea with this method, although it’ll be tricky to pinpoint if you don’t know the layout of the sprinkler system.

Listen Closely

While this might sound absurd, you can actually find the busted pipe using your ears. Technically, you’ll need the assistance of specialized equipment, but you’ll need your ears, too. You can use a few different types of equipment to detect leak noises, including:

  • Leak noise locators
  • Leak noise correlators
  • Acoustic testing kits with water leak microphones and headsets

This equipment functions using the science of sound waves. Each device is fitted with a highly sensitive transducer to detect these sound waves. The water flowing through a pressurized pipe makes a different noise than the water spewing from it, similar to a water hose with a small hole.

The device searches for abnormal noises and disruptions in the typical water flow. It’s relatively unaffected by soil, so it doesn’t matter that soil covers the pipes.

Since this equipment doesn’t come in the standard tool kit, you’ll probably need to rent it. Availability varies from one location to the next, but be sure to check in with local home improvement stores and rental centers, as they may have a few available for rent. Alternatively, you can rent this equipment online. While you’ll have to wait for shipping, it might be your best option.

However, before you rent one of these devices, research them to better understand what you’re getting yourself into. Since the equipment is highly specialized, the readings might not be easy to understand for someone unfamiliar with them. With a bit of research, you shouldn’t have any issues navigating the ins and outs of the machine.

Start Digging

Once you have a general idea of where the broken pipe is, you can start digging. Ideally, you should pinpoint the leak to the best of your ability before you start digging, as doing so will destroy that section of your yard. You’ll need to repair that piece of the lawn or flowerbed, so try to isolate the leak instead of digging with guesswork.

Hire A Professional

If the prospect of renting specialized equipment or digging up your lawn sounds entirely unappealing, consider hiring a professional. They have the equipment and expertise necessary to isolate and repair the leak, which removes the headache and stress of fixing it.

Check with local plumbers and lawn companies in your area for quotes. On average, homeowners pay between $130 and $400 for sprinkler system repairs. Costs vary based on the difficulty of the project, your area, and labor costs, so the price may be higher or lower.

How Deep Are Sprinkler Lines Buried?

The exact depth of your sprinkler lines varies based on where you live. That said, most sprinkler lines are buried at least four inches beneath the surface, ensuring they remain out of the way of grassroots. Any higher and the grassroots will tangle around the pipes, making repairs a nightmare.

However, most sprinkler lines are buried eight to 12 inches beneath the ground surface. In warmer climates, the lines may be somewhat closer to the surface, while cooler temperatures usually require deeper trenches for the lines. The reason for the added depth in cold climates is frost protection – if the pipes are buried below the frost line, they have a better chance of surviving substantial damage during freezing temperatures.

How Do You Fix A Broken Underground Sprinkler Line?

The process of repairing a broken underground sprinkler line is reasonably straightforward: isolate the problem, turn off the water, dig a hole, and restore the pipe. If you’re unable to find the leak or are unsure of your ability to repair the issue, it’s best to hire a professional.

Isolate The Problem

First things first, you need to find the origin of the leak. Otherwise, you might end up digging up parts of your lawn unnecessarily. Since destroying extra pieces of your yard adds more work for you in the long run, it’s best to isolate the problem the best you can.

Use specialized equipment or identify key signs to pinpoint the leak.

Turn Off The Water

Before you begin digging the hole and prepping the repair, remember to turn off the water to the system. If you don’t, you could end up with an impromptu shower and a significant mess on your hands. So, be sure to turn off the water before you start working.

Dig A Hole

Once you find the leak, dig down to the pipes. Dig a square patch in your lawn, as this makes it easier to re-sod the area (if applicable) when you’re done. Alternatively, carefully cut through the soil to remove a square portion of the grass. Set it aside, ensuring you don’t damage the roots.

Once you’re done, you can set the square back into place over the filled repair, and the grass should continue growing normally.

The hole must be at least one foot deep by one foot wide to ensure that it doesn’t collapse in on itself while you work.

Adjust the size of the hole as necessary to give yourself plenty of room to work.

Repair The Pipe

After digging the hole and exposing the broken pipe, it’s time to repair it. Measure the section of the broken pipe and cut a new piece to take its place. Cut the damaged pipe from the irrigation system, taking about 4-10 inches from the line. The amount you need to remove depends on the severity of the leak.

Attach the new pipe using couplers and pipe cement or PVC primer. Once the adhesive dries, turn the water on to check your handiwork. Turn the water on slowly, starting at a low pressure and increasing the pressure to watch for leaks.

After you confirm the joint is sound and leak-free, cover the hole and repair your lawn as necessary.

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