Fabricating And Installing A Small Home Irrigation System – Cooper Work.

Fabricating And Installing A Small Home Irrigation System – Cooper Work.

This article will share one method of fabricating and installing a small irrigation addition to a home. The problem faced with this project are as follows.

Problems

  • Three front yard planters were not provided with an irrigation system.
  • The existing anti-siphon valves were old and leaking (but still functional).
  • The anti-siphon valves were too low to the ground and probably violated code requirements.
  • There was no provision for just adding another anti_siphon valve to the existing ones. The whole valve system would have to be torn out and all new valves put in.
  • The irrigation shut off valve would not work and needed to be replaced.
  • Multiple patches were visible in the PVC pipes. I wanted to remove all the patches and provide a smooth pipe system.

The rest of the front and back yard were already irrigated with an electronic timer and valve system. The first problem was that the anti siphon valves for the front yard were old, leaking and there was no provision for adding another valve. The valve controller did offer wiring for one more valve, so no new wiring needed to be run. The image below shows what the existing valve looked like. Code specifies that the anti siphon valve be 6 inches above the highest sprinkler head.

Image shows old existing valves

In the above image you can see three PVC patches, quite ugly. There are more patches along the water lines from the anti_siphon valves (beyond the image edge).

In the image above, look at how close the three anti-siphon valves are to ground level. The new valve assembly would be mounted higher. The new valves will be level with the porch top.

We were fortunate that an extra wire was in place for a fourth valve to receive power from the timer.

In the next image the cooper work to connect the valves together is shown.

Cooper pipe fabrication

Soldering cooper pipe is not all that difficult. The tools you need are as follows.

Tools

  • Propane or oxyacetylene torch to heat the pipe. I picked up one at Home Depot for about $12.
  • Flux
  • Flux brush. One flux brush might come with the flux but for a decent size project it simply will not last. After a short while I noticed any brush began to fall apart.
  • Method of lighting the torch. I used a BBQ lighter.
  • Pipe cutter, rotating wheel type.
  • Deburring tool is necessary to cut out the ridge that will be felt on the inside of the pipe after you use the pipe cutter. If you use a hack saw, this tool might not be necessary. Carefully run a finger in and out of the cut end of the pipe and feel the ridge inside. Use the deburring tool until that ridge has disappeared.
  • Cooper pipe wire brush for inside pipe cleaning.
  • Cooper pipe wire brush for outside pipe cleaning.
  • Welding gloves (optional) but I love using them to pick up hot pipes.
  • Clamp to hold the pipe in place. A lot of devices can work for this purpose (i.e. wood vise, metal vice, vice grips, etc.).
  • Wire brush (optional). I use this to clean up my ugly soldering by removing all the burned flux. I can thus better inspect the solder job after cleaning the joints.

Process:

Cut the pipe to size. Just remember that any straight section of pipe will slip into or disappear into a joint so calculate that amount when you design your project. I want to know for sure how long EACH pipe segment is, its exact length. I decided to cut all my segments to 4 inches. The reason for this is that I only need to use a tape measure and measure how much is showing beyond the joint as a double check as to the depth the pipe was soldered.

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Aside: I have a funny story to tell where I forgot to calculate the amount of copper pipe what would disappear into a joint. It will be explained later but I added Sharkbite® joints to this project. My first cooper cut was a 2 inch section, which you will see was a stupid length. I was fabricating the irrigation shut off valve part of the system. Without thinking, I slipped a straight Shark Bite to one side of this 2 inch pipe and an L joint on the other side. I then realized that the pipe would TOTALLY disappear 1 inch each side into each Sharkbite®. I ended up with NO space in between the joints. Shark Bite offers a special tool that makes the joint a quick release. Problem is the tool is about one half inch thick. I had NO room to slip the tool in between the joints to take the joints apart. Boy I felt stupid. The solution was to use two thin blade knives and slip them in between the plastic collars and picking one collar pull the collar back while pulling on the pipe. It took two people and all of our hands to make it work and about five minutes of struggling but we got the pipe out. You can see this in the next photo.

Image shows two Sharkbite® fittings with no gap.

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Method:

Cut the pipe to length but allow for the amount of pipe that will slip into any joint.

Deburr each cut end especially if you used a wheel pipe cutter.

The area you will be soldering must be real clean! wire brush the joint ends until they shine. Pay attention. Typically, it is the outside of the pipe and the inside of the joint that needs to be wire brushed.

Take a flux brush and sweep it into the flux. Next wipe the parts of the metal that will be touching one another with the brush.
When using the propane torch, it took a LOT more time to get the joints up to temperature than using an oxyacetylene torch. Just remember to heat all around the joint first and then bring the heat into the joint area last. Apply enough heat to sizzle the brushed on flux and then add even more heat if you are using a propane unit. I dip the end of my solder into the flux and touch the copper pipe from time to time to see how the flux reacts when I touch the pipe with the solder. When the pipe is hot enough, the solder will melt as soon as you touch the cooper pipe. You want to put the solder up against where the two copper pieces meet. The solder will be sucked into the joint by papillary action. I run the solder around the joint to make sure it gets sucked in ALL AROUND the joint and I do this quite quickly, remove the solder and then the torch. If I think I overheated the copper too much I remove the torch earlier. Just remember that applying solder cools the metal joint. This does take some practice.

I decided that I wanted to be able to remove the anti-siphon valves for easy replacement. I decided that I must be able to unscrew both the supply side and the exit side to the valves. The most elegant solution was realized when I visited Home Depot. I spotted a new product called Sharkbite®. These are metal fittings that are simply wonderful. They meet all the code requirements for use INSIDE a home. I was skeptical of this new product and using it outside seemed a perfect first application to test this new product.

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Aside: You might ask, why not spend the extra money and buy Sharkbite® connectors and not bother with attempting to solder any copper pipe. Well the down side of this product is the pipe ALWAYS rotates. The fittings are NOT locked to the pipe for rotation. They are locked for being pulled apart! I guess it would work, using all Sharkbite® fittings, but all your pipe pieces would be swinging around until you got the valves attached to the PVC pipes in the ground.

Actually it was the ability of the Sharkbite® fitting to rotate that drew me to using this product. I will put threaded 3/4 inch Sharkbite® connectors at the end of each feed pipe going to each anti-siphon valve knowing that the connectors will allow me to rotate them for attachment and detachment of the valves.

With any project, I find there is at least one thing that I did NOT predict. When I decided to put a 90º Sharkbite® fitting in the feed water line after the shut off valve, I did not predict that the four anti-siphon valves would not be held in position, would not stand up straight, until I screwed in the PVC side of the lines.

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Cooper pipes for the anti-siphon valves soldered together.

The image above shows the copper tube tree that will hold the anti-siphon valves. This part of the project took the most time. One of the pipes rotated on me, the second from the right and my daughter and I had to reheat it to rotate it around to line up with the other pipes. I suspect that an oxyacetylene torch would not have allowed that to happen as it tends to apply a LOT of heat in a closer space.

 

Cooper pipes for the anti-siphon valves soldered together with Sharkbite® fittings.

In the image above the Sharkbite® fittings were slid on to the pipe.

 

Cooper pipes with Sharkbite® fittings and anti_siphon valves attached.

The image above shows the anti_siphon valves attached, screwed, into the Sharkbite® fittings. At the end I put a Sharkbite end cap. I decided that I would NOT make the same mistake as the previous workers but add the capability of adding another valve at the end of the tree.

 

Cooper pipes showing irrigation valve and anti_siphon valves.

The image above shows how the irrigation valve would be fitted to the valve assembly. The image below shows how the dimensions for the irrigation valve were decided. Because the exiting tap off for the irrigation system was just over 9 inches, I had to make sure that when I swung the copper pipe assembly around, that it would clear the wall. For this reason, I made sure the valve had thread connections and not solder fitting. All of my thread connections, metal and PVC use teflon tape. I love to use thick teflon tape as I think it works a lot better on course threads. I even use gas pipe teflon tape.

 

Image shows distance allowed for the irrigation valve to mate with main water line.

In the image above you see the house wall to the right. The old existing cooper pipe comes out of the main water line at about 9 and 3/4 inches. That connection is a thread fitting. I will be making a complete replacement for this irrigation feed by replacing with a new screw fitting that will be soldered into a copper pipe and from a short length of pipe into a 90º cooper junction fitting down into a cooper pipe segment. From the cooper segment I will solder a pipe to thread fitting so I can attach a valve with thread ends. After the valve, a ball valve, I will go down to a Sharkbite® 90º angle. That 90º angle fitting is a slip fit, being a Sharkbite®, and all I need to do is slide the copper tree holding the anti-siphon valves into it.

 

Irrigation valve being installed.

The image above is a shot from overhead looking down toward the ground. It shows that the copper pipe was cut and soldered so this segment could be screwed into the existing main line fitting without hitting the house wall. Obviously, if the pipe did hit the wall, I could remove the valve because it is screwed into the cooper pipe.

 

Extension to irrigation valve is made so the anti-siphon valves can be attached.

The image above shows the segment of pipe that will be screwed into the bottom of the irrigation valve.

 

Irrigation valve rotated in the final down position.

The image above shows this completed section of the project: fitting to the main water line, water valve, and turn to offer a horizontal feed to the next pipe.

 

Horizontal valve tree is inserted into the 90º Sharkbite® fitting to join the master valve with anti-siphon valves.

The image above shows the feed end of the anti-siphon valve tree pipe having been slid into the Sharkbite® fitting. Note that I put a Sharpy mark about 1″ from the end to tell me how far the pipe slid into the fitting.

Because this story has been so long, I have decided to break up this story into segments. Please go to the next installment of this installation (soon to be posted). The next segment will show how to do the PVC connections. You will see an ELEGANT solution for removing the anti_siphon valves EASILY on the PVC side. When this project was done, any of the anti-siphon valves could be removed in less than 15 minutes and replaced just as quickly!

Sharkbite® product conclusion: Utterly impressive. This technology rocks! I highly recommend its use. Just pay attention to the fact that the pipe does rotate in the fittings. We tried to pull a fitting out of the pipe and it will NOT come out without the tool or using an improvised tool! I have not seen any of our fittings leak. I am so ecstatic that I found this fitting for this project.

Note that if you use a wheel pipe cutter, the ridge inside the pipe will prevent you from pushing the pipe into the Sharkbite® fitting. You must deburr the cut ends.

I personally would not put these fittings in the ground. I would worry that dirt would migrate into the plastic collar and make releasing the pipe difficult. If I decided to use this technology inside a house, I would tape any fitting that had a pipe running upward. My reasoning is that, over time, dust would accumulate into the plastic sleeve. It is the plastic sleeve that is used to release the pipe from the fitting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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