Repair Drip Irrigation Guide: How To Fix It Yourself Without Your Gardener

repair drip irrigation

Drip irrigation is  a very common water-wise method of watering plants in Southern California. Most homeowners inherit drip systems with their homes or have them installed during landscaping renovations, but not many people ever tinker with them.

Pressure builds, hoses get stepped on and weather can wear on the parts. Eventually, small leaks or even huge gushers can and do occur negate the water-wise advantage of the system. Or, maybe you need to move some plants around.

In either case, there is absolutely no need to rely on your gardener to administer these small fixes, because you can do it yourself at a fraction of the expense. Here’s how.

Drip Irrigation Parts to Keep on Hand

In case of emergency, it’s always best to keep a stash of these inexpensive parts in the garage. Remember that drip fittings clamp themselves together with an air tight seal that does not involve glue.

1. Drip irrigation tool –

The style depends on the manufacturer but this handy gadget is totally necessary to save your fingers and wrists from the unnecessary stress of jamming plugs and emitters into stubborn tubing. This tool can insert plugs with ease, punch holes in tubing for hoses and emitters, and some even have sharp scissors attached to cut tubes when needed.

2. Plugs –

When holes wear in the main tubing or perhaps you need to rearrange things based on plant growth, plugs (often referred to as goof plugs) will stop leaks. Insert them using the drip irrigation tool or by hand.

3. Waterproof tape – 

Now, this won’t come in your standard drip irrigation starter kit but having waterproof tape on hand for the teeny tiny hairline leaks is sometimes enough to solve the problem in an easier fashion than slicing up the line.

drip tubing emitter

4. Drip emitters – 

These are the gadgets that control the amount of water that drips into your soil. Between the dirt in your yard and minerals in household water, drip emitters clog easily and need to be replaced. For this reason, it’s a good idea to turn on your system and check each emitter regularly to avoid unexpected plant death.

A variety of different emitters exist. Some look like discs with small tube sticking out while others look a little bit like a faucet. The most common emitters drip 4 liters/hour of water, which equals roughly a gallon. The flow speed is usually written on the emitter but it’s tough to see in the best of times, and can fade with prolonged use.

If you have plants on a drip system that aren’t getting enough water, change the emitter to 8 liters/hour or higher.

5. Couplers – 

While not completely necessary to have on hand, couplers are straight, “L” shaped or “T” shaped usually to help weave your main drip tubing around your yard in an orderly fashion.

6. Extra tubing – 

We’ll get into this in more depth below.

Things to Know About Drip Tubing

drip tubing in vegetable garden

Before you go out and buy a bunch of drip supplies, remember that not all tubing is equal.

Drip tubing is the thicker tubing (usually about .5 – 1.5 inches in diameter) that the emitters and other distribution tubing are attached to. Think of it as the major artery running through your garden.

Distribution tubing is the smaller, usually 1/4″ in diameter, tubing that delivers water to plants via the emitters if the main drip tubing above is is far away.

Emitter tubing can be any size but already has spaced internal emitters inside that are usually 12 – 18 inches apart. It looks like a hose with holes in it and is handy for watering things like ground cover or evenly-spaced plants.

Soaker hoses slowly seep water with less accuracy into a large or small space. We have a 1/4″ soaker hose in our vegetable garden because we change out the plants there frequently and became tired of re-arranging drip lines.

And, the most important part to remember is that there is an internal hose diameter and external hose diameter. The drip fittings that you buy must match the internal dimensions of your tubing to avoid major headaches and physical strain. For example, 1/2″ drip tubing can come in these diameters (ID equals internal diameter and OD equals outside diameter):

1/2-inch – .520″ ID x .620″ OD
1/2-inch – .600″ ID x .700″ OD
1/2-inch – .615″ ID x .710″ OD

This may seem like a minuscule difference but it is not. If you’re just getting familiar with DIY drip irrigation, Rainbird has a started kit for sale on Amazon that contains the basics. However, a good rule of thumb is to stay with the same manufacturer once you get started as a good way to make sure your fittings always jive with the tubing you have.

Fixing Drip Irrigation

1. Plugging a small hole –

Attach a plug to your drip tool and shove it into the hole. Make sure the seal is airtight and secure. This also works if you need to plug the end of a drip distribution tube.

2. If the hole is big – 

You may need to splice it out of the tubing which involves making a clean cut on each side of the hole and removing that section entirely. Reconnect the two hoses using a straight coupler.

3. Connecting new drip distributor tubing to main drip tubing – 

Again, it depends on the system or brand you’re using but usually, you’ll punch a smaller, barbed coupler into the main tubing using your nifty drip tool. Connect one end of the 1/4″ tubing to the other end of the barb. The other end of the 1/4″ tubing will have an emitter or micro-sprinkler.

If you can master number three above, you can literally change your entire drip system around at will. And, don’t forget to run drip lines to planters in lieu of watering them by hand.

Installing Microspray Drip Irrigation

Using step three above, instead of attaching emitters to the end of the drip distribution tubing, you can attach a microspray sprinkler. You can attach a variety of microspray heads that may spray 90°, 180°, 360° and more.

These are more effective typically in areas that are dense with plants or ground cover.

The Importance of a Pressure Regulator and Filter

Older drip irrigation systems and those installed by professionals looking to cut cost and effort may not have pressure regulators. Household water pressure is usually around 40 to 60 psi where as a drip irrigation system functions better at around 20 to 30 psi. Water that enters your drip system comes from your house and without a pressure regulator, drip emitters and hoses can blow off of the tubing.

There other must-have is a filter to catch sand and other particles before they reach your thirsty plants. And, don’t fret if there’s a path or paver walkway prohibiting you from extending drip irrigation into a new space. There are ways to safely bore a hole underneath. You may want to consult a gardener to address these slightly more complicated issues.

Your Turn…

Do you fix your own drip irrigation or wait for your gardener to do it?

Photo credit: istockphoto, Flickr/plong and Flickr/USDAgov, Creative Commons 2.0