The Latest in Fittings

By Mary Elizabeth Williams-Villano

As a contractor who installs and repairs irrigation systems, you’re always looking for ways to get things done faster and more efficiently. So, when something comes along that looks like it could speed up a new installation, retrofitting or repair job, hopefully you’re receptive to hearing about it.

Although there are a number of types of material used in making pipe, the two most common types of material used for pipes in irrigation installations are PVC or polyethylene. With some exceptions, PVC is mainly used in the southern and western states, while poly is used more in the north, as its flexibility is desirable in frozen ground. PVC is also more commonly used for commercial systems.

Over the last number of years, new types of fittings have been introduced to the market. These are referred to as ‘clampless insert fittings’ or ‘push-on,’ or ‘quick-fit’.

They don’t require glue or solvents to attach. They are faster to use, yet are just as strong as the conventional kind, and they’re safer for both the environment and the user, because there is no exposure to toxic chemicals.

Are they really faster? More importantly, are they reliable? To find out, we talked to the companies that make them and the contractors who use them.

Wayne Vance, owner and president of Spring Hill, Florida-based Sunshine State Sprinklers, Inc., says, “We do a regular installation 25 to 30 percent faster with these products, as opposed to straight PVC. That means we can get to more places and make more people happy. That’s what we’re here for.”

Dan McIntyre, owner and president of Splash Irrigation, Inc., in Rockford, Michigan, says that the time his company saves by using quick connectors “keeps us competitive. They definitely help us get more work done in a timely fashion.”

“Our fittings are designed by contractors, for contractors,” said Rob Bauer, director of sales for Arvada, Colorado-based Dawn Industries. “We want to make sure we address what contractors need, because ultimately, they’re the ones who’ll have these fittings in their hands. We believe push fittings fit that bill.”

Salt Lake City, Utah-based Hydro- Rain is known mainly for its two signature quick-fitting products:

Blu-Lock, a line of glueless HDPE poly fittings, and PVC-Lock, a line of glueless fittings for PVC pipe. “We’ve just introduced the next generation of Blu-Lock fittings,” said Kim Hayes, director of marketing for Hydro-Rain.

The new Blu-Lock fittings will work with both SIDR (standard inside diameter ratio)-1500- lb poly pipe and SIDR- 1980-lb pipe. Previously, Blu-Lock fittings were confined to use only with 100-lb pipe. This is a big change, because it eliminates one of the drawbacks to using Blu- Lock fittings. Previously, you could only use them with Hydro-Rain’s proprietary blue poly pipe.

“The way it’s worked before, our contractors and distributors were required to carry the Blu-Lock pipe along with the fittings,” explains Hayes. “Now, the new fittings will be universal, and will work with anybody’s pipe.” Another feature will be that Blu-Lock fittings will not only slide on easily, they will come off just as easily, so mistakes can be corrected quickly.

Brownsville, Tennessee-based LASCO Fittings’ two newest irrigation items fit the category of push-on glueless connectors. They include a flexible repair coupling and a fitting. Both may be installed wet, and both are for use with schedule 40, class 200/SDR-21 or IPS flex pipe.

The flexible push-on, no-glue PVC coupling was introduced a couple of years ago. It’s particularly helpful for repairs, or when one must deal with odd angles, corners or tree roots. It’s for cold-water, outdoor, open irrigation systems only, must be buried, and is not suitable for main lines.

In September of 2012, the company debuted a push-on glueless fitting that can be rotated to line up with tees and elbows. It uses a stainless steel retainer ring for permanent installation. Unlike the flex coupling, this fitting can be used on main lines. Once installed, it can be pressurized immediately up to its maximum working pressure of 140 psi.

Dura Plastics of Beaumont, California, doesn’t make ‘quick-fit’ components, but it was the first to offer a flexible PVC coupling that will bend around rock or any other obstacle. “It’s in its second year now,” says Kevin Rost, president of Dura Plastics, “and it’s becoming well-accepted, so much that we’re very close to launching a new, constant-pressure version. We really think it fills a need.” It will be available in mid-summer.

The need for speed

Quick-connect fittings save time, period. Ed Wallace is the owner of Midwest Landscaping, a design/ build company out of Long Beach, California. He’s been doing landscape design/build and irrigation installation for the last 25 years. He appreciates the speed quick-connect fittings offer.

“I’m able to do my work a lot faster and more efficiently by using these fittings. When you’re using the glue and primer, you have to do certain kinds of preparations in order to make sure that fitting is going to fit and work correctly,” Wallace said.

“You can’t put it on there if the pipe’s dirty. With the glue, I was always taught that you need to prime it first, because that helps to prepare the plastic for the glue, so when it adheres, it gives a better feel. It takes a little bit of time for that to happen. But with the quick fittings, there’s no need to do that. Now that they have these fittings for PVC, too, it makes it even better.”

Quality for the price?

Quick-connect fittings cost a bit more than traditional ones. Are they worth the money? Wallace thinks so. “These are very good quality fittings, not junk that’s been thrown together.”

As to the cost issue, Vance says a lot of contractors “only look at the price. They really have to get past that. Once they find the simplicity and the speed of these things, they’ll realize they’re making more money, and needing to use fewer fittings overall.” That is why he swears by them.

“I use them in every condition you can imagine—heavy roots, rock, clay, sand. I use them anywhere and everywhere, and have had absolutely no problems with them,” added Vance.

The companies listen to contractors about how their products can be improved. McIntyre has had discussions with Hydro-Rain about the fact that in cold weather, it would take a bit more effort to get their fittings onto the pipes. “I’ve been told the new versions will slide together easier,” he says. “From the samples I’ve seen, they definitely do.”

Freedom from glue

Is freedom from glue really all that important? To some contractors and irrigation technicians, the answer is, “yes.”

“My crews love not using glue,” says Carlos Valdez, owner of All Works Landscape, LLC, in Austin, Texas. He’s been using quick-connect fittings for about three years.

“These connectors just slide right in there; they can’t go wrong. If there’s a leak, it’s probably because they didn’t slide something in all the way.”

He also appreciates the fact that you can pull your connection out of the ground, work on it, then put it back in; you don’t have to stay down in the trench to fix it, like you have to with glue. Mistakes are easier to fix, too. Let’s say you glue a fitting on, and then notice that something is off. If the joint’s already dry, you have to start over. Quick-connects are a lot more forgiving.

McIntyre says he likes not having to deal with chemicals. “My guys would always get this stuff on them. From a safety standpoint, it’s much better not to have to mess with the glue and primer, and breathe those fumes.”

Vance, however, isn’t that worried about the toxicity factor. “Being exposed to the glue, truthfully, doesn’t really bother me. What I like is the fact that I don’t have to wonder if it’s too humid, or too wet, or if my guy put enough glue on the coupling.”

For installations, or just for repairs?

Most contractors are still leery about putting in a whole system with quick-connectors. For a coupling or two, or for one repair, they’ll chance it; for a whole system, they’ve got to be dead-solid-certain that everything works, and will continue to work. After all, it is their livelihood.

Phil Sheppard, CLIA (certified landscape irrigation auditor) is also a Texas-licensed irrigator/instructor. He is the owner of Irrigation System Solutions in Coppell, Texas; a school where he helps others pass the state’s tough licensing exam. He thinks the quick-connect fittings are fine for repairs. But for a whole system? Not so much.

“Quick-repair fittings have been used for years for stopping leaks. But they weren’t used for every connection in an entire system. The companies that make the no-glue fittings are trying to push using them in 50 to 90 percent of an entire system,” says Sheppard.

He pointed out that when we speak about gluing pipe we’re really talking about a chemical welding process. The glue—technically, it’s a solvent—melts the pipe a little bit. This is what marries the pipes together, ‘tildeath-do-they-part. It’s a sure bond you can depend on.

He wants to make it clear, however, that he’s not throwing no-glue fittings under the bus. He’s simply saying he doesn’t know to what extent irrigators are using them for entire systems.

And here’s the reason: “Say someone puts a system into a small tract home, and charges $3,000 for it. When something else suddenly goes wrong, where are you going to test for the problem? You’re going to have to redo that entire system if it starts having a leak.”

Vance agrees, saying, “A lot of the guys in the irrigation industry are old dogs, and they don’t like new tricks. It takes a little time to retrain. I’ll just say, since I started using them on all my installations, my callbacks have dropped 80 percent.”

McIntyre is one of those ‘old dogs’; he’s been doing irrigation for 35 years, 25 of them in business for himself. “I’ve always taken a different philosophy when it comes to irrigation products, tools, fittings, new types of heads or controllers.” He thinks it’s his job as a contractor to investigate different things that might benefit the consumer. So, he’s always looking for something new, and when he finds something like the quick-connect fittings, eventually, he’ll use them almost exclusively.

And he does, on new installations as well as repairs.

“We install more than we do repairs. We’ve used them for five years, maybe even seven, and we’ve had no issues. They’ve been flawless, no problems with the fittings, joints, saddles—any of the products we’ve used,” McIntyre’s happy to say.

“They’re the first major change in the fitting industry that’s come around since the saddles that you just screwed together. Really, they’re one of the greatest, most revolutionary innovations on the fitting side for irrigation that’s come along.”

It works when wet Vance first started using quick connect products during one particularly difficult repair job. “We were getting a lot of callbacks because the flex pipe was blowing out of the fittings. This system was buried in moist lime rock. We tried every angle you can imagine, and were still getting blowouts.”

“The only thing I could come up with was that the soil was so wet, the moisture was getting into the glue before it had a chance to set.” The only answer was to try a no-glue fitting. When that solved the problem, Vance became a convert; he’s used glueless fittings from that day on.

“With a Flexible standard fitting, coupling. you have to shut off the water and dry the pipe off,” he continues. “With these, you can just wipe off any debris, pop it on and it will seal, even with water going through it, coming out of the pipe. They’re very good solutions for repairing a break in a system.”

Vance says the fittings even allowed him to put a system in during a driving rainstorm. Everything was trenched up and laid out; it was either put it in, or start over.

We’ll let Valdez have the last word on the benefits of using some of the newer fittings. “By the end of the week, I can add two more jobs,” he says. “That adds up to a lot more jobs I can do every month. By the end of the year, I can really see how that’s affected my bottom line.”