Special Section - Pipe & Distribution Systems: Pipe Repair Shortcuts to Avoid

Shortcuts are tempting, but can cost time & money in the long run

Many of us might remember taking shortcuts as kids just to save a few minutes on the walk home from school, or while doing homework. But life experience shows us that shortcuts cost us in the long run. 

Shortcuts in the area of pipe repair may be tempting as municipalities try to maintain their water infrastructure with increasingly tight budgets, and repair crews want to complete projects as quickly as possible. But those so-called “savings” cost time, money and worker safety.

Pipe repair shortcuts may end up increasing costs. When repairs have to be redone, communities are left to deal with additional repair costs, water-off time and restricted traffic due to road closures and detours. Not only that, but when a crew enters a repair site a second time, the ground is less stable, which can increase the chances of the ditch caving in. 

As such, it is necessary to examine pipe repair shortcuts and determine if better repair methods exist:

1. Not measuring the outside diameter of the pipe to be repaired

This is a pretty big shortcut and yet it happens all the time. Different people do all kinds of different things to determine pipe outside diameter (OD) without first measuring the pipe with an OD tape. 

When someone complains about a clamp leaking, the first question to ask is if that person checked the OD of the pipe he or she is trying to repair. When the answer is no and the pipe is measured, many times the OD is different than previously thought. No wonder the clamp will not stop leaking. 

Choosing the right sized repair product is important to making good repairs. The costs of guessing ODs are wasted time in installing clamps or couplings, as well as water-off time—to say nothing about employee frustration.

2. Using a clamp to join pipe instead of a coupling

There are some people who will use products just to get a repair completed, but perhaps not to make the best repair. Making the best repair should be the goal of every crew member and that always involves using the right product. A prime example is how people will use a repair clamp, usually with a waffle-style gasket, to quickly join or couple a pipe. These products are designed to repair holes or ring breaks. They are not designed to couple pipe since they offer no deflection capacity, which will always result in a break due to ground movement. If you are connecting pipe, use a coupling, not a clamp. 

Failure to use the correct product results in wasted time, money and increased water off-time. Choose wisely.

3. Restraining pipe using a bag of sakrete, 4-by-4 posts, old motor grader blade or u-channel posts

Thrust blocks are probably the most common way to restrain pipe. They are not simply blocks of cement or bags of sakrete. Engineers go to great lengths to design the right thrust block based on the needs of the project. Bags of sakrete with holes punched in them and a bucket of water poured on top is not a thrust block; neither is a 4-by-4 post, an old motor grader blade or a piece of u-channel post. Restraint couplings are a way to restrain pipe and avoid using thrust blocks altogether. This gives repair crews a quick and safe way to restrain pipe without the time required to make thrust blocks.

4. Using backhoe lights to light a work area

Repair crews sometimes choose not to bring extra equipment to a repair site—even extra lighting. Crews will rely on the backhoe or excavator lights to illuminate a repair site. These lights will not supply enough illumination for the work site and compromise safety. With a little more effort, extra lighting can become part of the project and create a much safer operation for all crew members. Don’t forget lighting for your flaggers. They are the ones who control the safety of your work zone. If drivers can’t see the flagger, his or her ability to slow down, divert or stop traffic is hindered. 

5. Using cheap parts

As the old saying goes, “You buy junk, you get junk.” Public works directors have two responsibilities when it comes to purchasing repair products.

The first responsibility is to the system. That involves purchasing and using quality products that will serve the infrastructure and community for years to come. You cannot afford to purchase products that will fail early, requiring another repair. No utility can afford the cost of making a second repair at the same location. Additionally, returning to the same dig site erodes confidence in your crews and in you. 

The second responsibility is to buy repair products that the crew likes to use. This is where a supervisor’s or director’s knowledge comes into play. A leader needs to supply quality products that offer ease of use and reliability. Getting educated on products is fundamental to ensuring you get the best products. Many pipe repair product manufacturers can deliver “lunch and learns” at your location. These will give you and your crews the opportunity to review products to assess their quality and ease of use. 

6. Accepting the lowest repair bids

When considering bids for new infrastructure projects, avoid the lowest bid and instead look for the lowest responsible bid. Question the firm with the lowest bid, and don’t be afraid to ask others who have used this firm some tough questions:

• Has this bidder been involved in this type of project before?

• Has the bidder been involved in a project of this size?

• Did the firm use quality products or the cheapest available products?

• What were the results of previous projects?

• Did they come in on time and on budget?

• How many change orders were there?

Unfortunately, there are firms that will put forward low bids to get a contract and then use change orders to complete the project. These can dramatically increase the price to the point where the contractor would not have received the bid in the first place. Once you get started, it is hard and expensive to change contractors, so be sure to do your homework in advance. When plans are presented for review prior to the project, include other employees. They can offer a fresh set of eyes and may come up with details that you missed.

While all of these shortcuts attempt to save time, money or both, they simply are not worth it. Shortcuts waste time and money while compromising worker safety. At the end of the day, you get what you pay for. 

CONTACT