A Gardener’s Notebook: The Guilty Gardener  – 3 in a series – Galvanized pipe doesn’t last forever
Douglas E. Welch

Forgive me for a moment…

Damn! Damn! Damn! Damn!

Ok, now that I’ve gotten that out of my system, welcome back to The Guilty Gardener.

What do I have to feel guilty about today? Oh about the wastage of several hundred gallons of water (and the water bill to go with it) because I never seem to find the leaks until they have created havoc for both me and my neighbors. Also, because I never seem to fi anything around here until it actually breaks and causes said mayhem.

It’s fixed now. Thankfully the plumbing work itself wasn’t that expensive, but it still makes me grumble.

So, what happened? Well, this story started around 50 years ago. According to the plumber, these galvanized lines were probably installed sometime in the 1960’s There is one long lime that goes around the house from the main water input to the backyard irrigation spigots. Thankfully this is a separate line from the household water, so it is possible to shut off the garden water without leaving us without bathroom and showers, which we have had to do several times.

About 10 years ago we had a leak in the north alley that nearly undermined the foundation. Galvanized pipe often fails with pinhole leaks, The trouble is, when this pinhole is underground it acts a bit like a pressure washer and can create sinkholes as it undermines the surrounding area. I took us almost a week to locate that problem and it made me paranoid any time I hear running water when it shouldn’t be running.

That said, this current problem was similar but more complex. First, right near where the irrigation lines connect to the main water feed an elbow had failed with the same pinhole leak. Rosanne had noticed the ground was soggy when doing her morning watering and we called the plumber immediately. That day, with a little digging, the plumber arrived and patched the leak.

Hmmm, water was still running somewhere, though. Rosanne also mentioned that there was a soggy spot in the backyard. Now, in the past, the neighbor’s sprinkler had been blowing out one riser quite near our property line. This had resulted in a 20-foot fountain of water shooting into our backyard on several occasions. It was probably just that happening again, right? Nope!

Digging down again — thankfully none of these lines are deeply laid — we found this.

Glavanized patch

This is the end of the line going to the backyard and just below this mess of pipe and valves the galvanized pipe had sprung a leak. This photo is after all the water had been bucketed out of the hole so we could see the pipe and a patch had been attempted. Due to the way the ground falls in our yard, most of the water ended up flooding our neighbor’s backyard without us noticing at all. I wish they had informed us when they saw it, but even they thought it was an issue with their own sprinkler system.

Glavanized patch 2

We threw a patch on this line in an attempt to get it working temporarily, but it didn’t seem to stop the water flow at all.

Our plumber was involved in several other more pressing jobs so we just had to do without any automated watering in the garden for the time being. I moved our main hose to a spigot that feeds off the house water connection and we watered by hand for a week or so.

Finally, the plumber showed up unexpectedly yesterday. He had a few minutes of open time so he and his son set to work. First thing was to remove the pipe with the hole — and oh what a hole it was!

Galvanized hole

This is a picture of the bottom of the pipe with my thumb for scale. This was no pinhole leak. This was a torrent. Imagine all the water pressure concentrated on this one point and it is easy to see why the neighbor’s yard flooded. You can also see where the pipe was about to fail even more just to the left of the hole. it was only a matter of time.

We got a bit lucky in that there was a coupling quite near the part that needed to be replaced so we didn’t have to dig up 20+ feet of garden. The plumber replaced the failed area with shiny new copper pipe and a new shutoff valve so we can isolate this section of the irrigation in the future, should we need to.

Shiney copper

Now, back to the “guilty” part. I SHOULD have replaced these galvanized pipes years ago. We have been in the house for 20 years, but as is typical, the “if it ain’t broke, why fix it?” rule usually applies. There were more pressing needs and, even worse, piping is out of sight which means it is also out of mind for the most part — until it fails, at least.

That said, I have added the replacement of all the galvanized piping to my “must do” household list and would probably also take the opportunity to add some more automation to the system while I am at it with a few automatic sprinkler valves connected to either drip or soaker irrigation lines. If you still have any galvanized pipes in your garden water architecture — take it from me — replace them as soon as you can. Your guilty conscience and your water bill will thank you.